4 writers, 4 stories, 4 steps on my writing journey

It’s not over ‘til it’s over—and it’s finally over!

Season 1 of Write India is officially in the books. 11 authors, 11 prompts, and 25,000 plus entries! Although a couple of winners have yet to be announced, all the entries have been submitted. If you participated, congratulations! If you won, wow, that’s awesome!

I’ve been a not-so-quiet supporter of this Times of India initiative. First in Dubai, and now in Seoul, I’ve cheered the winners and even wrote to four prompts myself. As I watched the Write India video the other day, I teared up and realized I wanted to tell the stories of my stories, the lessons I learned, and express my gratitude for the Write India program.

Here’s the video that made me cry. It’s all Anita Nair’s fault—mostly.

 

The Semicolon, Chetan Bhagat

Most people fail to understand my love for this Certain Bestseller. And, while I have written 2001 words on the topic, those words represented only half the truth. The full truth is much darker—and more personal.

Why I wrote

In the summer of 2015, I stood in the shower of a hotel room and contemplated suicide. As the water ran over me, I realized that I needed to cleanse these thoughts from my brain. But, how?

Write, of course.

I started to imagine the story of a girl who chose suicide and lived. Then, a miracle happened. I can’t say much about this miracle except that I saw Chetan Bhagat’s preface and knew that I had the beginning of my story—what turned out to be Divya’s story.

To honor the divine origins of this tale, the story features an angel/nurse. This angel tells Divya that no man, no job, no anything is worth taking her life; she shows Divya a video from Project Semicolon and says she has a semicolon tattoo “to remind me that my story isn’t over.”

With those words from Divya’s angel, I gave myself hope. I got through it. Those words have echoed in my brain many times. I hoped that in sharing this story that my words would echo in someone else’s brain when they needed to hear them.

What I learned

This story is the first time that I had finished a story and did not abandon it. I often have great ideas, but don’t execute them fully. The deadline gave me purpose, a closing date on my nonstop editorial churn. This story is my first writing baby, and will always be my personal favorite. Sorry other writing babies; Mom loves The Semicolon the best.

The Hashtag, Ravi Subramanian

For his month, Ravi Subramanian decided to release an excerpt from his now bestselling book, The Bestseller She Wrote. Like any good writer groupie and marcom editor, I had been following the marketing with more than casual interest.

Why I wrote

At the time, several news stories had raised questions about the believability of viral rumors. A viral Facebook post that accused a man of sexual harassment turned out to be false, but not before it was shared thousands of times, he lost his job, and his family suffered humiliation. The Bestseller She Wrote is itself filled with innuendo and gossip about India’s literary world. Aditya Kapoor may or may not be a real person. But, what about Maya? I had a strong suspicion that the book would not explore Maya’s character fully, and I also knew that if I were “Maya,” I would want to tell my side. Subramanian’s prompt offered me the perfect chance to give Maya a voice. I wanted people to think before they shared social media rumors and to see the objects of those rumors as human beings.

So, I killed Aditya Kapoor. Well, actually, Twitter killed him. #DeadAdityaKapoor is the hashtag that gave my story its name. In this story, I looked at how the family reacted to this horrible rumor. Their pain and anguish were the driving forces behind Maya’s rain soaked drive from Powai to Bandra.

What I learned

With this story, I discovered the most important trait in a beta reader: honesty. The reader I chose for this story remains a tough but fair reviewer who is always honest with me. Plenty of people will tell you how great you are. You need a beta reader who can say, “yes, you are great, but you can be better.” And, no, I’m not telling you the reader’s name. Get your own beta readers.

The Lub Dubs, Durjoy Datta

Durjoy Datta’s Two Hearts prompt, released in February, is the most original prompt. After all, most protagonists don’t have two hearts.

Why I wrote

When I saw the romance requirement on this prompt, I was pissed, and I was not alone. Why were we being forced into this genre when the prompt itself offered limitless possibilities for horror, sci fi, and fantasy? Twitter cried out against the romance rule saying “Bas! Enough romance!” Datta relented, saying it didn’t have to be a backbone, just the backdrop. I decided to take the story in the medical ethics direction and gave the two hearts their own voices, pain, and, yes, love story.

What I learned

I named my story The Lub Dubs after the word doctors use to describe the sound of a healthy heart. I used the lub dub to transition between the first person POV of Rhea, the protagonist, and the third person POV of her two hearts: Diya and Jiya.

This story was my most experimental. I had never written in the present tense before. I tend to write fiction in past tense, just as I wrote history. But, I found the present a refreshing change. It gave the story a vibrant, urgent feel. I liked it so much that I used it again in the next story to flash between the past and present.

Much to my surprise, I learned I’m not horrible at romance. Of course, it helps that I included an Ed Sheeran video as part of the story.

How Blue is My Sapphire, Anita Nair

For the final prompt, Anita Nair threw down the literary gauntlet by requiring everyone to write literary fiction for her prompt. Her prompt was one of the shortest—only a couple sentences—yet her rules were perhaps the most challenging. The four-person limit seemed to cause many participants anxiety. This topic dominated the #TOIAskAnita Twitter chat.

Why I wrote

‘Cause all my friends were writing, yaar!

I’m kidding, but at least four of my friends submitted for this prompt. I beta read two stories and read a third after submission. Trust me; they’re all fantastic. The TOI team has its work cut out for it this time.

I wrote because I had written a blog called The Mysterious Case of the Commercial Literary Fiction Writer that wrestled with the literary fiction question. It seemed only fair that I attempt the prompt to demonstrate whether I could pull it off.

What I learned

I learned that first person POV is my most effective. I have resisted first person. I was taught not to use it school. I used it in The Lub Dubs because the prompt required it. I could have used this prompt as a dialogue and kept the narrative in third, but I didn’t. As I was writing, I knew that this piece was my defining story as a writer. That I had found my voice. That whether I liked it or not, the “fucking first person” was my person. Christina Yang to my Meredith Grey.

Every writer needs to find his or her own Christina. Find your own person, please. Don’t copy anyone else’s. You’ll produce an echo not a melody.

If you’re wondering why I blamed Anita Nair for making me tear up, it’s because of the reason she gave: you write to stay sane. Throughout this process, I’ve written stories that helped me confront uncomfortable emotions and situations. For many people, writing can be deeply therapeutic. Nowhere is that more evident than on Nair’s prompt, where I chose to deal with the aftermath of trauma.

Thanks to TOI

As I’ve watched Write India unfold over the last year, I’ve been impressed by the scope and depth of the initiative. Vinita Dawra Nangia has been a relentless force in encouraging participation. Thank you for brainstorming this amazing idea.

Nangia and her team have poured over thousands of stories—25,000 according to this tweet.

Based on the word count limit, that means the team has read approximately 62.5 million words! I don’t know about you, but I’m tired just thinking about it. The team deserves a tremendous shout out for their dedication and perseverance. Thank you for all that reading, sorting, scoring, and so much more.

For most people, the primary motivation behind this contest has been the chance to work with one of India’s leading writers. This mentorship is a tremendous gift from each participating author of his or her time and talent. The Twitter chats with each author have given wonderful insights into the writing and publishing process. Thank you all for supporting this wonderful initiative.

And, that’s just the first season! Nangia confirmed that there will be a season 2! So, stay tuned.

By the way, if you want to read my stories, you can find them, here.

So, why did you write, India? Tell me in the comments.

14 thoughts on “4 writers, 4 stories, 4 steps on my writing journey

  1. Congratulations on finding your voice. I am still on the search mission. 🙂 Hope I find it soon.
    I was about to ask who that beta reader was and then I read the next bit – Find your own beta reader. hahahaha!
    I miss Yang , Ga isn’t the same without her and Shepherd. 😥 Excuse me, while I go and bawl my heart out.
    You’re right though, about the take-away from participating in this contest. It’s been a huge learning curve for me too.

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  2. I have only just ventured into the field of writing and still taking hesitant baby steps. I have wanted to write short stories for as long as I can remember but havent had the confidence, courage or motivation. The Write India challenged me and inspired me to pen short stories. I am thrilled to have been able to submit the stories and believe that I can write – err sometimes anyway 😉

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  3. Thanks Jean for sharing this very personal piece of how the TOI Write India contest saved you and kept you going! You write beautifully and you should keep on writing. Even for me, writing was a way to stay sane and focused when everything around me was falling apart. I have written for every author and until Durjoy’s contest winners were announced, I had started losing confidence in myself as a writer. But it was only after I watched an interview with Anita Nair that I realized that I had been looking at the whole writing process as a way to please the reader more than myself and beating myself up for not being able to please the masses. Today, I know that the first reader that I need to convince is myself. Please do read my stories on Wattpad, and let me know what you think. I would love to hear your feedback, good or bad. Another friend I made during this contest had mailed me his feedback on each and every story that I had posted on Wattpad. It definitely helps me as a writer.

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  4. I too wrote for Anita Nair’s prompt…..the sapphire part was the bait. It brought back memories of my school days when I was the captain of Sapphire team. It was exciting to write and Yes! the limit on the characters, made me rewrite my story! Waiting with bated breath for the result!

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