Sunday, January 3, 2021

2021 & Another Writing Challenge

So, 2020 left the room a few days ago. People, in general, were saying 'good riddance', as if 2020 would take Covid-19 along with it. But of course, it didn't. What we have is another year, called 2021 and the same circumstances we had before. Covid-19 isn't going anywhere for a while. 


We just lost our most senior family member on the day after Christmas, so our festive season came to a sudden end. Not that we were having much of a one, to begin with. I didn't even put up a tree this year. Both kids were in Covid-19 isolation over Christmas. But I was enjoying my Christmas. The quiet reflection, the intense liturgy, the beautiful Christmas hymns. Okay, so I was watching the Mass on YouTube and listening to hymns on YouTube. So what? Since no-one's going out, life's left hectic now. There's time for little things. Like listening to the Christmas hymns. If there's one Christmas song that really sticks in my mind from Christmas 2020, it's 'Come O Come Emmanuel'. In previous years, it's been 'Oh Holy Night' and 'Mary Did You Know?'

Coming up to Christmas, I lost the will to write and dropped temporarily out of my blogging group. I fully intend to go back, though.   This happened before. I got over it and I will do so again. I just need some time. Sometimes, that's all it takes, after all. 
I successfully completed two writing challenges last year. I wrote 100,000 words in two months. I wrote two 50,000 word novels last year under two writing challenges, GothNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo. GothNoWriMo takes place in October and its participatory aim to write up to 50,000 words of a Gothic novel in that month. NaNoWriMo is an all-American challenge in which overseas writers also participate. It's 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. I completed the word count, but I need to put at least two more chapters on the novel.  Once that's done, I'll go about ending, editing and publishing. 

I'd been looking around for January writing challenges when a little notice popped up in my Facebook notifications. A group of which I've been a member 100k in 100 Days, was starting up again on January 1st. It took me a day or two to organise myself, but I decided to join. There's nothing like the prospect of a challenge to get the creative juices flowing, in my humble opinion.

So here I am, back to writing. Better get back to my blogging group now. 

Thanks to Pixabay for the imagery, especially to Islem Benzegouta from Pixabay and Free-Photos from Pixabay

Friday, December 4, 2020

I Wrote a Novel in November 2020 - Almost!

In November, I did something I love to do. I wrote a short novel. I completed my 50,000 words on Monday, the 30th of November. I had wondered if I'd reach my goal. I shouldn't have been so slow. I wrote another 50,0000 word novel in October. I finished that one in sixteen days. And once I'd got to 50 thousand words, I was finished with my story. My November effort was different. I wrote 50,000 words but the story is not quite finished yet. The end is clear for most of the characters, but one or two of them are not quite resolved yet. So I'll set myself a target at 55,000 words and try to finish up in that.
I took a few days break, but it's back to work now. I keep a word meter on this blog.The NaNoWriMo site is great for the motivational factor. There's a word meter there. So I've put one on this blog now that the NaNoWriMo one is closed. I also liked NaNoWriMo's suggestion about creating a book cover and a playlist. I didn't really participate in any of their writeathons and I didn't read their pep talks either. Maybe I will now. Now that November is over and Christmas is almost upon us, I have to do other stuff. But I must get this book finish. I aim to finish all my unfinished works in progress, edit them and hopefully, publish them. That's my dream.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Last 10,000 Words are the Hardest

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 
I have five days to go to finish a novel. I can see the end in sight. My five characters have worked through some experiences and they will soon come to some conclusions. Maybe five main characters is too many for a 50,000 word novel. I'm a bit confused about how these last few chapters will go.

It's about a group of girls living in Dublin, circa 1989. Geraldine has decided she doesn't want to become a nun after all. She cites family reasons as the excuse for not taking her vows at the current juncture. But she will never go back. Yvonne and her boyfriend Paul are both coming to terms with the fact that even though they like and respect each other a whole lot, the relationship isn't going to work out. They might as well end it, and move on.  But what Yvonne doesn't know is that Paul fancies Geraldine. A lot. What will she say when she finds out? Because she will. Ruth has escaped from her oppressive family home and lives with a kind aunt. But she and her boyfriend Leo are about the turn a corner in their relationship and their lives will be forever altered. Angie has decided to marry the boy her parents have chosen (she's from an Irish-based Indian family). But she has her own terms and conditions for the marriage to take place. Marian is waiting patiently for her boyfriend Yash in India to overcome his difficulties so they can get married but it looks like he won't be able to return to Ireland. She'll have to go to India. 

Yeah, I've taken lots of inspiration from my own life and the lives of my friends. But it's only inspiration. These characters are different people. I can see them in my head. They look totally different from any friends of mine. 

I only have 10,000 words left to finish the story. Will it be enough?

I really want to finish it by the 30th. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Writing Updates - NaNoWriMo 2020 - 'What I Want to Know'

Courtesy of
It's ten years since I did my first NaNoWriMo. That's National Novel Writing Month. Only it's not. It's a challenge based in San Francisco in the USA. But as lots of people accept the challenge of writing a novel in a month from various countries, it's really International Novel Writing Month. But who cares?   The result was an 80,000-word novel called 'Festival of Lights'. I just gave ebooks to my friends. Some of them liked it very much. I wrote a few more after that. I finished another novel a few years later called 'The Wife of Abraham'. That was an 80,000-word novel too. I haven't shown that to anyone. Yet. It's a love story set in Biblical times. Every Christian and Jew knows that Abraham and Sarah were one of the ideal couples in the Bible. Nearly as ideal as Joseph and Mary. They had a long marriage and stood by each other through good times and bad. But it's often overlooked that Abraham had another woman. Her name was Hagar. She has often been dismissed as a mere servant, someone who was used as a stand-in or a surrogate for Sarah, who was barren. Hagar was much more than that. She was the first woman in the Bible after Eve to have conversations with God. She even had her own name for God. She called Him 'the One who Sees me'. The more I read about her, the more interested I became to tell her story. I really should edit that and try to get it published. Maybe. Would anyone out there be interested in a Biblical romance? Perhaps.

I just added the word count for my latest effort 'What I Want to Know'. I found a nice word count meter on a site called Language is a Virus. It's a story about five northside Dublin girls working out their destiny. It's set in 1989. I was living in Dublin in 1989. I've used lots of happenings and stories from my life in those days to make my novel interesting. But anyone reading the book (if I show it to them) can take it that while I may have drawn inspiration from my friends and our stories together, these characters are works of fiction. They may be a blend of some of my friends but each one is unique and bears no resemblance to anyone I know living or dead et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, as King Mongkut used to say. He was the King of Siam played by Yul Brynner in 'The King and I', the Hollywood musical co-starring Deborah Kerr. The scriptwriter used to have the king waffling on and saying 'et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.' That's writers for you. The real King Mongkut probably never said anything of the sort. Mrs Anna Owens the 'English' governess wasn't English either. History has revealed that she was Anglo-Indian and a bit of a chancer. But the story was interesting and somewhat romantic.

Would you like to see my book? The one I'm writing at the moment called 'What I Want to Know?' Do you like the cover? I designed that with a little help from Canva.

Thanks to Canva for Design Help

I wrote a novel last month on a site called Gothnowrimo. That's a forum that encourages writers to write a Gothic novel in the month of October. I wrote a historical novel set in a hill station in India. I called it 'Ravenswood Mahal'. I had a lot of fun writing that. I showed it to my friend Anne who lives in Australia and she told me she enjoyed it. Once this month is over, I'll have to revise and edit a fair bit.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Blog Writing is Real Work

Blogging as a Hobby
When it first began, blogging was seen as a hobby. Weblogs or online diaries started out as a bit of fun. I remember ten years back, keeping a blog. People would come and comment on my blog and I’d go over and comment on theirs. From my home in India, I made friends all over the world. But then over time, something became noticeable. Some blogs were making money. Others were not. Why was this?

The World Moves Online
As the world moved online, many companies started up websites. After some time, blogs were an intrinsic part of the website. A blog was an updatable, interactive part of the site. Many companies discovered that sharing valuable content affected their conversion rates.

Blog Reading Broadens the Mind
A blog can still be a hobby. It’s fascinating to read the blogs of different people. It could be the musings of a farmer’s wife in Australia. Or the blog of a minimalist homemaker in California. A blog can take you out of your everyday life and into another world. It can broaden your mind in the way that travels used to be able to do.

Valuable Content for Readers
There’s a world of difference between a ‘hobby’ type of blog and a business blog. A ‘hobby’ blog might be the best read in the world. The writer is writing for their own satisfaction as opposed to any business purpose. They may share family news. Their son got married, their daughter passed the examination. Whatever. They may discuss a book they’ve read recently and how it affected them. They may share recipes. Some people may find such content valuable. Others may not. It’s a matter of taste.

Business Content
When a business shares content, you won’t find too many personal details. No recipes or recently read books. Unless these things belong to the industry in which the business operates. Businesses like to publish posts on the latest trends in their respective industries. Even if the content isn’t breaking news, it could be another way of looking at a favourite topic. You may find listicles giving you tips like ‘Ten Ways To Improve Your Efficiency in the Office’. Content which we’ve read hundreds of times before. But presented in a way that is new and refreshing.

Preparing a Business Blog Post
Supposing you’re working for an IT company and you’re preparing a blog post for their website. You can’t write the first thing that comes into your head. First of all, you have to find a relevant topic which will capture the interest of the people in the IT world. Most people are aware that Java is the most popular computer language. But how many people are aware that the popularity of Python is growing? If you want to write on this topic, you have to do the research. You must have the facts and figures to back up the news of this growing popularity. Or suppose you’re in the finance world? Everyone knows that Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency so far. But Bitcoin will not be able to go on forever. It’s programmed to come to an end in the future. So what will be the next big cryptocurrency? This is something people would like to know more about. If this is your topic, it’s not an easy one to take up. So you have to do the homework. Research those topics on reputable websites. Have the facts and figures at your fingertips to back up your ideas.

Much More Than Writing
For this type of blog post, there’s a lot of time spent researching. Only when you've completed the research and drawn up a template for the article, you can begin to write. You need to provide quality content, the type to which people can refer with confidence. Then, when you write, you must check to ensure the grammar and spelling are all correct. You also have to pick out some relevant keywords and ensure that they appear in the post. This is so that people Googling this type of information will find your post and read it. But you have to be careful to ensure that you don’t overdo the keywords either. Otherwise, your post could be viewed by Google as spam. Nobody wants that. Google will penalise the post so that it never appears in the SERPS (search engine result pages).

Producing Valuable Content
So as you can see, producing valuable content is a skill. Many companies hire blog writers to produce top-quality content for their blogs. Writers who write for the top companies can do well. Not all companies would have the budget to pay top writers though. But it appears that there are plenty of writers available for every level of work.

Approached for Work
A few months back, a businessman approached me online. I also mentioned this in my previous post. He informed me of the wonderful news that he had selected me to write his company blog. He had seen my answers on Quora and had been very impressed. He informed me that his blog had a wide readership. He added that the publicity I would get would bring me great exposure. Then I asked about payment. He replied that as his company was a startup ‘no payment now but sure in future’. He wanted two articles per month of 1000 words each. After some consideration, he decided he would pay the sum of Indian Rupees ₹100 per post. That’s about $1.50. I declined that generous offer. I explained to him that I couldn't spend the amount of time it takes to write two 1000 word articles per month. Especially for such a small amount of money. Writers have to eat and pay their bills. Blogging and article writing are not leisure time activities. At least not for those who are trying to earn their living by writing.

Content Writing Companies
I sent him some links to Indian content writing companies. Like the European-based one for which I write. He could get his 1000 word blog post for ₹750 if he shops around. I’ve no idea what he did, though. I wasn't interested enough to follow it up. By now, he might have realised the value of good content. He should also realise how much he should be ready to pay for it.

Thanks to Geraltmohamed_hassan, DarkWorkX and kaboompics at Pixabay for the wonderful images. My eternal gratitude to you.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Freelance Writer Woes

Where To Find Freelance Writing Work?

Like many freelance writers, I am signed up to several content writing marketplaces. But today, to my utmost surprise, there is simply no work. This is something new for me. A few months ago, I was making a regular amount of money every month. Now I'm lucky if I can make even half of that. amount in twice the amount of time.  I wonder what happened? I'm signed up with three platforms. Two of them never showed me a single job, but that didn't matter because the third one gave me as much I could handle. But now, the well of work appears to have completely dried up.

Content Writing Marketplaces

Many freelance writing experts warn newer writers against signing up for the 'content mills'.I've heard all the arguments. 'It's a race to the bottom. You'll never make money', they say. But I've also come across people online who claim to be making thousands of dollars a month writing for these sites. Now, who is telling the truth?  Freelance writing teachers claim to sell you courses that will help you make heaps of money. But is this anti-content-mill-rhetoric a sales ploy?

How to Make Money on a Content Writing Site

There's one sure way to make money on a content writing site. Get the customer to send you direct orders. They'll pay you a top rate and you'll be paid your worth. I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked would I accept direct orders. The trouble is, the orders sometimes don't come in the end. When clients realise that the rate for direct orders is far higher than the normal rate, many of them suddenly develop amnesia. They pretend they never asked you to write for them. It's such a shame.

Writing is Real Work

Writing is real work. It is time consuming. It is resource consuming. You may have to switch on your computer and your lights in order to do that work. You have to spend time and energy composing sentences and inserting keywords seamlessly. You must fit your piece into the right word count. So yes, it's definitely real work. It may be sedentary, but man it can tire you out. So we've pretty much established that writing is real work. But I once got an enquiry to this very website from a businessman who wanted regular 1000 word articles from me for his website. He couldn't pay anything as he was only starting out, he said. But he would pay in the future. I'm not the first freelance writer to get an offer like that and I won't be the last. But it's amazing how that still continues to happen. Because some business people, who should know better, don't place any value on content.

Cold Emailing? Isn't That Spam?

According to some of the freelance writing coaches out there, cold emailing is the surest way to gather clients. High paying clients who pay big money. Really? But isn't going into someone's inbox without an invitation considered to be bad manners nowadays? I suppose, like everything else in life, it just depends. See, these coaches tell you that all you have to do is gather some email addresses, compose a craftily worded email with a killer headline and bingo! High paying clients will now come crawling out of the metaphorical woodwork. Wouldn't that be great? With my luck, the cold email would end up in the spam box where it will be deader than a doornail. in 30 days' time. Meanwhile, the freelance writing coach is laughing all the way to the Caribbean. I have received emails from at least two freelance writing coaches, claiming to be relaxing by the sea in the Caribbean while their business takes care of itself. Well, good for them!

Thanks to Canva Design and Pixabay Images

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Rotten Apple

Was I Fooled?

Did you ever feel that someone or something had deceived you? That you'd gone out in all sincerity to make something happen, only to find someone had misled you? Yep, that's what happened to me. It seems I'm a rare type of person. Someone who's unhappy with a certain company named after a tempting fruit. This company has a great reputation for outstanding products and world class service. A company which has left me with a very bad aftertaste.

What Happened?

I'd never bought myself an Apple product before. Those products are rather pricey and I'm watching every rupee . But I recently bought an Apple iPhone SE for my 17 year old daughter, who had done well in her Class 10 Examinations. She'd been longing for an iPhone, so when I found one within reach of my budget, I went for it. So one day last April (2018), the iPhone SE arrived. My daughter was happy, so I was too. But unfortunately, the happy ending didn't last for long. Sometime in mid-August the phone died. It refused to charge and wouldn't switch on. So, being the actual owner of the phone, I brought it into the Lucknow service outlet for Apple. I thought our troubles would soon be over. 

What Happened Next?

A few days after leaving the phone at the centre, I received a phone call. It was the centre, advising me to take my iPhone set away. Had they repaired it, I asked? No, came the reply. Apple experts in Bangalore had discovered a tiny scratch on the lens of the rear camera. This had rendered my iPhone warranty null. The service centre representative asked if I wished to replace the iPhone with a new model. At a cost of Rs.21,500. Which was more than the price I'd paid for the original phone. There was no other offer of help. I declined the replacement opportunity. It didn't seem fair to me. Besides, I didn't have the funds available. 'Madam, please come and take away your set,' were the curt instructions. There was nothing that the so-called service centre could do. It was a case of 'take your phone away and get lost'.

What Could I Do?

I contacted Flipkart, the online shop where I'd bought the phone. Flipkart expressed the usual regret and hoped I'd continue to use their service. Once the ten day Flipkart replacement period is over, the matter is out of this company's hands. So I had to approach Apple personally. What followed was one of the greatest time-wasting exercises I've ever experienced.

Customer Service Line

Apple customer service executives are highly-trained professionals. They speak kindly. They hear you out. They listen without interrupting. They give you their personal (office) phone number. They assure you that your case is foremost on their minds. They also assure you that they will stop at nothing to get your case solved. You hang up the phone feeling that you'll get some redressal at the earliest. When you check your phone after the chat, you may find that you spent around 40 minutes on the phone.  You feel satisfied that someone has heard you. That soon you'll be holding your iPhone in your hands again. Only it isn't true. Because Jyotika/Nafisa/Ilyas/Saurav will never call you back. Not in your wildest dreams. Try dialling the personal phone number they provide you with. You'll hear a recorded message, telling you to leave your name and number. You're assured of a call back within 24 hours. But all you'll get is an email saying they are trying to reach you and can't get through. So you again call the customer service number and the cycle begins anew. Being the trusting soul that I am, it took me four attempts understand the truth. That Jyotika/Nafisa/Illyas/Saurav were non-existent. Yes, I'd met them on the phone. But each time, the experience was like going through the same movie with the same script. Again and again and again. It reminded me of a movie I once saw about a guy who fell in love with a hooker. All was well until he attempted to relate to her outside the fantasy world they'd created. He discovered that nothing about her was genuine. Her name, her persona, her hair, her background, the things she'd said, had all been fiction. The person he'd fallen for had no substance, no reality. Well, I hadn't fallen in love with any of these people, but you get the picture. And I felt like they'd deceived me.

What I've Learned

Ah, life lessons. Aren't they great? Where would we be without them? Here's what I've learned from this (forgettable) experience in easy bullet points.

  • Buy an Apple product if you wish, but at your own risk. Yes, you may have heard amazing stuff about Apple products and services. But Apple messes up like any other company. And forget about getting your money back if the product fails. Unless you paid insurance with the high price for the product, you're getting nothing. So deal with it

  • It might be a good idea to get a second job if you buy an Apple product. Apple products are expensive. If your product fails, as mine did, you're going to have to replace it yourself. But since the  iPhone is such a status symbol, it's worth the pain. Right?

  • Customer service executives who promise to look after your 'case' are keeping you happy till they can let you down and run. They'd remind you of sex workers who take money and don't deliver the goods. I've never dealt with the world's oldest profession. But I'm sure it's more honorable than this company's customer care program. Unless solid action with win/win results supports this program, it's an eyewash. All the sweet talk in the world makes no difference.

Independent Verifier
I had the phone checked by an independent engineer. The result? This phone is, if not very nearly dead, very actually dead, in the words of Blackadder (or someone else on his show). I bought this phone in April. Less than five months later, it's a gone case. It should have lasted for at least two years. It cost me a lot of time and effort to make the money to buy that phone. We took the best possible care of it and let it slip just once. I'm not an Indian 'memsahib' for whom 20 thousand rupees is 'just nothing'. I'm a hard working housewife for whom every penny counts. I take on freelance writing projects alongside household tasks. With two kids in college and two more still in full-time school, we don't throw money around. Yes, my husband has a job, thank God. We're not poor. But companies tend to make personas of their ideal customers nowadays. They seem to personify the average Indian consumer as being in a double income/two kids family. With plenty of disposable income. One which can pay 'any amount' to up their status by flaunting an iPhone. What foolishness. The iPhone SE was the first phone from Apple to come within the reach of the lower middle class. You can buy good 64GB double SIM phone for around Rs.15,000. One which will last you for several years. You won't get the iPhone SE in less than Rs.18,000.  And it's tiny. It looks like a dinky little toy. I'm sure  a lot of people who could ill afford to do so, bought one of those. I only hope too many of these phones  didn't die a few months later, wasting 18 thousand rupees as it went. 18 thousand rupees of struggling people's hard- earned money. People have a right to get value for their money.

Bitter Aftertaste
If that phone was worth the money I paid for it, it would still be working well. I bought a dud product. A scratch on the lens of the rear camera has nothing to do with the state of the motherboard.  I deserve a brand new product at no extra cost to myself. But in faceless corporate fashion, Apple pretends I don't exist. Their wasteful customer service experience was a paper tissue to wipe my tears. Their website features content about the company encouraging recycling and zero wastage. Who does it think it's fooling?  I wish someone would tell it that having a good repair service for its customers is the way to go. To promote recycling, they must encourage consumers to repair and re-use their devices.

Apple's Karma

In Ireland's county Monaghan, there's a saying, 'little apples will grow again.' That means 'there will be another day'. I suffered a loss with this product, but I'm sure I'll come back stronger. But Apple, might like to watch out. Here in India where I live, there's a strong sense of karma. Whatever you do comes back on you. Think of the kind of karma Apple's collecting in India, leaving unfortunate customers in the lurch and not honoring warranties? That's not the type of karma any sensible person or business would like to earn. But I'm happy to say, that's not my problem. It's Apple's.

Latest Post

2021 & Another Writing Challenge

So, 2020 left the room a few days ago. People, in general, were saying 'good riddance', as if 2020 would take Covid-19 along with it...