The Road Less Travelled …- By Aarti Venkatraman

The title of this post is also the title of a poem by Robert Frost, a poem that I still go back to when I need inspiration. Encouragement and the will to do something that I still find difficult to do, every time I sit in front of the keyboard.

Write.

This wonderful poem by one of the greatest poets and, by extension, philosophers of our time, was first introduced to me back in standard seven. And it talks about the journey of a young man who is faced with decisions and choices in his life. It talks about the consequences that this man will end up with, when he makes these decisions and choices. One choice is easy. One choice is hard. Always. And the fate of the man depends on the choices he picks.

Where he ends up is decided by the road he takes to get there.

The Road Less Travelled, of course, would be the harder road. It is filled with perils and problems. Nothing comes easy on this road. The choices are difficult, the consequences are dire. You want to give up many times as you take this road because, hell…it’s hard! And who wants hard? WHY would anyone in his right mind pick a hard road when the world teaches us time and again that shortcuts are the surest way to success?

No one would.

People pick the easy road, the safe road. They work; they play, drive around in their sedans and live ordinary, mundane lives always dreaming of the extraordinary and the different. The choices they didn’t make and the road they didn’t take.

The Road Less Travelled isn’t for everyone.

The Road Less Travelled requires many things from its travellers. Devotion in the face of utter uncertainty. Determination in the face of chaos. And, most of all, Passion.

Passion.

It may be the purest emotion on the planet that this writer knows of.

I am not talking about rip-your-clothes-off, taken on the nearest flat surface passion, although that is the best example of passion there is. I am talking passion. Obsession. The need to do something different, to BE different. To dare it in the face of all gods and mankind. To dare it in the face of your parents and peers.

Passion.

As an emotion it knows no equal. And it has many sides, some cruel, some gentle and all of them leading one down a dark and dangerous Road Less Travelled that will leave the traveller changed in tiny, unalterable ways he doesn’t even know or is aware of. Passion is seductive, consuming. Great.

Don’t mistake me.

I am not talking about sex, lust or desire here.

I am talking about passion.

The passion to do something; BE something. My passion has been, and always will be, to write THE END on a piece of work that I begin. This could be a short story, a play, a full-length novel or an article. I have never known the need to do anything else. My passion has been single-minded, consuming.

Passion is a merciless god.

It will ask terrible things of you. The thing you are passionate about, whether it is a song, or an instrument, a painting or the need to paint. Whether it is to stand behind a camera lens or in front of one. Or, like it is for this writer, the need to write romance novels all day long, it asks terrible things. It demands obeisance. You have to give it everything you have.

It is a road that very, VERY few dare to travel.

A very close friend of mine, who is now on the verge of becoming an internationally recognized artiste said something that should echo through every one of those who make passion their god. He said, “I couldn’t live two lives at once and do justice to either one of them. I needed to make music my goal. I made my passion, my work and I am happy now. I made the right choice.”

Passion doesn’t guarantee success. Not immediately, and for some, not ever. But passion gives you something even more invaluable. It gives you courage, fortitude, self-belief. It teaches you your own self-worth and makes you smile in the face of terrible odds, because, you know what? You’ve done something that no one else on the planet has.

You’ve followed your passion. You’ve dared to go after the thing you want more than anything in the world.

The hardest thing in this world is to find out what makes you happy and to have the courage to find it.

The Road Less Travelled teaches you that this choice is worth it. Finding out what you want, DISCOVERING what is your bliss is such a joy, such a relief that, once you get there, you will look back and laugh at the years, the hard work that you put in to getting here. The only thing to remember is that this journey is lonely, cold and requires a tenacity that you need to find within yourself day after day. Not everyone has the gumption to choose The Road Less Travelled.

I chose it.

Or rather, it chose me.

There is a lovely ditty from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which, I came to know very recently was composed and sung in the lovely vaadiyan of Kashmir and that has just about made this song my anthem of 2013 and Kingdom Come (Harlequin India, 2014). The song is called “Kabira” and the piece of lyric that pierced me was “your shadows call out to you…”

Your passions will call out to you. Vague, formless, haunting.

Be it wanting to learn salsa dancing (on my to-do list) or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. My friend recently posted the picture of “Graham Hughes” who travelled the world, and visited all 201 countries via bus or train or on foot, never once using air. That is a man who picked the Road Least Travelled.

In Kingdom Come (Harlequin India, 2014), the Woodpecker picks such a road too. That of a terrorist, who uses only bombs to kill people. Not specific targets, although Wood doesn’t say no to blowing up an important figure out of principle, but Wood’s passion is bombs: the making of it, the process and what happens when one detonates.

Creation and destruction: the two sides of The Woodpecker.

Creation and destruction: the two sides of passion.

When I first began writing this novel, I had a hero. Not clean-cut, but rugged, handsome, damaged and a good guy, nonetheless. And I needed someone heinous, someone truly terrible to pit him against. The Woodpecker was not born out of a need to make Krivi into a superhero, if that’s what you’re thinking. Wood is instead the thread that makes and breaks him. Wood is, in effect, Kingdom Come (Harlequin India, 2014).

Because if I didn’t have this gruesome villain who has such an impressive rapsheet that the world has to sit and take notice and think of eliminating him, Kingdom Come wouldn’t have happened at all. I would have missed out on writing one of my best works.

I am not exaggerating when I say that The Woodpecker has been the hardest thing on the planet to write, because the scenes involving Wood required a level of inhumanity, cruelty and gore that I didn’t think I possessed. But, as I got involved deeper and deeper into my story, into this world I had created, I understood that pulling back and diluting the punch of his sheer evil would be wrong.

The Woodpecker was passionate about bombs so the bombs are what I would write about.

And, hopefully, at some point, Krivi Iyer, ex-MI5 agent would get his bad guy.

I didn’t know if this would actually happen, if I would ever get to the end, but I had faith. I had passion. And I had a blank page on my computer screen. So I started writing. And here I am, writing Harlequin India, 2014 after my own book, because it comes out this year with a publishing house that I respect, admire and dreamed about as a kid.

Passion is an exacting god, as all the fellow bloggers on this page will attest to.

But, if you persist and do not give up, if you somehow find it in your heart to soldier on, on The Road Less Travelled and think to yourself, “all right, even this,” then, let me tell you. You WILL get there. It WILL happen for you. Be it finding that right partner to jive with, a man to come home to at the end of your hard and exhausting day or simply writing THE END on the first-draft of a novel.

The key is to never give up. To be bold. To be different. And to know, freedom is only as good as what you do with it.

Thoreau’s haunting quote about all men and quiet desperation is something that will scare the living hell out of everyone who aspires to do something with their lives. It may be as simple as losing five kilos before a friend’s wedding (also on my to-do list), or it may lead to a life-changing moment as quitting your job and taking up music as your passion. Your career.

I have been asked to advice people, fellow aspiring writers on the best way to be a writer and follow your passions at the same time. I have only one rule for you.

There is no Plan B.

If you know passion, then you understand my statement. If you don’t, go find your passion and you will get there.

I am going to end this post with the last lines of the poem, The Road Less Travelled by Robert Frost.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep.

Miles to go before I sleep.”

And all it takes is that one step out the door.

 

Until next time,

Xoxo

-Aarti

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Easy reading is damn hard writing – By Tanu Jain

‘Easy reading is damn hard writing’ said Nathaniel Hawthorn.

I realised the truth of this when I sat down to write my first romance novel. It would be as easy as a lark, I thought. After all, Mills and Boon have been light and easy reads and my record of reading an M&B in one go, stood at forty five minutes flat!

Moreover, the books follow a set format; the hero is TDH, rich, suave and successful; the heroine is heartbreakingly beautiful, feisty and vivacious yet shy and innocent. The story is a romantic fantasy with glitzy, glamorous settings. The hero and heroine meet amidst strong emotional conflict and sky-rocketing sexual tension. Just throw in some love scenes, resolve the conflict and viola! I’ll have a manuscript ready!

How naïve I was!

Countless mounds of paper and several bitten nails later I fell at the feet of the deity of romance, La Cupida — propitiated myself, offered a lock of my sparse hair and even spilled a teeny weenie tear vowing my eternal devotion. The goddess took pity on my plight, sent her arrows soaring that pierced through the cloudy skies of my imagination and light filtered through.

I came up with a manuscript that was graciously accepted and I was on cloud nine! Years of perseverance had paid off I thought with glee! Little did I know that more hard work was to follow!

My editor’s congratulatory email also contained a list of revisions that would ‘tighten up the story and develop my voice as writer!’ As I got down to work I realised that story telling is not just imagination and creativity but also a craft which requires learning and training.

The characters have to be well thought out, etched to the minutest detail; the plot has to be believable, fast paced and slick; the story has to follow a set format and yet be new and refreshing; the underlying ideas have to be positive, affirmative and upbeat.

And here the important role played by the editor comes in. A book germinates in the author’s thoughts but the editor’s insights and feedback go a long way in shaping it and contouring it to perfection. Thank you Megan and Laura!

Two books later I’m ready to take up arms against all those critics who regard M&Bs as a piece of fluff and call them “mush” and “slush.” M&Bs like any other book of fiction or non-fiction require painstaking effort, eye-wrecking labour and toiling while the world sleeps. There are other hardships as well. The kids will get ‘late submission’ for school projects, phone chit chats will have to be ditched, late evening drives will have to be abandoned, the family will frequently have to endure ‘Maggi dinners’ and some of those Page three parties will have to be given a miss!

But the finished product is worth it! And when one holds the little blue book, embossed with one’s name, in one’s hand the feeling that lights up the insides is indescribable. So, all you fellow romance readers and aspiring writers, pick up a pen and write the book you always wanted to read! All the best to the participants of PASSIONS contest!

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Read romance to create romance – By Tanu Jain

Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer, Betty Neels, Madeleine Ker, Margaret Pargeter, Daphne Clair, Rebecca Stratton, Sally Wentworth, Jessica Steele, Penny Jordan, Margaret Way, Jayne Anne Krentz, Sara Craven, Carol Mortimer, Michelle Reid, Lynne Graham, Sarah Morgan, Julia James, India Grey, Olivia Gates.

Every romance addict would recognize and bow down before these names in a trice. All these names, my dear readers, belong to highly acclaimed writers, those fabulous writers whose books peopled my imagination, fuelled my dreams and ignited my feelings. I’m Tanu Jain and the topic of today’s blog is ‘Do readers make better writers?’

I would like to share a few of my reader traits. I was and am a romance junkie. All my pocket money and extra money that I could lay my hands on was spent on books and especially romance novels! My long suffering mother had thrown up her hands in despair and laid down just one condition – that for each Mills and Boon that I bought, I would buy a classic as well. So, while the classics would be read grudgingly, the Mills and Boon would be devoured and gorged upon.

Reading introduced me to an entire gamut of characters, to the possibilities of plot and storyline, to the beauty of words and nuances of language. At the mundane level, reading improved my grammar, amplified my vocabularyand augmented my knowledge.

I learnt foreign words – Ma Cherie, querida, bellisimo, giada mia, mon amour, mio amore, Tesoro, caro, delizioso, amado, mon ange, je t’aime, ti amo.

I learnt some important statistics — French heroes are a study in sophistication, Italian heroes flirt outrageously, Greek and Arabic heroes have deep reaching family roots and the newly arrived Russian heroes have larger than life figures.

I gained knowledge of the world – Paris is the love destination; numerous Greek islands are privately owned by tycoons and jetsetters and St. Tropez, Ibiza, Cote’ d Azur are ‘the’ places for romantic wooing.

I met myriad heroines. Barbara Cartland’s ethereally beautiful heroines; Betty Neels no-nonsense nurse heroines; Jessica Steele’s slightly distracted heroines; Penny Jordan’s wronged heroines; Lynne Graham’s good but woefully misunderstood heroines; Margaret Way’s slight but spirited heroines and Julia James and Sarah Morgan’s feisty but in dire straits heroines.

And in hindsight, I would like to think that I because I was a voracious reader I was able to write better than I otherwise would have written.

I knew the plots that appealed to me, the kind of characters that touched me, the pace of story that I wanted and the language I wanted to use.

I had liked Margaret Way’s beautiful descriptions of the Australian outback; Penny Jordan’s cruel but delicious heroes; Lynne Graham’s steamy descriptions; Sarah Morgan’s sizzling encounters and Julia James’ story twists.

When I sat down to write, the disparate threads of what I liked and what I didn’t like in a book came together. And when I stood with the manuscript in hand, I remembered Henry Adams who said,

“A TEACHER AFFECTS ETERNITY; HE CAN NEVER TELL WHERE HIS INFLUENCE STOPS.”

So it was with all the books I had read. ‘His Captive Indian Princess’ is also a tribute to the countless Mills and Boon that I have gobbled and wolfed down. Reading definitely made me a better writer I proudly admit.

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“Prioritizing is the key” – By Adite Banerjie MB Indian Author

Finding the Write Balance

“If only I had more time,” sighed my friend, “I would actually get down to writing the book that I have always wanted to.”

“What are you waiting for? Why don’t you do it?” I replied.

“You must be joking! I have a full time job, a house to run, children to look after and…”

You get the picture, don’t you? Time is always at a premium. We are always waiting for the “right” time, sometime in the not-too-distant future, when we will fulfil our heart’s desire. The good news is that despite our hectic schedules it’s not so difficult to find those elusive extra minutes every day to focus on our writing. A little self-motivation, some discipline and a bit of planning can help you manage your time better and write the book that you have always wanted to.

Sign a contract with yourself.The first step is to decide whether writing is a big priority in your life. How important is it to you? You need to make that commitment to yourself first. So think about your decision long and hard. And ifyou have this gut-wrenching, crazy desire to write and get your book published, make sure you remind yourself every few days about it. Nag yourself till you’re so sick of that pesky little voice in your head that you actually get down to writing and not just one day…but every single day.

Once you commit to being a writer, it should be like signing a contract with yourself. You wouldn’t want to go down in your esteem by breaching the terms of the contract, would you? 🙂 

Multiple Roles.Most of us are adept at multi-tasking and are already juggling multiple roles in life. Working at a nine-to-five job, looking after elderly parents, being a mother and wife, taking care of pets are par for the course for most of us. So why not throw one more role into the mix? Being an author! That’s do-able. Once you have the will, you will definitely find a way.

Writing is a habit. Setting a timeframe to achieve your goal of finishing a novel is the first step. Then comes the preparation. Find at least one hour when you can concentrate on your writing. Personally speaking, the early morning hours work best for me. If that doesn’t work for you, you could spend an hour after dinner on your writing. But whatever the time, make sure you show up at least five days a week at your ‘writing job’. Persistence pays.

The year I decided to enter the Harlequin Passions contest, I’d resolved to write every day. So I started a blog—and would write/publish my blog at least two or three times a week. That helped me get into the writing habit.

Build your cheerleading team. Share your dream with your loved ones. Tell them why it’s important for you to write. Once they know how much it means to you, they will be your support system. When they see how dedicated you are to your writing, they will be cheering you on. Better still, reward yourself and your cheerleaders for their support by doing something fun and interesting. Linking your writing goals is a great way to storm ahead with your writing as well as spending quality time with your family.

Be prepared for downtime.There are always those days when there is a family emergency or a crisis at the workplace or an unscheduled visit from relatives. Don’t stress. If you need a longer break from regular writing, be flexible, and work around the problem of not being able to write at your designated time. Keeping a journal or a diary to jot a few thoughts about your story, working on character back stories, reading something related to the craft of writing or simply reading a book often helps not only to de-stress but keep your writing goals alive.

Don’t Obsess! Be fixated on your goals but don’t obsess about them. Contrary as that sounds, obsessing will only drive your writing mojo away. After all, writing should not be a chore like cleaning dishes, right?

As Steve Jobs famously said, “Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

Keep the faith, and keep writing!

Adite

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How to Build Your Writing Chops – by Adite Banerjie (MB Indian Author)

Everyone has a book inside of them – but it doesn’t do any good until you pry it out. – Jodi Picoult

How often have you had a flash of inspiration and thought, “Now, that would be an excellent idea for a novel!”? Ideas are all around us. Sometimes it’s a news story or a snippet of conversation that gives flight to your imagination. At other times it could be an interesting photograph or an old story that you heard from your parents. A visit to a place could trigger an idea. Or it could even be a strange dream that you simply can’t get over.

Giving shape to the idea and developing it into a story with a beginning, middle and end, however, requires more than just inspiration. Often a brilliant idea fizzles out when you actually pick up the pen and start writing it down.

Just like an athlete would train and practice for the main event, a writer too needs to build her writing chops. Here are a few tips on how to organise your thoughts and “pry out” the story from your initial idea.

Freeform writing. One way of generating ideas or preparing yourself for the long haul of spending the next three to five months writing a book is by doing freeform writing. Spend thirty minutes every day on doing some freeform writing. Pick any topic that pops into your head at the moment. Don’t think. Just write. You will be amazed at how easily the words flow.

If you already have a story idea playing in your head you will most probably end up writing a scene or two. But the point of this exercise is just to limber up for the writing ahead. Don’t stress, just write whatever comes to your mind. If during the process you end up writing a few scenes or developing a character’s back story, that’s the cherry on the cake!

If you find it difficult to start, do a google search for writing prompts and consider using one of those to get you started.

Keep Notes. Ideas often pop up when you least expect them to and disappear in a jiffy too. It’s always a good idea to keep a small notebook handy and scribble a few points orlines when that brainwave strikes. All you need to do is write down a few words/thoughts to jog your memory when you get down to brainstorming the idea.

This is what I wrote down when the idea for my novel “The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal” flashed in my mind: “Small town girl wants revenge against a powerful businessman.”

It was an idea that excited me but I had no clue whether that thought could lead to a full-fledged novel.

Ask questions.Before you start the process of writing your story, you need to do some preparatory work. Be curious about your idea. Ask a lot of questions. If you have a character in mind, ask yourself what about this character fascinates you and why? Do an interview with her, ask her pointed questions. Write down the answers. One question will lead to another and some more. Some answers will take you by surprise. Be like a detective in search of clues—persistent and don’t settle for easy answers. Give your lead character a hard time. After all, she is going to be the Heroine of your book, and you want her to deserve the spotlight, don’t you?

These were some of the questions I asked:

“What’s the name of this girl who wants revenge?”

“Which town does she hail from?”

“What’s her background, who are her parents?”

“Why does she want revenge?”

Brainstorming and asking questions of your character is a good start. Go a bit further down that road and start exploring some of the themes that may have cropped up when you were interviewing your lead character.

For my story, I started exploring the theme of revenge, which led to why/what/how/where/when questions. Somewhere along the way I asked: what kind of career does this small girl have? What are interests/hobbies? Did her parents influence her in her choice of career? Before long I had decided that my Heroine would bea landscape designer. I did some research on the Internet to find out more about what landscape designers do and I found a way to link it back to the issue of the Heroine’s need for revenge.

During the brainstorming process, other characters will begin to emerge. And once that begins to happen, you’re off and running. You’re on a roll, and you’re itching to start writing your story. 

Have Fun. Play around with different ideas. Keep short notes about these. You could use some of them or discard them all. But when you sit down to draw up an outline or short synopsis of your plot, these will definitely come in handy.But whatever your story, however intense the plot or characters, make sure you have fun with it.

Now, go pry out your story! Happy Writing! J

Adite

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