Grabbing Time

I grab time to write whenever possible. Life gets in the way of long stretches of writing. When life is not in the way, my laziness creeps in, and has a ball.

 As many of you might know, I work full-time. Sometimes I came so late from work that getting up next morning to write before the day rushes in, is almost impossible. Some mornings, I cook before I get into work. Some mornings are reserved for hanging the washing from three days ago.

In a given working week, I might grab twenty minutes one morning to write. Sometimes I switch on my PC to write and then get distracted by emails. Most days therefore I grab time on the train to work. I don’t always take the rush-hour train – mostly because I am too lazy to get on the 8-am train. Especially if only 10 hours ago, I had got down from one of those caterpillar caravans. So most often I get a seat.

I have a choice when I get on the train and find a seat. I can read the latest book I am carrying or I can write. It is anyone’s guess what I am going to do. Sometimes I take my notebook out, jot down the start time and then I am stuck. I can’t think of anything to write. Often I remember Natalie Goldberg’s advice and describe the person in front of me  or describe what’s hurtling past the window. Some days, I have a topic to write about. Some days, I rewrite something I had written earlier.

On my way back home, I am battling fatigue, sometimes alcohol induced coma and just sheer tiredness. But the train ride is a perfect 17 minute journey. Taking away a minute or two for getting organised, I have a 15 minute uninterrupted slot to write. My train keeps me captive in the seat. As long as I have an idea, I attempt to write.

Does that mean during weekends I spend every minute, writing? You must be joking. I don’t. I am lucky if I get my hour done before the day begins. In my nightwear, I sit down and write something for an hour or a bit more. If I don’t go anywhere out that weekend, I might manage another 2-3 hours. The rest goes in chores, supermarket, “oh the sun is out” jaunts to the park  or to the Southbank. A boring life, but still no writing.

I like snatching time from fate to write. 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there. A coffee break at work,  where I can sit down in the canteen and write a few lines.

It keeps my mind on the writing. It puts things into perspective – whatever happens at work or in life, I still have my writing intervals during the day.

How do you grab time? Between school runs? Weekends? Early mornings? Late nights?

What drives you to put life aside for a few minutes to write?

If you were a full-time writer, would you write a full day? Like you were at work in a bank or at the supermarket till?

Collecting Books

Inspired by an article in the FT about how authors collect books, I want to write about how I collect books and what I have in the flat right now.
My first book was an Enid Blyton picture book “The bad Cockyolly bird” which I won for storytelling when I was 7. I still have this book – intact and right where I can reach to it. Perhaps I should seal it in an air-tight bag and protect it. But this book kick-started my habit of owning books.
Until this book, I didn’t have a book of my own. I hadn’t visited the school library and foreign editions of English books weren’t available cheap back then in India. I am not sure they are cheap even today.
Slowly I built my collection by winning books in competitions and I had 4 in another 4 years. Reading became an obsession and an escape and I joined a private lending library far from our house – this was a reward from my mother for devouring English books.
I am moving flats now and I boxed up all my books first. I have 16 boxes full of books and this is after giving away most of my popular fiction and things I will never read. I have another box unpacked – that contains my signed books, by big names like Jane Yolen. I have another box with 100 books that I want to give away for the charity Roomto Read. So I can buy the latest ones.
Since I discovered Kindle for Android, I have been downloading more books into my tablet. But those are my adult reading – literary fiction, fiction, non-fiction, reference books, writing books. If it is a picture book or a chapter book for young readers, I’d rather buy the book, feel it, touch it, and read it over and over again.
I am hoping that when I move to my new flat, I will have enough space for all my books and I can organise them, sort them, catalogue them. But I know that will last less than a month. Then I will start leaving books on the coffee-table, by the bed, on the computer table, on top of the microwave oven and on every window-sill. 
I will have books in the work bag, in the weekend bag and scattered on the sofa.
I might have to rent a storage space, put bookshelves there, arrange my books, setup a sofa and go there to read. But the trouble is – reading is part of living. I can’t segregate it and put it away nicely in a rented storage space.
How much space do you allocate for your books? Can you afford it in a city like London, where space is premium?

Reading Time

When do writers get to read?

They have to write, live and be a parent, spouse, teacher, sister, daughter and more. They have to buy birthday cards, clean the house, wash the car, take the kids to music lessons and cook dinner too. When festivals arrive writers have to throw parties, cook cocktail food, buy tons of beer for their friends and somehow find the time to finish writing projects.
But in the meantime, the literary world has been busy. Editors have been beavering away at books written a year ago, designers making new covers, journalists writing articles about digital publishing and critics reviewing books before they turn into books.
There are blogs, magazines, books and websites to read. There are Facebook pages that lead to wonderful articles, interviews, podcasts and publicity contests.

Where is the time to read so much content? When do you find the time to sit down, put up your feet and switch on the laptop or the tablet and say “Don’t speak until spoken to! I am going to read.”
I am single, work full time and write in all my free time. I still have to find the time during a busy commute, long day at work, tired night back home to write. When do I read? Some days when I spend ages reading, I feel guilty. Writers write, but don’t they need to read too?
But how much can they read? They love books written by their friends, friends of friends, big writers, up and coming writers. They love blog posts and interviews. They love a funny podcast. They want to read the library petition. They want to read the Bookseller magazine and the Carousel. They want to read all the twitter messages about new books, hot books, bad books and other writers.
How do others manage? I struggle. Some days, I don’t read at all. Some days I don’t write at all. Some days, I just click buttons on the tablet, reading a twitter message at a time. Sometimes the twitter message takes me to a wonderful blog or an article or a review. Some days, I am just happy watching TV, without reminding me about my writerly and readerly commitments.
It’s hard to be a working writer. This industry is prolific. A big industry but shrinking all at the same time. The technology is evolving – so reading about the digital age and the e-books is as important as word structure and voice.
But I know one thing from experience – there is no substitute for writing and there is no substitute for reading good literature that will inform me as a reader and a writer. Everything else is secondary to that.
So from next week, I am not only going to track my writing time as usual, but also my reading time. I am going to write down the books and articles that inspired me. I am going to write down the books I skimmed in the library and the bookshops.
Reading is the mirror-image of writing and as a writer, I have no choice but to find the time for it. But I know there is a time and place for everything and I just have to find the right balance.

A Declaration of Independence for Young Creators

Having discovered Eric Carle only in my early 30s, as a newly born reader, with access to world class titles, I loved the simplicity of his books. I loved the serious messages that were enveloped in amazing artwork using words that were instantly recognisable and repeatable for young kids.

I don’t think I have ever met a child who hasn’t read The Hungry Caterpillar or the Mixed-up Chameleon. Reading his famous titles aloud, you see a pattern – a pattern of serious, thoughtful messages made very simple for young readers, perhaps even readers who can only listen.

So when I ordered “The Artist who painted a Blue Horse” – I wasn’t sure what to expect. Okay,  I expected a blue horse. But what was it about?  I tend not to read reviews of picture books before I buy them – because I want to discover the book and their meanings myself.

As an adult, you can read this book standing by the door, when the postman drops it off. In 11 spreads and less than 50 words, Eric Carle has opened up the horizons for every young artist. Without saying anything in so many words, he has shown  the children of today and artists of tomorrow that there is nothing right or wrong about art. Art is what you want it to be  – an expression of your own inner thoughts, ideas and maybe suggestions to the world. Unconventional art and radical science becomes commonplace as years go by.

If you are reading to a young child, you have the opportunity not to point out the right colours for the animals. Instead, allow them to come up with more ridiculous combinations. The brushes have been unshackled, the palette has been freed from its colour-dips. Mix them up, make new colours, paint the world in a colour that has no names.

If you are buying this for a child that can read on its own, it would be a delight to explain that artists have no rules and boundaries. Perhaps I’d even buy it for a kid that cannot draw or paint and wants to write or sing. Show them the world beyond convention.

As a picture book writer myself, I salute the master. Not for the colours, or the simple drawings, which I do appreciate. And not just for the message he has put into this book. I salute him for making such a huge statement, a declaration of independence for young creators, in such a simple way.

Go buy the book. It is worth the experience of freedom.

Under the Influence

How do writers write under the influence of alcohol? I can barely keep my eyes open after a glass of red. While the cocktails and spirits with mixers can hit me quite late in the night, the wine hits my sleep nerve directly.

I won’t be able to write a single coherent sentence after a large glass of red. And for that matter white.
Like tonight – after two wonderful glasses of red wine from the hills of Montepulciano, the Montepulciano_d’Abruzzo, my brain seems mellow. I want to call all my old boyfriends and tell them about how good life is now. But when I try to write a rhyme or a sentence that describes an emotion, I fall flat. Not literally, but close.

So on days when I have to write a lot, when I set myself a target, wine becomes a reward. Something to look forward to, after a session of writing, after meeting targets, after meeting deadlines. I once had a boyfriend who was more obsessive about my writing targets than me. He used to make sure that we never got anywhere near the wine before my quota of words have been completed.

So I wonder about writers, great ones, who cannot write without the drink. Is it because they wanted to escape into the world of fantasy? Or is it something chemical in their brains? Or maybe they had a better reaction to alcohol than me.

So, instead of an enabler, it is a reward. Instead of drinking and then missing deadlines, I finish deadlines and indulge.

I was at a workshop once with other children’s writers. I saw a couple of them literally write all day energised by wine. They had a bottle next to their computer, a glass fully filled and they typed away. I envied their stamina because the more I looked at the bottle, the more tempted I was. But I knew that my body worked in a different way. I couldn’t write and type at the same.

Do not operate heavy machinery is the key warning for many people who take medication. For me, it would be do not drink before churning heavy words. The words would slur on paper, smudge on rhymes and meander on the lines.

What is your relationship with the bottle? Does it make you write better? Or you drink hot tea and look for chocolates as reward?