Name Game

I like the Replace button in Word as you can do these little experiments: you can try to Replace all the names of one character with another more apt name. This is so easy to do but the problem is if the character feels the same to you afterward.

I tried doing this and I couldn’t relate to this particular character I am talking about at all. This is because I’ve spent some time with her, trying to get into her mind and her name is as strong a part of understanding her as her basic traits. While I write, so many such problems crop up. I thought maybe I should compile a list of the problems I face when I write, but then I thought I could do a compilation post later (an excuse to blog!) and just start writing about them. There are name generators that help you zone in on the right names and if you are writing historical fiction, it would be best if you chose an adequate enough name that suits the time, but if you find a good name afterward and your character has settled nicely into the name you’ve given in the beginning, don’t bother to change it. The character will simply not allow it.

They really do have a life of their own!

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 12, 2018 in Day to day, Fiction




I’ve always been curious about the Jaipur Lit Fest, the greatest literary show on earth as they call it. So I visited the fest with a friend this year. The venue was excessively crowded with the majority of guests being young people below the age of 25. Not surprising then that this literary fest stands out as a fashion destination, boot haven and selfie paradise. The star authors of the sessions I managed to watch included Michael Ondaatje, Amy Tan, Joshua Ferris, Jeet Thayyil, Amitava Kumar, Manu Joseph, Leila Slimani,  and Janice Pariat among a few. Dissent, freedom of expression, the murder of Gauri Lankesh, Scandinavian noir, singletons, me-machines, the Ganges, and healthcare were the subjects of the sessions I managed to watch.

As I watched the authors speak on podiums and saw the madding crowds swell, it struck me how invaluable the imaginations of these writers are. For instance, I’ve often read Michael Ondaatje’s books and wondered how he has retained poetry in prose — how do you write a book and sustain the poetry after repeated revisions? (He mentioned how writing by hand has aided him in his creativity and I lament my present inability to use the flourish of a pen.) Seeing him speak did not lessen that mystery…it is something that a reader can never understand– the hows of writing. And for someone who is attempting to write, watching a writer speak can be overwhelming and inspiring at once.

Amy Tan in conversation with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi at The Joy Luck Club session at Charbagh


I did want to hear something about sci-fi and fantasy, particular with the loss of Ursula Le Guin just now but those were genres that were conspicuously mute as far as panelists were concerned and absent even in the bookstore tent that I frequented several times.
So must someone who likes to write visit a lit fest? Well, if you do not like crowds and swollen feet, stay away but if you love to hear a writer you love speak or have a penchant for boots, shawls and selfies, you must.

Posted by on February 3, 2018 in Inspiration



Does Editing Change the Way you Write?

I’ve been editing manuscripts for a while now and I’ve noticed that it has changed the way I write a great deal.

In the beginning of my career, I edited scientific literature. I learnt to read without reading at all. So I may have read a scientific treatise on ophthalmology but if you asked me about it, I wouldn’t have much of an idea. The reason is language editing involves looking for grammatical errors and inconsistencies and this can be done without understanding the concepts that you are speed reading.

But you can’t do this when you edit fiction.When you edit fiction, you may need to read the manuscript twice or more, the first time, maybe in a hurry and the second time looking out for inconsistencies in the plot. I still work on the language of the book and haven’t moved to developmental editing, but I do this kind of editing when it comes to my own writing. So if I’ve written a few passages, I stitch it together and here editing helps. Editing cleans the paragraph and removes all clutter. The cleaner the paragraph is the more the story shines through.

I was advised by a writer that everything lies in the text itself. There is no need to look anywhere else, so reworking the text is what writers do and editing helps do this better.

The problem with editing this way, however, is that it takes much longer to finish the book or story at all. You are so intent on making that first chapter perfect that you do not finish the first draft at all. This method might not work with all writers. I thought it was wrong as far as I was concerned but now I think perhaps it is the only way I can write.


Posted by on March 11, 2017 in Books, Fiction


Tags: ,

Writing as Process

I found a cartoon on twitter by Tom Gauld….

This is exactly what is happening to my characters now. They are changing entirely. Women into men, children into women, men into monsters. The plot is not a straight line and neither are the characters. The material you thought you didn’t need and had rewritten comes back in different forms. Writing is becoming more and more about rewriting. It’s very hard to explain and best to leave confined to the mysterious word-process.

I wonder at the tutorials and videos and how-tos of writing a book. Even if you write down verbatim that your plot will be such and such and your characters will be so and so, when you combine them on the page they scurry off like ants in different directions.

Has that happened to you?






Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Day to day


Writing and Background Score

I used to be a silent writer. Which means I seldom listened to music when I wrote. The silence arranged sentences for me.

But of late I’ve taken to listening to background scores of movies and surprise, surprise! some writing seems to unblock itself. Writing to a rhythm could perhaps help when you are stuck in a particular scene. The character then climbs on the chords of someone else’s imagination and grows a life of his own. Different tunes cater to different situations, of course.

Many times when I start writing, I take a while to get out of my life and into the page. Listening to music I like seems to cut down this time.

I’m aware that many writers have playlists that they listen to while writing. Found this:

I tried listening to songs with lyrics in them but it’s distracting and pales in comparison to Oscar winning scores. Have you tried listening to Western Classical or Indian classical instrumental tunes while writing? What would you recommend? I’m new to this, so I would like some sound advice.


P.S: Music, however, has a problem. It doesn’t leave your mind…it is circular in shape.


Posted by on January 13, 2017 in Inspiration



Reading and Google

I’m reading a book called Us by David Nicholls. It’s reading in progress and I’m not writing a comment about the book or rating it, though I must say it is lovely.

The thing about this book is it’s good to have a smartphone while you are reading it. The reason being that the book is about a family’s tour through art museums in Europe.Every time I see the name of a painting I’ve never heard of I google it.

This is a painting by Giueseppe Arcimboldo famous for his portraits using vegetables and fruits. Nicholls writes about this painting in a few words. In another century the painting would have been described in much more detail, but nowadays it is assumed that the average reader will have a smartphone and if curious can always pursue curiosity. Besides the painting does nothing to further the plot in the story and so description is not required.

Another image Nicholls talks about in a very casual way is An Experiment with a Bird in an Air Pump by Joseph Wright. And what a find it is!

Google has only enriched the reading experience, especially with a book such as this. Have you relied on your smartphone while reading books? Tell me about it.

© neelima, 2015


Posted by on December 27, 2016 in Books, Inspiration


Tags: , ,


For a long while now, I’ve been toying with the idea of revamping the website. That hasn’t happened yet but I suppose it will eventually. In the meanwhile I thought I should get back to blogging, something I still do where I work at InstaScribe.

Recently I was part of the UEA Creative Writing Workshop in Kolkata, India, and for reasons personal and otherwise this was the proverbial breath of fresh air.

So what happens in a writing workshop? What can you expect?

I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who have never attended a prose writing workshop before but one thing I can tell you is that you don’t necessarily write as much. The writing has to have happened before. The preparation to reach that space where you interact with writers should best have begun many months or even years before the workshop. Then the critiques that workshoppers receive will be of greater value.

I was excited by the sheer range of professionals who are interested by writing. Also the writing life. The idea of living on caffeine and inspiration. The idea of sitting at the ideal writing table immersed in creating a valuable tome. The idea of constructing the perfect tale. These are now dreams that people from many walks of life harbour.

And the mentors Romesh Gunesekera and Amit Chaudhuri showed aspiring writers and those who were writers already that a book is not ready when you think it is and it may be on its way when you think it is not.

When a manuscript is open for critique, so much is at stake. The idea itself, the theme, the syntax, the words themselves and even the author’s personality. It is a risk to put your work out there before a group of twelve or thirteen people. Not to mention experienced writers. Have you been to a writing workshop? What has your experience been like?

© neelima, 2015


Posted by on December 19, 2016 in Day to day, Fiction, Inspiration

%d bloggers like this: