Category Archives: Writing

The Making of an Outrage

As someone who writes articles and cracks jokes for a living, I am fascinated by the cycles of rage and outrage that appear on the Internet on a daily basis.

I wish I could say I am detached – but my livelihood depends on keeping track and opinionating on these outrages. Writing an article on a trending topic has brought me thousands of readers. Cracking a joke on a relevant person has won me applause and cheers. Suffice to say my livelihood depends on me being in tune with what’s the rage and outrage on the Internet.

But I managed to get into the eye of an outrage storm last month, and the entire experience – while tiring – has been fascinating for someone who studied culture and trends.

The article

I wrote a blog on Hardik Pandya’s controversy on Koffee With Karan, and how it was unnecessarily being drummed up to be an issue.

If you are familiar with my blogs, you’ll know that they are peppered with abuses, sarcasms and jabs. I write for a newspaper, news websites, for TV channels, the Internet, for my stand-up bits – amidst all this, writing for my blog seems like a release – I can write what I want and move on without thinking about it too much.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here.

The article gained some traction and I got a request from the site – ThePrint. They asked me permission to repost the article after making minor changes to it. I agreed, because that is how I begin writing for most sites.

But not only was I NOT offered any money, ThePrint did not have the courtesy to reply to my repeated mails about the article. The worst bit though, was they edited the headline of the article. From The Lynching of Hard-Dick Pandya, it was changed to If Hardik Pandya was a woman, she would be hailed as a sexual revolutionary.

This was one line in the post, but making it the headline changed the slant of the article from political correctness to gender equality – which the article wasn’t about. They also added their own tagline to the article – Rich Liberals attacking Hardik Pandya same as Right-wing trolling of Naseeruddin Shah.

They also sanitised the article of all the puns and jokes. From a funny rant, it now read like the rabid outpouring of a deranged man.

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Perhaps I could have gone about it in a smarter way. I later found out that the site was run by Shekhar Gupta. That it was accused by right-wingers as being leftist, and by liberals as being jingoistic. And I had uniquely brought myself into a situation where I was hated by both the sides!

The article began to get traction because the headline toed three trending topics that week – Hardik Pandya, Feminism, Political Correctness. I began to get comments on the post by readers who were ‘disappointed’ in me. I don’t understand this ‘disappointment’.

They all said that they’d been reading me for years, and were ashamed of being a subscriber after reading the article. I don’t get it – I write what I want, you don’t pay me a penny for it. On days that you smile, laugh or take your mind off work – do you send me a message saying ‘Thanks’? Better still, do you ask for my Google Pay number and transfer me some money? Where does this ‘disappointment’ stem from, then?

I generally reply to every comment or mail, and I was trying to do the same.

I tried explaining that misogyny or gender is hardly my point here. It was about being overly politically correct.

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The one line that angered a lot of women in the article was this – If Hardik Pandya was a woman, she would be hailed as a sexual revolutionary. I still stand by the line. I think Indians don’t speak too often about sex. We need to address it, get comfortable with it, discuss it

The next question was – how do you know she would be hailed? Who would hail her? How can you speak on behalf of women when you’re a man? Accusation of ‘mansplaining’.

I have never understood that line of bullying. That being a man gives me no right to speak about women. Being a woman however, gives someone the right to comment on men’s behaviour. This is bigoted logic, but one cannot oppose it without being called a misogynist or sexist.

I do not claim to speak on behalf of women; I can only speak on behalf of myself. I would certainly have hailed her for speaking about sex on national television. Unfortunately, it was a case of a man presuming how society would have reacted to an imaginary comment by a woman, and the red flag began to flutter on Twitter.

 

THINGS STARTED GETTING SCARY

In the meanwhile, two important things happened – Baradwaj Rangan and Anurag Kashyap shared the article. These are two men whose craft and opinions I respect, and it felt wonderful to see that they echo my sentiments. But the warm feelings quickly began to subside.

Them sharing the article led to even more shares. From a few hundred shares on my blog, it spread far and wide – getting shared more than 10,000 times.

If you’ve read my blog, you’d know that I always reply to comments. If there’s a contrarian opinion, I always engage in a discussion. On the blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook – both on my blog page as well as The Print’s FB post.

By then, it was too late. I was already branded as a misogynist.

 

THE HATRED

Unfortunately, it is impossible to debate with someone who has a preconceived notion of you.

The comments began about the article, slowly got personal, and then became about promoting rape culture. I was baffled how the interview, my article, or anything in the issue pertained to ‘rape culture’ in the first place.

One comment said, ‘Then you must also support the Nirbhaya rapists who gangrape women’. That one comment really shook my insides. For all their contributions to a great cause, most Indian feminists are rude, condescending, and bigoted in their views. Talking to a feminist is no different from talking to a BJP fanboy in many ways.

Also, I am sick of people bringing up Nirbhaya just to buffer their arguments. It is an insult to Nirbhaya herself, the trauma her family goes through, and every woman who has faced sexual assault. But unfortunately, there is no spectrum of moderation in Indian debates. You are either a bra-burning feminist or a Nirbahaya-rapist supporter. There is no middle ground, no scope for negotiation, no moderation of any sort.

A WORD ON INDIAN LIBERALS

Indian liberals are not very different from the hardcore right-wing.

Both these sections are constantly looking for ways to slot you into a category. Spoke against Congress? You are a Modi supporter! Spoke for Hardik Pandya? You support rape culture!

This narrative is so lazy, so uninspired, so dull – that you quietly back off into the background to avoid a splitting headache. What was most surprising was the reaction of my juniors. I studied in the University of Hyderabad – one of those Indian universities where the professors subtly plug moronic leftist agenda into their students.

The indoctrination in universities is astounding – you take an impressionable 20-year-old kid and feed him/her with your own ideology. You could walk into any Indian social-sciences university today, and you’ll find you need to fit into a ‘category’.

These are all kids with no real-world knowledge, haven’t worked a single job all their lives, their world is a limited, urban coterie of echo chambers, but now they are equipped with a rigid, myopic view of the world.

I generally laugh off my University juniors and their opinions but sadly, it didn’t just end with trolling.

I perform stand-up comedy shows all through the year and people started commenting on the events. One dude with an anonymous profile (but of course!) posted messages like ‘Do you also promote rape culture? ‘Cos Hriday Ranjan certainly does!’. Every single link or event I shared was met with the same response – some 20-year-old dumbfuck pissing his half-baked opinions on my wall.

I logged into Facebook the next day and the scenario was the same. The article had been shared over 30,000 times. I was being called a misogynist, a promoter of rape-culture. Friends of mine pinged me to say that their boss shared the article, and they are misogynists, and my article was enabling them, giving them a voice.

Memes began to be circulated of Hardik Pandya’s interview being compared to Rahul Dravid’s MTV Bakra clip from the 90s. Shit had hit the fan, but it wasn’t the first time something like this was happening. I was used to being trolled by fans of actors but being labelled as a supporter of rape because of an article really perplexed me.

THE EBBING

In a few days, it was all gone, People found new things to outrage over, and I was glad the thing was beyond me. I had thought of putting up a post about what I meant, but it would seem like I was justifying my opinion – something I didn’t find necessary.

But then, something amazing happened. Rahul Dravid the man that Indian liberals were comparing Hardik Pandya to, himself commented on the issue. His take? That they were boys who made a mistake, the issue was being blown out of proportion, and that it was necessary to educate youngsters rather than chastising them.

So, I guess Rahul Dravid is a promoter of rape-culture too then, huh? And Anurag Kashyap, and Baradwaj Rangan, and all the men and women who shared the article – they must all be promoters of rape culture?

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I have found that discussions and debates in the country are slowly descending into mud-slinging and name-calling. It certainly wasn’t the case a few years ago.

I have been writing for more than a decade now, and till a few years ago, someone who disagreed with my opinion would leave a long comment on the post. I would chill through the day and check the comment in the night and reply to it. Some of these debates would go on for days, and one got to learn of different opinions, facts, and viewpoints.

Around 2014, the rise of the right-wing in both India’s political spectrum and social media brought about a new phenomenon. Ardent devotees of the Supreme Leader who would bash your opinion to the ground, bury it in soil and piss all over it. But the liberals could at least be reasoned with.

In the last few years, the liberals have risen to challenge the right-wing in their own currency. What we have now is two cardboard boxes on either side of a debate. One must come running and quickly jump into one of the boxes. If you’re not a feminist, you are a misogynist. If you are an atheist, you must be a left-winger. If you criticise the BJP, you must be a ‘presstitute’ (whatever the fuck that term means). This type of categorisation is sickening and stifling.

To stay neutral, or to be able to pick pros and cons from different side – is called out as ‘hypocrisy’. Which is funny because in India, there is no real left-wing or right-wing.

These were concepts created for economic reasons, and in India, every party is a left-wing party. If you assume that the BJP is truly right-wing according to global standards, have a look at sops, subsidies, and demands for reservations among the ruling party this year. In India, right and left wing is determined primarily on religious grounds.

It is a laughable dichotomy to begin with, but turns out to be silly when you see passionately calling themselves either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’.

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In a few days, the news became stale.

Ranveer Singh wore an outrageous costume, or Jahnvi Kapoor picked her nose on the way to her gym, and all was good with the world again.

That, unfortunately, is the way we feel, discuss, and debate issues in our country.

*****

Jackie

Articles published in April

Some of you requested a post on all the articles I wrote through the month on other sites.

I have pasted links to the articles below, along with a small description. There are two things to keep in mind.

  1. These articles were written for a particular time/incident/event. So some of them might not be as relevant today. But read them nonetheless.
  2. The headlines are not mine. Some of the headlines are too attention-whory, the others are written to attract people to read them. As a writer, I have no control over the headlines given to the articles.

Here are the links:

1. The Cult of Bhai 

In this article, I have tried to keep aside my bias against Bhai, his fuckall movies, and his zombie legions of fans. I have tried to analyse why he is so popular, and if he has overtaken his so-called more intelligent colleagues, there must be something about the person.

This article looks at his life, his choice of films, and what makes him so huge among fans. Writing the article was a lot of fun. More importantly, I got messages from people thanking me for the article, and that it changed the way they perceive Bhai. Find the link to the article below:

https://www.101india.com/people/what-makes-salman-khan-biggest-superstar-country-has-seen

 

2. Osho the Enigma 

If you’ve watched Wild Wild Country, the stunning documentary on Netflix on Osho and Rajneeshpuram, your interest in Osho must have been piqued. I wrote a quasi-review of the documentary, along with my arguments on how Osho was the original dude.

There will be many Babas in India, but all of them are doing what Osho did, to some extent. Now, personally I am a fan of Osho and like what he says, but since the article was for another site, and I need to keep a check on my raving, I had to present a balanced point of view.

The article did moderately well, and Osho followers and groups started following me on Instagram, which is a minor achievement of sorts.

https://www.101india.com/people/wild-wild-country-not-so-much-about-osho-woman-who-led-rise-his-cult

 

3. Bobby Darling Deol 

With a comeback on the cards, Bobby Deol is pushing 50 and attempting to rule the hearts of his original fan-club, who are now women in their late 30s. He is coming back in a film with Bhai and others.

The article looks at his meteoric rise, and how he dragged himself into irrelevance. A career that began with dizzying heights, and by the end, all his roles looked like a stoner imitation of Dharmendra. This article was published on Arre, a terrific website that you must follow.

Are We Ready for Bobby Deol’s Dhai Kilo Ka Comeback?

 

4. 20 Years since Desert Storm 

Exactly 20 years ago, Sachin Tendulkar established himself as the Numero Uno batsman in the world. This article looks at those two innings, and what they meant for Sachin and his legacy.

As a batsman, Sachin does not have too many marquee moments – last ball finishes, finals of big tournaments, etc. But the Desert Storm in Sharjah will be remembered as the apex of Sachin’s cricketing career. This article was published in DailyO.

https://www.dailyo.in/sports/happy-birthday-sachin-tendulkar-april-1998-australia-versus-india/story/1/23664.html

 

5. Ball Tampering and Cheating Aussies

After the brazen ball-tampering incident came to light, both David Warner and Steven Smith cried in front of the media and pleaded forgiveness. As someone who grew up watching Australian cricket, it infuriated me no end that the captain of a premier international side got away with something like this.

The incident meant that there must be so much more going on that did not get caught. I mean, it certainly couldn’t be the first time something like this was being done. The article is a (slightly harsh) piece on how Australians were always the bullies of international cricket, and have none of my sympathy (which I had clearly exhausted on Salman Bhai and Bobby Deol).

https://www.dailyo.in/sports/steven-smith-ball-tampering-australia-cricket-racism-sledging/story/1/23193.html

 

So there you go, those are the articles I wrote through April. I plan to write more this month, and will share the links a little earlier this time. 🙂

chetan-bhagat759

The Hatred for Chetan Bhagat in India

I’ll admit I have hated Chetan Bhagat ever since he chose to become the voice of the generation.

I have lambasted him on my blog a number of times (back in the days when I would wake up in the morning, smoke a joint and shoot off blogs). I hated his annoying, all-knowing attitude, his IIT-IIM White-Lightning face, and his knack of reducing the complex problems of the nation into simplistic solutions reminiscent of Govinda-Kader Khan movies.

And yet, my hatred for him is his annoying public persona, his elevation to some sort of public intellectual on the basis of his novels. Over the years however, I have softened towards the man.

Primarily because in the years since, I have been a struggling author myself. Every year for the last three years, I do acid in the month of January and plan out the book for that year. I spend the next 11 months toiling and wrestling and struggling with that book. I then send it out to publishers in December and get rejected – year after year, every year.

So I get the pain. I don’t condone Chetan Bhagat’s public persona and opinions, but the utter hatred for the man has baffled me.

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I have noticed two distinct traits in how we Indians consume art.

1. Overdose: If something works, there are a hundred clones of that genre. Take for example all those authors who wrote books called ‘I had a love story’, ‘You had a love story’, ‘We all had a love story’, Modi had a love story’, ‘Can love happen  twice/thrice/746 times’.

We take a winning formula and churn it out till we are up to it in our necks. That is the

reason why Shah Rukh Khan still plays a lovelorn romantic hero. It is the reason why our singers spend their entire lifetime singing a particular kind of songs. It’s the reason that as a nation (with all our diversity and languages), the only kind of music we have is film music.

2. The phenomenon of ‘too massy’: If something becomes too popular (meaning it seeps past the urban minority and reaches out to Tier-II, III and rural areas), it is considered crass and distasteful. This happened to Govinda’s movies, Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma, and Reliance Jio.

In a nation that suffers from a crippling inequality of wealth, anything that is consumed by the masses is automatically assumed to be cheap and crass. The same happened to Chetan Bhagat and his books too. Till about 2008, he was being hailed as a game-changer, someone who finally spoke the language of the masses, about issues that a newer India could relate to. But as soon as he become a nation-wide phenomenon, he was deemed too ‘low-market’. 

Most people I meet actually don’t hate him for his opinions, but for his writing.

These are mostly urban, elite, youngsters who were brought up on Hemingway and Prost, and grew up to echo the opinions of everybody else around them. 

I don’t even know where to begin with this argument. Writing, like any other art form, is highly subjective. There’s no real saying about what’s good or bad. Some of the greatest literary epics – from Grapes of Wrath to Moby Dick to A Catcher in the Rye were panned by critics and readers.

This is even shocking in a nation like India where knowledge of English Literature is a direct reflection of the social capital that you enjoy. Your taste in books is ‘better’ because of your upbringing – your parents, school, the company you keep. It does not make you wiser, or more tasteful, it just makes you a privileged fucking snob who chooses to piss over other’s tastes

About 10% of India’s population speak English. Out of those, these people are about 5% – the ones with access to books and literature. And yet, the sheer snobbery when it comes to Bhagat and his books is appalling.

To mock the themes of his books, the idiotic stereotyping is one thing. But to say that the English/grammar in his book ‘sucks’ – I’m sorry – makes you an elite prick.

 

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Chetan Bhagat might not be a literary force de majeur, but he has encouraged millions of Indians to pick up a book and read for pleasure. Before Bhagat, a book by an Indian author cost above 350 rupees, and a small jar of Amrutanjan Pain Relief Balm.

As someone who mails publishing houses every year with a manuscript idea, I have a fair idea about the industry – a gigantic incestuous family that churns out shit year after year. This is hardly a new phenomenon and legendary Indian writers have had a problem with this hackneyed Indian publishing industry that is reeling from a 70 year colonial hangover. Manto had his own share of problems, as did RK Narayan – who self-published his books after years of frustration.

Indian publishing houses put the ‘prof’ in ‘unprofessional’. There are no prompt responses, no acknowledgment of acceptance. You are supposed to shoot in a mail and wait in the darkness for months at end. Try getting a phone number and pinging/calling (something that would be considered alright in any other industry) is looked down upon.

And in spite of all this attitude, the kind of books that are published are not worth wiping your shit with. And Chetan Bhagat cracked this market.

Hate him as much as you want, but young India is reading his books. They don’t give two shits about Vikram Seth and his unsuitable balls, or Arundhati Roy cribbing about the state, its mechanisations and the colour of aliens’ underwears.

First generation Indian English speakers are free of the colonial burden of Indian literature and are picking up Chetan Bhagat’s books. His works are accessible, relatable and palatable.

 

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Which is why I smiled when my Tinder date complained about Chetan Bhagat books. She went on about how she thought he was ‘disgusting’, and wished that Indians would read Neil Gaiman and Murakami instead. Sure thing, Little Princess. I quickly asked for the cheque and looked for the exit.

I assume she thought she was being remarkably different – a cut above the rest. While all she was, was an intellectual five point someone!

*****

 

Suggested Reading:

Forbes’ Article on Chetan Bhagat and his impact on Indian Literature 

 

My own blog where I discuss how Chetan Bhagat’s solutions are reminiscent of David Dhawan-Govinda movies.

New York Times article titled ‘How English Ruined Indian Literature’ – a different perspective on the same issue. (which I thought was rubbish, but I’m trying to be unbiased here! 😀 )

 

NaNoWriMo Day 2 Updates: Best Music to Listen to while Writing

I am taking part in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. An event where thousands of aspiring writers sit down to write the first drafts of their novel in a span of 30 days.

I have been attempting it for the last three years, but failing spectacularly (Imagine Manoj Prabhakar in a World Cup semi-final). I found that it was because I was ill prepared, and had no idea where my plot was going to take me. This year, I spent a few weeks in October getting my plot ready, diving my story into chapters, and developing the sub-plots in my head.

This seems to be working wonders, as I don’t have to sit down to think about what to write. I have a brief idea of what happens, so it’s only a case of how to write it. It reduces the burden on me to come up with an interesting story; all I need to do is focus on maintaining the flow.

If you’re an aspiring writer, I urge you to follow my Facebook page, where I shall be putting up regular tips, updates and follow-ups of my struggle with trying to finish my first draft in a month. If you’re not a writer, kindly bear with my posts this coming month. They will mostly be scrambled rants about the vagaries of trying to write. If you do not connect to the rants, I am sorry.

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#NaNoWriMo DAY 2

It’s the second day of NaNoWriMo, and the challenge really, was to sustain the josh of the first day. First days are beautiful and sunny and inspirational and all things Rocky Balboa. But it’s the day after that’s an acid test.

Assuming the average first draft of a book is 50,000 words, the average word count per day in NaNoWriMo is 1666 words per day. At first, the number seems daunting. But scratch a little deeper, and you’ll find it isn’t as unsurmountable as it seems.

On days when I’m well and truly stuck, I like to divide my day’s writing into paragraphs. Assuming every paragraph is about 200 words on average, I have to write about 8 – 9 paragraphs. Doesn’t sound so difficult, does it?

And if you further break it down, a paragraph usually deals with a single idea – a description, an action, a memory, or a set of dialogues. Which means that I have to trudge my way through 8 or 9 key ideas. And THAT, sounds extremely doable!

And so I sat down to write for the second day.

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But before I get down to the mundane events of the day, let me answer a question I’ve been asked related to writing.

WHAT SORT OF MUSIC TO LISTEN TO WHILE WRITING?

Most writers wouldn’t recommend listening to any music at all. However, most writers do not possess the focus of a coked-up squirrel, like I do. Which is why I need a distraction to end all distractions.

Also, in the world we live in, it has become harder to focus, tougher to push away our distractions. A ping from a friend, a forward from a relative, a buzz from an actor on Twitter – we are a ping away from distraction crumbling down like Kuki Sharda. (Dear God! I beg your forgiveness).

However, listening to music while writing is a tricky matter. Unlike running, or working out, or cooking – you can’t have music that pushes you forward. It cannot be music that makes you feel pumped up. It has to have a calming effect.

At the same time, it cannot be AR Rahman’s greatest instrumental playlist either. Great and evocative as they are, Rahman’s tracks bring with them a memory tucked away in the back of your head. They carry with them recollections and reminders and thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are distractions when you’re sitting down to write.

The song cannot have lyrics too, as the words of the song will mess with the words you’re trying to write. So that eliminates most music forms popular in our times. The music shouldn’t evoke strong emotions, its work must merely be to calm you down. To get your monkey mind to transform into a saint.

I tried a number of options – white noise, sound of trains and sounds of rains. And yet, none of them seemed to work. I tried elevator music – Brian Emo’s Music for Airports and Thursday Afternoon. They’re both fantastic albums, but they’re too elevator-y. Too bland, they invoke no inspiration, they inspire no provocation. Instead of egging me to write, I felt that the music made me feel like a crack addict who was tied to the metal bed in a psychiatric hospital.

It was after much searching through the underbelly of the Internet that I found my answer – classical music. Western symphony music has no lyrics, moves from emotions in a smooth manner, and makes everything seem grand.

Don’t believe me? Play Rossini’s overture to The Thieving Magpie the next time you’re taking a dump. Tell me if you don’t feel like it’s the greatest dump taken in the history of human civilization. I found a fantastic radio station – KDFC – run by the University of Southern California. They have playlists, request shows and mostly classical music that helps me to calm down, focus and type. I often find my fingers keeping tempo with the music, speeding up towards the end of the performances, and slowing down when the next one begins. I’d highly recommend listening to western classical music.

Before you accuse me of being an anti-national, here’s why Indian classical music didn’t work for me. I have listened to a lot of Indian classical music. The instruments evoke memories in me, and I cannot be completely detached to Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain and Shivkumar Sharma. These beautiful gentlemen were a part of my growing years, and I needed something that was neutral and unemotional for me.

However, I would also highly recommend Hariprasad Chaurasia’s albums Morning to Midnight – Morning to Dusk, Pure Joy, and (for completely biased reasons), Hriday.

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Day 2 Updates:

I got back from my office at 9.45. Our cook had cooked meal-maker curry in the day, and had merely added daal to the menu. This prompted me to have a Masala Dosa in the office (a huge shoutout to the wonderful cooks who make the dosa in the Microsoft campus).

I reached home to find that the geyser (which was installed in the heyday of Bahadur Shah Zafar) had been repaired, and I took a shower. I rolled a joint, and sat down to jot down what I’d be writing today.

At 12, I began writing, going smooth till I’d hit 890 words. I found myself stuck with a particular question (What sort of food would students in the Mahabharat era eat?). I had a quick discussion with my friend, and the harmless question stretched on for an hour and a half.

By the end of the discussion, we had charted out the daily schedule for the Kaurava princes at Dronacharya’s ashram. We knew what they would do on regular days, and on holidays and festive occasions.

We had also created a menu for students in the Dwaapar Yuga, and what they’d be given to eat on holidays. By the end of the discussion, we saw that the time was 3.30. I wished my friend goodnight and sat down to write myself to sleep, managing a healthy 1682 words for the day.

Lessons learnt on Day 2:

  1. If you’re stuck with descriptions, carry an exam pad and sketch out the places, doodle out the exact details, and then proceed to explain them one after the other.
  1. If you’re finding it difficult to focus, classical music is a great option to resort to.

So, on the third day of November, I stand at 3315 words, and well into the second chapter of my fourth book.

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If you’re an aspiring writer, I implore you to take part in NaNoWriMo. There are wonderful fora across the Internet where authors sit and discuss, debate, and bitch about the world. All through this month, I shall be posting unsolicited advice, tips, and updates about my struggles to finish my book in a month.

If you’re not an aspiring writer…I envy your life!  🙂