On Writing & More
Scott Fitzgerald once said, “You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say." And indeed, that quote is quite true. For many, writing is a cathartic outlet—perhaps more so than talking to even the closest of friends. There is a beauty in watching ideas, emotions and feelings melting into words—words that have either been suppressed within ourselves, or silenced by others.
On Women's Day, Lakshana Palat and Aashisha Chakraborty discuss how writing has become a strong and important part of their identity, the themes they choose to use in their work, and the difficulty making time for it after a long hard day of work.
Aashisha is currently working in Bharti Airtel after doing her MBA in International Business from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi and Ecole de Management, Strasbourg, France. She is the winner of the Times of India Write India Season 2 for Shobhaa De and among the top six for both Manu Joseph and Twinkle Khanna and has written short stories for various anthologies like Defiant Dreams, Mock, Stalk and Quarrel and Twilight's Children.
Lakshana is an entertainment journalist at a media house, and has been published in two anthologies, When They Spoke and Mock, Stalk and Quarrel, and last year she published her first e-book, The Final Word.
The inspiration behind writing
Aashisha: If I say, lack of kindred spirits or people who would live up to my expectations—would it be too philosophical? I'm kidding. (I wish I was!) Writing needs inspiration for sure and mine came from my experiences. Whenever something wild (in my humble opinion) happened, there would emerge a mad need in me to write, to put it all into words. As if by writing things down, I would make things better—joy more joyful, pain less painful. Writing does that to you. It's cathartic. How did you start writing?
Lakshana: I completely get that...my writing, in the past few years, has been shaped mostly by my experiences and has been so therapeutic. Coming to your question, ever since I was six, I would write short stories for my sister on her birthday. Our school had workshops where we could write our own stories, and make them into little books. They taught us about acknowledgements, dedication and copyright. I was so inspired by all this that I really wanted to publish a book at that age, even though, obviously, it was not possible.
On making time for writing and overcoming writer's block
Lakshana: It's a bit difficult sometimes because at the end of a long day, I don't have the energy, even though so often I really want to write. Sometimes the words don't flow. But there are times when I am determined to write at least a little bit, even if it's a short sketch. That is very cathartic. But there are days when you're hit by a writer's block too. How do you overcome that?
Aashisha: I don't. Frankly, I don't write when I don't feel like writing. It is too precious to me to force it out, perhaps one of the reasons why I didn't take it up as a profession. I write when inspiration strikes, when experiences beckon.
Lakshana: That does make a lot of sense. I always feel that writing should never be forced and should come naturally to you. I think so often, we feel compelled to just write something, even if it is just anything, like some sort of consolation to ourselves – Yes, I've written today. But that rarely has benefits, or so I feel. Maybe that's why I also hesitate to take it up as a full-time profession.
On how writing has helped us
Aashisha: It has helped me plumb depths I never even knew existed. It made me less chaotic and more sane; less isfet and more ma'at (yeah, just showing off my amateurish knowledge of Egyptian mythology). My personal life has been hugely and positively influenced by my writing. What better fodder for good fiction than your own upended rollercoaster life?
Lakshana: Fangirl-ing at the Egyptian mythology references, because I loved reading those tales when growing up. I always wanted to try using the themes from these tales in my writing too. For me, writing has been the best emotional outlet and made me even explore some emotions that I could never articulate to people. Completely agree that the travails of daily life serve as the best fodder for writing. I was going through a very emotionally turbulent time professionally and personally, when I wrote The Final Word. At that point, the book was the one and only light I had at the end of the tunnel.
Aashisha: Do you think each of us can be a writer or is it an inherent thing?
Lakshana: I think it's a skill; something that can be built over time, if it is nurtured well. We write when we feel that we have something to say, and it takes time to let the words flow effortlessly and poetically. I don't think anyone is born a writer. Writers are made, be it from reading, or just their experiences. If someone has a passion for writing, they should pursue it.
Favourite themes and genres
Aashisha: Being thoroughly narcissistic and unapologetically in love with myself, I like to write about any and every thought that has ever passed through my thick skull. On a serious note, I mostly write fiction and within that, diary entries are my specialty. I want to try my hand at magical realism and poetry.
Lakshana: A little hard on yourself, aren't you? A little bit of narcissism never hurts. I tried writing diary entries but could never keep up with it. So, they come out in the form of stories, or short sketches. I used to love writing about fantasy. Now, I choose realism, and I like exploring relationship dynamics. I would like to explore the idea of magical realism that seems to be the combination of my two favourite genres. I admire people who can write poetry, because I definitely can't. I've tried my hand at it, and it's come out looking like prose. Also, you're a Jane Austen fan, as you once mentioned to me. So what themes from her books would you like to use for your stories?
Aashisha: Like every Jane Austen fan, Mr Darcy has ruined my life (by raising my expectations of men) and in each of my writings, something of the sort is almost sure to come up. Pride, feminism, romance are my most favorite themes, not just in writing, but in life as well.
Lakshana: I think Mr Darcy has ruined all our lives. I can never get over his proposal to Elizabeth, "You must let me tell you how much I ardently love and admire you." And high five, we love the same themes. Of late, I've been drawn to writing about the complexities and strains of romantic relationships and also trying to piece a story together on those lines. So, this brings me to another question. When you're actually writing, do you have a storyline and theme in mind or do you go with the flow?
Aashisha: I usually have a rough storyline but the works I like best are the ones that just happen to get written by chance. Going with the flow has helped me so far.
Writing ventures until now
Lakshana: I've been published in two anthologies, When They Spoke and Mock, Stalk and Quarrel. Last year, I published my first book, The Final Word.
Aashisha: Well, then we are co-writers in one anthology! And I have read The Final Word. I get how you went about exploring relationship dynamics. It was a very, very touching love story, something unique I had read after a long time.
Lakshana: Thank you so much! I was very nervous of how people might react to certain characters. It was my first attempt to try out shades of grey, so it means a lot to me that you liked it. I need to get back and read your story from Defiant Dreams now!
Aashisha: As you're a journalist, how is writing for your profession different from how you write for yourself?
Lakshana: There are times when both seem equally challenging. The writing as a journalist is more rigorous, and occasionally quite analytical, and factual. When I'm writing for myself, there are no stringent guidelines as such to follow, and deadlines. Yet, this has its downside too.
Women in writing
Lakshana: I somehow don't like the phrase and I feel that we unintentionally discriminate or create more problems when we say things like "women authors". Don't you?
Aashisha: I agree. But there was a time when women had to use pseudonyms to write novels because they weren’t taken seriously enough to be published. Of course, the scene has changed to a great extent. Now, we find the likes of Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro dominating the writing scene. Of course, male authors have also made a name for themselves by writing about feminism. Writing has effectively done what it was always expected to do. It has given a voice to the silent ones and taken their ideas to the world, be they victims of caste discrimination, religious antipathy, race bigotry or gender bias.
Lakshana: Hmm. That is one way to look at it. Now that you mention it, given that women have been silenced and oppressed so often and been dismissed as authors for decades, it is empowering to see them dominating the writing scene. Especially in a world of #MeToo, women have used the power of the pen to express the trauma and horrors they've been put through. It might just be the catalyst that we need to overturn the patriarchal systems that have ruled for years. Writing about it might not have healed them completely, obviously, but it has given them an outlet and reached out to so many people. Freedom for the soul in a way.
Relevance of short stories in today's society
Lakshana: People who might not want to spend their time on novels, would enjoy short stories. And sometimes, crisp, hard-hitting short stories leave an impact on you, just like novels.
Aashisha: In the age of Instagram poets and Facebook notes, ‘the shorter the better’ not just applies to haute couture but also to the written word. There has been an explosion of three-line stories or one-line poems which has birthed the poet in almost everyone. So, yes, short stuff is pretty much in.
Lakshana: Which one do you prefer?
Aashisha: I started with short stories but I have always felt a need to write one whole complete story, so I guess, I can safely say, I prefer novellas.
Comments on writers in India and abroad
Aashisha: In India, I believe the scene is pretty vibrant at this point of time, as the country turns to a more reflective mode and starts scribbling, blogging, making comedy, doing spoken word poetry. The modes of expression have just proliferated. And the change is good. The more the competition, the more the chances of good literature coming up. India, as a country, has evolved and has joined the widespread ‘expression movement’, if I may call it so.
Lakshana: You've summed it up well. I think we have so many wonderful Indian authors that leave us with something to think about.
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