This post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join.) On the first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears, or words of encouragement for fellow writers.
This month’s question — When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?
When I set out to write a story, it is usually to a prompt. I just let the words flow out. A lot of it depends on what I’m thinking of at that moment and what’s running through my mind in relation to the prompt.
I’m not sure who my readers are …leave alone know what they want. I mean who are those people who are actually reading my stories other than the handful that click like on my post ( in case it’s a blog) or those who reach out? Sometimes, I feel things go into a black hole, even though I relentlessly share my work.
With the pandemic raging worldwide, everyone is returning to their roots to find solace and seek comfort. Richa Tilokani’s ‘The teachings of Bhagavad Gita’ – Timeless wisdom for the modern age- comes at the right time to offer wisdom to those who seek it. I thank Richa for the review copy. This 226-page book, which promises to contain the essence of the Bhagavad Gita, should invite readers who are daunted by the perceived complexity of the original text.
Richa in the preface says “I was taught the Bhagavat Gita – which is a part of the epic Mahabharata written by the sage Vyasa- by my grandfather Pandit Vishnukant Shastri who was a revered scholar and a true devotee of Lord Rama.”
Distilling the essence of 700 verses, which are considered to contain Brahm Gyan or supreme knowledge, is no mean feat and Richa has attempted to simplify the text and adapt it to modern times.
Richa has laid out the book in 18 chapters, starting with an introduction or Vishad Yoga, moving on to an introductory summary of the Gita or Sankhya Yoga, and then covering the art of work or Karma Yoga, the transcendental knowledge or gyan karma sansaya yoga and other aspects until the eighteenth chapter, The art of renunciation or Moksha Sanyasa Yoga.
“The Bhagavad Gita says that Arjuna is full of sorrow, at a time when he should have been fighting the war. He represents the common man who is full of unhappiness, dilemmas and worries at most times. Arjuna faces many difficult questions on the battlefield and these are similar to the problems people face on the battlefield called life,” says Richa.
The book has nuggets like “With knowledge and devotion, one can become free from the illusions of the world.”
The real cause of sorrow according to Lord Krishna is ignorance, and only true wisdom can give one freedom from it. I recommend this book to the spiritually inclined, who want to glean knowledge, gain wisdom and rise above their sorrows.
To read Richa’s interview about her writing journey, favourite books and more, check out my earlier post. You can buy The Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita on Amazon.
Could you tell us about your flash fiction collection, ‘Vignettes: A slice of life’?
“Life is happening while you are busy making plans,” said John Lennon.
I think this thought runs through most of my writings as stories are happening as you are living your life! My writings are mostly experiential – things that can happen to you, neighbour, someone you know. That’s my theme for this collection. A smile or a chance encounter can make you view life differently. It’s not just a 6- year old having a puppy follow him home. It can be at 60 too! What happens if a statue starts talking and says, enough is enough to statue politics? What if our memory decides to take a walk? Do we ask a visually challenged person if he really wants to cross the road? What happens when patriarchy meets democracy? Is there an age to offer help or can we become younger and find the purpose of our life by offering that help? What if an underling has to suddenly step into the giant shoes of his employer without advance notice? All the above and many more make for this eclectic collection of twelve flash fictions.
2. Could you tell us about your writing journey?
I was seventeen and my very first story was published in Woman’s Era. Short of taking out a billboard, I tried to let everyone know that I wrote. I walked a couple of inches above the ground.
It was my mother who noticed my scribbling on the back of the calendar paper and she read the story that talked about a married couple who have teething problems but they eventually iron them out. She did not know what to make of it considering my age but she was sufficiently invested in it to seek a second opinion from my ‘perpetually procrastinating father’ who was more of a serious reader. She made me visit the local typist for the story to be typed out, get it re-typed after the edit and then use the ‘snail mail’ enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope in case of a reject.
It was one hell of a costly affair not to speak of the time taken between writing and publication if at all. By the time, I finished my college three stories were published in the same magazine and as many faced rejections. Looking back, I believe that despite such early successes I couldn’t capitalize enough because of limited markets for short stories and sending them out was even more of a tedious job. Moreover, I smarted at the rejects. Today, I am happy getting them as it is preferable to silence!
I have published around 300 pieces in both print and online media. Some of the well-known markets have been: The Hindu, Deccan Herald, Mint, Quint, Jakarta Post among others. Stories have found their way into Good Housekeeping India, New Woman among others and have my stories out in ten anthologies. So, all in all am in happy space. Recently, I have started my blog and am happy at the way it has turned out to be.
3.What do you enjoy writing the most? – Short stories, flash fiction, poetry, journalistic pieces or some other form? Why?
I started with short stories, moved to poems (though I call myself a reluctant poet!) wrote plenty of articles then ventured into flash fictions. I think I am hooked to flash fictions particularly after I discovered them
4. What is your educational background? How has it helped you in your writing?
I am a teacher by profession. I have done my MA in English Literature. My reading and teaching of English has helped me quite a lot. Moreover, it provided fodder for plenty of articles based on parenting and academics/ teaching etc
5. What motivates you to write?
To share my thoughts, the high of seeing my name in print… there must be more to it..but if I don’t write for a couple of days in succession, I feel I am missing something
6.Which are some of your favourite reads?
I have eclectic taste. I like crimes – the kind of Agatha Christie and little known Evelyn Anthony. I like humour in PG Wodehouse books. I love thrillers a la David Baldacci, Alistair Maclean. I am very fond of court room scenes like the Perry Mason series. I love romance a la Mills and Boons (I am very choosy about authors .I like Carole Mortimer, Janet Dailey, Charlotte Lamb) I discovered Jill Mansell and love her books. I am not too fond of non-fictions though I do read them but it can never be my first choice!
7. Name some of your favourite literary characters.
Uncle Tom from Uncle Tom’s Cabin
8. Which books on writing would you recommend to aspiring writers?
I liked Atomic Habits..though it is not on writing . It gave me direction
9. Do you have lessons to share from your own writing journey?
Don’t be disheartened by rejections. Write every day and read extensively. I learnt all of them during the pandemic… so guess the 9th and 10th are interconnected
10. What lessons do you have to share for writers during the pandemic?
We all are in the same boat. Accept that and try and write every day even if you are not too happy with what you write.
I write mainly because it’s what comes naturally. Writing helps me put into words what I feel about something. It is cathartic and it helps me heal. It also helps me discover myself. I know- some people would think “Isn’t it a bit late in the day at 43 to be discovering yourself”? But I truly think that the process of self-discovery can be long and arduous. Sometimes, we lose ourselves navigating through this maze of a life. It is heartening that we can find ourselves again. The act of writing helps me get in touch with the deepest part of me and brings it to the surface. Also, sometimes, one has so much to say, but the “words don’t come easily” as the famous song by Tracy Chapman goes. It’s easier when you write.
When one’s speech is stifled, one can become ill. Self-expression is so important. But sometimes, what we may want to say may not be well-received. In such cases, I think journaling is the solution. And for those who believe anything online is open to hacking, keep an old-fashioned notebook and write in it.
I think most writers are their own harshest critics, and they need to work on being kinder to themselves. I think journaling will help with that, too.
So let me sign off this post, by encouraging you all to write for yourself, even if it isn’t for publication or money, since it is very important, especially in these stressful times, to be in touch with who you really are.
What is it about writing that gets some people thinking it is an esoteric art that originates from a magical place, while others feel that anyone who can read can be a writer? I belong to the school of thought that the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.
Good writing can be taught, and I have conducted training sessions on English grammar during my stints with several corporates, but I do believe one must have some basic pre-requisites to be able to grasp what is being said. Nothing can take the place of reading. Some writers may not be entirely on top of the nuts and bolts of English grammar. Still, due to their extensive reading, they have developed an ear for the right word, imbibed the art of crafting a good sentence and developed the ability to tell the difference between good writing and mediocre or below-average writing. Others never read but sign up for content writing courses, and, unsurprisingly, have a tough time stringing two sentences together in flawless English.
Another thing that is oft overlooked is that a good writer has to be a good thinker. Everything that he or she commits to the page must flow well. A series of sentences must flow into a paragraph, and a paragraph must convey a thought. A string of such paragraphs with varied sentences must convey the meaning that the writer intended. One must have the ability to translate ideas onto the page by using precise words. That’s the power of an array of words. I believe that a love for the language is non-negotiable. Above all, consider the audience: the reader. Business communication would entail a different vocabulary and emphasis distinct from that of a novelist.
I know so many people who think that “anybody” can get into content writing. The difference between such writers and those who are serious about their craft is as stark as night and day. And then others say they don’t get the “time to read.” For a true bibliophile, reading is like breathing. You don’t “try to make the time for it”. It is like survival. You somehow find a way to do it. True bibliophiles make the time to read, and not because they “have to” but because they “want to.” And that makes all the difference.