Tag Archives: blogging

THANK YOU, 2014. COME ON IN, 2015.

As the new year settles in, I look ahead with a sense of contentment. The last year has been an interesting journey for me, thanks to my blogging experience. I received the WordPress report yesterday and it was encouraging. It said I had done well for the first year. Sure, I could do better, but knowing I had people who liked to read what I wrote, knowing I could get myself to write on a regular basis and find like-minded people in the blogosphere – all of it has been a learning and comforting experience.

The last few years had me too caught up in the business of life – with my kids, family and work. When I started blogging, I read all about how one ought to post very regularly and often found it difficult to meet my own targets. I set and then reset my targets. I shared my frustrations at not being able to keep to my blogging schedules and interestingly, just when I thought nobody was reading, some gentle soul from out there would respond and tell me to keep writing, to keep going.

In my first year of blogging, I have made friends, found writers I admire and enjoy reading. I discovered it was okay to not blog every single day, but to find something meaningful to share – even if that meant writing once in a week, or may be even once in ten days.

As I look ahead to the new year, I no longer worry about not keeping up to the schedule, nor do I beat myself up if my views drop. Reading the New Year posts of fellow bloggers, I know I am in good company, for they too believe we must write for ourselves, not for others. As writers, we write to give expression to those thoughts, feelings and opinions that lie deep within. Our blogs give us that space.

At times, working on a post is like writing in my diary. I have enjoyed the company of followers and fellow writers who are kind and non-judgmental. Their encouraging words, their frequent visits make me feel wanted and cared for. What more can a writer ask for?

Sure, there are books to be written and collections of poems that one has to publish – and those are goals that I would like to work towards. I have set myself a goal of having a collection of 15-20 short stories in place by June 1st, 2015. I have lots of them lying around in various diaries, I need to bring them together, type them out, edit them and share them with others in the community to know what they feel. Yeah, that is a goal I would like to work towards, and if the stories get a decent feedback, I would like to have them published. While I work towards the goal, I also know it is fine if I don’t make it to the magical 15. Maybe I manage 13 or get lucky and compile 18 stories that are fun to read. My effort would be to create, compile and share without worrying too much about what others are going to think about my efforts.

I look forward to writing, sharing and hopefully making you see the world through my eyes. If I succeed in doing that, with just a few of you even, I would be happy.

What’s your creative goal / resolution for 2015? More writing, more reading, getting a book published, more connections in the blogspace – what are you pitching for this year? Would love to know.

~ Bharti Athray

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2014 in review: my blog report summary

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

HOW TO WRITE A STORY THAT SOMEONE WANTS TO READ

I know this is not going to go down well with a lot of writers, who believe writers must write for the sake of writing itself, and the joy it brings them. I agree, that is the soul of writing – to create something you feel strongly about. But in the end, if you are hoping someone is going to read your work, it is important for the piece to appeal to your average reader as well.

Drawing from my copywriting experience
Well, I will fall back on my copywriting experience here. When we work on a campaign or any piece of creative, there are a couple of approaches to consider:

  1. An ultra-creative one, that everyone in the agency loves and we are fairly certain the client won’t get it;
  2. A contemporary take on an old route, something like old wine in a new bottle;
  3. A fairly standard and direct approach presented in an impactful manner.

At the start of the presentation, we have ideas being churned out at all the three levels. Then, as the campaign progress, the lot that falls in the direct approach is dropped as it is typically ‘done before’.

What does the client choose from
The choice for the client really comes down to the first two: Ultra creative, never seen before; or a whole new angle on an existing story. The second one is typically what the client wants and is more challenging to come up with as it treads the thin line between known and the unknown.

How advertising creative rules apply to the creative writing space
As writers, we all love to operate from the ultra creative spaces of our imagination. But the problem with imagination is that only I know what is happening inside my mind and how things appear to be in my mind’s eye. While I may be wrong here, there is something that we lose out on when we use words to describe a new world.

Words are wonderful for describing feelings and emotions and creating the mood, but detailed descriptions in a novel or an action thriller can slow down your reader tremendously. What a film director can establish in a flash of 5-10 seconds, takes a writer 5-6 pages to establish.

How success authors handle fantasy
Given this fact, my study of successful fantasy fiction literature: Harry Potter, The Shiva Trilogy has brought me to this analysis: that your fantasy world must have something your reader can relate to. For instance: in Harry Potter, the entire story is based in a boarding school, but a completely different kind of a boarding school.

Building the unknown from the known
painting-of-man-reading-by-candlelightNow if I have been a reader for a while and read the books of Enid Blyton and Famous Five and the like, I essentially know the culture of a boarding school. I also know that a boarding school typically consists of long corridors, and carefully locked rooms that few people are allowed to visit. I also know that there are groups pitted against each other in these schools and each group tries to better the other at every given instance.

It is against this backdrop that I view the Hogwarts School and its spaces, teachers and its surroundings. While the writer does spend time telling me special characteristics about this space, she does not have to tell me what a boarding school is. I already know that and know how students are expected to behave in such an environment. In advertising, this is referred to as known information as far as your target audience is concerned.

When you are building the unknown from a known base you can focus on creating exciting situations, developing the characters and building your story line. If on the other hand, you wish to create a world that has absolutely no relevance to the real world, you face a completely different challenge.

Interstellar: The movie that builds unknown from the unknown
The Hollywood film, Interstellar (2014) was a great watch and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But having been set in an era that was way ahead of where we are today, the film has spent a lot of time on actually establishing the basic premise of what has been happening in the world, space travel, concept of wormhole, scientific theories about the black hole… to really appreciate the film, I need to be able to understand it all.

In my opinion, it was easier to understand this as a film than if I had read the same story as a book. I am not sure I would have enjoyed the story as much if it had been a novel that I read. It would be too much for me to understand and put together as the story progressed.

The Shiva Trilogy: Building on the Hindu pantheon
Another writer who makes brilliant use of existing knowledge base of his readers is the best selling Indian author, Amish Tripathi, known for The Shiva Trilogy. He has to his credit The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras.

He has created these amazing books on Lord Shiva of the Indian patheon, writing about Shiva as a human hero who walked the earth. In light of our discussion, what I found particularly enjoyable while reading his books is that the world he talks about is the world that Indians have grown up hearing and reading about as children. Tripathi’s success as a story teller lies in making the myths come alive, creating forests that we can relate to, today; adding layers to the characters that gives them emotions, flaws, strengths, weaknesses and feelings. The characters of the Shiva trilogy are not mere divine beings you see from afar, they are real people who feel hurt, anger and love, and who have mastered the powers to defeat the forces of evil.

How you can create a highly readable story
Start from the known, and little by little, peel off the known layers to reveal the unknown. This re-discovery of a character the reader thought she knew, the twists in the tale where the obvious does not happen is what keeps a reader on the edge. If you can bring that ‘unknown’ in to your writing, you have story that people will definitely want to read. But remember, you would do well to start from a known that the reader can relate to!

Do you have some special techniques to help your reader keep pace with your imagination, your story? I would love to know what they are, do share so other writers can learn from you!

~ Bharti Athray

Image source: thetiltedroom.com

Why we must write!

An inspiring post by Mare, a self-confessed food addict on why we must keep writing. The interesting post comes just after her having attended a writer’s workshop. Excellent read!

‘If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.’ –Barry Lopez

Find the full post here:
http://searchingformyafter.com/2014/11/12/sign-sign-everywhere-a-sign/

 

This advertising technique can help you create new storylines!

The ‘NEW’ story is the elusive holy grail that writers are constantly searching for. And just when you think you have it, it slips through your fingers like sand. In this post, I share a technique I often use to come up with a new take on an old story.

Learnings from Advertising: The technique has its foundation in my advertising experience. In advertising, we believe that there are only so many ideas and almost all of them have been done. To come up with a completely new idea or a USP of a product or a service is usually a very challenging task, especially if you are working on a me-too product. So what we do is, we try to find a new angle : it could be new users, new markets or a new way to use the product. We then re-package the existing product with a whole new look, and relaunch it to a completely different audience.

A writer’s struggle: I believe this applies to the task of creative writing as well. Every relationship between humans, animals and other beings of our imagination has been explored to death. So as writers, when we sit down to write, we often wonder why someone would want to read our writings. At the end of the day, you would be writing about some relationship, some observation about your surroundings, or some experience that has left an impact on you. Writers before us have written such profound thoughts, that it is only natural for us to question our own work. Often this questioning makes us leave the writing half way, and we give up the piece in the hope of finding something completely new.

Use the technique, find a new perspective: Well, if this sounds like the struggle you face every time you sit down to write, here is how you can use advertising’s creative strategy to come up with a new story. Change the perspective from which your story will be told. Re-package it for a completely different audience.

An illustration
When you look around you, you will find several common storylines, usually written from the point of view of a couple of main characters. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Common storyline: Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl is not interested, boy chases girl ardently, finally convinces her to marry him.

Obvious perspectives: This story can be told from six very obvious perspectives: that of the boy, the girl, the boy’s mother / father, the girl’s mother / father. And several stories have been woven around these perspectives. The friends of the hero and heroine are other two POVs that can make for interesting reading.

Retelling the same story with a difference: So given that these 8 perspectives have been done to death, with some classics having been created out of these, how do you go about telling this story with a difference?

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Well, I search for yet another perspective, I look at relationships around me in the real world, and try to find perspectives that lie beyond the obvious. For instance, for this story, I could write from the perspective of a plant that the young girl speaks to when she is alone, or it could be the café owner where the young couple meets up regularly for coffee as the boy tries to convince the girl; or it could be a mentor or a teacher who has watched one of the two protagonists grow, coached the person for a goal and now finds him / her completely out of sync due to this relationship.

Choose from the kaleidoscope of relationships: As you will see, the perspectives can be endless, pretty much like looking through a kaleidoscope, where the pattern changes every time you turn k’scope even slightly. As writers and readers, we are fascinated by human relationships, reactions and responses; and it is interesting to see how the same situation is interpreted so differently by each individual. Each of us deciphers the situation based on our understanding, our past experiences, our belief systems.

What may be acceptable for one individual, may be complete sacrilege for another. How would your narrator view a certain incident given his / her upbringing and character – it is when you start exploring these unique individual perspectives that you arrive at a new way of rendering the ancient storyline.

Do: Take a relook at some of your favourite stories, visualize the narrator, and then imagine if the same story was to be told by another character of the same story. You will see the story will change.

Finding a new story: Changing perspectives, then, is a key tool I like to use in my work when I write, whether it is a poem, a short story or an ad. It gives me a new angle to look at things from, it changes an old dead beat story to something novel and fresh.

If you give this approach a try, I would love to know how your experiment turns out. Do drop me a mail, or share your piece here.

~ Bharti Athray

Image source: http://fineartamerica.com/

LOOK FOR INTERESTING WORDS!

Do you ever find yourself writing sentences that are mundane, ordinary – you know, that don’t really do anything for anyone? And after spending a while writing, do you feel the effort was not worth it?

The fault may lie in your words. Your choice of words sets the tone of your communication and in my opinion, this should be kept simple and easy; without being boring.

When I get stuck in such a zone, I follow a piece of advise my client offers. He says when you write, include words in copy / content that are not easily understood. This will force the reader to look for its meaning, discover a new word, sometimes a whole new world. For instance, a word that recently caught my attention was ‘Dulcet‘, I read it in my son’s English text book. I liked the word, and the way it rolled off my tongue, though I didn’t know its meaning. It encouraged me to read on to try and make sense of the word, figure out the context – simply put, it got me reading.

Words that are out of the ordinary when used appropriately, become conversation starters and give your readers an opportunity to engage with you. This, I have found, is an extremely
effective strategy. Look around at the blogs you enjoy reading, see what strategies the writers use to keep you hooked. Find words that you like, try and include them in your writing, discover new horizons for your pieces. And while you are at it all, enjoy writing.

If you have some favourite words that have got you started, I would love to hear about them. Do share, and you may just spark an inspiration for a whole new post!

I would like to invite you to check out John Needham’s post on the same theme, where he shares some really quaint and interesting words. Do check it out.
http://wordsfromjohn.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/a-dozen-favourite-words/

~ Bharti Athray

Image source: www.socialtalent.co

HOW TO GET MORE OUT OF YOUR LIMITED WRITING TIME

The facts up first: most of us bloggers write in our free time, along with our day jobs and our other duties that we may have at home. A constant challenge for us then, is time to blog regularly, and when you do find the time, the inspiration to create something that’s brilliant and readable.

During my conversations with other blogger friends, I have often found the second is like an elephant in the room. It is a killer. There you are, sitting in front of your computer / laptop, with an hour on hand, and nothing comes to mind. So what do you do? You get online and look for inspiration, read a couple of your favourite blogs, and before you know it, 35 minutes are up. The next task stares at you from the sidelines and you know you need to get writing… well, some of us manage to crank out something; most of us put it away till another day.

This post is about making the most of your one hour or half an hour or 15 minutes of time available to you. Before I go any further, let me also state that these guidelines are for people who are committed to their blogs.

Step 1: Think about your post first thing in the morning.
When you wake up in the morning, do a mental check of the thoughts that are top most in your mind and which of these issues you could address in your post for the day. I have found this mental exercise to be most helpful in the mornings, as the routine of the day has not dulled my mind yet. On days when I start my day thinking about my blog, I manage to have my post up by 10 am or so on that day. On other days, it may not happen at all. So think of your post, first thing in the morning.

Step 2: Thinking your article through in your head.
Once you have identified the topic you want to talk about, start forming your arguments in your head. Think about what points you want to highlight, what you want to say and how and why the story would be of interest to your readers. You will find thinking about your topic in your head, going through the pros and cons of your stance help you sort your thoughts out quite a bit before you actually get to the writing stage.

Step 3: Make time for writing.
If you are writing non-fiction, which means your post has to be easy to read and make sense, and you are aiming for something in the 500 word zone, be realistic – you will need about 30-40 minutes to work out a piece that’s post-able (I know that’s not a word, but you get the meaning!). Once you get down to writing, make it a concentrated effort. No checking mails, texts, What’s App messages – nothing. Doing a good job writing is about being in the zone, listening to the voice in your head and putting down on paper what is being dictated – that has been my experience.

The less you distract your mind, the better your post will be, and the faster you will get it out. Disturbances while you write lead to a break in the thought process and impact you flow of your article. This means, after taking longer to write, you will require a fair amount of edit time. So, my suggestion, write without disturbances, preferably in a closed room or with headphones playing white noise. Great for concentration!

Step 4: Edit and clean
Complete your article, read it through, correct the errors, and check for flow. If you are working in MS Word, look for the red and green lines under the words; make sure the spellings and construction is correct. Nobody likes to read a poorly drafted post, so do the edit.

Step 4: Publish
Once you are sure the article is ready for sharing, get on to your blog and post it. If you are going to use an image, do it now. Leave nothing for later. We, writers, have this terrible habit of completing what we believe is our task : namely writing, and leaving the art / visual part of our posts to do later. The reader today demands visual support to lead into the article. If you choose to put up your articles without images, you probably lose about 30-40% of your visitors. Images are important, but remember your content is the hero. Slot out about 15-20 minutes extra for the image search, and cap it at that. Remember to provide a reference to your image source in your post to avoid any unhappy situations in the blogosphere.

Also there is a method to picking up the right image, but then that’s a whole new post. I will share that with you guys soon as well.

Recap:
There you have it: think early, think it through, have the article almost ready in your head before you sit down to write it and when you do get down to writing, just write.
Final steps: edit, select image, publish. Do check out how your article appears once it has been published, look into any areas you feel need improvement, and do it immediately. The trick here is to complete the entire task and leave nothing for later. When you leave it for later, let me assure you it will not get done. So aim for 100% completion every time you sit down to post.

I have found this process works well for me. If you give this process a try, I would love to hear what your experience is. Also if you have some other methods that you use to get that post out of your head and on to your blog, do share. Till the next time, keep blogging!

~ Bharti Athray

Image source: www.tomevans.co