How My MBA Has Influenced My Literary Fiction Writing


Most people are surprised to hear that I have an MBA, and I can see why. Yes, writers don’t necessarily have backgrounds in the liberal arts, but an MBA – especially the cutthroat Indian version – is pretty much the opposite of artistic. People go to Indian B-schools to get the highest-paying job they can get their hands on, and for that you need a variety of qualities, but art isn’t one of them. Art, in fact, is one of the first things people give up while at B-school, along with fitness, sleep schedules and any chance at sobriety.

Truth is, I wasn’t there by choice. It was something my parents wanted me to do, and in most Indian families, kids of my generation are expected to shut up about personal dreams and go fulfil their parents’ dreams. My two years there, in fact, led to several mental health issues that took ages to cope with and come out of – needless to say, I was glad to see the back of it. (Excepting, of course, a few amazing friends I continue to love and grow with – here’s to you, Swati and Shivani!)

One of the side effects of adulthood, though, is deriving lessons from every experience, however crappy. Which means that I can look back now and see that there were in fact things that the MBA taught me – things relevant to my life today as a literary fiction writer. And I acknowledge those learnings and respect them a lot, even if I can’t necessarily be grateful for the MBA experience itself. So, as a response to everyone who’s curious, as well as an accept-your-past exercise of sorts for myself, here’s how my two years of B-school have helped me be a better writer.

I focus on fiction

When I was first deposited at campus, I took to writing poetry as an outlet for my emotions and imagined them profound enough to qualify me for fame. Two years of writing, rewriting and rereading later, I had established beyond doubt that I am not, in fact, the next Pablo Neruda, whereupon I went on a semi-break from writing and didn’t return in earnest until June 2020, which is when I took up short fiction. And it didn’t take me long to see that fiction is my forte. The lesson? I didn’t have to waste time trying to figure out which genre(s) to focus on, which saved me so much time and mental effort. That’s not to say I won’t try poetry or nonfiction in the future, but it’ll be a while before that happens. (Also, I need to grow out of equating poetry with rants about cigarettes and sex and whatnot.)

I take a project management approach

My exposure to business practices, especially one or two Project Management courses I took, encouraged me to seek out content on how to complete projects efficiently. Techniques like defining SMART goals (an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely) setting up milestones, having deadlines, doing daily progress reports, tracking time spent on each project and so on are typically things one associates with a business setup – but they’ve helped me so much with my fiction! In fact, my habit of chalking out a complete short story outline (more on that in a future post) before commencing the actual writing comes from these practices.

I’m more inured to rejection

A big part of the MBA experience was going through the placement drive, a harrowing experience where you are dragged out of bed at 4am to appear for an interview in a business suit, expected to talk over a crowd of your peers as you put forth your recently Googled views on the group discussion topic you have been assigned, and then be informed loudly of the people who made it to the next round instead of you – or, if you make it to that round, be dressed down by the red-eyed interviewer for not knowing whether their CEO grew up playing cricket or kabaddi. You do that kind of thing for long enough, and a Submittable rejection is like a gentle tap on the back with a feather. Well, maybe not a gentle tap always, but it’s still a feather. It’s endurable.

I can empathise deeply

I know what it’s like to have your personality crushed beyond recognition. I know what it’s like to be so broken that it isn’t just about picking up the pieces, it’s about finding them all first. The MBA did that to me, and it took me nearly three years to put myself back together and move upward from there. The positive effect of that – I tend to be highly empathetic towards people and give importance to their feelings and experiences, even if they aren’t what I agree with or they happen to cause friction between myself and the person. This empathy also lets me imagine complex situations and reactions to them with greater understanding, which is something you need in order to do justice to a short story – or any type of writing, for that matter.

So, do I recommend doing a wrong-for-you degree in order to learn important life lessons? Absolutely not. No one should have to go through that kind of disorientation and mental turmoil if they can avoid it. But, having been through it already, I’m at a point where I choose to not disregard the lessons in humanity I learnt simply because the experience was a bad one. It took me a while to get to where I am – in terms of both mental health and my readiness to invest full-time in literary fiction – and I’m grateful. And who knows? Maybe I’ll make a novel out of this someday.

How have your educational and/or professional experiences shaped you as a writer? Did you pick up unexpected lessons along the way? Over to you.

When The Writers You Don’t Admire Get You Down

It’s one thing to feel disheartened by the greats. At the end of the day you admire them and they’ve earned their stripes. They’re part of the canon.

But then there are the contemporary writers. The ones who are aspiring for greatness just like you, only they’re a little further along in their journey. Scratch the little – they have CVs that cram twenty years’ of achievements into two. Somehow, while you were still scratching your head about whether to take this writing business seriously, they’ve been nominated for more awards that you knew existed. And it seems like they live entirely off fellowships and grants.

As for their actual writing, well, it’s…fine.

Or maybe it isn’t fine. Maybe it’s less than fine. Maybe it’s so palpably not fine that to even use the word ‘fine’ in connection with it is an insult. Maybe it reeks so badly of gimmickry, of overdone themes, of groan-worthy caricatures, of obviously bad prose, that you want to take the next inter-dimensional flight to wherever the Creator lives and demand the last twenty minutes of your life back.

And yet somehow – through black magic, bribery or both – those writers have become literary sensations.

*teeth-gnashing*

I exaggerate, of course. There are many gifted writers out there today, young people several of them. And if they do have stellar publication histories and fellowships and the like, they obviously deserve it. I don’t have to like what they’ve written – they don’t need my approval.

I admit, though, to often feeling jealous of them.

Here’s the deal. The path to literary fame is a lot more democratic than it used to be. You don’t have to toil away in the dark until some bigshot notices you. You can start on your own by sharing your stories online, even if it’s on a personal blog. And honestly, there are so many more literary magazines out there than before that you stand a high chance of getting published somewhere as long as your prose has merit.

At the same time, though, gateways do exist. People with certain backgrounds are likelier to make it as writers than others. For one thing, most of today’s successful writers have literature or writing degrees. Does a degree automatically make one a better writer? Not necessarily. But it is true that people who studied literature, journalism or creative writing in college are much likelier to engage in allied activities after college, and are thus likelier to get in touch with editors and publishers who can give their writing a home. The more they’re published, the likelier they are to get accepted to fellowships or MFAs, which means the likelier they are to get published by major houses (because let’s be honest, getting featured in Random College Grad’s Literary Review is unlikely to make any reading committee sit up with excitement), which means the likelier they are to get award nominations…you get the picture. Meanwhile you’re toiling away at your fiction, spending fortunes on submission fees hoping to get published somewhere (forget Random College Grad, I’ll even take High School Dropout’s Literary Review), spending hours writing application letters for fellowships where the minimum criterion for entry is a Booker Prize shortlist, all while juggling the stress and the sense of inadequacy that inevitably comes with the writing territory.

Jealousy? Completely understandable. At the same time, the usual rules about jealousy being an unproductive green-eyed monster apply. (Plus, it’s plain exhausting to feel venomously negative for more than five minutes at a stretch.)

So how does an ambitious-but-less-advantaged writer move on from their jealousy of the up-and-coming scribes who seemingly have it all?

Remind yourself that their success isn’t at the expense of yours.

You might not want to believe this, but it’s true. Other people being successful does not mean you have a lower shot at making it. It isn’t personal. There’s no pie they’re stealing more of. The world is always open to more fiction, as long as it’s good, and that good fiction could just as well come from you as from Highly Decorated Twenty Something.

Remember that an MFA/Residency/Fellowship is not a guarantee of success.

Lots of people study literature in college, and a fair fraction of them want to be writers. And yet the number of literature students with writing dreams who go on to make waves is actually much lower. Sure, some MFA programmes are better than others and give you more contacts and more exposure. But even at those programmes, not every graduate does equally well. Some end up as one-hit wonders. Some produce a series of semi-successful books that occasionally get long-listed for awards. A whole bunch more simply fade into obscurity. Only a very few really make it to the top – major awards, prestigious teaching appointments, national grants and the like. And those people would likely have made it anyway, even if they hadn’t done the MFA or residency. If you’re here, I’m assuming you want a more enduring career, one that translates to actual, substantial fame. And while you should undoubtedly aim for all the residencies and MFAs you can get (if nothing else for the financial security they offer), bear in mind that they will not guarantee your success. You still need to write excellently – which you can do anyway.

Don’t feel entitled.

This is the part I struggle with every. Effing. Day. That feeling of ‘I’ve been working so hard, I deserve this! How come those writers are getting it and not me?’ or ‘God, a ten-year-old can write better prose, how could a terrible story like this win the award? The jury must have been high on something!’ This is where you have to show yourself some tough love and remind yourself – you don’t ‘deserve’ anything. There are no special allowances for anyone. Within you may lurk enough talent for the world to someday hail you as the next F Scott Fitzgerald, but you need to earn that title just the same. Just like the original F Scott Fitzgerald earned his own repute in his time.

Accept that those writers may, in fact, be great writers.

Here’s something to always remember, now and later, even if you do someday become the next F Scott Fitzgerald – there will always be people ahead of you. Maybe they had better connections, maybe they were in the right place at the right time, maybe what they wrote was thematically in line with what the jury wanted, or you know what? Maybe they’re just better than you. They’ve worked harder at their craft, they have a better sense of rhythm, they can come up with stronger plots. After all, so many prize committees all over the world can’t be dumb, right? Those writers evidently have merit, even if you can’t see it. So you might as well move on from agonising over why they won and not you, and think about how maybe you can improve your own craft so that you have a better chance at winning next time.

Try to learn from those writers.

As if not feeling entitled and having to accept their merit was hard enough, right? Hear me out. Take up a story you don’t like, read through it carefully, and while you do so, try to identify exactly what you don’t like about their prose. Maybe their plot doesn’t move much? Maybe they use too many metaphors or adverbs? Maybe their dialogue is static? The point isn’t to gloat over those mistakes (although no judgement if you do 😋). The point is to see what goes into making a story fail – which is, if you think about it, just as important as knowing what makes a story succeed. And the takeaway for you is a better foundation in the things to avoid when putting your own fiction out into the world.

Focus on your unique story.

When it comes to writing, I have neither education nor connections nor work experience. I studied Economics and then Business Management, for reasons that had nothing to do with choice, and I currently make a living writing business articles that are entirely un-creative, albeit interesting on occasion. No one in my family or friend circle has anything to do with the literary world, and most people thought I was stark raving mad to want to be a writer when I could have a cushy job instead. And honestly, I sometimes think I’m mad too. At the same time, I know there is absolutely no rule that says I can’t make it as a writer because of my non-literary background – I just need to work harder to get my first break, that’s all. Plus, I now have unique life experiences that can add flavour to my fiction. Several of the people I met at B-school and my first workplace, for instance, would make highly interesting story characters (for reasons both complimentary and less so). And the loneliness I felt back then makes it much easier for me to write about things like solo travel, living in a remote place, dealing with the loss of family, being a fish out of water, or entering a new job/university/institution with a strong sense that this might make you or mar you. In other words? Think about the perspectives you’ve gained in your journey so far, and apply them – either directly or indirectly – to produce fiction that only you could have written. And trust me, you don’t need MFAs or accolades for that.

What have your own tussles with the green-eyed monster been like? Have you ranted for hours on end about the million ineptitudes in a single prize-winning story (guilty) or have you withdrawn your own submissions to a magazine after discovering that they feature people who’ve basically published the compositions they wrote as a twelve-year-old (guilty)? And what are the things that helped you bounce back again? The floor is yours.

Writing Goals for 2021

What a year it’s been for everyone! A near-apocalyptic state of affairs, and to think there was a time when we were just swapping articles about ‘that Wuhan virus’. I see a lot of content online about bidding good riddance to 2020, but I chose to take the kinder approach – be thankful for what the year has given me, and be excited about how I can make 2021 my own.

2020 was special for me on two counts. First, I met the love of my life, spent the lockdown with him and then married him in December. Secondly, I started writing fiction in earnest. The latter is something I was honestly unsure about – it would mean devoting most of my time and energy each day to becoming better at an art form that might never bring me success. And that daunted me. I won’t deny it. It scared the bejesus out of me to think that I might toil away at my writing for years and years and never make it in the literary world. But the truth is, I’ve always known that I would be a writer, and there was no better time than the enforced home-staying to do so. And thus the journey began, in May 2020, and it’s been crazy hard and worth every second of it.

It’s the first day of the new year, and I believe in the potential that clean slates hold. I have a brand-new planner at the ready, a bunch of story ideas waiting to be brought to fruition and a ton-load of motivation to write, write, write. And because I love having concrete goals to work towards, here are some of the things I want to focus on in 2021 as I continue on this wonderful new writing journey.

Preserve my incomplete drafts

I’m a perfectionist by nature, and I tend to ditch story drafts if I sense that they aren’t quite living up to their initial promise. However, I’d like to minimise that in 2021 for two reasons. First – a less-than-promising draft might reveal new ways of completing itself if I come back to it after a gap. Second – even if the draft itself isn’t that good, its concepts and/or characters might still be good enough to work into a new story. I’ve seen instances of both happen over the last few months, and I want to stop deleting and start preserving so that I have a bank of ideas to return to whenever I’m looking for something new.

Edit until my inner critic is satisfied

It’s often said that you can never edit a story enough, and thus you needn’t be too hung up about making it perfect. I agree, but with one caveat – you should edit your story until your inner critic says ‘yes’. And I don’t mean obvious edits like fixing plot holes or unnecessary adverbs. I mean – listen to that voice that says there’s something just short of okay about the opening line or about that piece of dialogue. Because that voice is telling you the truth – it needs rework, even if it means deleting all those lovely lines you spent so much time on. I had an awful time killing my darlings, and more than once I tried to talk myself out of editing it because it was pretty much okay and that was okay…right? It was not okay, as I found out the hard way, and now I’m willing to put in the extra effort and listen to my inner critic, until I know the story is ready. (And yes, you will always know when it’s really ready.)

Log regular hours

I used to be very mood-driven about my writing when I started out. If I felt like writing, I wrote; if I wanted to stop, I stopped. The problem with that is that sometimes I don’t feel like writing for more than five minutes, but if I just push myself past that feeling and keep going, I’m likely to get some solid work done. I use Toggl to track all my work projects every day, and the goal is to log at least 20 hours of fiction writing every week (in addition to my freelance projects, blogging and other important tasks). This will keep me accountable and keep me going even if I’m not necessarily feeling super-creative – as you might already know, it’s often necessary and sufficient just to get your words out on the page so that you have something to polish.

Read more

This might seem too obvious to mention, but I read shockingly few books in 2020 (there were extenuating circumstances, but even so) and I’d like to change that. The goal is to read 100 books, mostly classics and literary fiction from my to-read list. I’ll try to focus on writers whose style I admire and whom I’d like to learn from – I love Saul Bellow’s observational powers, for instance, and there are five books of his I want to read this year. Of course, I’ll keep the list flexible – there’s always new books you come across and end up loving.

Put my work out there

I want to get published. I am prepared to do anything it takes to get my stories published, and I flatter myself that my fiction isn’t quite so unremarkable that it doesn’t deserve to be shared with an audience. I already started sharing some of my work in late 2020 (hopefully I’ll have good news to share on that front soon!) and I’ll be doing a lot more of that, targeting both big-league journals and smaller publications. Of course there will be rejections – dozens of them. That’s part of the game. The key is to remember (and this is something I am still working on) that a rejection doesn’t have to mean that my story is bad. It just means the story wasn’t right for that particular issue of that particular magazine. Neil Gaiman once said to see a rejected story as a letter sent to the wrong address – you just need to find the right one! And while I do feel unhappy whenever a rejection email comes along (and there have been a good many of them already), it only spurs me on to keep sharing my work to more places until the acceptance email finally comes along.

Focus on mindful positivity

It’s no secret that writing is hard, and there are often times when I feel not only dejected, but absolutely miserable. I loathe myself for wanting to be a writer and consider looking for accounting jobs instead. And I’m not going to try and fix that with fake positivity where I go “Hey, at least I have two working hands and a working brain, life’s peachy!” That may work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. What I will try and do instead (and this is very much a work-in-progress) is to remind myself that I chose this life after several years of not being able to, and that I chose it because this is who I am. And while it is extremely hard, I have it in me to keep pushing because this is home, and you fight to keep your home. Over time, I hope these affirmations will help to control the mood swings, even if they can’t be eliminated. At the very least, I hope the affirmations will help me push through the mood swings and continue to write, even if I don’t feel like it in the moment. Writing is like any other kind of task – you need to push it sometimes. And that’s how it should be. And that’s how many of the most memorable stories are born.

A very happy new year to everyone, and lots of luck with your own writing goals!

Help! My Hero Is Just Like Me

It’s a trope we’re all warned against. The ‘coming-of-age’ novel that is in fact a thinly veiled lament on how cruel the world is to the author, a misunderstood genius who only does drugs in order to connect with a higher state of being. Bleurgh. Not to say that there aren’t exemplary takes on this trope too, but most of the time it’s bleurgh. And it’s more than understandable that you wouldn’t want to be classed as one of those writers.

I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t be doing, though – actively avoiding your own self as a source of writing inspiration or even as a character.

Let’s talk about human nature for a second. We like the familiar. We like the comfort that comes with things and ideas we know well. When we start out with writing we tend to feature familiar things in our work, be it a place we lived in or a subject we studied in college. And whom would you know better than your own self? (Of course, you could go all existential and say that none of us really knows our own selves, but for now let’s put that aside and assume that we know ourselves reasonably well, certainly better than we know our next-door neighbour or the barista who made our flat white today.) It’s instinctive, really, to introduce our realities into our first fiction. And there’s no need to ignore those instincts unless we have solid reasons to not wish to disclose aspects of our reality.

Moreover, writing about yourself is cathartic. There’s most likely a journey that brought you to the point where you decided you would be a writer. There were moments of indecision, perhaps discouragement or even mockery from your family and peers. There were books that inspired you, maybe movies you watched or conversations you had. Chronicling that journey can help you understand your own motivations better and act as a record you can refer to whenever you want. Of course, you could just write a diary entry about it, but fictionalising it gives it new depth and allows you to come to terms with yourself in a new way. And in the process, perhaps, you could discover answers to questions you’ve had about yourself but never really thought about in a concrete way.

I did the same thing. In my first novel, the main character (unlike me) is a man. His parents (unlike mine) are divorced. His ethnicity (unlike mine) is half-British, half-Punjabi. His experiences with reading and writing, however, have strong parallels with mine. His hunger for recognition, for escape from the path chosen for him by external forces is the same as mine. Both of us went to B-school, both of us have a strong fondness for American literature, both of us have made unfortunate mistakes in love but are capable of loving deeply and sincerely. The novel itself is a work-in-progress still, but giving it one and a half years of my life taught me so much about what I wanted and needed. In fact, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that writing that novel made me a more rounded person – and showed me beyond any doubt that fiction is where I am meant to be.

If you’re concerned that your protagonist is too much like you, or if you can’t seem to be able to work with characters who aren’t like you, try branching out bit by bit. Maybe write about someone who’s largely like you but differs from you in one very significant way. Or about someone with the same interests as you but a different culture. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try is to write about someone who’s completely different from you – different gender, different ethnicity, different history and characteristics, different loves. Flip everything about yourself around and see what you get – and create an interesting plot for that person while you’re at it.

I personally believe, though, that it’s absolutely fine to have the protagonist of your first novel be a lot like you. In fact, I’d even recommend it. All of us have at least one bildungsroman within us and there’s no shame in giving it the space it deserves. It might not necessarily be your best work, but it’ll be an important piece of writing all the same. And don’t be too worried about sounding egotistical or whatnot – this is your space, and your story that’s being told. Once you have this story down, you’ll be able to tackle other stories about other people with a freer mind. And – if you’re very lucky – you might just have the seeds of a new ‘Catcher In The Rye’ in your hands.

Identity Bites: When You Hate Yourself For Being A Writer

Anything can trigger thoughts like this.

Perhaps you’ve been having an unproductive morning (or day, or several days).

Or perhaps you read a story that’s been published in a reputed journal or that’s won some major award, and you think “I wish I could write like that” or, worse, “I can write like that too. Why does he/she get published and I don’t?”

Or perhaps you’ve been reading some fabulous work of literary fiction and oohing and aahing over sentences that seem to have been crafted by magic, and you’re suddenly reminded of the draft you’re working on right now and how paltry it seems in comparison.

And then, before you know it, it starts.

You look around you, at the books in your room. All the writers you admire, whose craft you try to model your own on. Great writers, all of them, with decorated careers. They’re the movers and shakers of the literary world. Theirs are the names mentioned in hushed voices by the intelligentsia. They made it, and now they’ll be remembered by generations to come. Who are you to presume to stand in such exalted company?

Or you start thinking about other people in your life – the non-writers. They have regular lives, with work and hobbies and family and friends. They have their share of problems, sure, but they don’t have to deal with this crippling self-hatred. They don’t have to look at their work every day and question the premises of their decision to take up that work as a profession. They don’t have to worry about whether or not their art has meaning. Heck, they don’t have to care about art at all except in passing. Unlike you. You care, because you have to care. Desperately.

And if you start thinking both trains of thought in parallel (as I do all too often), they’ll collide to form one hell of an explosion.

Why did you have to want to write? Why couldn’t you have been satisfied with some nice safe salaried career? Why did you have to pick a life where there are so many others ahead of you already? Why are you like this?????

And the aftermath of that explosion is your battered, anguished, inconsolable mind.

Now it’s very easy to say ‘then don’t think like that’. If only we could execute things by the simple act of mentioning them, life would be so much easier. Alas, we must learn things the hard way here as in all spheres of life.

So how do you overcome this identity crisis soon enough and completely enough to move on?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I believe in the importance of riding out your negative feelings. To immediately try and think of solutions or force yourself to ‘be positive’ is to deny yourself the chance to understand the exact length and breadth of what you’re going through – which in turn will make it harder to think of concrete solutions rather than general feel-good fixes. Instead, take some time out, go to a quiet place, make yourself comfortable and feel. Switch all judgement off and allow yourself to feel as low and negative as you want. Tell yourself that you’ll never be a writer, dwell on missed opportunities or bad experiences in your past, write “I hate myself” over and over on a piece of paper – do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s not dangerous (and by dangerous I mean anything upwards of binge-eating).

But here’s the trick – allow yourself only a fixed amount of time to be negative. It could be half an hour, it could be one hour, it could be two hours, that depends on you. But you’re only allowed to feel your feelings for that specific interval of time. Not one second more.

Once you’ve ridden out your designated ‘negative time’, you’ll feel calmer, if not exactly better. And now’s the time to think of the way forward. Yes, the life of a writer is hard. But since you’ve chosen this life for yourself, why not spend less time wishing you hadn’t and more time making the most of it? Chances are there used to be a time when you’d long with all your heart for the opportunity to write fiction. Well, you have that now. You’re following your passion, just like you promised yourself you would. You’re a writer – a writer of fiction, potentially a very good one. You’ve started out on a tremendously exciting new journey because you were brave enough and passionate enough to do so. That’s something to be proud of, not grumble about. Plus, all those great writers you admire? They started out just like you did – nervous, unschooled and unsure of their own abilities. They weren’t born with Nobel Prizes to their names. Why fret over the selves they became after years and years of hard work when you could be putting in those years towards your own writing?

It’s the same for me. I only recently started writing fiction full-time after three years of dabbling with a business career. On paper it’s my dream, but in reality I have those self-hatred moments as often as anyone. It’s so important to keep reminding myself to be grateful for this chance I’ve been given. Yes, gratitude is infinitely easier to talk about than to practise, but as my boyfriend says, it’s when it’s the hardest that it’s the most important. So I do it, imperfectly and with gnashed teeth, but I do it. I work on myself until I can feel grateful and positive again. And then I get back to writing the hopeful, amateurish prose that might someday be polished enough to get me that recognition I want. But it’s a long way till there, as it is for everyone. The trick is to learn, over time, how to enjoy the journey. Preachy much? Unfortunately the sermons do often get it right. I used to think all this gratitude and keep-going business was hot air, but I learnt the hard way that that’s really the only sustainable way to live. The life of a writer is a tough one, an uncertain one. What you need more than anything else is conviction, and that won’t come from hating yourself for being a writer.

(Oh, and all those books about self-hatred being a crucial part of understanding yourself? Read them for interest and for picking up craft tips, but do not be swayed by their precepts. There’s some very depressing literature out there, written by very troubled young people living through times of enormous upheaval, and at a certain stage those seem like Bibles to swear by, but don’t. Just, don’t. Self-hatred is perhaps the least poetic thing in the world. Believe me – I went through two years of it myself, and I do not wish to ever go back again.)

One of the opposites of self-hatred is self-love, and there are as many ways to practise it as there are people on this planet. I could write a post about it later, but for now I’d like to hear your take on it. Do you take lengthy bubble baths? Do you eat an entire tub of ice-cream? Do you volunteer at cat rescue shelters? Drop a comment below.

Staying Happy: Love, Lunges And Literary Exploration

Writing can take more out of you than you realise. Not just the writing itself, but all the thinking about it, all the agonising over whether you’re good enough, all the comparison with famous writers and the self-loathing that inevitably follows. It’s exhausting. And it makes it harder than ever to stay positive – which, I’ve learnt the hard way, is the only way one can hope for a sustained writing career.

Sure, we all have our bits of fun throughout the day. A particularly well-brewed coffee, an unexpected plot idea that strikes you while you’re showering, a phone call with your best friend. But those are just spikes of emotion. Being happy is more all-encompassing than that. Happiness transcends what you’re doing (or not doing) and focuses on what you are. Are you emotionally stable on the whole? Do you have more positive thoughts and responses than negative ones? Do you smile/laugh at least once every day? That’s what being happy means, even if your coffee is the crappiest to ever come out of a percolator (though that’s a sore trial, I grant you).

Happiness means different things to different people. But for me the answer’s simple – love is all I need to stay happy. I’m not saying I was unhappy earlier, but my life has changed completely ever since I met my boyfriend. We met and fell in love just before the Covid-19 lockdown began, so we could start living together right from the start. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is. Being surrounded by unconditional, demonstrative love gives me a sense of security, comfort and optimism like nothing I’ve ever experienced. As if that weren’t wonderful enough, he understands my love for writing like no one else, and that’s because he used to be a writer himself. He’s shelved his prose for now, but he’s still being the most supportive partner in every way, from recommending new books to critiquing my writing to sharing his own experiences as a novelist. (He still has his drafts, and I’m strongly tempted to steal them and get them published on his behalf, because he’s amazing and deserves to have his name out there, but that’s a story for another day.)

Under his guidance I’ve also taken up something I never thought I would – exercise! From five minutes of ineffectual hopping about and frantically invoking every deity’s name, I’ve worked my way up to about one hour of strength training every day. I’m still not perfect, and I do pause in between to catch my breath or correct my form, but I already feel so much healthier and fitter. Plus, exercise has given my routine what it sorely needed – a fixed point. Now that I know I have to exercise every morning after tea and before breakfast, I plan out my time so that I can read awhile and get some cuddles in before the weights and yoga mats come out. I’m trying to extend this discipline to the rest of my day as well for max productivity. Oh, and guess what – all those things they say about exercise making you happier? They’re all true. There’s absolutely nothing like a good workout to drive away the morning blues and get you raring for the day ahead.

And to keep the literary soul in me happy even on the days I can’t write a line, I feed it with an omnivorous diet of reading material. I know I’m supposed to be a discerning reader in order to write better (my boyfriend certainly thinks so), but reading for me has always been about joy and I just don’t want to take that away from myself. I used to read multiple novels at a time, but lately I’ve been more about focusing on one book. We have a glorious library set up at home (more on that in a later post), and it’s so satisfying to be able to browse through the shelves and pick a book and know it’ll be good (we’re both highly particular about the books we buy, mostly literary fiction). And the act of reading itself can spark a whole new set of ideas – some of which might form themselves into good stories when I work on them.

I run the risk of sounding preachy by saying this, but being happy really is about what you have already and what you make of it. I can choose to be unhappy that I started my writing career so late and am nowhere near close to being published even in minor forums – or I can choose to be happy that I am a writer at all and that I have the perfect set of conditions to become a better writer in. Yes, it isn’t always easy to remind myself of this, and more than once I have spiralled into a place of gloom from which escape seems impossible. But on more days than not, love keeps me going strong regardless of what my productivity is. And when that’s not enough, there’s lunges. And when that’s not enough, there’s literary exploration.

And if none of them seem to be working, I order the flat white from my favourite cafe.

What The Silent Town Is All About

Here’s the only rule that a writer needs to remember:

The beginning is the hardest. Things always get easier from that point.

Well, actually, nope. There are several more that are equally important. Don’t use too many adverbs. Show, don’t tell. Make your opening line a hook. Don’t end with the main character realising it was all a dream. And I’ve only recently come to appreciate the rule about taking a story through to completion, as opposed to just starting it – even if it isn’t overflowing with literary merit.

But everything has a starting point, and it’s fair to say that the mere act of starting something gives one a sense of accomplishment and propels one towards doing more of it and feeling more of that “I did it” high. (Plus, is there any such thing as ‘completing’ a blog? Apart from simply letting it peter out, of course.)

This blog is a story. It’s a story in progress, of how I’m evolving as a writer. Like all stories it needed a beginning, and the beginning of this blog was in the name – Once There Was A Silent Town. I’d toyed with several potential names, but this one struck my fancy. Why would a town be silent, and is it still that way? Perhaps I’ll write a story about someday. Or perhaps you will. Feel free to use it as a writing prompt.

But then the beginning is only the apparent starting point of any story. This blog is officially about my new life as a literary fiction writer, and my journey to this starting point has been a long and tough one. It’s a separate story that I’ll talk about in future posts, perhaps – once I’ve made sufficient progress on this journey to view the previous one impartially. And my relationship with blogging deserves a post of its own. I’ll give you the short version right away, though – so far, I’ve sucked at maintaining blogs.

So what makes this blog different?

Well, for one thing I’ve really come to see the importance of consistency. I’m the most erratic person in the universe, and one day of frenzied writing can be followed by several days of equal parts self-loathing and cooking video binges. Which is all very well, but having something you show up for every single day is crucial, I’ve seen, for long-term sanity. Fitness is something I’ve been showing up for since April 2, and it’s helped. Immensely. I’d like there to be more constants like that.

For another, this isn’t a story to which I know the ending. It’s an ongoing journey, and there are miles and miles yet to cover. Writing about a past experience tends to drag after a while – one’s much better off covering it in an essay or a story or even a book. An ongoing experience, though, is ideal for blogging about because there’s something new to report every day. A productivity technique that worked out (or didn’t), thoughts on a certain book or author, life tweaks I’m making to be healthier and so on. There are tons of writers like me out there who’ve read tips from already-famous writers ad nauseum, but what about the struggle of getting to a state of fame – or even something close to it? What about the countless steps forward and double-steps backward that go into the making of a writer? That’s something I’m discovering for myself, and I’d like to share the insights I get with people who might benefit from them.

With regard to this blog, I’ve done a bit of prep and will be winging most of the rest. I’ve chosen the WordPress theme (free, of course) that matches my aesthetic sensibilities as closely as possible so that I needn’t bother with tweaking fonts or colours. I’ve dreamed up a bunch of categories and slotted them under a cool drop-down menu, and I’m almost certain I’ll forget what the criteria for each category are within a few weeks. The frequency of posts can range from three times a week to once in three weeks, depending on how well I can actually live up to the consistency jazz. What I can promise, however, are honest insights and personally tested tips on how to lead the best writer’s life you can – couched, hopefully, in posts you’ll enjoy reading.

I wish I knew how to write better conclusions. (If I ever do figure it out, there’ll be a post about it stat.) For now, welcome to my blog, and happy writing! 🙂