The grey area between a pantser and a plotter

I am neither a pantser nor a plotter. I have my own method. It’s worked for me so far.

Pantsers write without a structure in mind and plotters outline and then fill in the blanks. The pantsers and the plotters. I never really got this distinction. The grey area between these two extremes is just too huge. Experts tell you to do what suits you best. I figured it out, for me.

I wrote my first crime thriller (to be published in September 2019) as a pantser. It took several rewrites and several years and a lot of muddling about. I want a better method. Fun as it was.

The second time around (I am working on my second novel, a sequel) I thought I would try the plotting method. Total Fail. Got writer’s block. So that’s out of the window.

What I did next was write the first half of the novel (rough first draft) and then took a break…because this is where I usually meander.

I started to flesh out the characters in greater detail. Not the main characters like the protagonist and the villain, because I already knew them well. But the minor characters weren’t as vivid in my mind as I would have liked them to be. So I wrote out detailed physical descriptions, personality traits, goals, motivations, and interviewed them, asking them all sorts of questions. This included the characters who play bit parts. It took time and at times seemed a futile exercise. But I enjoyed doing it. I got some interesting plot ideas and insights.

people-43575_1280

I found out what these minor characters were thinking. All of them had serious personality issues. There would be consequences.

I picked up the draft where I had left off. The protagonist was in the thick of it already but now I knew the parts the minor characters were going to play. It wasn’t a magic pill. After the exercise was over, it wasn’t as if that I knew exactly what was going to happen.

That is why I did not plot or outline the rest of the novel. A few chapters were done this way (the last 3-4 chapters) but the rest were written out as I went along. They were written very roughly, not bothering with grammar and paragraphs. Some chapters were barely a page or so. Quite basic really, not like the first half of the book, which was also a rough first draft.

In the second half of the book, there are mostly half sentences, dialogues without tags, and plenty of notes and questions to myself. It wasn’t an outline but it wasn’t really a proper draft.

The next step is to go back and flesh it out.

I hope to finish writing a proper first draft by March/April 2019 and then the second draft in the next 3-4 months.

Then I’ll give myself a break for a month or two and then go back and write the third draft. If this works, it will be faster than my first novel, but it’s not as if I will be churning out book after book.

I am a slow writer. But it feels good to be confident about the story and the plot. That’s what matters.

 


Becoming an author

NitapcI always thought of myself as a writer and of course an author too…an author of countless articles and a few short stories. Becoming an author of a book is different though and that is happening soon.

I signed a contract with Vishwakarma Publications for the publication of my first novel after winning a contest at PILF (Pune International Literary Festival) in September 2018.

The novel is a thriller set in Mumbai. A murder mystery. It will be out in September 2019.

Vishwakarma Publications, a Pune based publisher, was founded in 2013. Vishwakarma is also the official title sponsor of the Pune International Literary Festival which is held every year in Pune. It is a part of the Vishwakarma group which is into education.

I am happy that I have been accepted by a traditional publisher and that too a reputed one. And of course the fact that they are Pune based is a matter of great joy!


PILF 2018 – Pune International Literature Festival

This was a wonderfully organised lit fest (by Vishwakarma Publications, MIT and Manjiri Prabhu and other partners) which was held at Yashada, in Pune. As a Punekar, it made me proud. This is the sixth one, but the first one which I attended as I was not in Pune when the previous festivals were held.

Listening to authors like Shobha De, Gurcharan Das, Isak Bagvan and a myriad of other authors and poets was invigorating.

It was also quite interesting to hear owners of bookshops speak out on the shrinking shelf space, which according to them is not really shrinking! According to them running a bookshop is all about the passion. If it is run like a business the chances are that it will fail. Today, with the digital media fast catching up (or has it already?) bookshops have a lot of competition. Bookshops today need to revive the days when entering a bookshop was all about the experience. And one is not talking about the experience of buying toys and other merchandise in a bookshop. But about entering a quiet, sacred space where the salespeople guide you, and talk to you intelligently, helping you find what you want.

Here are some photographs from the festival which went on for three days from 28th September to 30th September 2018. Several books were launched at the venue and it was a place where one could meet one’s favourite authors.

outdoorBook Nookaudi

If anyone has missed this festival, then they can look out for the one which will be held next year around this time.

At this fest, you can hang out the whole day, reading, buying books, drinking in not just thoughts but also coffee and tea. Snacks were available, and yes, a thali too. Toilets were clean and there was a large number of enthusiastic youngsters helping out the attendees. All in all, great fun! It is the kind of festival you can attend absolutely alone. Your only company the books and their authors.


Busting the IQ test myth

Have you ever wondered whether people with low scores in IQ tests are really less intelligent than people who score brilliantly?

If you have, you are not alone. Doubts such as these have plagued researchers and laymen for years. Howard Gardner, a Harvard educationist, was one of the first voices of authority who raised questions about the efficacy of intelligence testing. It was only after the publication of his book Frames of Mind some twenty years ago, that new fuel was added to the fire.

IQ tests test just one ‘type’ of intelligence
In the light of what we know today about ‘emotional’ and ‘social’ intelligence, it is significant that as far back as that, Gardner put forward his various theories of ‘intelligence.’

The ‘intelligence’ tested by IQ tests he said was just one ‘type’ of intelligence, what is called ‘academic intelligence.’ Gardner was hailed as a genius by several educators who said that he had ‘liberated them from the ‘one-size-fits-all pedagogy and given them a framework to help children develop individual strengths – as artists, scientists, or just good citizens.’

Different cultures, different standards
Long before Gardner, fallacies about intelligence testing had done the rounds. It was more or less accepted that cultural differences between test subjects distorted test results. For example, an intelligent Sudanese from the jungles of Africa, with superior survival skills and finely developed leadership qualities, was likely to perform worse in an IQ test than an average school-boy from a developed country. To counter this, tests to suit different cultures were devised, but unfortunately, they never became as popular as the standard ones.

It’s just practice
However, even those from similar cultural backgrounds can produce distorted results in IQ tests. That is because those familiar with the tests perform better than those doing them for the first time!

What are the barometers of Intelligence?
But the most disturbing fact about IQ tests is the limited number of skills that are taken to be the barometers of intelligence. Qualities like verbal ability and fluency, agility with numbers, memory, perceptual speed, spatial visualisation and reasoning are the usual barometers tested. These are not comprehensive, however. Of these, memory, speed, and skills like verbal ability are considered by educators to be simply tools which are used by people for certain tasks, and are not indicative of intelligence.

We just have to think of Einstein to know how true this is. Einstein, a creative genius once said: ‘My intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time.’ He was, of course, referring to his poor reading and writing skills.

Many legendary geniuses have lacked the so-called logical and calculative abilities tested in IQ tests. Yet these people achieved fantastic results in the fields in which they worked, often producing inventions which the world had never seen before. Often it was their acceptance and analysis of seemingly illogical modes of thinking which have played a part in their creative genius.

When Galileo said that the earth was round he was ridiculed. And when physicist Murray Gell Mann from the Santa Fe Institute said that protons and neuron of atoms are formed of subatomic ‘quarks’ with fractional electrical charges, he too was laughed at in the beginning. But these men had the courage to explore seemingly ridiculous ideas and proved them correct.

Highly intelligent people can fail IQ tests
Einstein and Galileo would have probably failed the standard IQ tests. What the IQ tests would not have been able to measure was their ability to form novel combinations of ideas, amazing combinations which average minds would not have the ability to create. Their brains are able to make brilliant neural connections, the likes of which can never be measured in IQ tests. IQ tests deal in possibilities and work with tried and tested problems, that is their very nature.

Intelligence is taking an idea through to its logical conclusion
Laymen might consider these novel conclusions by geniuses as some forms of ‘intuition’ but this is not so. The conclusions that these men reached were a result of logical and brilliant thinking. They were able to reach them not only because they thought of them, but because they were the kind of people who did not discount any possibilities, however ridiculous they sounded. A standard IQ test simply cannot measure the tenacity and persistence that these minds possess. Persistence which stands like a rock against society’s ridicule. Also, IQ tests are unable to measure the high mental concentration that these minds possess.

analysis blackboard board bubble

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Intelligence is imagination
There is also the imaginative faculty. Writers, musicians, and even scientists possess this to a high degree and it is quite impossible to quantify it in IQ tests. Picasso, for instance, saw numbers as patterns ever since he was a child, and in 1965 A Kekuli discovered the shape of a benzene molecule by dreaming of it as a snake biting its tail – round!

Intelligence is related to life
Besides the creative and imaginative genius, there are other qualities which are not measured in standard IQ tests. These set of qualities fall under the category of ‘practical intelligence’ and consist not only of ‘social intelligence’ and ‘emotional’ intelligence but also an ability to solve day to day problems. Many highly intelligent people possess this type of intelligence and they are usually very successful in life.

Social intelligence includes leadership qualities, good interpersonal relations, the ability to judge other people’s moods and behaviour and an ability to sell one’s ideas to others. A detailed analysis of socially intelligent people revealed characteristics like punctuality and an ability to compromise and see another’s point of view.

A problem-solving ability can mean an ability to read maps to simply finding solutions to daily irritations. Good problem solvers are clear, positive thinkers who do not dismiss solutions because they sound unworkable or because they come from an unacceptable source. Good problem solvers think solutions through before abandoning them and geniuses as well as highly intelligent people possess this ability.

Academically brilliant people are often mentally lazy
On the other hand, many academically brilliant people, people who score extremely well in IQ tests, do not think problems and solutions through. They are used to pat solutions. Worse, their academic intelligence often makes them arrogant and impatient and they are eager to reach ‘correct’ answers. This can make them quick impulsive thinkers.

Academic intelligence is useful
This is not to undermine academic intelligence. This type of intelligence is a prerequisite in certain fields and in most other fields it is critical to have at least an average academic intelligence. A truly intelligent person uses academic intelligence as a tool.

Academic intelligence can be measured accurately
Unfortunately, as only academic intelligence can be measured accurately, it is given the most weight.

Is there a way to measure true intelligence?
True intelligence cannot be measured except in a general way, and by observation, but is there an explanation in the physical structure of the brain? Are the brains of highly intelligent people different from the brains of less intelligent people?

While it has been proved that ‘quantity’ of grey matter is not indicative of intelligence, there is evidence that the way neurons in our brains are wired can give a clue.

Smart, intelligent people have more complex and more efficient neural pathways for transmitting information. In 1985, Dr Marion Diamond of UC Berkley and Sceibel, found that Einstein’s brain had four times more of oligodendroglia helper cells that speed neural communications than the brains of eleven of the gifted people also studied. Other studies have also borne out that people with higher educational levels have a more complex neural web than the uneducated. However, one is not sure whether this is the cause or the effect of education.

Intelligence starts to develop early
Yet, there is also evidence that these ‘efficient neural connections’ start developing early in life, as a result of stimulation which a child receives and absorbs from the environment. Probably an explanation as to why children from deprived backgrounds find it so difficult to catch up with the level of intellectual attainment of those who have had the opportunity to absorb from a rich, interesting and challenging environment. An environment which is not necessarily full of ‘academic’ challenges, but an environment which is rich in the lessons of life.

(This article was written by me for Deccan Herald, Bangalore, and published in the nineties. Amazing that not much has changed and that these ideas are still quite relevant. Even today there is no accurate way to measure true intelligence.)


A writer’s journey

If there is a major pothole a writer should avoid falling into, it’s the fear of rejection. I fell into it, and am just about getting out of it. Now that I look back, maybe (partly at least) it was because I revered authors. Whether it was Charles Dickens or Minette Walters, it didn’t matter. How could I even dream of walking amongst them?

The fear of not being good enough paralysed me for years. I had wanted to write a novel since I was ten actually, and I wrote several, starting from the time I was a teenager. Not just novels and novellas, but short stories, fan fiction, and screenplays. I would read these out to friends and family off and on, but never sent anything for publication. I threw almost all of my early writings away, except for the poetry.

I turned into a journalist –  a fairly good one at that. I liked to see my byline out there in mainstream newspapers and I liked the paychecks. Often, I would submit a humour piece or a short story, and my editors liked it and published it. But writing a whole novel? That was a different ballgame. The project fell by the wayside. When I did draft a novel one day, it was in a tentative fashion. Then I kept it away and concentrated on my “real” work.

Last year, my daughter told me it was time I published it. So what if it was rejected she said. I was an experienced writer by now and should not feel insecure. She was right. The years of writing had done me well. My words flowed better. I felt more confident and decided that I was ready.  So I re-wrote my crime novel and was happy with the result.

But when I sent in the book proposals, I realised no one even wanted to read my novel, leave alone give it a shot.

I read up on self-publishing. Most of what I read was discouraging. Besides the obvious challenges that were underlined, the message was that if the holy grail of traditional publishers did not want even want to read it, something must be wrong with the book. I did not let it get me down. I sent my novel out to beta readers, and now it’s just come back from a professional edit. I will continue to search for a traditional publisher and if I am not successful in finding one, it does not mean that I will give up on my book.

(This post was originally written for a writer’s group which I am no longer a part of and therefore all references to it have been removed)


A Touch of Class

(The article transcribed here was written by me for The Economic Times, and published on 13th October 2004. However, the information given here on dressing is timeless. 

 

What should a man wear to get an elegant, stylish look?

Fashion for Men

We exist in a visual world. Our clothes, looks, expression, gestures and tone create an impression which can last a very long time. And we unconsciously associate certain clothes and mannerisms with certain personality traits.

This is hardly a question of right or wrong…it’s reality. When a man is better dressed he is noticed, receives more respect, and gets better service. Perhaps that is why corporate dress codes are flourishing and dressing well has become almost a job requirement. Picking the right clothes and accessories has evolved into a skill, an art if you will. And looking good is no longer the matter of picking up the right trouser and matching shirt and tie. It means selecting the right watch, belt, socks, shoes and even accessories like sunglasses, jewellery and perhaps the right brand of cell-phone and tablet. All of this is becoming an intrinsic part of a man’s lifestyle statement. A man is becoming what he wears. And what he carries.

‘If a man is wearing an Armani suit and Prada shoes you’ll know he’s not an ordinary man,’ believes Sanyogita Chadda, General Manager, Design, at Raymond Apparel. One automatically assumes that he is the kind of man who has a mansion tucked away in the heart of the city, several farmhouses in exotic locations, a fleet of cars, a yacht and an aeroplane, and holidays in Europe. Armani may not be Indian, but there are plenty of Indian brands that impart a touch of class. Whether it’s Allen Solly, Arrow, Raymonds, Van Heusen or a myriad of smaller brands, you’ll see them everywhere – in exclusive showrooms, in malls, in your next door store and yes, on pavements as well! The rip-offs. The masses out there are being drawn in hordes to the fakes.

If a man wants that coveted promotion he needs to dress well and the best thing he can do is to watch his seniors. ‘You should not dress for the job you are in but for the job you want,’ says Rajendra Grewal, CEO and Founder of The Wardrobe Engineer. So better think twice about sneering at that advertisement in which the well-dressed man wins the all-important contract or gets his boss’s job!

It’s a bitter pill for the nonchalant dresser to swallow but clothes can make you or break you. ‘Clothes tells you about a person…about how particular he is, how much attention he gives to detail. I would not hire a man who is sloppily dressed,’ says Rahul Bhajekar, businessman. Sanjay, Regional Manager in a multi-national firm agrees. ‘Though I would not judge a man’s ability by the clothes he wears, at the same time I would not hire someone who is not neatly or appropriately dressed. After all, the way a man dresses tell you something about him…at least about how well-organized he is.’

It’s not as if Rahul and Sanjay are natty dressers. Though Rahul is fond of wearing branded clothes he does not wear a tie to the office (because of the weather) and sometimes wears half sleeves. However, when meeting clients he is in long sleeves and dark trousers. ‘My clients are mostly foreigners who do not wear suits and ties because of the weather here and so there is no pressure on me to do so,’ he explains. Sanjay does not dress formally either, although he is working in an organization which lays some emphasis on appearance. ‘Friday dressing which was unheard of earlier is becoming common in our company now. The new breed is young and are less in awe of the company culture, and are less likely to be clones of their seniors,’ says Sanjay.

Some Infotech companies, however, maintain a strict dress code whether it’s a Friday or a Saturday, and executives who come to work in jeans are frowned upon. ‘They are trying to prevent people coming in jeans,’ says Grewal. Casual clothes worn to office are not supposed to be jeans, T-shirts and sandals or sneakers. ‘What is casual are crisp cotton shirts and trousers and that too in muted colours and patterns,’ adds Grewal.

Formals can be dark trousers with a sharp crease, a full-sleeved shirt and a tie. But again the pattern matters. ‘A bright printed shirt even if its full sleeves is casual,’ says Sanyogita. For a strict formal look, cotton trousers will not do, however well-cut. ‘Polywool trousers with a sharp crease are more suitable, but of course the fall and the look is very important.’

Unless they are meeting outsiders, Indian executives tend to avoid suits and jackets. Formal business wear means dark colours but black is rather stark and should be avoided.

Shirts should be long sleeved and preferably be in a light colour like white or pale blue, perhaps with pinstripes or just plain. White is a good, safe colour. Ties should not match with the jacket but should contrast with it, but beware of wearing too bright a tie. While navy blues or dark reds can be the background, the pattern should be subtle. A matching handkerchief is an absolute no-no. Shirts can be a hundred per cent cotton but it goes without saying that ties should be silk. Silk ties can last a lifetime if properly cared for.

Accessories like tie pins are not in vogue these days but cufflinks are. They should have a matte finish to be considered elegant. As for jewellery, too many rings do not give a good impression and can look ‘loud.’ The watch should preferably be steel or silver, although a gold watch can also look classy. A tan, burgundy or black belt is fine but a large bright buckle will be considered tacky. The belt colour should not contrast with the shoes (burgundy and tan is a good combination). Socks should match with the trousers. When it comes to the shirt, trousers and tie, it is best to go in for one solid colour and two patterns or two solid colours and one pattern instead of three patterns although this combination can look good if correctly done.

Finally its the man’s personal style which dictates what he wears and reveals his taste. While a select few get the right combination of clothes and accessories almost instinctively – most have to work hard at it. ‘Ninety per cent of urban Indian men don’t know how to dress,’ says Grewal. He feels that this is because they do not have references…the advantage of a public school background or a role model’. But Grewal believes that dressing is based on scientific principles and can be learnt. However, he warns against becoming a fashion victim. ‘In the IT industry employees have become victims of Chinos,’ he says. Then there are companies where the classical way of dressing is followed. Dark blue trousers, white shirt and black shoes and as a result, executives become clones of each other. He finds the combination of black pants and white shirt particularly irksome as only ‘waiters and undertakers wear such combinations.’ What one needs to do is to develop an individual style.

What about when style goes a little over the edge and becomes rather too individualistic? Unless they work in a work environment which welcomes it, they might have to pay a price. Erin Brockovich swore at work, wore colourful, revealing clothes and the result was that her colleagues and boss mistrusted her and doubted her ability. It can become important to blend in.

While blending in or standing out may be one of the reasons a corporate executive decides to dress in a particular way, many youngsters today dress to impress the opposite sex. Brands definitely matter more to the generation next, even if the goal may be more frivolous. ‘What a boy wears is more important than what he looks like. The right brand in clothes, shoes and watch can give him a cool look,’ says Madhuri, a first-year college student. Throw in a fancy cell-phone and snazzy bike and the teenager is telling the world that he has what it takes.

Though clothes and accessories are becoming an intrinsic part of our personalities, it’s important not to let them take over our lives. ‘Let’s not become victims of fashion,’ says Grewal. Our clothes are not who we are and they should be made to work for us, not the other way round. Following some ground rules helps. Before selecting clothes, one should keep in mind one’s body shape, the existing climate, corporate culture and the cost factor. A quote from Mark Twain is worth mulling over.

Our clothes…are on us to expose us…to advertise what we wear them to conceal. They are a sign; a sign of insincerity; a sign of suppressed vanity; a pretense…and we put them on to propagate that lie and back it up.

 


Not maid for each other

When the gaudily made-up gipsy with dazzling clothes stared into the make-shift crystal ball and muttered, ‘I predict dire trouble with household help,’ I laughed it off. After all, I was just a carefree college girl, come to the mela (fair) with giggling friends.

Ten years later when I arrived in Kolkata loaded with luggage, two under-sevens and a busy husband, what I needed the most was domestic help. I had not had much luck with maids earlier, but was hoping for a new beginning.

maidCal, we were told, had its issues, but what it didn’t have was help issues. Didn’t we know that Kolkata’s elite led a luxurious life with not one, but numerous help around the house? After roughing it out in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, where domestic help play hard-to-get and are expensive to keep, I now looked forward to living in the lap of luxury.

In just three months I had gory tales to tell.

The first help, Roma, was a real phataka. Her flashing eyes, swinging hips and fiery tongue were sufficient to have me sneaking around the house hoping I wouldn’t set off her hot temper. After a few days of this, I decided that I couldn’t live in mortal fear of the help. So out she went.

The next one Bula, was a villager. Her skeletal frame and servile demeanour aroused pity in me and I wanted to help this poor creature who had been thrown out of her home by an abusive husband. She turned out to be a reluctant worker, and I realised she needed Mother Theresa, not me. So, out she went.

Supply was never a problem in Cal, and another landed up on my door-step within a few hours. Ratna she called herself. Pretty, well-dressed, and clean, she impressed me. She lived up to the first impressions. She was good at her work, worked with a song on her lips and a smile on her face. Shaking off an uneasiness I couldn’t account for, I started writing again.

Until one fine day, my husband Anil dropped a bombshell. Write all you want he said, but why do you need to drink so much? He sounded irritated. One litre of his finest scotch had dwindled to almost nothing in just three days! Suddenly everything came together in a flash. Ratna’s glazed eyes, idiotic grins…and extraordinary benevolence. Of course, she had to go.

When I related this experience to my neighbour, she laughed. ‘Silly, they all steal. You should have locked up the scotch.’

I pouted. It wasn’t my fault. I had just hired the wrong people. Honest help did exist.

Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that there was an agency which supplied household help, that too after informal training and police verification. It was a dream come true. Ignoring my neighbour’s scepticism, I called them. When they told me that I would get to interview one maid the very next day, I couldn’t stop smiling.

And that was how Mrs Meetu Sarkar entered our home. She came from a respectable family she told me, and with her expensive saree and subtle make-up, she looked it. I also liked her air of confidence and capability.

However, it rapidly dawned on me that it wasn’t her interview, but mine.

‘Is your TV in the bedroom?’ she asked.
‘Er, yes,’ I said.
She frowned disapprovingly, and I feared that she would refuse the job.
‘I can move it out,’ I ventured. ‘You will join, won’t you?’
She nodded. ‘Okay, but I am making it clear that I won’t come on Sundays as I work only six days a week And I never come before nine as I have to make my husband’s dabba.’
‘What about my husband’s dabba?’ I asked bravely.
‘That’s your job,’ she shot back.

I didn’t like her, but couldn’t tell her. Besides, I was desperate. So I kept her.

The television was moved into the drawing room, but as the days passed I realised it was a minor sacrifice. Mrs Meetu Sarkar was efficient, even with all her faults. She decided when I should write, which television programmes I should watch and what we should eat. But she was clean, and a hard worker. After a few months, however, I couldn’t help confiding in my neighbour about her bullying tendency. My all-knowing neighbour was sure that it was all my fault.

‘Take charge, be strict!’ she advised. ‘Or one day that woman will run your whole life.’

I tried. I avoided chatting with Meetu, pointed out her mistakes, and moved the telly back into the bedroom. I was thrilled when I realised that Meetu had become meek and quiet. And when she abruptly quit.

It wasn’t my fault, I consoled myself. This was written in my stars. The gipsy had said so.

(Revised version of what appeared in The Telegraph, Kolkata)