The importance of failing to write

Failure. That fear that makes all of us run, constantly hurrying in the rat race, getting less sleep, tossing and turning in bed at night, worried, worried that we might fail in making it to our dreams, our goals, fail our children and parents’ expectations or worse, our own expectations from ourselves. Failure is a dirty, filthy word in our world. There with shit, vomit and death. Which is perhaps why no one mentions it, no one wants to remembers it, no one repeats or talks about it.

When I first started to write, I had many no-writing days, many days when I would stare at a screen, panic building up in the dark, squishy pits of my stomach, wondering if I could write, if I was writing anything that made sense to me, would make sense to anyone, would be good enough. I was ashamed of it. I felt that if I failed to write one day, one week or one month, that was it. I was a fake, pretending to be a writer, when I couldn’t even frame one sensible word after another. It had to be me, right? For no one else seems to be going through this. No other author/artists/writer talks about this. I thought I was alone. And it did make it all the more miserable.

Now I am different. Or I hope I am. In not that I don’t fail to write anymore, or that I have won over failure because I have written complete works of novels and have been published. No. I am different because I have realised how failing to write is ESSENTIAL for my writing. Failure, or as I think of it, my blackhole day, is the lifebreath, or the vacuum that comes before a flow of creativity.

failure (1)I fail at writing every day. Every damn day. I sit in front of the computer, my hands spread like claws on my keyboard and I do not know what word to put after the first one and then the other. Failure is essential to my creative process. I have to constantly fall right into failed words and failed ideas to know that they’re not working. I stare everyday deep into failure’s eyes, say hello there and know that like the heroine I am writing about, I too will come out of the frozen phase into creativity, into light, into success of expressing the story. But not today.

You have to, and I repeat, have to, fail to write and get over the fear in order to begin.

You have to do it every day, when you ponder on what word comes next, what the character says next and have no clue as to what that might be. You have to fail to write more than write itself. When you are writing, and you know it’s all wrong and you have to delete it tomorrow and start afresh. You have to be wrong, you have to fail.

Tweet in point. For only when you fail, when you stare into the blackhole for a whole day, does your creative mind bless you with a few words to express the story that has been dancing in your head. It’s a blessing really and enjoy it, for tomorrow, in writing that fresh scene, you will start to fail again.

I write this not so much as a catharsis but also as a call out for those desperately looking for a sign of success while in the blackhole. Fail, it’s okay. It’s okay to drop a book unfinished, it’s okay to write a completely wrong or badly sentenced scene. It’s okay to fail. For you have to learn how to fail in order to succeed.

As a quote attributed to Thomas Edison says:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

And till now, with the grace of the muses who look after me for no apparent reason, I haven’t had a day when the blackhole of failure doesn’t dry up the next day when I am keying in words.

Keep failing, peeps!



Meeting artist Paul Fernandes

Till last year, I didn’t know who Paul Fernandes was, though I had seen his artwork all over Bangalore, occasionally colourfully covering up a bland restaurant wall or even an old space. I loved his work, without realising it was his work. Then, on a day walking during lunchtime, I stepped into his shop at Richard’s Park and connected all the humourous comic chronicles of 70s Bangalore I had seen strewn around in Bangalore. (And fell in love with a bag, but that’s another story). I stayed, my eyes crinkling with laughter at each of the framed poster.


As I left, I saw a man standing outside, chatting with the manager of the shop. He looked like any old man, white beard, unassuming kurta and a khadi bad slung around his chest, standing next to a moped.  Being the curious girl I am, I stood in the circle too, chatting about old bungalows and how hard it was maintaining them. Afterwards, over lunch my friend told me that the person we had been chatting to all this while was Paul himself. I turned back as if to see him again, and imagined an unassuming man who could be missed, lost in a crowd. Everything lost, except for the satisfied smile. This was eight months ago.

Then August happened and my debut novel The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong released. In December, my graphic novel The Skull Rosary released. Two releases in the market meant a lot more of marketing. Ever since then, I have had to struggle with my writing. My time travelled between one more online update, one more connection in the marketing industry and then one more chasing the journalist who wouldn’t remember my name. In the lists of neverending tasks-to-be–done, my writing (the reason I quit my job and career in journalist), lay in a corner, gathering dust and wondering why it was being ignored.

So it was with a heavy, confused heart that I was at the Times Literature Carnival last Sunday. I had been feeling lost since  a couple of weeks (my wise mother named it rat-race of the author’s world), not getting enough time to get into the blackhole that is required for creativity. Not able to switch off from the constant stream of social updates as well as public updates that wave after wave came to my shores. Not able to back off and go back to the closed room.

Then I saw Mr Paul Fernandes, standing in a corner, smiling at the festival. The same smile I remembered from the sunny day in Richard’s Park. I headed to him and made conversation about this and that. All the time my mind was whirling, at unrest, wondering. Finally, with a deep breath, I said it.

Paul Fernandes 1

‘Sir, can I ask you something? It’s sort of vague and personal but I just have to ask.’

He nodded. My cue was here and my best bet was to be as expressive as possible.

‘Sir, how does one balance marketing with creative works? I mean, once there’s certain level of success, once you have achieved the first step of success, how do you stop that ambition from taking root and go back to your work? What you loved doing in the first place? Writing for me and painting for you? How do you switch off?’

‘Me? I just love what I do. I love to draw and so I do it.’

It wasn’t enough. I needed more.

‘But sir, how? How do you switch off?’

‘Well, I go back to my table, see all my pens and papers strewn around and then leave the world outside. I close the door.’

‘But sir, how do you control ambition? I mean I have a certain level of success, but I want more. How do I stop wanting more?’

‘But, ambition is a good thing. Just leave it outside the door when you go inside.’

Such a small conversation. It took two minutes of standing in the bustling Carnival of literature but it hit home. I left smiling, suddenly lighthearted after so many weeks of this heavy stone in my heart. It wasn’t that I didn’t know this before, but when Mr Fernandes said it, it just somehow hit home. And so I decided to close off everything, all tasks, all lists, all the world, and close to door, with only my paper, pen and laptop for company. It was hard before, but suddenly, after hearing it from Mr Fernandes, it became so easy. Thank you, Paul, for that.

Paul Fernandes is one of Bangalore’s well known illustrator and artist and cartoonists. He has illustrated many books, including On a High Note and Peter Colaco’s Bangalore. To see his work, head to his gallery in Bangalore, aPaulogy


Advice from the baffling publishing industry

It’s been three years since I began writing stories as a profession. I have had three books published so far: The Skull Rosary, The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, Krishna. Two of these released in 2013. Needless to say, I feel good.


I started writing without any knowledge on how to writehow to edit, what and where to edit, how to send a proposal, where to send a proposal, who to connect to,  who to approach for getting published, or how to market my books. I have learnt everything all thanks to countless blogs of helpful writers, and advice from writers, authors, editors, publishers that I have been lucky to have found. Of the advice I have received, some has been well meaning, some funny to downright hilarious, insightful, offensive or kind. Here is some of it:

Change your surname: Yes. I got that. A publisher over a cup of coffee told me to change my name and surname and make myself sound Bengali or Anglo-Indian if I wanted to get published in India. Fine, it was a joke and I didn’t really take it seriously but jokes always have hidden truths. Right? So how many of you have seen a book, read book’s back cover, seen the author’s surname and made humongous assumptions about him/her? I bet a lot. No wonder actors change their names, how their names are spelled and their affiliations in Bollywood. And the fact that astrologers are doing so great.

Write more to make money: When I asked a helpful author over email on how he was making money (yes, I can be quite upfront about these things on emails), he told me he wasn’t till the first five books of his got published. But slowly, as little money trickled from each of the book (and believe me, most of it will be littlebee trickles), he’s started to make some moolah. But not enough for designer clothes or big cars. Just enough for survival, a jhola, a glass of wine and not being dependent on anyone. So there. Accept this fact (no Bollywood doesn’t enter the picture) and move on.

Continue to write and write: Advice through a short sweet tweet when I asked KP Singh (Raisina Series) what he did to market his own book after it was published. I personally discovered him not through any reviews / media interviews / friends advice / literary fests, but at a bookstore. I picked up his book because I liked what I read on the back cover. Not because I had heard of him, thought he was cool, liked his name or his  face (sorry, Singh!) If that’s how books get picked up, maybe you need to rethink on that marketing, fellow authors.

Give back some advice: When I thanked, Zac O’Yeah, a well-renowned author for his kind email and advice on writing and publishing which I desperately needed, he gave me another to follow. He told me to continue the circle, to be supportive to authors or writers who approach me, tell them how they can get published, guide people, guide people to fulfill their creative ambitions. And this is one advice I intend to follow. I am not saying that I know a lot about the industry, but whatever I do, I would love to tell you all. I would love to connect you, tell you how to connect with publishers, what to write in proposals (though sorry, I can’t tell you on what to write about). Because we are in the same boat, you and I. Both of us want to bring alive a part of our dreams.

Readers can tell you when something’s wrong, but not what: This came from a blog of one of my ever fave writers, Neil Gaiman. Primary readers (and it’s essential that you get your book read by some) can tell you there’s something wrong in your book, but when you ask them what it is, most probably they will point out to the wrong thing. Don’t ask me why that is, it is. Neil says so. And I know it is so.

You’re published, now sell: That was helpful advice from a publisher. The baffling Indian publishing industry is the only one where the publisher can happily shirk off from the majority of work involved in marketing the book. It’s like a pen-manufacturing company asking the designer of the pen to sell the pen in the market. I don’t know why it is as it is, but it doesn’t look like changing. An author friend told me it’s because publishers don’t have much money to market each book. You should be thankful that they are producing and distributing it. Yes, but they also tend to keep 90% from sales, so they should market all the more, right? Have no clue why that logic doesn’t work in this industry (read the heading). According to me, the books are left in the hands of authors to market, who frankly totally suck at marketing. They have no clue what to do, which is why great titles are completely missed.

Media coverage + lit-fests = your books will sell: This came from a PR friend and lots of other well-wishers I went to after the above advice, desperate to figure out how to market my book. And I did fall for it. Most of it though is bull (Yes, I believe it. Yes, I believe it. Yes, I…). Though this is the game that a lot of authors seem to play. Yes media coverage feels good for the ego, but very less readers actually pick up your book when they read about you in the newspapers. They pick it up because 1) friends recommend it, 2) they like the cover, like the backcover, like how a couple of inside pages read 3) have read your books before. As a debut author, readers don’t know you. It’s better to push your book slowly and patiently in specific groups rather than blast it onto media. And wait for the lit-fests to come to you after one of your books has become successful. For all these will happen AFTER your book gets a few readers. So focus on getting readers, one by one, one book by one book. Of course nothing is stopping you from playing the game, but remember if the game gave all winners, all books would be bestsellers. Well, that’s my opinion on it now. But let’s see what 2014 brings in.

Media coverage / sales for Book 1 means you ensure a contract for your next: Got this from another marketing expert. Nopes doesn’t work. A publisher will reject your next book (unless you are like super duper author), even if book one with them sold well and you frequent page 3 parties. Why? Because the editor might not like the book or it might be a completely different genre like mine was. Nothing to do with you as an author. My debut book, The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong, was accepted by Hachette India through an email submission, from the slush pile, without any agent/connection or media coverage. The editor told me this was the one book in 2012 that they picked from the slush pile. My second book was rejected by Hachette and many other publishers, even though I had made a sort of a name for myself in the industry. Reason? Because it didn’t fit their type of books and the genre was different. And now it’s found another publisher as well. The game goes like this. So there’s no surety on a contract for a book, not even when you make it HUGE. Better to go back to writing.

You’re as good as your last: Neil Gaiman again. (Love that guy!) Even if you dish out the next bestseller, when you go back home horribly drunk and giddy and plan to write your next big seller, you face the empty whiteness of your word document and the silence of no keys plonking, alone. No amount of success, praise, media coverage, people can help you write a better story next time, or give you a great story idea . So be thankful for all the ideas that are swimming in your head and meanwhile, keep writing.

It’s a shitty line of work. Quit: This one was from an author who struggled for quite a few years, with great books out, but not enough sales. This was also two years ago. Now he’s become a best seller and made it huge internationally. I don’t know if he remembers this advice, but I do. And I am going to ditch it. Not because I hope I will make it huge someday like him, but because I seriously can’t stand that Anantya Tantrist wriggling in my head and want to get rid of her by writing her series. (More about that, soon).

That’s it for now, folksies. Will add more as and when I remember the advice.  Happy 2014 ahead.

An obituary to my ghosts

It’s painful to sacrifice ghosts. I don’t mean it allegorically in a past baggage sort of a way but rather literally. Let me begin in the beginning. I have been working on a kids’ story for the past eight months trying to get it approved with a publisher. The story, which I was very excited about started out as a ghost story and now has converted into a kids’ detective story. This is a result of about eight back and forths between me and the editor. Now, the editor has quit and I am working with a new one. This results in another series of back and forth. But this post is not about the shaping. It’s about my ghosts.

My pretty, enthusiastic ghosts who were the ones who coloured the story with their pale sights. They were funny, sarcastic and made the story their own. I loved writing about them. They owned the story from Day 1. On Day 154th, they are being chopped out of the story. First it was just rendering them in the second half of the book, then they appeared only in the climax, now they are being completely chucked out. It’s a simple case of the camel taking over the tent and pushing the poor owner out in a cold desert night. Sigh.

I, their creator and the one who loves them the most, is kicking them out of the ‘real world’ created in my fiction story. Making them story-less. Killing them off in cold blood. In other words, I am selling my ghosts to the suggestions by a series of editors who claim to know more about their ‘audience’, ie, the children.

So this is a post to give them a hug and bid them goodbye. Today is the day they die and are forgotten. But only by the story, not by me. I will bide time and create another story – this time exclusively for them. A story where they are the heroines. Till then, I know they have enough space in my imagination. At least they have no choice.

This post is my exploration of the pain of killing characters you have grown to love and associate with a story. It hurts. It’s as bad as taking out a thorn from your hand. Or cutting your own limb, without anesthetic. I am emotional over this today.

My poor ghosts are quiet. They don’t blame me. They just stand there in a corner, waiting. Biding their time. Another time. Another world. Another story. I owe it to them.

Now back to my story for the final kill.