The Making of a Book – Part 2
After my initial blogs on sulekha.com I learnt they were hosting a fortnightly short-story writing contest in collaboration with Penguin. The short-listed stories would win Rs.10000 and the chance to get published in a book by Penguin. This overnight gave birth to the short-story writer in me, even though at school English language examinations I had always attempted the report-writing and business letter sections, as against the short story or personal letter.
I churned out one story after another, pulling out from my repertoire of life experiences, mainly at my varied workplaces. The stories were always based on incidents and experiences of people who had truly touched my heart. I find it difficult to write expansively, unless it is from the heart. I usually told these stories from the first person point of view and sometimes even from the second or third and they spilled out of me spontaneously. It was in dialogue-writing that I felt at an absolute loss for words and technique.
In the fifteen years of working before I began to write short stories, all I had the opportunity to write were official emails, service quality reports, executive search assessment reports and the like, where the narrative value of my writing was not rudimentary. I had by then the ability to effectively communicate my views to top management through conciseness, clarity and sharpness in sentence construction, by way of articulated bullet-pointer statements. I found it difficult now to tell a long winding story crisply, though I could go on and on vividly narrating the build-up to the story. However after spending weeks on learning and practising the technique of dialogue writing by reading simple and effective writing by writers like Ruskin Bond I continued to send in one short story after another for the short story contest. To my chagrin then, not one was short listed, in spite of the stories having become fairly popular with each passing day. But I am grateful for the innumerable failures, at not being short-listed, for not finding my story in the Penguin collection. Perhaps the win then would have satiated my drive to write seriously, destroyed my constant and renewed efforts to improve my writing.
It was sometime during my continuance to write short stories, even beyond the end of the Penguin competition that Sulekha came up with another contest – a poetry writing one. I had never written a single poem in my life, nor did I imagine I had a single poetic bone in my body. One of my friends on hearing of this competition challenged me that I could never write a poem. To prove him wrong I wrote and posted my very first poem and to my delight, it was liked by a lot of people. Further to my astonishment, my second poem, ‘A Handsome Couple’ was selected for publishing in the Sulekha book of poetry. This simultaneously started off my journey as a poet. Since writing my first poem, I discovered my deep, intrinsic love and appreciation for nature. I nurtured this realization and with it was born a need to look much deeper into myself for insights into the meaning of life. Poetry brought into my life a spiritual search and I embarked on a voyage of self-discovery. I was determined I did not want a Guru or master to teach me the philosophy of life. My learning had to spring from deep inside of me through my interaction with nature and people- meaning to say it had to stem from my experiences.
I was confident of my ability to write decently, but I knew I had to build on my story telling technique – of being able to make my readers mind putty in my hands through my words, then hypnotically coerce them through my story. In my effort to do that, rather than read self-help or creative writing books and articles I read one master writer after another, one master story teller after another from my husband’s well stocked collection of books. I had stopped reading anything which I felt would not improve my writing. There is no end to development, as I strive to improve myself even today, after my first novel is completed and I’ve undertaken a second, though this time at a much slower pace.
In my next post I look forward to sharing the harrowing experiences I underwent between writing the first novel and finding a publisher. There were times when I thought I could never write anything again. I had stopped working after 18 years of service, only to write my novel, so each blow felt fatal. But when you’ve put your soul into something, there’s no turning back. Anyone who has been through the process of looking for a publisher for their body of work would relate to the frustration from lengthy periods of waiting, the despair and blow to one’s confidence from repeated rejection notes from publishers and literary agents. After every rejection I would withdraw into a shell, recuperate, then try another publisher or agent.
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