Tag Archives: Writing

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!  🙂

On Writing A Book

Dear reader,

I haven’t been able to publish much on the blog, since I am writing my book.

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I have always wanted to write this.

I have always wanted to be so busy writing my book that I had no time for anything else. Like the writers they show in movies, books, and clichés, I wanted to be this writer who is shabby and unshaven, and unmindful of the earth going round the sun.

The truth, however, is a completely different matter.

Having a blog is a tricky thing. It gives you this sense of importance, of having achieved something. Since the medium is personal – a reply, a comment, a word of appreciation – is just a few clicks of a button away, you get this feeling that you’re finally doing something important.

It was sometime in 2011 that I had decided to start writing a book. It was to be a natural extension of writing my blog. I would finish writing the manuscript and send it out to publishers and then get published.

And then, I would marry Kareena Kapoor.

As you can see, most of it was mythical.

It has been a treacherously lonely journey. Partly because of my discipline, or the lack of it, and partly because of the myths I had associated with being a writer.

The discipline part I cannot do much about. I start writing something, and then I am distracted by YouTube, that evil website that was created by software engineers so that writers do not acquire fame and wealth in their lives. And just when I am in a bit of a flow, I look down to the left bottom of the Word page, and see the Word Count and think, “Wow! 1000 words!! That should be enough for a day, no?”

I have read books and manuals, stolen advice from Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King, spoken at length about my ideas. I have held my brainchildren in my hands lovingly and showed them to my friends, who nodded in appreciation and took another sip from their glasses. And then, like Ganga, I took my brainchildren and dumped them in the water.

For the most part, I had started telling people that I want to write a book because people would keep asking me what I wanted to do after my course. I had no clue, and so I would say that.

If you have no plan in your head, and someone is bugging your ass off about what you plan to do, simply say – “I want to write a book.” Most people will keep quiet once you’ve said that.

Most people. The others will start off with their pearls of wisdom:

1.      “Tu toh next Chetan Bhagat banega, yaar.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find Chetan Bhagat’s books terribly shitty. Yes, they sell like cold cakes, and in numbers that would make Salman Rushdie issue a fatwa against the man.

chetan-bhagat

But frankly, I find his books very lame. There are the same cardboard characters in every book – a whimpering, spineless narrator; an idealistic, studly friend; and a girl who wears salwars but likes to do the chiggy-whiggy in bed.

But the curse of the next Chetan Bhagat title must have been conferred on every aspiring writer in the country.

2.     “Can you make me a character in your book?”

This one is trickier. As a writer, you are expected to draw from your treasure of experiences. I cannot write about the Cold War or revolts in Congo because I have no clue about them. And the most exciting thing about being brought up in a middle class Indian household, is losing one’s virginity. So what does one write about?

One writes about their own experiences. And this is where it is tricky. Since the people around you know you are writing a book, how can you not draw from their personalities without them trying to guess who it is? And what if some of them think of themselves as heroes, and my opinion about them is that of a protagonemad?

3.     “Famous hone ke baad humein bhool mat jaana, bhai.”

I am sure Chetan Bhagat can chill in his house and smoke Cuban cigars, but for the most part, writing a book pays you peanuts (and I don’t mean the tasty, fried variety). Having quit my job, I have to draw a balance between the Writer Who Doesn’t Give a Fuck, and The Tenant who Pays the Rent. Difficult line to draw, and I was always terrible at Geometry.

I do Stand Up comedy, but that is as widely accepted in Hyderabad as vibrators being sold in Big Bazaar. Most of the time, the people I go to work for ask me one of the following three questions:

  1. Kis kiska mimicry kar sakte ho?
  2. Kavi sammelan type ka kar sakte ho?
  3. If this goes well, we’ll pay you from the next time. Fine?

That is when the Writer Who Doesn’t Give a Fuck has to bow his head and step back, and the Tenant Who Pays the Rent has to step forward, smile an oily smile, and stretch out his hand.

For the most part, it is a terribly lonely business.

Which now brings me to the myths I had associated with being a writer.

I had always imagined myself as a cool author. Not the guy who talks in long, winding sentences, using words that only a quarter of the audience would understand. I prided myself on being the Cool Author. And how does this Cool Author write?

He drinks, and then he smokes a joint. And then, ideas start raining from the sky. He sits in front of his computer and assimilates the rainfall into his head, the pitter-patter of the raindrops being converted into the click-clack of the keyboard.

And as the Cool Author drinks some more and smokes some more joints, he keeps typing, chipping away at the statue with a glass in one hand, and a joint in another.

I couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, if the Truth was at North Pole, I was somewhere on Mars, waiting for Mangalyaan to finally break into the orbit so I could go back home.

I have begun four chapters of four books, and when people ask me what I’m writing, I choose the one most likely to impress them, and begin narrating it out to them.

They are all my children – these stories – and I stand on the banks of Ganga, holding them close to my chest. Afraid that I might have to drown them in the river, as Shantanu stands behind me and says, “What the heck?”

For the most part, I have realised that writing is about spending time with yourself. In a completely non-masturbatory way. It is about digging deep into your own thoughts and shutting the door on the world outside and putting those thoughts down on paper.

And yet, when this realization hit me like the morning sun after a month of winter darkness, I still hadn’t moved any further.

So have I made my peace with it?

I don’t know. The myths I had about writing have been shattered. But I still wage a war with Discipline. On some nights, I sleep a satisfied sleep, having beaten the enemy like Gregor Clegane. On other nights, I go to sleep feeling like an Australian spinner playing a test match at Baroda.

Now, when people ask me what I’m writing – I have an answer ready.

I first look at the person and do a quick, Holmes-like judgement.

If it is a young person, I say – “Non-fiction. I am doing a psychoanalytical study of the farmers in Venezuela.”

If it is an elderly person, I say – “Fiction. A book about a psycho killer who rapes newly wed brides. It’s called Shakalaka, Baby.”

I don’t get too many questions after that.