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Writing Story 2020: Towards Silver Linings

This has been a strange and difficult year, unfolding in an ever-changing and surprising world.Last year, I started a ritual of an end-of-year update, to reflect on my writing journey and share it with my community. Bravely taking that forward, this is what 2020 was like for me.

Love and Difference  

My forever genre as a writer is love stories. What can I say, I am a romantic! Intrigued by the unusual and unrequited, I enjoy unpacking popular tropes, bringing together characters from contrasting worlds to uncover the approach/ avoidance dance of romantic love. This year, my published stories explore various nuances of love. ‘Coming-of-age youthful love’ in The Good Girl,  ‘Missed connections’ in What were we?, ‘Opposites attract but do they live happily ever after?’ in Sea Creature, Land Creature. In times like these, love is what anchors us and gives us hope and patience, love for our families, friends, communities, and most importantly for the hidden parts of ourselves. So many more story plots brewing within, here’s hoping they bubble to the surface soon!

Gender and Society

Another theme that intrigues me is the interplay between self and society–between individual agency and authenticity, and conformity to roles and norms, especially for women. Last year, I published a research paper on how age 30 shapes women’s work identities and aspirations. This year, I draw upon cultural narratives- history, myths and fables, to shine a light on how gendered structures replicate themselves in contemporary lives. In Ilaa turns into a woman, we dive into 19th century Maharashtra as a young girl makes sense of her changing adolescent world. The Lost Slipper, a contemporary retelling of a classical fairy tale, explores the power dynamics of class disparity. This story is selected as part of an anthology on violence against women, likely to published next year.

Integration and Expansion

This year I launched my author website, and challenged my resistance to social media. One of my struggles was around identity. Am I a fiction writer, a PhD researcher, an arts-based facilitator? How do I choose or balance between these possible selves? I am now learning to integrate these paths and find joy and nuance at their intersections. I taught my first postgraduate course on Art and Organizational development at my alma mater TISS. I published a research article on my experiences with Applied theatre in the management classroom at IIM Bangalore. I conducted an Improv session for writers at the Bound Virtual Writers’ Retreat. I approach next year with the intention to move into a more expansive vision of my work, grateful for the multiple platforms for creative expression.

Loss and Liminality

2020 has been a year of liminality, a constant feeling of in-betweenness, between past and future, isolation and connection, security and existential dread. Personally, I was grappling with ambiguous loss, grief and exhaustion. By the end, there was a need for a pause, to heal and recover. These experiences foregrounded the ‘personal’ in my literary choices, drawing me towards memoir and non-fiction. My story Fire therapy makes meaning of love and loss during the pandemic. I started outlining my first book, a work of narrative non-fiction drawing upon stories of radical career change and insights from my PhD research. I look forward to the inspiration and flow to complete this in 2021.

I do hope you too have found your moments of solace and belonging, whether in your creative projects, Zoom gatherings or hot cups of tea. And I wish that 2021 leads the way to our desired and much deserved silver linings!

My Writing Story 2019

2019 has been a wonderful and eventful year for me as a writer. I am eager to share my experiences and milestones with you.

Publications

At the beginning of this year, my strongest aspiration as a writer was for my stories to be published- to be freed from my notebooks and files, out into the world, to be read and hopefully appreciated. Initially, it felt challenging to put myself out there; whether it was submitting to magazines/ publishers or sharing with friends and family. Over time, I have been able to accept and learn from perspectives different from my own. Readers’ responses of course make it worthwhile; someone connecting to a line of  a poem or a character in a story. I had three new short stories and four poems published this year. Find them here.

PhD.

An important milestone (and a huge relief) was completing my PhD. in Organizational Behaviour. My doctoral thesis on career transitions is in many ways my first big writing project. Through working on and towards my research, I rediscovered my interest in writing and in human narratives. In seeing my participants as protagonists of their life stories, I began to think more deeply and patiently about the many ways stories impact our lives, and how we make sense of ourselves and our world through ‘storying’. I look forward to writing my first non-fiction book out of this research (wait for it!) and to work with narratives and other art-forms to facilitate learning and exploration in workshop/ classroom settings. More updates on how this unfolds in the coming year!

Process

By the middle of the year, there was a yearning to return focus to the process of writing. I attended my first Writers Retreat in August (Bound Retreat in Divar Island, Goa) and several festivals (Dehradun Literature Festivals and Tata Lit Live, Mumbai). Writing had up until now been both a solitary and intuitive process. So, it was exciting to participate in formal learning sessions on the craft of writing, receive feedback from fellow writers, work with mentors. This opened up possibilities to think ‘technically’ about aspects like setting, plot premise, and character motivation; and find my voice. It also revealed writing to be a social process involving a community of significant others- readers, editors, coaches, other artists and their work. 

Purpose

In the recent months, I have found myself searching for the purpose in my writing, and experiencing writing as a source of purpose during difficult times. I learnt that to think deeply about your stories, you need to think deeply about the world around you. To create compelling characters, you need to be aware of your own feelings and motivations, willing to ‘see’ and ‘listen’. Up until now, I mostly wrote stories about coming-of-age and romantic relationships in contemporary, urban settings. Now, I find myself in unfamiliar territories- writing historical fiction, feminist narratives, personal or memoir-style prose, exploring themes such as body image, identity and sexuality. I am now the Editor of ang(st), a new, exciting body-themed zine.

In the coming year, I am excited about moving forward in these new directions. I wish you a very happy, fun and love-filled 2020!