Chennai Meet-ups – Two POVs.

Meeting of Minds: Esai Arasi Speaks

This is my 7th year doing NaNoWriMo, and in all these years, Chennai still hadn’t seen a strong group of writers coming together in November. We have had a lot of participation over the years, but there has never been any meet-ups or write-a-thons after 2007.

All that was about to change.

When I walked into an almost deserted café at 11:00 a.m. on the 27th of October and started wondering if meeting-up at 11 a.m. on Sunday was a bad idea, when I heard a tentative, “NaNoWriMo?”

It was Kirupa, who had come in early, staked out the tables and had a handmade sign on the table proclaiming “NaNoWriMo”

I know it was a just a sign, but it was also a “sign” that this November, change is in the air.

As more and more people slowly kept walking in and we kept going over our introductions, the energy of the entire group soared.

Kirupa Gopi is looking to write a collection of short stories, first time at NaNo and already a rebel! Placed at HCL and waiting to be called in, she was the envy of the table with her commitment-free November.

Isabelle Masters is also one of the older members of NaNoWriMo, having already completed it a couple of times. Originally from California, shuttling between Chennai and Thanjavur, working 11 to 13 hours a day and she is still determined to finish NaNoWriMo well ahead of the 30th of this month.

Meera Rajagopalan, who also brought along the youngest members of our writing group, her three-year-old twins, is going to be juggling her work with under-privileged kids, trips to fun city with her cute kids and NaNoWriMo this month.

Vijay, who works as a game developer and is going to be writing back stories for the characters in the game, has also not just offered us his game studio as a write-in venue, but also given us free reign to use the gaming consoles there with a library of over 3000 games!

Then walked in Ragamalika and CJ Salamander. Ragamalika with her wide experience in multiple cities and jobs that includes working with a newspaper, immediately offered to help us edit our manuscripts when it’s done J

C J Salamander, which is his pen name, our very first about-to-be-published author gave us insights on life after the first draft. His success gave us all heart that age and experience sometimes just have to bow down to passion and commitment.

Then walked in Barneedhar, who woke up at ‘early morning 8 o’clock’ to get to the meet. Cheeky, funny, we would only see him again after his semester exams are over.

We discussed plot lines and story ideas, we discussed the challenges of juggling multiple things and still finishing NaNoWriMo, we asked each other for advice, and gave them away freely.

As we talked, I realized something. This is a group. Not just a random bunch of strangers sitting together making polite conversation. This is a group of people tethered by a strong goal and a stronger determination to achieve what we have set out to.

Phone numbers were exchanged for our Whatsapp group, possible venues for future write-ins were discussed and we knew we are going to ‘crush’ this NaNoWriMo.

After almost two hours, when Meera’s three-year-old daughter poked Kirupa to ask her when this meeting would end, she was in the distinct minority.

As we paid up and started leaving, there was one thing I knew for sure. At this table today we met our writing buddies not just for this NaNoWriMo, but for many, many more to come.

Through the Lens of Writing Wisdom by Isabelle Masters

We tend to think of writing as a solitary activity. We imagine the writer bent over his notepad or her laptop, fuelled by coffee and driven to create. Whether she sits in a cafe or he works at home in his study, the writer is alone with her work, conversing one-on-one with the paper, the pen his medium. This image goes hand in hand with the duality of the artist as either prolific or tortured (or both). It’s a captivating idea – the artist so nourished by their flourishing creation that they have no time or patience for social norms and niceties.

Of course, reality is rarely like that. The act of setting out to write 50,000 words in a month teaches us that writing is neither agonizing (at least not usually) nor effortless. Writing is work – and it’s work that doesn’t have to be done by oneself.

That was the premise of Chennai’s first write-in, held Sunday, November 3rd at Axham Games’s Chennai studio. The eight writers who came were a mix of first-timers and old pros. We sat on two couches and three chairs, cheerful and chatty, introducing our novels and ourselves, discussing our experiences so far.

Once the first word sprint began, of course, things grew much quieter. We started with a fifteen minute burst. The change was immediate; suddenly the only sounds were the whirr of the fan and the clacking of fingers on keys. Buoyed by our success, we went for a longer stretch – thirty minutes.

After a short coffee break, we came back for our last write of the day, a twenty-minute long race (the winner was treated to a sandwich at Quiznos). Some of us were ahead of our daily goal, others were behind, but during those hours we all wrote something. One of our participants typed his first words of the month, and others caught up from where the rush of Diwali had slowed their writing down. Our word counts may have ranged from 100 to 7000, but everyone left with more written than when they had arrived.

But write-ins aren’t just about writing. They’re about creating a community of shared experiences and support, about talking about the part of your plot that’s not working or the sentence you just can’t get right. They’re about friendship. They’re about making writing a novel more than a file on your hard drive, more than a cursor blinking on a blank page in Word. They’re about looking around the room and realizing that you’re not the only one embarking on this crazy, intense, illuminating journey.

Writing may be solitary, but at least we can be alone together.

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