Beating the Sophomore blues : How I completed writing my second novel

Believe me or not. Writing that first novel is the easiest step in the journey of a writer. (For those who are feeling violent after reading this statement, I would have reacted in the same way about a year ago!) Continuing on this path while balancing with the added responsibilities of marketing the first book can prove trickier than expected. Chasing different players of the book ecosystem for reviews, sales, events and what not to market the first book and finding the time to sit and write makes it seem like the 24 hours of a day have shrunk to half the size! Adding to that the drive of inspiration that had miraculously guided the powering of the first book seems to have gone on a long leave when it is needed the most! To top it all, the burden of expectations that the first book has generated sits on the shoulders.

After Publishing Abhaya, I experienced all the above.

Optimising the marketing time and activity (An essential thing that an author cannot afford to neglect) is a topic of another blog post (rather, a series of blog posts!). In this post I shall focus on what helped me overcome the inertia. (Or call it a writers block for the sake of simplicity, though I sense some technical difference).


As much as we debate endlessly about Pantsters vs Plotters, the process of plotting helps us to make a headway during the toughest points of the crucial first drafts. I remained a ‘pantster’ for a long time and a dependant of the proverbial ‘muse’ to propel my writing forward. I realised that had to change. When a spell of six months passed, the lack of any substantial output alarmed me. I sat down to plot.

Following a simple process of outlining, I wrote down the sequence of key events of the plot. The events mostly defined the chapters. (Again, for simplicity sake. At times a chapter can encompass multiple events and a single event can span over chapters depending upon the intricacy of your plot). The process of plotting I followed merits a separate blog post as well. Shall soon pen that down!

But in short, I realised that by writing down the plot on paper, I could now pin point the chapters where I might get stuck and those ‘easier’ chapters which I would be able to write with clarity.  I chose to work on the easier ones first. The momentum was achieved! After the agonising spell, it just felt great when the word count kept going up. As the writing picked pace even the ‘harder’ chapters began to unravel.

To quote one of my favourite authors, Shatrujeet Nath – “There are days when the muse fails to show up. On such days, the writer should.”

Plotting helps the writer to show up.


Your mother and mine were right. We know discipline matters. The problem is in executing all those ideal routines that just end up remaining in our imaginary calendars. Here is where we need to make peace with realistic goal setting. In a recent conference on Self Publishing held by Amazon in London, I heard a talk by Talli Roland, a journalist by training and a very successful author of eight romance novels. She said that a word count goal of 3000 words per day defined the first part of her day. Without reaching the word count, Talli said she does not open her mail or social media. (That rules out any marketing related activity too!).

While 3000 words a day seems like a daunting goal, one can appreciate the amount of commitment that goes into sticking to that. I tried having weekly word count goal. I stuck to five weeks of sticking to it where my weekly goal was 10,000 words before taking a break. ( Again I confess, I did not beat the goal every week. Some times I could manage ~7000-8000 words. A lucky week saw me past 12000 words). But the magical five weeks saw me completing 70-75% of the draft!

It was a huge boost to my confidence.

Manage your own carrot and stick!

The age old technique that our parents used to do back in the nineties! Turns out it works now too! (Didn’t someone say there is a child in all of us?) My very indulgent husband was generous with ‘carrots’ (Call it a shopping spree, dinners, trinkets and what not!) at each milestone ( Completing every 15,000 words milestone called for a celebration of some sort). I was more than happy to let myself indulge. I owed it to the writer in me who showed up!

Did I say I had some misses too? The ‘Sticks’ work better! I had to manage my own ‘sticks’. I put off salon visits, increased gym time, went without favourite foods and postponed movie weekends (this was effective as the movies played in the theatres only for 2-3 weeks and I needed to get past the milestone to treat myself for that particular movie!)

Output Matters. So keep writing.

This happened with me. Turned out that my muse was just testing my commitment and returned when she saw me ready to put in my writing hours and stick on. Convincing that inspiration to return involves in us writers being content with what we call as ‘bad’ writing. Bad writing is not a crime like we think it is. It can be edited. There are times when I powered through, forcing myself to keep adding words whether I liked my writing or not and then was rewarded with bouts of inspiration later.

The toughest and the most tasteless 300-400 words (which in all possibility would get trashed or rewritten) but written with commitment rewarded me with 500-600 words of inspired writing. Call it gaming the inspiration! It worked with me and I am sure it will work with you. But only on the condition that you are ready to forgive yourself for that ‘forced’ writing.

The ‘forceful’, ‘bad’ and ‘uncharacteristic’ writing as you might call it is any day better than a day of no writing. (That is what I call is a writer’s crime!). So Keep writing whatsoever. The result is as you can see below. A screen shot from my folder.


The attempt started in March, followed by a six month long dry spell of not progressing much till August where I started to put the plot down on paper and work on it. 16th of August was when I had crossed 10,000 words milestone (And celebrated promptly!). Plotting and discipline worked. By 15th November, I reached the magic finish line of 82,000 words. By 18th November 2016, I could send the first draft to the editor for her initial comments (Addressing the Edit comments took the count further up but that is another matter).

The end of 2016 saw me more confident and wiser about setting expectations, goals and working towards them. If you liked the above post, please share it and also feel free to add from your experiences. If you have a #beatingtheblues story about writing your draft, I would be delighted to read about it and learn more. Please comment below.


Top Indian Historical fiction books with awesome women characters #Womensday

People ask me about inspiring Indian books and novels that they can gift to their daughters, sisters, nieces and cousins. Here are those books from the historical fiction genres that I read in the recent months.

There is something special about women characters in Indian history. Whether they were warriors, danseuses, spies or feisty village bellies, they all made a mark in the hearts of story tellers who felt compelled to immortalise them in their stories.

  1. Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy

The first novel that comes to my mind with a plethora of female characters that would stay with you for long is the Tamizh Classic Ponniyin Selvan. Attaining a cult status among Tamizh readers, the immortal classic written by Kalki Krishnamurthy spans Five volumes and multiple authors are trying their hand in translating them. (God speed to you guys!)

You find the very manipulative Nandini who single-handedly shakes the very foundations of the strong Chola empire, the inscrutable strategist Kundavai who battles the enemies of her family holding back the feelings of her heart, the feisty Poonkuzhali, the boat woman who can row her boat alone from Rameshwaram to Srilanka and back, playing a key role in the political drama and I can go on and on about Vanathi, Sembiyan Maadevi. Female or male, main or supporting, Kalki manages to arrest the reader’s attention with every character. The Classic is a Must-Read

Tamizh edition is available on Amazon. Tamizh illiterates like me would be grateful to the very talented translators like Pavithra Srinivasan and Sumeetha Manikantan who are doing an amazing job.

I have to admit that the universe of Ponniyin Selvan went a long way in inspiring my female characters in my Abhaya , be it Abhaya, Dhatri, Kadambari or Shyeni.

2. Sivagamiyin Sapatham by Kalki Krishnamurthy

Yes, another immortal tale by the same author! Well that is Kalki, he makes you want to linger in his universe and this time, it is a soul stirring tale of unrequited love set in the backdrop of conflict between early Pallavas and Badami Chalukyas.

The edition is available in Tamizh and also English  (Translated by Nandini Vijayaraghavan in 4 Volumes)

Sivagami is a budding dancer whose innocent love for Prince Narasimha Varmar (referred in this book as Mamallar) is tested to the limits by the never ending political intrigue. From a dreamy lover, Sivagami matures into a sort of savior to the abducted Pallava citizens keeping them safe from their captor Pulakesi of the Chalukyas. Unlike Ponniyin Selvan, this tale might leave a tragic taste in many readers. But I strongly felt that Kalki portrayed Sivagami as someone becoming a guardian goddess than a mere Queen.

3. Gods Kings and Slaves by Venketesh Ramakrishnan

After the Cholas, it is the turn of Pandyas of Madurai in the 13-14th Century CE to hold the bastion of Hindu empire in the South against the invasion by Malik Kafur, the general of Khilji empire. The novel, I feel is an inspired prequel to the age old classic Madura Vijayam by Queen Gangamba Devi of the Vijayanagara Empire.

R Venketesh chronicled the trajectories of Malik Kafur and Veera Pandiyan and gave us unforgettable women characters in Vani, Tara, Sunanda and Radhika who propel the story forward. Assertive, thinking quick on their feet, maneuvering through the patriarchal barriers and achieving their desires, loyal and loving while not goig weak in their feet, readers can’t help but marvel at the layered nature of the characters.

The novel is a feast to history lovers and is a must read.

4. Urnabhih by Sumedha V Ojha

In this thrilling tale of espionage, adventure and seduction, Sumedha has woven a peerless and awe inspiring character in the courtesan Misrakesi. The delightful romance between Misrakesi and the Mauryan official Pushyamitra runs in parallel to the fast paced narrative about what threatened the Mauryan empire in 300 BCE India.

One can’t help but marvel at the independent nature of Misrakesi. Enterprising and ambitious sides of the ravishing seductress mould into the loyal spy of Mauryan empire and a confidante of the King maker Chanakya. Unapolegetic to the core, Misrakesi shines to show that independent women had an undeniable place in ancient India.

A tale you just can’t afford to miss, so order it soon!

5. The Rig Veda Code by Reshmi Chedvenkar

The author has etched a fast paced tale set in 600 BCE India where a warrior princess Rikshavi learns unique lessons from the history of Mahabharata and the dark ages that followed the fateful war. It is an interesting character arc that sees Rikshavi start as a warrior princess who realises that the kingdoms need more than valour to sustain. The commentary given about republican systems is another plus.

Reshmi’s painstaking research about the prevailing political systems shows in her plot. Unlike the above three full blown classics, the Rig Veda code is a cosy read suitable for Young Adult readers. I would have preferred it to be a detailed tale delving into the intricacies for the author definitely showed that potential. But that should not put the reader off from reading the novel.

The RigVeda Code would make an ideal gift for your teenagers who are beginning to learn history.

Apart from the story tellers exploring, the early and medieval history, those exploring the older history and  Puranic universe also have wonderful tales with impressive female characters that have to be read. Do check out the writings of Kavita Kane, Krishna Udayasankar, Dr. Vineet Aggarwal, Gautam Chikermane, Anuja Chandramouli and Sweety Shinde to just mention a few.

Book Review : Raven Song (Inoki’s Game) by IA Ashcroft

Being new to this genre of Urban dystopian fantasy, I found the story line of Ravensong, Book 1 of Inoki’s game quite interesting. Starting off with the adventures of Jackson, an adopted son of a rich businessman who also faces his internal demons, hallucinations and above all, a gift that he struggles to control. The plot thickens with him getting involved with the ‘Coalition’ for a smuggling task and things unravel with characters showing new shades. Anna, another gifted woman whose past is also a mystery enters into Jackson’s life and here is where I guess I should stop to not give out any spoilers.

I liked the characters and the author has taken care to include all flavours of emotions. (Much needed in the background of a post apocalyptic dark world!). I personally would have loved a bit more drama at places, especially in the scenes involving Frank, Anna and Jackson.

The world that the story is set in has dark entities which add to the mystery. The Coalition that wants to smuggle under its own local bodies, the mysterious order of magic do intrigue the reader. While the story has enough twists and turns to keep the reader hooked, a lot of detail is left unexplained. While it is highly advisable to not resort to explaining everything in a mystery, the first one-third requires the reader to do a bit of groping in the dark about who wants what and who is behind who. (I don’t know if it is just me as I am new to this genre). It looked like the author spent time in familiarising the readers with the characters over the various forces of this world. Not complaining, but it felt unusual. But readers like me would definitely appreciate the tautness in the latter chapters.
Urban fantasy lovers who like layered multi dimensional plotlines would surely like the author’s page turning writing style. I would surely want to know what happens in the second book of the series titled Eclipse of the Sun.
This review is a part of blog tour conducted by Author Assistant. A soft copy of this book was shared with me for an honest review. Interested readers could buy a copy from Amazon.

An evening at Novel London

Reading out the first chapter of your novel to an audience enthusiastic about reading and writing in a small world of books, be it a book store or a library, is an exhilarating experience. It is so much different from the the usual blitzkrieg of a book launch or a tea talk with a kind celebrity who pulls crowds for you. Because at Novel London, you are reading out to the best audience you can get, all of them authors, published or soon to be published. Your first chapter is heard by those who are stationed in the various milestones of this beautiful journey of writing.

Novel London is such an initiative by Safeena Chaudhry (author of Companions of Clay) to provide a platform for upcoming authors. Must say Safeena takes a lot of care to ensure voices are represented from all over the world. The monthly reading events, usually held on the first Friday of every month are a must attend for book lovers in London. I had come across Novel London’s events through some Meetup groups earlier this year, but had not pushed myself thinking that my genre might not be of interest to the Western audience. Destiny had other plans and I ran into Safeena herself during London Book Fair in April after which she took the efforts to slot the reading of Abhaya into an appropriate theme and proactively followed up. I totally loved the rehearsal session and Safeena being a professional with Video making, had some great tips to share about public reading/speaking.

On Aug 5 2016, I got to read the first chapter of Abhaya for “An Evening of Theosophical Fiction” along with Adam Bethlehem who read out from his second novel, The Universal Theory of Immigration (highly recommend it). Swedenborg Society, Bloomsbury made for a perfect location. It was worth noting, the amount of literature one man (Emanuel Swedenborg) could write and inspire.

Here is the video of my reading out the first chapter of Abhaya -. Was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of interest the reading generated among the audience gathered during the event. (Adam bought the Kindle edition on the spot!) It was a proof that audience irrespective of their ethnicity would really connect with your writing when they feel it coming from your heart. Do watch and leave your comments below.

Also, please don’t forget to visit Novel London ‘s Website and do attend the future events. I’ll not miss it while I am in London 🙂

Save $150 and a week – quick how-to format a CreateSpace book interior yourself

Wonderful post on self-formatting your manuscript. Like Ana, I too got my manuscript done by a US Company and they did great. But nothing like self reliance while handling your ‘baby’

Ana Spoke, author

When I published Shizzle, Inc last year, I paid somebody to format the PDF interior layout. It cost me about $150 and a week of back-and-forth with a reputable company, that did a good job. Eventually. The problem is, now I have to pay them again because I have had the book re-edited by an American editor. And again if I want to change a single comma – they did it on a Mac, and even though they were nice enough to provide the Word file, it looks like garbage when I open it on my PC.

In case you’ve never had to deal with an interior file and don’t know what it is – it’s a PDF of your book, laid out exactly the way your book will look, from the first page to the last. It includes the title page, page numbers, book name and your name at the…

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Half time 2016 – Eventful, Motivating and a long way to go

It was a unique blogging prompt from the much loved @TheBlogchatter community to recapitulate the first half of 2016. Honestly speaking, I have to admit these ~180 days just flew past. Literally flew past!

But wait! A lot happened. A lot lot has happened.


It was in the end of 2015 that my book Abhaya went live on Kindle. I self published it. It made sense that I wait for the readers to validate the online version before I invest in a paperback edition. Apart from being rewarded by some amazing reviews, the joyous aspect of this validation was that there were quite some senior readers who had never read an online book who made this effort to read the Kindle copy online and gave their feedback. Can’t express how grateful  I am. Six months down the line, I have decided to plunge into investing on paperback. Do pray for me that the second half of 2016 IS going to be as encouraging.

I have to mention this Ebook Carnival  that encouraged bloggers to experience self publishing, a much needed initiative. Thanks to that, I mustered will to convert my ongoing essays on Telugu poets into an ebook for the occasion.


Apart from my books and some columns, I was never an active blogger. This is the first year I flexed and started to blog my mind and I am happy I am doing so. With a short story, some book reviews, some posts on self publishing and some published articles, it feels really motivating to keep at it.


London Book Fair 2016 that took place in April 2016 is one event I have to recount. I loved the #AuthorHQ where eminent authors like Rachel Abbott, Mark Dawson and Peter James shared their experiences with upcoming authors. This is the first book related event I attended where writing craft was discussed than content. I could not help noticing how grounded and non condescending these talks were compared to other literature festival events.

Lastly (and as they say but not the least), I had an awesomely fantastic trip to Greece (Crete Islands) and posted a brief travelogue here.

This really felt motivating. Thinking of the goals I set for myself, my second novel, my reading list and planned blog posts. That does look like a good amount of work. But writing the post showed me that I really had a great first half 2016 and the time did not actually fly away without my knowledge!

Hope the streak of awesomeness continues for all of us!


Original Picture credit :

Startups, Ecosystem and Empathy

This really happened. A young and inexperienced professional messaged a popular Startup founder that he needs help in finding a job. The founder did NOT respond in a way that showed any traces of empathy. Naming and shaming him is not my job because I think the message of empathy is more important than defaming the founder.

The reason that Startups are loved and the founders are glorified is because they create jobs (of course, apart from all the innovation and disruption jazz that we hear in those big talks). It is no big a surprise if multiple requests for employment hits a startup founder’s inbox every day. But Startups need an ecosystem. Ecosystem needs empathy. As a startup founder, what is your empathy quotient? Judge yourself by the picture below.


Empathy pyramid1

Note: Graphic created with inspiration from Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement.