Friday, 13 July 2018

My Writing Journey: A Breadcrumb Trail

Image: Google

I remember writing on a donated piece of single-line paper. One that my sister tore off her Rough notebook while in grade I or grade II perhaps. Mom was busy in the kitchen, and my sister and I were sitting under the bed enjoying the cool and secretive place ready to emerge innocent if Mom called out. What was I writing? I called it Urdu. My version of Urdu, which I wrote with paintbrushes, pencils or the backs of feathers lying in our balcony dropped off by the friendly sparrow who often visited. I was imitating writers whom I had seen on T.V.
I grew up, and during my teen years Mom would often recall how as a toddler I would play “writer-writer” while my sister painted the mosaic chips on the floor of our house with a tiny paint brush and water in a steel katori. Ah! Conversations in a balcony flooded by the 3 P.M. sunlight of receding winter or perhaps amidst antakshari played in the dark while waiting for the city electric supply to come back alive on a hot and sultry summer night.
Years later, while I was pursuing my Diploma in Software Engineering from NIIT I was called for a test and was recruited by NIIT for their Knowledge Solutions Business to write content for eLearning courseware. Though many looked at it as the poorer cousin of programming, I was happy although not without doubt for my choice. But I never switched over to programming. I loved what I was doing and though it was stressful and less appreciated, I loved it. Instructional Design continues to remain inferior to both programming and writing.
It was during my nesting years when I had switched over to the less stressful Business Operations that my urge to write kept etching at my heart. It refused to fade. Business Operations was numbers, forecasts and contracts. I was itching to write, but I could not take up an Instructional Design project within the organization keeping my Business Operations role. So, I started writing fiction. My first book. To learn, to understand the process. Perhaps I could understand the differences that lay between writing fiction and writing technical content, something I had written for over ten years by then. I could also understand the industry, the project lifecycle during the course of it. I wrote the story and sent it to my colleagues to read. Some liked, some were polite.
Almost three years and another baby later, I was walking inside the pavilions of the World Book Fair when I noticed the stall of a self-publishing company in a corner. I met the lady in charge, asked her if she’ll publish anything for a cost and brought her visiting card home. I sent her two sample chapters, and she asked me to send the whole manuscript. That is how it began.
It was around this time that I had sent a short story for a contest and had won. I even earned some money. It was the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, after all. Meanwhile, a friend introduced me to someone in the publishing industry, let’s call her Ms. L. She agreed to read through my contract and help me stay safe from the legal pitfalls of the “wicked publishing industry”, as my friend advised. Apparently, Ms. Legal was a big name and from what she told me the editor who had accepted my manuscript, let’s call her Ms. E, was also a big name in the Publishing industry. Ms. L. was so embarrassed to be reviewing my contract for a fee, a first timer’s probably even a one-timer’s contract, that she requested (over multiple phones calls) that I keep her existence a secret from Ms. E. I don’t tell anyone, still. She in all probability runs for her life from first-timers now.
For me, I knew I was getting a view into the real industry. I was thankful. As for the book, I had no qualms. It was for my eyes only. Why else would I go for self-publishing? 
When the time for printing arrived, the publisher came home with a first copy only because his residence happened to be a stone's throw away. I liked the first copy and he asked me how many copies I wanted printed? 
“One,” I said.
He was seated at the edge of my sofa, tired after what had probably been a full working day for him. I remember his face. I could see he was thinking, ‘what the bloody fuck? Is she out of her mind wasting our time?’
‘But, had I not paid for their time?’
He swallowed, I could see his Adam’s apple bob up, “Well, won’t your children, family want copies? Aren’t they excited?” he tried enthusiasm.
I remember telling him, “they don’t know.”
“Well Mr. X,” I continued, “the only purpose of my project is to understand inside-out how this process and industry work. I quit my life of work recently and I wanted to invest my full and finals in learning something new, on myself. Unfortunately, clothes don’t do that for me.”
“However, if you insist, we could do five copies,” I continued.
“Ok,” he was somber now. “Well!” he swallowed. “One print cycle is a minimum of fifty books,” he stated.
That was my first book story. We printed more cycles over the months and then I stopped because there was one more thing I did not follow his advice on, the price per book. I wanted to charge a basic minimum against his wishes. In summary, I’ll say that it wasn’t a lucrative book for them but he did try his best for me.
What I learnt in the process was priceless. The people I connected with online were a bigger store of wealth.
It was through one such contact that I reached Kiran’s writing workshop one weekend, and I have never looked back. Kiranjeet Chaturvedi and Devapriya Roy have taught me everything I know about writing fiction. I owe all my learnings to them and the other mentors Kiran has invited to her workshops over the years.
Though I still fear taking their names in the open because they are big right in this place, I can’t not acknowledge them. Thank you, ladies. Please don’t run away, it’s just a whisper.
These days, I am glad to be working on an anthology with Kiran, Devapriya, Anjali Gurmukhani, Dinakshi Arora, Gunjan Pande Pant, Ilakshee Bhuyan Nath, Kasturi Patra, Kavita Bhashyam Jain, Manmeet Narang, Megha Consul, Shweta Markandeya, Vanessa Ohri and Ruby Kapoor. Some fabulous writers these! 
Nimbu, mirch lagao logon!

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© 2018 by Donna Abraham


  1. Delighted to walk with you, Donna. You have no idea how much I've taken back every time we have met. Keep writing!

    1. I'm so glad to have found the group with you and the others.
      Walking the path alone, I would have been stuck at the entry point.

  2. Hey Donna, this is a very interesting piece. All the best for your journey as a writer.

    1. Thank you. Means a lot when people encourage.