“To whom it may inspire…”

This inspiring letter to young filmmakers is from Pixar animator Austin Madison. I think it speaks just as clearly to writers.

We’ve heard this time and again: it’s not just talent that makes a successful writer but true grit and staying power. Many writers think too much, write too little. They self-sabotage by talking too much about the half-formed stories, allowing the creative energy to dissipate before it even hits the page. Hemingway never  talked about his work in progress and Papa knew best. Bottling the creative genie may be a good thing.

Persist in telling your story. Persist in reaching your audience. Persist in staying true to your vision…

The writing process can be so frustrating at times that despair sets in. Stephen King says it best:”Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.” There were times when I hit the  doldrums with such a thump, it took every bit of strength to pull myself out. My old foe, Procrastination, is always lurking. Suddenly everything, except the writing, becomes critically important. I need to do the laundry right now, I tell myself. Funny how the mind tries to trick you.

I thought this was inspiring. Somebody posted this on my Facebook page.

Discipline is a muscle I was not born with it. I’ve had to develop it, step by miserable step. Waving a carrot  or a stick does not work, because I have a cunning mind that can talk me out of things with arguments and persuasion. So I have had to resort to devious measures. Like I have to for exercise. Same principle. I trick myself. I tell myself, okay Shona we are going for a leeeetle walk – just down the road and back– When my body sets up a wail, I say, no, no, this is not exercise – goodness, whatever gave you that idea– this is just to clear your head a bit. When I reach the end of the road, I say, hey Shona let’s just see what around that corner, (then, we can go home and drink tea) When I round the corner, I say, ooooh look that nice flowering bush, wonder what plant that is? When I get to the bush, I say, let’s walk by that orange-colored house and see if that funny bulldog is still there. And so on and before I know it I have walked a mile or two.  Remember how Forest Gump ran down his road of his house, and ended up running though his town and out of the state of Alabama, and all over America? It began with a single step, didn’t it? That’s the idea. That’s how I write. Teeny goals, oodles of self-deception and lots of tea.

How do you keep on track with your writing? What do you do to stay motivated? Please share.

Cheers!

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Here’s a little bit about my upcoming book “Teatime for the Firefly” (to be published by MIRA/HARLEQUIN) You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me a comment. Thank you!

This is my Holy Trinity: 3 books that have shaped my writing life. What are yours?

Tea Buddy

STEPHEN KING On Writing I have never read Stephen King, but I love this book. Read it several times. It really helped ground me in the writing process. King does not bullshit. He comes from the school of hard knocks. He can be so damn funny – like side-splitting funny! Who would have thought! I expected him to be a morose and gloomy character. No way!

FRANCINE PROSE Reading like a Writer: This book helped me develop a discerning eye for reading. It does somewhat spoil the joy of just losing yourself in a story but eventually you get beyond that. It is great way to understand the stuff good writing is made of. It’s humbling and inspiring at the same time.

ANNE LAMOTT Bird by Bird: A joyous and hilarious read,  full of warm humanity. This book taught me not to take myself too seriously:…

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People-pleasing: where do you draw the line?

If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Henry Thoreau

My parents in their mid 30’s

My mom (Oma) was a natural beauty. Scrubbed face, no makeup – not even lipstick. All she wore were a few dabs of sandalwood lotion on her skin. Once her English friend presented her a with a lipstick and begged her to wear it to the cocktail party they were going to that evening. Oma reluctantly put it on only to please her friend. According to my dad (he had a wicked sense of humor!) Oma had her mouth pursed like a goldfish that whole evening. She was too uncomfortable to talk, smile, eat or drink. Finally, half way through the party, she had had enough and the lipstick came right off.

“You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.” 

Ricky Nelson

Oma in her 50’s

As she was getting older, Oma’s hair started turning grey. One day sis and I decide to spiff her up. We took her to the beauty parlor and got her hair colored. Oma dropped fifteen years, right then and there. Even she was surprised. Then she glanced at the bill she let out a loud wail. “Eeeesh! How much? 450 rupees! Daylight robbery!”. (450 rupees if you must know, is the equivalent of 10 bucks. It was more back in the 80’s– maybe 25.)

Several weeks later the hair color started to fade but Oma was too cheap to spend that kind of money again. Not that she could not afford it.  It just irked her to pay someone to put dabs of paint on her head.

“What’s there to it?” she said. “Why can’t I do it myself? I will buy the hair dye from New Market and paint my own head.”  (FYI  back in the 80’s there were no imported color rinses available in India: hair coloring was a tedious and messy job that wrecked your bathroom.)

“Please Oma, “ we begged. “Just get it done professionally. We’ll pay for it.”

Oma glared at us. “No need to show off your money,” she said tartly. “It’s is not about your money or my money. This is daylight robbery. I can buy 4 kilo mangoes with 450 rupees!”

There was no arguing with her, so Oma went and bought the hair dye from New Market and spent a half a morning in the bathroom coloring her hair. She was very pleased with the results.

“How do I look?” she said, “ Quite professional, no? Just like the beauty parlor.”

We were surprised. It actually did look pretty good. Then she turned around …

“OMA!” we shrieked, “You did not do the back! It’s still completely grey!”

“Where?” said Oma twisting around to look at the mirror. “Where? Where? I can’t see it.”

“But we can can see –other people can see it. Oh Oma, It looks completely crazy!”

“Well, then it’s your problem and other people’s problem,” said Oma. “As long as I don’t see it, I’m fine. That’s all I care.”

And that ended the argument.

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If Oma was alive she’s kill me for sharing this. There is a lot I learned from her. Oma was fiercely individualistic and a feminist well ahead of her time. She was also adventurous, inventive and a barrel of laughs. Funny stories about her abound in the family. Here another post about Oma from my KARMA CHEF cooking blog.

Please share your thoughts: How much do you compromise to please others? Who are your role models? What made you who you are? Cheers!

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Layla, the protagonist in my debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a fictional character but embodies many traits of my mother, Oma. You can read the synopsis and first chapter HERE. Teatime for the Fireflywill be published by MIRA BOOKS. Release date will be announced soon!

Sharing tea with strangers

Back in India, everybody drops by for tea. And “everybody” means neighbors, friends, the trash collector, the postman, the drivers who have driven your visitors over and even the second cousin of your maid. Tea-making is a full-time job. The doorbell rings, the kettle sings and tea cups tinkle all day long. This cheeriness is aptly described by Victorian novelist George Gissing who wrote “the mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose”.

My three favorite tea cookies sit right next to my electric kettle. From left to right : homemade biscotti (click here for my recipe) Tea Toast Biscuits and good old Marie Biscuits – a tea-dunking favorite.

There was no happy repose when I first came to America. I was unnerved by the silence of our big house. Every small noise got amplified: the hum of the air-conditioner, the plaintive beep of the microwave warming my lunch plate and the swish of a car driving past. To kill time, I watched men and women with missing teeth claw one another on Jerry Springer. When I flipped channels it was either somebody talking about how they  lost weight or a man with an English accent trying to sell you knives. Nobody rang the doorbell. No neighbors dropped by for tea. I offered tea to the UPS man but he said “no thanks” and rushed off. I made a cup of tea and put out two Marie biscuits for carpet cleaning guy but he left without touching it.

Once I walked all the way to the Fry’s grocery story just to marvel at the ginormous red onions (I spent plenty of time to admiring onions and potatoes in grocery stores back then) when a pretty girl in a sunflower dress complimented me on my smile.  She was surprised when I invited her home for tea. She showed up a few days later with a fat docket full of pie-charts and told me told I could go on a  Caribbean cruise and even drive a pink Cadillac just by talking to people and giving away free lipstick.

Another day I was watching Judge Wapner of People’s Court chew out a sleazy car dealer for selling a fat lady a bum Oldsmobile when I heard a knock on the door. Outside stood three very well dressed people. The men wore suits and the lady’s hair was all nicely curled. Thinking they were  neighbors I invited them in for tea. They asked me how I liked America. I said I liked it just fine and added, a little wistfully perhaps, that it sure got lonely sometimes. They perked up when they heard that and said I would make the most wonderful friends if I visited their church. When I told my hubby that he said they were trying to recruit me and suggested I not invite strangers into the house in the future.

“The first time you share tea you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…” (Balti saying: Three Cups of Tea)

But soon a stranger invited me

Jyo – one of my first friends in America who invited me home for tea. Her children are grown now. The older one is going off to college!

I was taking a little walk down my street when this pretty Indian girl with a baby on her hip called out to me in a sing-song voice ”Hi! Want to have some tea?” This was music to my ears and I was once again reminded of our warm Indian hospitality. The girl’s name was Jyotsna. She made masala chai and we chatted. And here we are seventeen years later, still the best of friends.

I have no misgivings inviting people home for tea. I learned not all folks are out to sell you something or recruit you. There are  kindred spirits who, like me, just want an old-fashioned gab and a bit of soul-connect over a cuppa. I have vowed never to sully that sacredness by having a hidden agenda. I can meet people at a Starbucks to talk about business, or colleagues to catch up over lunch but when I invite someone home for tea I am attentive and honored. All I want to do is bat the breeze and enjoy a little downtime. So let’s share a cuppa, shall we?  And cheers to you my dear friends!

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST
Ah morning tea!
How to make a perfect cuppa
Lorna’s Blog about Scottish Tearooms 
 
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Shona Patel’s debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a love story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about it HERE.  She is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.