Category Archives: Inspiration

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


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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


Talking to Amy Gigi Alexander-Part 1

I don’t understand Women’s day as a concept, as everyday is just another for some and The Day for others, but there are days when certain posts are appropriate. I had the opportunity to talk with the wonderful Amy Gigi Alexander- many of us must know her social media profile. She’s an inspiring woman and was kind enough to answer all my questions in time for International Woman’s Day. You must check her fb page: she combines her interests so magically and draws in people from diverse parts of the world with her enthusiasm- quite a refreshing way of looking at the world. She travels, she’s had her battles, she writes, she curates……


Amy Gigi Alexander is a writer, explorer, traveler and believer in goodness. She writes long form travelogues mixed with memoir and fiction for publications around the world, including Lonely Planet, BBC Travel, World Hum, The Hindu, National Geographic, and more. Her stories have appeared in collections by Travelers’ Tales and Lonely Planet, as well other literary anthologies and journals.  You can read more of her work at


How is a woman’s writing about her travels any different from the travelogues by men?

I see you’ve decided to start with the easy question first. I’m teasing.

When I go to place, everyone knows I am a woman, and I am spoken to as a woman, offered experiences as a woman, and this treatment colors how I see the destination, culture, and people. The same is true for men. There are simply different experiences for men and women because many cultures treat the sexes differently.

   There are places a woman usually will not go: especially in conservative areas of the world or places which are dangerous to women as the idea of women traveling is unusual. So you might see a story by male travel writers with story lines such as crossing Afghanistan solo by horse, or sailing the high seas with Senegalese pirates—but it’s very rare to see such stories by women. There are lots of exceptions of women in adverse conditions going at it alone, such as Dervla Murphy, Arita Baaijens, Ella Maillart, and more. But the vast majority of women’s travel tales will not involve such narratives.

But I think this fine, because women have access to a world that men do not have when they travel: the world of women. This insider view is impossible for a man to witness, but a woman traveler has instant access due to being female. Some of the things I’ve been invited to do because I am a woman are: sitting on a rooftop with village women talking about their life stories; attending a childbirth; walking with female nomads across a desert. There are many ways women are living around the world, and as a woman, I’m an instant sister and able to take part.

So as women travelers, we really have the best of both worlds: we have access to both men and women, and if we want we can have solo adventures which push risk, or we can take risks in more intimate ways, developing bonds with a worldwide sisterhood.

You have so many stories on your fingertips- how do you keep track of them all?

I don’t think about my stories too much: when I travel I take a lot of notes, and sometimes the story is complete when I return from my journey—sometimes not. Once they are done, I just file them away and take them out as I feel inspired. I keep a running list of what I have completed and what is still in idea phase.

How should a woman travel—alone or in groups—what is your advice to her, particularly when it comes to safe and meaningful travel?

A woman should travel as she wishes.

There is no wrong way to travel, and both solo and group travel have value even though they are very different.

I didn’t travel a lot on my own for many years, and traveled with companions and friends. At first this had its own ease and I enjoyed it. But after I got more comfortable with traveling, I disliked having to constantly take someone else’s ideas and wants into consideration, and felt I wanted more spontaneity. I started traveling alone simply because I wanted to invite serendipity, and it is hard to include that in a structured agenda!

I enjoy traveling alone, but I also love traveling with other women. Traveling in a group of women can give you wider berth in some areas of the world, and if you don’t have a lot of time to make mistakes and get lost, group tours are really advantageous. Still, I also think when you are on that tour, wandering off alone now and again is a wise idea: it helps you see yourself as capable and strong.

Tell us about Walking Writing Women– you share 365 stories this year about traveling women in history. Where did the spark for his idea come from and how do you go about with the research of these sometimes obscure determined characters?

Writing Walking Women started because I wanted to walk across part of Newfoundland, and mentioned this on social media. I got many messages from women who said that they wished they could take a trip like that, but that they could not think of doing it alone—or didn’t want to. It occurred to me that we could all go together. Why not? So Walking Writing Women was born! We do take several trips a year and we meet all over the world, and write about the places we go as we travel together.

The #365 women idea came from a search I did online one day: I was looking for women travel writers and the Wikipedia page came up. On it was a list of travel writers who were mostly men, and a few women, most of whom were long since gone and from the period of history rife with colonialism. I began doing research on women who traveled and wrote about it, and discovered hundreds of women that needed a voice: poets, novelists, explorers, botanists, historians, and memoirists. So many women travel writers from around the world!

The idea grew overnight: why not share a woman travel writer a day on social media? Why not give a biography for each woman and show pictures of her life and literary accomplishments? Then I decided to turn these Facebook posts into a database, and with the help of the other members of Walking Writing Women, that is becoming a reality. At the end of 2015, when you do a search online for women travel writers you’ll see that tired Wikipedia page—but you’ll also see a huge database on our website. We want to create a resource which inspires women to travel and write, and we can think no better way to do that than use the women who have gone before us.

Follow Writing Walking Women on the fb page here.

You write short stories and do travel writing. Where do the lines blur between these two writing forms and where do they separate?

For me, they don’t really stand separate. I know that travel writing has a formulaic reputation, but I find that the travel genre lends itself very well to weaving memoir and stories about place. The only difficulty is that there is a framework that a travel story has to have, a start, a middle, an end. These parts have to be very clear, unlike fiction of cross genre writing, where literary forms can bleed into one another without questions.


In part 2 of the interview, we will take a look at bucket lists, social media tips and Project Inspire with Amy. Right now, let me check one to-do on my bucket list: read more about Walking Women on their fb page and inspire myself to move out of the world in my head to the World, the real construct.

© neelthemuse, 2015
Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon


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Showing your Work

The primary reason I started this blog was to post some of my poems. Back in 2012(it feels so far away!) I wrote poems and immediately posted them here. I liked the adrenaline rush of getting my work out there- even cyber space is a *there*- a place that breathes, opines, and likes or dislikes what you do. The digital world is so real, don’t you think?

However, of late what I’m doing is letting my poems hibernate- that way when I look at them later I get a better perspective of what I did and how I’ve changed.

I’ve also tried pitching some of these poems to magazines where poetry is appreciated but one thing I haven’t really tried is sending them to friends or trusted persons who critique. Critique is not necessarily criticism. It isn’t about how bad or good you are, which is how books are being reviewed these days. The whole star rating system of books is problematic- suppose it is the genre you dislike, then do you give two stars to the genre?

Anyway, leaving all that aside since reviews matter to any writer, myself included, I’ve never really shown my poems to anyone besides you the reader of this blog and my family.

I found this picture interesting- most pictures of writers are solitary. If you do a google search on writing paintings, you’ll find a great amount of detail when it comes to writing tables, views from windows and feathery quill pens. This is an unusual sort of image that I can’t find the exact source for.

showing your writing

Turns out it is a good idea to get a second opinion or a third. There is this whole phenomenon of beta reading going on- so when you write a novel for instance, a beta reader or even several readers could give you a clue about what you need to do to get your story into readable form.

This may not work for everyone. I thought it best that the poems hibernate but after a while your poems and stories want to stretch their arms and wake up. They need attention the way little kids do.

Everything needs its springtime.


Incidentally I was reading this lovely volume of poetry called ‘Not Springtime yet’ by Priya Sarukkai Chabria. I’ll be talking about the book soon.

Are you comfortable showing your poems to people besides your family?


© neelthemuse, 2014

Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon






Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Day to day, Inspiration


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That long silence and reading Cleland’s Room of Thieves

It’s been a while since I posted. It has been almost three years now since this blog was conceptualized in a sudden impulsive mood. I just realized that!

Being off of the blog for a while reminded me of a poem I wrote in 2012 called Angry Young Blog.

There are times when the blog likes to be quiet as well. Blogs change like the people who write them. Last year I read and studied a lot of poetry. This year I’m delving into fiction a bit more.

In spite of that self- proclamatory fiction obsession, I couldn’t help  picking up this delightful book by Angela Cleland called Room of Thieves. It is a clever book full of sharp edges and a very original rendition.

room of thieves

Look at a small extract from this poem Frozen points

We are nasty, cubist, snagging on each others’

angles, grow more acute at every irritation.

The anger of trigonometry frustrated

is sharp in brows, is taut in bodies drawn with bows,

stings along the rims of eyes held open too long

between dry blinks….”

The book is filled with aggressive instances such as these crossing geographies from the Loch to as far away as Machu Pichu, There is an undercurrent of explosiveness that runs through this string of pearls. Cleland doesn’t shy away from using different forms either.

You can read some extracts here. Really inventive and fresh.

A prose poem I liked very much was Dusk:

The chair has no idea. That luxurious creak as I shift in it slowly, lay my head back and pen myself to the afternoon light. The air has no idea, drawing its cool scarf across my arched throat. The bird has no idea….”

and she goes on to a mesmerizing climax. Teaser enough for you?

I don’t think any one should worry about quietness at the blogs they write. It may mean many things- exploring new themes or removing the monotony of every day. A blog is like your second skin- it is strange that I write differently while I write my blog posts and am much much more hesitant to ‘be me’ at social media.

In fact writing this blog has changed the course of my life- I realized that I must invest more time with poetry.

How do you deal with quietness at your blog?

© neelthemuse, 2014

Check out my book Unsettled @ Amazon


Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Books, Day to day, Inspiration


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Saved by a Poem–conversation with Kim Rosen

There is this status update symbol on fb that goes –feeling happy, feeling sad. When I talked to Kim Rosen I was feeling blessed.

Let me tell you about her voice- there’s so much clarity in there and an understanding of a subject that she loves to talk about and use as a tool to heal. Her subject being my favourite–poetry–it only made sense to try to connect with her and subsequently have a long conversation.

Kim talked about many aspects of poetry I haven’t dealt with on this blog. How for instance do you memorize a poem? What does forgetting the lines or maybe a few words of the poem mean? What does it mean to learn by heart? She furnishes every answer with a poem that she recites with so much sincerity, it makes me want to stop my cursory reading and become involved in a deeper way with what I read and write as well.

Kim Rosen, MFA, is the author of Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Word. In the darkest moment of her life, when even the most profound psychological and spiritual teachings could not reach her, she found poetry. Now she combines her love of speaking poems with her background in spirituality and psychotherapy, offering poetry as a transformative agent for individuals and communities throughout the world. She has delivered poems in a spectrum of settings from conferences to cathedrals to a Maasai Safe House in the Great Rift Valley. She is the co-creator of 4 CDs and has been a featured TEDx speaker and her work has been featured in O Magazine, The Sun Magazine, The New Yorker and Spirituality & Health Magazine among other publications.


You say in your lectures ‘dare not to understand’….how do you reconcile the idea of close reading a poem, a great way of appreciating a poem, with this idea?

Poetry is like music. When we listen to a piece of masterful music without analyzing, we are actually listening to ourselves in the presence of this music– we are listening to our feeling, our thoughts, maybe the associations, memories or visions we have as the music unfolds. The same thing happens we watch a movie—we go on a journey with the characters. The journey happens within. My journey will be different that the person next to me, even though we’re watching the same movie. When you look at a painting, particularly an abstract painting, you are actually observing what comes up inside of you in the presence of that painting. People often forget this.

Since a poem is made of words, people think it has to be processed like a newspaper and not like a beautiful song. But MRIs scientifically prove that when a poem is read, what lights up is the music part of the brain as well as the language part. Poetry needs both parts of the brain- linear and non-linear. Some kind of understanding happens to you when you listen to a special poem- an understanding that comes from beyond the pragmatic mind. Tears spring out of your eyes. The hair stands up on your arms. You feel a sudden rush of joy or revelation.

 These kind of responses don’t happen when you interpret the world in a linear way.

It’s different when you are studying  poetry. You need to learn the craft that made the poem. You need to analyze it. I have a Masters in poetry myself and I love analysis.  But I also like the feeling of simply experiencing a poem and listening to what comes up inside me as i allow it to move me. 

 Your talks are very inspiring- is it poetry that urges you to inspire or your experience as a practitioner of healing?

I love this question.

Up until now, my talks have been for the purpose of awakening people to how they can be changed, healed and transformed by a  poem.  Reading, listening, or learning a poem open’s people’s minds like nothing else.

My note in the symphony of the world seems to be about how poetry can open us, both psychologically and spiritually. Sometimes only poetry can speak to the depth of ineffable feeling within us. In a profound life passage– be it loss or celebration.  How do we understand the big moments in our lives and the big questions that come to us after a loved one’s death? How do we deal with the disintegration of our bodies through disease and even how our bodies change during the process of birthing? How do we understand marriage and then separation? Great poets have asked and journeyed through all these questions. No text-book ever has.

Peruse these lines:

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.  As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away —
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between  stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind each face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing —
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

~Four Quartets, East Coker, T.S.Eliot

See how this poem invites us so tenderly into the inner space we fear.  It lets us know that we are not alone. It opens us to look at new possibilities.

It is said that memorizing a poem is much harder than memorizing numbers or catalogues. So how do you do it?

In my book ‘Saved by a Poem’ I’ve spent a couple of chapters on how I learn a poem by heart.

Here in the West there is a lot of stigma when it comes to learning by rote.It’s as though you are being forced. Everything you memorize in childhood is stored somewhere in your brain. In the U.S there is an epidemic of Alzheimers, and yet patients are able to recite the poems they learnt in their childhood. Learning by rote or using techniques like the memory palace are things that I don’t believe in. I like learning the poem by heart.  It is a function of INTIMACY with the poem, not conquest. It is not about me mastering the poem, but rather surrendering to it, allowing it to become my Teacher, with a capital “T”. It is a beautiful process of discovery. I get to know the poem and by reading it again and again I make it more and more personal. I go deeper and deeper into the feelings it brings up. I notice how the poem triggers memories and how reading a poem even changes my breathing, my heart rate, my brainwaves. When you read the poem deeply, it leaves the page and enters your body. The ancient Buddhists called this “writing on the bones.” 

In school you learn about the meter and lineation of the poem. I call these properties of the poem the “shamanic anatomy”. Indigenous cultures emphasized the importance of chanting. Christian and Muslim and Hindu cultures know the power of chant and prayer. Poetry can be prayer, and all prayer is poetry. When I visited Varanasi and Delhi, I saw poetry inscribed on walls of holy places. 

The best part of learning a poem is what I call the Gift of forgetting. The places you forget  are windows into aspects of yourself that you haven’t explored. Learning a poem is not a Conquest or an Achievement. It’s counter-intuitive, but the more places you forget the poem, the more doorways you have to explore yourself. The places of forgetting are the arrows pointing to the path to deeper to knowledge of yourself.


Take this poem by Rumi:

Love Dogs
One night a man was crying
                                                    “Allah, Allah!”
His lips grew sweet with the praising
until a cynic said,
                                 “So!  I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praising and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
                                            “Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”           
                                                                              “This longing
you express is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. 
That whining is the connection.
There are love-dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
                        –Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks


I would always forget two words in this poem. The poem says Your pure sadness/ that wants help/is the secret cup. But I would always say Your pure sadness is the secret cup.

Why did I forget those words “that wants help”?  I was always afraid of wanting help. My mother never wanted to see my need so I worked very hard not to be vulnerable. I suppressed reciprocity and I was always giving. When I realized that I couldn’t ask for help, it took me on a journey with my self. When I remembered to say those words, it made me feel so vulnerable and transparent. That is my greatest aspiration- to be as open and vulnerable as possible.

Do you memorize contemporary poems?

This is so important. Many people in my world only read Kabir, Rumi, and Hafez.  But living modern poets can speak to us in a way that is important. Take Naomi Shihab Nye,  Marie Howe, and Ellen Bass. Their poems deal with the nitty-gritty of life, the parts that are not so pretty.

The Gate
I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made.  He was
a little taller than me:  a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This — holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.
                                                            —Marie Howe

Howe’s poetry always reminds me how I have to face the ‘human catastrophe’ of my life and discover redemption and healing in the midst of it, not in some idealized setting.



How do you create a relationship with the poem you love and how does that poem become your teacher?

Right now I’m working on a poem called ‘What binds us’ by Jane Hirshfield. Even when I try to stop working on it, it follows me around. For me, a poem happens to me. I make these long lists of poems I want to learn by heart, but the ones I end up learning are the ones that find me. Something involuntary happens- I feel sad, burst into tears, have goosebumps when that kind of poem enters my life.

The poetry of the inner life attracts me the most. These poems choose me as their student. Sometimes I’m obedient, sometimes I’m not.It’s like I’m personally in a relationship with the poem. So even when I try to leave, it won’t let go off me and tells me to stay with it. Like this poem…


For What Binds Us
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down —
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest —
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
            – Jane Hirshfield

Thank you Kim! Utterly utterly lovely having you here!

neelthemuse@ 2013



Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Books, Inspiration, Interviews with Poets


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