The fear behind…


“It’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble; it’s what we know for sure that’s just not true.” –Mark Twain

Voldemort was a great wizard. He did terrible things but great, like Ollivanders once said. Then why hunt down a mere baby? Why give him so much importance? His fear of death.

Many epics, tales and history is based on this tyrannical beast – FEAR. Trace Hitler’s motives, Aurangazeb’s actions. Behind the greatest war in the history of mankind of which the longest poem was written – the Mahabharata, lies the fear of a coward who unfortunately also wanted a lot of attention – Duryodhana.

Scratch that surface of power, greed and tyranny and you’ll find the actual mastermind behind these terrible actions – fear.a

Fear is a terrible catalyst. Mixed with great ability and a dash of greed it has created history in the form of war and rampage. But fear is not the property of the powerful alone. It permeates everywhere.

In the minds of mediocrity it creates the basis for many lives – excuses. Look carefully. Behind the veil of anger and busy talk and the ‘I don’t care’ lies a deep seated fear. Fear of failure, fear of responsibility, fear of uncertainty, fear of change, fear of making mistakes and even fear of success itself.

Fear is a creation of the ego. If you examine any one of your fears, you will see that it refers to a future possibility, not a current reality. Fear is almost always tied to a negative idea about something in the future that has not happened and probably will not happen. It is the emotion that is generated by thinking about some dreaded possibility in the future.

Fear traps and locks us away within our comfort zone. Yet fear often develops as a result of a lack of understanding, information, resources, experience or perspective. If you lack all these things, you will naturally lack confidence, and as a result you will fail to take the action necessary to achieve your goals and objectives. Consequently you will tend to make excuses about your life and circumstances in order to help boost your self-esteem. However, all you’re doing is creating the illusion of security. You’re simply masking the pain by taking a pain killer. The pain is still there, and will continue to persist until you finally overcome your fears.

We must become tone deaf to egos whispers of fear and its unreasonable demands of power, control and safety. Fears have great power when they’re inside your head. They grow and mutate into giant trolls. But by being aware of them, you can bring them outside where they no longer have control over you.

Humanity connects even as communication fails.

The last decade has seen a huge rise in the roar of a need to be heard. Multiple times, everywhere by everyone. So much that the noise has become a part of us. Yes it’s that infection point in the communication trajectory that hit us a few years back – social media.

Recently however experts shout to connect not just being heard. To build a network not just a following.

A fact that proved right in the recent Chennai rains. As the city in south India flooded with unprecedented rains, humanity rose up. The number of volunteers equaled the number of victims. Soldiers were born overnight out of friends and neighbors.

All these happened in spite of phone lines and electricity being cut off. Made me wonder, do we really communicate with all those gadgets? We could just as easily form better relationships in our local community. Strangers of all religion and caste came to volunteer help.

Yes the media was greatly useful – as a tool of coordination. To access numbers for help and to provide information. The connect was in the heart of the city, in the people. Krishna Bharadwaj was stuck at work, and heard it was starting to flood near his house. He quickly logged on to youtube and downloaded a video showing how a car battery is removed. He sent the video to his mother who was at home, and the 59-year-old homemaker with no prior experience with automobiles, removed the car battery by watching it.

Through individual courage and community effort, most of Chennai has been staying afloat.

Today the media has been used in exactly the way it was supposed to be used. As a tool to communicate and connect. As a tool for humanity to connect.

Trauma of filling forms.

I love to write. It is a known fact. Even before I had the audacity to call myself a writer, I have thought on paper.  It really did not matter if were writing my thesis paper, a short story, blog post or even plain to do list. The scratch of pen on paper is my biggest source of happiness. In fact to me free writing is a form of meditation.

Is it a surprise when friends and family want me to write their notes, edit their work or better their resumes? Not really. But expecting me to fill immigration forms at the airport is assuming my writing is just a scribble. But surprise! Guess who ends up filling all the forms? From school to travel, admissions to immigration, I have become the official form filler.form-fillophobia-the

And I hate it. Don’t know what is it about those forms but I just hate the thought of filling them. Maybe its the small space where you have to write all your details. Maybe I don’t like writing my name, in full, about six times in three pages. Or maybe it is because I don’t like telling so many details.

The hate factor increases tenfold when it is an online form. It is time consuming, slow and many times the server is incompetent to keep up with the traffic. Between every sale cart and abandonment of sale in my life is an unfilled form!

You have autofill you say? Many sites have disabled this. Intensely frustrating it is when you never know how long and to how many pages the form filling will go. Playing a maze game with my credit card details is not something I appreciate. And the most important of  all, why do you need so many personal information? Many times I feel I’m filling out a dating or marriage bureau site for a purchase of something trivial.

The best part of this frustration is, I spend half an afternoon coughing up my personal history to anonymous website and in 3 days when the delivery comes, the guy has no idea what is my postal address and calls me up to verify.

That’s just another half hour talking a moron through the city traffic to my house.

I really must love writing if I am ready to put up with this every time.

Write Right – Why business writing is important

“Clarity in business writing is not a luxury”

Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

We live in an ironical world. Google and Facebook prompts our thoughts, suggests and advices everything we do, funny faces and new language describe our deepest emotions, samples and templates stereotype our creativity in the name of ease. Yet it is with these tools of camouflaged self destruction that we want to be unique. Standout and express.

It will be a miracle to be even heard in this collage of messy readymade ideas.

This is the present day reality. We live in this information society where the online highway is so crowded and noisy it will take unusual amount of effort to be heard and even harder to convince.

Great communication that is clear and effective has never been more important than it is today. Good communication that holds the audience captive is not an intellectual abstraction. It is now a critical tool to economic success.

Why is business writing so important?

It does not matter whether you are an employee or entrepreneur, client or investor, you are what you communicate and much of this happens in writing. But the growing role of business writing is rarely mentioned as important much less strategic to success.

With the advent of technology – email, whats app and intranet, every person in the business workplace is a writer. As Seth Godin observed, today much of our writing goes unfiltered. There was a time when secretaries would edit and public relations would polish the managers work before written matter reaches the public’s eye. Today you press that tiny send button and many times proofread later. That sent message has already reflected not only your words but mostly your attitude and work methods as well.

It is not just the lack of a secretary that makes good business imperative. In the present day it is the price of opportunity. One that knocks on your door with a pen in hand. Great resumes get selected. Good language and clear speech is an important requirement in any interview. This is only the first push into the gate. Inside the business world especially today clear concise writing is necessary to get every idea and point across. Badly written proposals, dull presentations, grammatically incorrect reports and stereotyped emails that reek of inhuman technology will all contribute to undercut your personal growth.

“If you are a native English speaker and never learned the difference between it’s and its,” Grammarly CEO Brad Hoover writes in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, “especially given access to Google, an employer might wonder what else you’ve failed to learn that might be useful.”

The necessity to great business communication is not just to micromanage one’s career but also an essential skill of every business today. With the staggering amount of communications channels available businesses are now challenged with new ways to connect, persuade and market their ideas, establish expertise, satisfy customers and in many cases try to publicly solve customer issues, create communities and reach niche segments.

And if the Organization sports a writing deficit, then that goes public too. Moreover the working culture and leadership focus is shifting. Collaborative approaches, multi disciplinary targets, work from home, transnational transactions and global clients have opened up approaches that did not exist before.

All these has made writing in business a powerful tool, even a strategic one if you think about clear thoughts put across in a simple language to get positive results, faster.

This last point deserves more depth. While face to face conversations is great, writing, when done with care, warmth and positive words inflicts the same human touch on paper. The digital world can seem dehumanizing with unseen, unknown voices but there also exists great opportunities to personalize this medium, build trust,  motivate team and customers alike and to be heard in a unique voice.

Yet the digital world does not hold a captive audience easily. It is not the necessity of the reader to be captivated by what you say. That responsibility is solely on your shoulders. Hence words need to be chosen for its clarity and simplicity.

Studies show most employes find it difficult to go beyond the first screen of the message. Hence it is important to be able to write a successful message that delivers your points in the first 100 words.

If that can be done in the first 2-3 sentences then half the battle is done. Getting your message read is a challenge itself but for managers, investors, clients to actually act upon your ideas demands writing to transcend the clarity level to enter strategic.

These are some reasons why good business writing is a must today. What reasons can you think of? Please include in the comment.

The bond of reading together

Soft feet dangling over my legs, a cuddly body next to me, listening to every word I read and waiting for me to open the magical doors to a new storyland…. The pleasures of reading out to my kids had been immense.

Over years chapter books have replaced the picture books and then novels, which nowadays they just read it off kindle.

I missed those bonding time with my babies though. One day we decided to have family reading time instead of TV time. Of what a turnaround was that? We piled pillows on the carpet, got some late evening snacks and with each a book, the four of us had a magical time reading together. The enthusiasm of my kids was contagious and the time, momentous. I was reading a thriller, my husband something nonfiction, my daughter was in dystopian world while my son immersed in another prank inducing chapter book.

I just discovered – you don’t have to read the same story to read together.      

Reading together is a great family bonding exercise. The best conversations you can have are when the little ones imagine their story world. When the kids were younger, and I read out to them, they loved the different accent and sounds that I made for different characters and mostly created sing along villain poems. Today we have just as fun discussing the book we read. Of course they are my first audience whenever I want to write a story.

Many times these lead to making up new endings, reviewing my work and mostly having a world to ourselves. Of course sometimes conversations in my house goes something like this:

Me: P (daughter) can you get me some water?

P: accio water. Mom spell doesn’t work, do the muggle way yourself!

Other times my son might try out the tricks from Diary of a wimpy kid or from Horrid Henry. They love to share their world and in my experience this makes them share their life with me better.

Reading together means shared experiences and often on our trips to the grocery, park or beach many of the fictional characters come along. If the drive is long, they are definitely part of our conversation.

Reading together also helps me to suggest of so lightly that maybe they should try reading some book like “ Pride and Prejudice”? Some work where the language is better and characters have depth? Of course my failure rates are sky high.

Reading together especially in small children opens up their imaginative, thinking and language skills. There is a world of possibilities out there and children get to be more confident, open and optimistic as well as well read.

As children’s author Emilie Buchwald has so famously said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Like once upon a time, the bond of reading together also lasts forever.

Spread the joy of reading, and do it together with family!

A writing journey – various destinations

The scratch of pen on paper to me is the very definition of joy. What I write is important, but to me the very act of writing itself is a meaningful experience. It’s a substitute to reading, talking, arguing and venting out anger, it’s a better option to a camera in capturing moments. It probably is the only activity in my life where I enjoy the journey equally if not more than the destination.

Most of what I write may not even hit a blog post or print but I love those words I penned many times just to myself.

The journey is a physical one as well as spiritual. I write everywhere and over years have tried many places. I carry a notebook and pen with me wherever I go and while the process maybe slower than shutter speed, it captures a lot more too.

Here is a list of places that I have tried writing in. Writing can be fun and every place around can be a source of inspiration. Carry a small notebook, jot down the beautiful moments in your words, live in that moment completely or maybe use the place as an environment to write your blog, novel or dissertation.

  1. Parks: I live in a desert, so winter months are the pleasant times. So along comes my notebook, sharing space with food, water, juice, ball, bats, racquets, extra clothes and everything else that two energetic young ones need.

Park benches are good places to write but I prefer the grass beneath my bare feet, notebook propped over my knees and my kids safe in the sandpit.

But I’ve found it can be distracting too. The noise levels are high especially children playing nearby.

  1. Café : A café is a popular place for many authors. J.K Rowling claims to have written her “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone “in a café. Personally I find this very crowded and somewhere there is also this feeling of being too much in the public eye.

Have never been able to concentrate in a café. The tempting food doesn’t help in calories either.

  1. Beach : Now an empty beach, sunrise and just me. That’s how heaven would look. Every time I’ve been to a beach house, a resort I’ve done this. Quickly write for an hour before the rest of the family wakes up and the holiday madness begins. 

There is something soothing in those rhythmic waves, the salty air and the sun rising like a ball of fire out of a water womb, like the destroyer has somehow become its creator.

  1. Library : If you are a book lover like me then you know this is an experience that you will carry with you long after its done.

Sitting in complete silence amidst rows and rows of books. Those written pages on the shelves are testimony to the possible greatness that the pen can achieve. It is at once humbling and exhilarating. Those books are my teachers as well as a challenge. A temple where I have spent many hours writing by book, my dissertation and articles.

  1. My desk : Even after all these places, I’m a homebody. I prefer writing at my desk. With my comfortable chair, stationeries and iphone showing a pomodoro.

Every place tells a bit more about themselves, and in the process I’ve discovered a bit more about myself too. A different backdrop, unfamiliar surroundings can act as a muse of can cut out that fresh idea seedling. The beauty of writing is, you can do it anywhere.

What are your favorite places to write? Would love to hear them. Please share your experiences in the comment.

Micro fiction – stories in 140 characters or thereabouts.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

                                               – Ernest Hemingway

Way back in 1920 much, much before the little blue bird began a 140 character fever, Hemingway wrote a raw writhing emotion of a mother to be in just six words.

Today with the advent of social media the concept of micro fiction has become a genre of writing. twitter_fiction

The popularity of this form of writing in few words has soared in recent times. The digital explosion coupled with the intrusion of work and life into our reading time has caused a sudden interest in fiction in the short and micro category. Times have clearly changed. Young writers today are wired to think in terms of bite-sized data.

The classification of micro fiction is in fact a broad one. From writing the stories in Hemingway inspired six words, to Twitter’s prescribed 140 characters to writing in specific number of words from 55 to 99, all come under micro fiction. With mobile-ready quarterlies and weekly updated fiction columns that can fit in your pocket, even the physical dimensions of literature have shrunk to make both writing and reading a way to pass the time during life’s brief commercial breaks.

Personally I love the gradual build up of plot, character, tension and climax of a novel. Frustrating though it is, I even like waiting for the next book of an interesting series to hit the stands.

But the micro stories, they are different. Here is the raw, naked truth without the buffer of many words and oftentimes stays much longer in our hearts and minds than regular 90,000 words novels. It is not the size of the word count in the story, its the story in the word count that matters.

140 characters requires the writer to put down a raw, unflinching emotional honesty. In the words of Philip John, Creative Director of an advertising startup “Its like knocking back a shot of tequila as opposed to nursing a cocktail”

While the number of words may make this craft seem easy, I feel it’s anything but.

A story whether told in a 7 book series, a 700 page novel or in 140 characters needs a plot, character, tension, beginning, middle and an end.

Consider this,

Feet pounding on concrete, sweat pouring, his Nike app read 10 kms. Then the phone rang.

The above description might make a lot more meaning if ended better.

Feet pounding on concrete, sweat pouring, his Nike app read 10 kms. Then the phone rang. He could never run far enough.

The above description still lacks impact, tension and character. Maybe we can modify to,

Feet pounding, sweat pouring, his Nike app pinged at 10kms. Muscles rejoiced while his heart contracted at the memories he would never outrun.

A short story regardless of the number of words is a whole life. In a capsule maybe, but whole nevertheless.

A number of high profile writers have recently dabbled in the burgeoning realm of Twitter fiction.

here are also dozens of Twitter accounts for websites that publish only 140-character stories. Some of the most notable are @OneFortyFiction, @seedpodpub, @sixwordstories, @twitterfiction, @7×20, and @trapezemag, all of which are unpaid markets.

@Nanoism is a paying Twitter fiction market, which publishes three times a week and pays between $1.50 and $1 for stories: not bad, given the brevity of the form.

In 2012, The Guardian challenged well-known writers – from Ian Rankin and Helen Fielding to Jeffrey Archer and Jilly Cooper – to come up with a story of up to 140 characters. This is their stab at Twitter fiction.

Jackie Collins

She smiled, he smiled back, it was lust at first sight, but then she discovered he was married, too bad it couldn’t go anywhere.

Ian Rankin

I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

Jeffrey Archer

“It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.

Simon Armitage

Blaise Pascal didn’t tweet and neither did Mark Twain. When it came to writing something short & sweet neither Blaise nor Mark had the time.

The days of full-length manuscripts and short story collections are far, far away, so embrace the attention deficit of the 21st century, because that person who anxiously checks their phone at every red light may just be your newest fan.