June 30, 2017

The Writing Desk: Writer's Block

Stephen King was once asked how does he write to which he replied, “Oh, usually one word at a time.” It’s a funny answer but if you really think about it then writers for the most part are divided into two categories:

i.                    Those who believe in writer’s block
ii.                 Those who dismiss it.

For my part, I have both believed and not believed in writer’s block for a number of reasons.
There’s a rather funny definition of writer’s block wherein one believes it occurs when your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you. Because let’s face it all our ideas and stories seem to come from this mysterious Source. Maybe this Source is the imaginary friends that we joke about. You could be sitting at your work desk and be hit by an idea suddenly. Or you could be in a crowded metro trying your best to keep yourself from falling on the next person when suddenly a brand new idea dawns on you. It is unbearable if you are unable to get to your phone and type out a hasty note. Because the biggest lie we tell ourselves is the fact that we don’t need to write something down, for we will remember it. Believe me – we will not.

I have been a victim of writer’s block quite a number of times. There were days that I haven’t felt inspired to get out of the safe comforts of my bed to sit at the laptop and hammer out a new story. There were days when I couldn’t even bring myself to name the characters who would be appearing in my stories. Because when you fall into a writing slump, it’s rather difficult to get out of it. For a question that nags you at the back of your mind is – but who is going to read my story anyway? Whose life depends on the fiction that I come up with?

The answer to which is: YOU. You chose to write. You chose writing. You owe it to yourself to tell the world the stories that are raging inside of your head. So even when you don’t feel like writing a word, you are going to force yourself to get up and write one word after another until you form a sentence.

When writers start out their careers, when they are writing for pleasure, it becomes all too easy to say ‘oh I can’t write without inspiration’ or ‘Oh, I need such and such circumstances to happen in order to write.’ Let me tell you a secret. The Universe isn’t going to align itself perfectly for you to write the story that will change the lives of thousands of people who read it. You are going to learn how to write under any circumstances. You’re going to teach yourself to adapt. Why, you ask? Because you are a writer, and primarily, writing is your job!

For me, I have had both commissioned and non-commissioned projects and had to work with deadlines. Imagine if I had just woken up one day and said, “I am not inspired enough to write.” And I would have never seen a part of my earning!

It is good to romanticise writing by saying you have to do this and that in order to write. But at the end of the day, for me personally, writing is a job and in order to make sure you get your job done, what you need is discipline. Therefore the first thing you need to do is set aside a time everyday (doesn’t matter whether it’s the weekend or weekdays or a National holiday), you’re going to make sure you sit at your desk and write. Even if it is ten words! Believe me, in seven days, it will become second nature to you.

This is one of the reasons why I love NaNoWriMo so much. If you wrote 1,667 words every day for a month, you’d have 50,000 words at the end of it.  And which is fine because you can actually have a novel that just needs a lot of editing and sprucing. Let’s face it, you can edit this first draft. But you cannot edit a blank word document.

So in the end, I firmly stand by the belief that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s just you not wanting to break out of the safe comforts of not having to write. Or simply not making the time to write, and so if the novel that you were supposed to complete by March hasn’t been written yet – it’s probably your fault. Once you realize that, just make a writing schedule and stick to it. Or list out the things you need to write each day. This has been working out pretty well for me so far. Let’s see how soon you are able to see When Our Worlds Meet Again in the market.

June 21, 2017

Musings: Happiness at the End of the Lane

It was all thanks to the invitation we got to be part of a panel at the Hay Festival 2017, that I got a chance to meet Mr. Neil Gaiman and happened to get my copy of  The Ocean at the End of the Lane signed too. Wait, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Stories like these need to be savoured. Stories like these cannot be completed in hasty sentences. I am sure you want to know the how, the when, the what, the who...and the endless stream of questions that has definitely crossed your mind as soon as you saw the name of this post!

So let me start by telling you how I came across this fantastic storyteller named Neil Gaiman.

Well, it started when I was trying to find the perfect quote for a story I was writing which had (believe it or not) my cat, Pippo, as its protagonist. Now, because I just have to start all my stories with quotes, I looked for one that would be cat appropriate. And I found a perfect quote from his novel, Coraline:

'What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?''Cats don't have names,' it said.'No?' said Coraline.'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.' 
I was intrigued by this part. When I went to Bangalore last year in September, I visited Blossoms with my book blogger friends, Debdatta di, Sachin, Sudeshna and Led da. Sachin took me to the section that was dedicated to Neil Gaiman, and it was there that I bought three of Neil Gaiman's books: Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Graveyard Book. I finished reading Coraline during my flight back home, and I finished The Graveyard Book around Christmas, and finally I started reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, as the trip to Wales drew nearer. I just knew I would have to carry one of his books with me. This one won the lottery, being the one that I was yet to finish reading.

Reading the book was a lot like find my kindred spirit and my favourite line from the story is this:

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”
Flying off to Wales wasn't as easy or romantic as it sounds. For one thing, trying to apply for UK visa is as good as good as playing twenty questions with someone who has a vested interest to know all of your history - history you might not even be aware of! And making sure the document checklist is met with. The visits to the banks to ask for your statements, asking the accounts department for your pay slips, and finally, asking your landlord for the bills that you've been paying for quite some time now! It was during the time when I was stalking myself on Google, trying to find something I had probably missed, that I came across a PDF file which had listed all the authors appearing at Hay. 

Surprise, surprise! There was my name and there was Neil Gaiman. I have no idea how I didn't scream my lungs out, out of sheer happiness and excitement that afternoon. But from that very minute, I was dead sure that I would get to see him! Not even for a second did I doubt it. 

So when we arrived at Hay, I got a chance to meet Mr. Stephen Fry!!! Unfortunately, I had no books of his to get signed, but he was nice enough to pose with me for a picture. And because I am so much shorter than him, he bent down and placed his head over mine. I almost died of happiness. (Is that possible? Be so happy that you'd explode?)

Although Mr. Neil Gaiman was around the site that first day, we didn't get meet him. The next day, my friend Esha saw a post which said he was around. So we went to the author's lounge and we waited, bidding our time. After ten minutes, she asked if one of us ought to go and see if the Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry session Myth Makers had any tickets left? (Because we'd been trying our luck ever since we'd arrived, and so far, nothing. Every time we were greeted with, Sorry. I am afraid that's sold out.) But you know those feelings you get when something inside of you tells you not to move from where you are, I had that. So I didn't answer her. 

Five minutes later, as I turned to speak to her, Esha said, "Aniesha, Neil Gaiman just passed by." Almost in reflex, I stood up and said, "Come on, let's go talk to him?" However, my friend was utterly starstruck and frozen in her place and could only say, "I think he's busy." 

So I peeked and saw that he was ordering a cup of tea from the refreshment center. I asked Esha again to come with me and speak to him. I didn't know if he would be around long enough, so I left her sitting there and walked up to him. Imagine me! The girl who had been terrified of her own voice, the girl who loved hiding in the shadows and ask people to leave her alone when things got too much for her, walking up to one of her most favourite authors just for a quick chat! 

Me: Hello, I am Aniesha.
Neil Gaiman (shaking my hands): Hello, Aniesha. I am Neil. 
Me: *dies internally but blurts out* I traveled 8,183 km just to meet you! I am from Calcutta, India. 
Neil Gaiman: Oh, really? That's wonderful. 

By this time Esha was slowly approaching us, and I said, "And this is my friend, Esha." (For the briefest of second, I really wanted to say 'my boss' but then I realized getting murdered right under Neil Gaiman's nose is probably not how I would like to take my exit from this world!)

We chatted for a while, asked if he would kindly let us take pictures with him and sign our copies. I love how he personalized each of our books. It's nice that no two people ever get the same message from him. Esha got her copy of  American Gods signed, and no, he didn't ask her if she was watching the TV series based off his novel.

Then bursting with happiness we came back to the house where we would be staying, unable to believe our luck, and trying to make ensure we weren't just dreaming! We went back to the Festival site, got a ticket for the show from the lucky draw (which Esha gave to me), and because the women manning the counter saw how desperate we looked, they had a look into their ticket system and said the show wasn't sold out. We needed to try our luck one last time at the counter. Well, there was exactly one last ticket, and we bought it. Then we attended the session where Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry were in conversation about the myths and legends. It was interesting but honestly, I was expecting a lot more from it! But oh well, I don't know when I'd get to experience such a session again, so I have no regrets. 

I have a lot of memories from my trip to Wales that I would hold close to my heart forever. However, this one, the entire day that was filled with magic and Neil Gaiman is what jumps out at me, every time someone asks me what was the one thing that has been truly memorable. Without a doubt, it was meeting Neil Gaiman. 

June 18, 2017

Poem: Can You Hear My Voice This Time?

“But we are looking for the same thing,
At the end of the day – we are all…”
You cannot finish your sentence, because
You’re too terrified of what you’ll hear now.
You worry about the next words that will greet you
Because it could the soft balm that would heal your aching soul
Or the harshest ones that will rip your heart into pieces again!
You can never be sure about where you stand,
Because this ground that you stand so firmly on –
It could be taken away from you in the blink of an eye!
You’re too scared to reach out your hand, to even touch 
You’re too afraid that to give that hug because you cannot be sure
Of what could happen next.

What could happen next ranges from the fairy tale ending
To the harsh reality where no one ends up together!
But you’re too terrified to speak, you cannot speak.
You open your mouth to let out a whisper, and to your surprise
Comes out this blood churning scream
And the broken girl who could never speak out before asks –
Well, can you hear my voice this time?

Some well-meaning person tries to reach out to her,
Tries to engulf her in a hug – tell her that it’s okay.
It’ll be fine now. Everything will be fine.
Sadly, she doesn’t believe in that anymore.
You see, when she was trying to tell that
Everyone is looking for the same thing,
That at the end of the day – you’d cut her off
Yelling about how you cannot be there,
That everything had been nothing but a mistake
She realized she wasted too much of her time
Trying to fix something that wants to stay broken!
And in the process the part of that she had worked hard to fix
It broke. It shattered.

And now thanks to you, she’s never going to let anyone in.
Why couldn’t you have listened to me when I asked you to leave her alone?
I told you that it was my job to break her heart, not yours!
But you didn’t listen. Because you’ve never been good at listening,
Because you only do what’s best for you.
Never what’s best for someone else!
I wonder if you know what love is. Have you ever really felt it?
I don’t think you have.

Because you can flit from one person to the next, 
leaving a trail of heartbreaks
And hurt on that map that will lead 
to the loneliest of islands
Where you alone reside!

You shouldn’t have scared her. 
You should have let her tell you what she started
To say –
In the end, we all just want the same thing. Arms that will hold us tight,
And people who will keep choosing us, over and over, and over again.
But it’s frightening when both want the shelter from the storms of life,
Yet neither knows how to be that same shelter.

That girl that didn’t speak all those years ago, 
the girl that was terrified of her own voice,
I can her screams now, echoing the same question, 
over and over again,
“Can you hear my voice this time?”

Note: I was at Criccieth Beach. I found my way there after being in a poetry course all day long, and then finally took the long winding walk to find the beautiful beach. There was hardly anyone around, and I sat on one of the huge rocks and stared out at the sea. What I felt at the moment was happiness, sadness, the feeling of being utterly broken and wonderfully whole again. I was feeling completely overwhelmed, and I remember writing a message to someone I thought meant a lot to me.  As I was going through the pictures from the trip to Wales, I remembered the afternoon all too well and the message that has gone unanswered. And here I am, with a new poem called "Can You Hear My Voice This Time?" My friends back in Wales would be so proud of me right now! 

June 7, 2017

Poem: Alone by the Riverside

"Have you written anything yet?"
"I don't feel inspired."
"I think you need to be alone."
So alone I was, 
for an hour and half.
Walking around. 
Everything had closed down. 
For a city girl, this was a shock.
I finally went down to the riverside, 
And stood there listening to the silence.

I remembered a story I heard of the 
maiden who rode her horse down the mountain, 
Who rode quite slowly but no one could catch up to her.
I remembered how a Prince had chased her, 
Until he got her. 
In the story I heard, he had called out to her, "Stop!"
She did. 
When he asked her why she hadn't stopped before,
She replied, "Well, you never asked."

I had laughed when I first heard the story. 
I laughed again,
Remembering it now. 

Can everything life really be that simple?
All you need to do is just ask? 

Or are things just simpler in stories 
Because they always need to make sense?
And life, well life never really does! 

I sat down by the riverside
and watched the sunlight glinting on the water.
And I remembered an early morning 
back home, when we had taken a boat ride.
They say only time can heal a broken heart.
But for me, I believe water stands a fair chance! 

Being able to remember everything 
In the tiniest of details is both a gift and a curse.
And the saddest thing about memory is 
It comes back to you when you least expect it. 

There was a boy who I loved since the time I was sixteen.
The boy loved me back when I was twenty seven.
But it was a whirlwind love story, and it came to an end.
No, end is not the correct word for us.
The correct would be -
the feeling you get when you rip off the bandage
from a wound that's not quite healed yet. 

It's so quiet by the riverside,
So quiet that I am nearly deafened by
the screams echoing in my head.

And over the screams there's one faint little whisper, 
A thought that took root in my head ever since 
I heard the myth that afternoon - 

"Would you have stayed if I too had just asked?"