What is the One Thing the Pandemic Has Taught You About Writing?

March 19, 2021 § 22 Comments

By Sweta Srivastava Vikram

When my mother passed away suddenly in the summer of 2014, I wrote a book of poems about her titled Saris and a Single Malt. I started to write the collection when we got the phone call that she (out of nowhere) was feeling unwell, and my father had to rush her to the hospital. I wrote as we boarded the plane to New Delhi. I wrote when I found out that the doctor had to put my mother on a ventilator. I wrote when we landed in India’s capital, and my brother hugged me tight, “I am sorry. She didn’t make it.” I wrote as a swarm of known and unknown faces cried and expressed their condolences. I wrote when we cremated her and completed the last rites. I wrote when we collected her ashes in the urn. I completed Saris and a Single Malt in less than a week’s time. That’s how intensely I was trying to cope and grieve. It wasn’t about documenting what was happening as much as it was about making sense of the senselessness around me. Saris and a Single Malt reiterated that sitting in the sea of my emotions, feeling every wave and turbulence, and swimming through words is how I get to the other side and eventually, heal. 

In spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit New York, and we went on PAUSE, my pen found a mind of its own. I wasn’t surprised when I found myself writing daily. Not fiction, though. When the world around you seems to be in a disarray and you are concerned about the safety of your loved ones and your own well-being, creating an alternate reality through the world of fiction didn’t work for me. But I did complete my upcoming book of essays titled A Piece of Peace. I didn’t write for things to fit a certain style or magazine. I put things down without much deliberation. I wasn’t trying to reach a certain word count. The moment, the gush, the rush…that’s what I captured in my essays. The more I penned, the more grounded I felt in our new norm. Showing up to my daily practice of writing (much like yoga) helped me understand people, the pandemic, and the unprecedented times in a more compassionate way. It made me less fearful and more certain of my next steps. It took away my sorrows on days that felt heavy. It created space for my own self-care.

Anne Frank said,“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” The pandemic taught me that writing centers, heals, and humbles me. It helps me stay dedicated and disciplined and away from the unnecessary & mindless distractions that don’t always add meaning to life. 

I asked 12 women writers what is the one thing that the pandemic has taught them about writing. Here is what they had to say:

“In order to give your creative mind a room of its own switch off from social media during the writing day.” ~ Cauvery Madhavan, Author of The Tainted

“Writing perseveres. Words are powerful, and they are powerful whether they come from a loud voice behind a public lectern or a quiet keyboard in quarantine, so we must keep at it.” ~ Jennifer Klepper, USA Today Bestselling author of Unbroken Threads

“I’ve learned that just as much as we require antibodies to fight off this terrible virus, we need stories that pull us up and out of depression by increasing our capacity for empathy and hope.” ~ Joyce Yarrow, author of Zahara and the Lost Books of Light

“As writers we find hope through the power of story. Our characters emerge from the darkest hours and that victory empowers us to keep the faith that we can succeed too.” ~ Anju Gattani, author of Duty and Desire

“The biggest lesson about my writing that the pandemic has taught me is that I like to write with friends. In the beginning I wasn’t getting any writing done. But then I got together with a group of women from WFWA, and I have been writing with them via zoom almost every day since May. I have made more progress than I did in the past so many years, finishing two books (edits on one and 1st draft of the second).” ~ Priya Gill, University Professor, Texas

“From overwhelming vulnerability unconstrained wonder has emerged, allowing me to draw from experience and possibility as never before.” ~ Mel Greenberg, Best-selling Author. Producer. Midlife Advocate. Speaker.

“As the pandemic has brought fear, uncertainty, and confusion to many parts of my life, writing included, having a strong community of trusted writer friends who understand not only the usual issues career-authors face, but also pandemic-related craft and business challenges, is invaluable.” ~ Jen Gilroy, writer of contemporary romance and women’s fiction with heart, home and hope

“I think the one thing that the pandemic has taught me about writing is how important it is to how I function in the world. In other words, how necessary it is to my overall feeling of productivity and well-being, and how it can provide insight into how I’m doing in general.” ~ Anita Kushwaha,Author of Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters

“I can’t expect hours of solitude to write—I work full-time, volunteer with the Gaithersburg Book Festival, live in a multi-generational home, and have a kid learning remotely/virtually—but I can expect myself to be patient and recognize when my writing moment is here.” ~ Serena Agusto-Cox, poet, editor, owner of Poetic Book Tours

“I can write with a house full of husband, teen, 91-year-old father-in-law, and two cats.”~ Catherine Prendergast, author of The Gilded Edge, forthcoming from Dutton press October 2021

“Those early days of sheltering in place, found me outlining a new manuscript–the hardest part of the writing process for me. The task required a level of keen focus and taught me that writing can be a sanctuary. My job wasn’t to wring my hands about the pandemic, but to get that book outlined.” ~ Elizabeth Wafler, Author & WFWA Director of Craft/Education Programs.

“The one thing pandemic has taught me is that writing helps me untangle my thoughts and release negative emotions.” ~ Sujata Parashar, Novelist

Has the pandemic taught you anything about your relationship with writing? Share in the comments below.

Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach who is committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Sweta is a trained yogi and certified Ayurveda health coach, is on the board of Fly Female Founders, and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in New York City with her husband and works with clients across the globe. She also teaches yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence as well incarcerated men and women. Find her on: TwitterInstagramLinkedIn, and Facebook.

A Small Press, Don’t Stress: Why Size Doesn’t Matter

March 22, 2018 § 23 Comments

SwetaSVikram_Author Headshot_BrevityMagBy Sweta Srivastava Vikram

A rhyming title for an essay, you must wonder. Full disclaimer: I am a poet at heart; the crossover to writing and publishing a novel has been transformative, and I wanted to share some things I learned.

I won’t lie; it’s been exciting, humbling and exhausting. The release of my 12th book (but debut U.S. novel) Louisiana Catch, a story that centers around a sexual abuse survivor from New Delhi, coincides with the #MeToo movement. It’s on U.K.’s The Asian Writer’s “Books to Read in 2018” list. Frankly, I don’t know what’s in store for the book, but I do know that I have enjoyed the whole process and realized a few things along the way, specifically as it relates to publishing via a small press.

The problem is you: The lack of gratitude. I have seen writers apologize for their small press partnerships and feel small…like they are embarrassed. Stop! The fact that someone took a chance on your work and wants to publish you, means a lot. Publishing is about several permutations and combinations. Working with a small press doesn’t make you any less talented or skilled compared to a writer who has a book coming out with a Penguin/Random House or Hachette. Small press has limitations, which teaches you to become self-reliant and seek out opportunities. Once you adjust your attitude and appreciate a challenge, the journey becomes more exciting. I was out of ARCs and an opportunity arose to send a few copies of Louisiana Catch to Hollywood. My publisher—Modern History Press—sent me the copies overnight (Not cheap for a small press), and I went and made the drop at the crack-of-dawn. It was like a relay race where we kept an eye on the goal and made it happen as a team.

Own your choice—Yes, for majority of us (fair to make the assumption?), there is this dream of being represented by one of the big five publishing houses. I didn’t try the agent route, very deliberately. I consciously chose to work with a small press for this novel. My last manuscript died because my then agent hit a midlife crisis after I had spent a couple of years changing the book to fit their perception of a “good book.” We went from “blah blah (Insert name of one of the top 5 publishing houses) is buying your book to popping congratulatory champagne to “I am like not sure where my life is headed.” My book sank along with my heart. I decided that I wanted to work with a press that understood my voice and stories and wanted to represent my work. Pick your route and do not doubt your decision.

Face facts—Whether you are being published by one of the top five or a small press, the chances are that you are a small fish—majority of us fall in that space. Your grandma might throw a block party in your honor but at the publisher’s end, you are one of the many authors. You have to put in a lot of work. And working with a small press, I have had a lot of say in defining what that work means. My publisher at Modern History Press, Victor Volkman, and I developed a true partnership. He acknowledged my hard work and increased the stakes. And now we have an audiobook for Louisiana Catch in the making. It’s come to a point where my publisher leaves notes, #BeLikeAhana, after one of the early reviewers of the book started this hashtag (Based on the female protagonist in Louisiana Catch) on Instagram, on my social media posts.

Size doesn’t guarantee success—I agree; working with a big publishing house often means incredible distribution system. Your friends and family will see your books at bookstores and Target and airport spaces. Let’s be honest; I would like that too. When I saw my 1st novel in a store in India, I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve worked in the marketing department for Kellogg’s breakfast cereals and let me tell you one thing—while placement seems to be everything, it also isn’t everything. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee sales. I have a professor interested in teaching Louisiana Catch to her students. If your book becomes part of an academic course, that’s when you know X no. of copies will be sold every semester, not one season.

Innovation is the name—Remember: While the budgets are limited, the intentions and efforts aren’t because a small press cares about their authors and their stories. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I decided to partner up with organizations and brands for reviews and book release events. On April 18, Lululemon Hub Seventeen in NYC is hosting the book release party for Louisiana Catch and organizations like Exhale to Inhale have helped plan the all-female panel at this party. I have also partnered up with leading yoga studios, organizations working on women’s empowerment, and independent bookstores for book launch events in three different states. I like the idea of community, so at each of these events, I’ve invited other authors or specialists to participate. My publisher has offered to get bookmarks and posters shipped to these locations.

You aren’t forgotten—Sure, many big-name magazines might not look at books from small presses and review them. It boils down to connections and budgets and priorities and the TBR pile on the reviewers’ desk. Yes, it’s frustrating and disappointing. But it’s not the end. I once cold-pitched an essay, “Familiar Dish, Familiar Friend,” to the New York Times, and it got accepted. Louisiana Catch and I have been profiled in different countries in leading ethnic and/or feminist newspapers and magazines. Not having an in-house publishing team doing all the work for me has worked in my favor. I don’t wait for things to happen; I go out and make them happen.

Embrace your true self—Working with a small press can level you like none other. It will show you what your strengths and shortcomings are. I am a do-it-yourself author. I like being organized and in control of my book and the promotional plans. My publisher honored every timeline we decided on. I wanted the book to be out in April since it’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the female protagonist, Ahana, is a sexual assault survivor; he agreed. In summer of 2017, the final edits came in. By September-October of 2017, the ARCs were ready. In October, we started mailing them out. The early reviewers have had plenty of time to review. It doesn’t mean my book will be on New York Times list or be reviewed by all the top-notch magazines; all it means is that I know that we tried our best. And, sometimes, just knowing that helps you go to bed at night.

I have been at the forefront of every decision made regarding Louisiana Catch—right from the editors to the book cover to the promotional plan to the book birthing cycle to a speaking engagement at Twitter NY. Honestly, had I not worked with a small press, I am not sure how many of these opportunities I might have pursued.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is a best-selling author of 12 books, five-times Pushcart Prize nominee, mindfulness writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch is her debut U.S. novel and featured on U.K.’s The Asian Writer’s “Books to Read in 2018.” Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. She writes about women, multiculturalism, wellness, and identity.  Sweta, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, amongst other publications, across nine countries on three continents, is an award-winning writer and graduate of Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. You can find her in these online spaces: Twitter (@swetavikram), Instagram (@swetavikram), and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Words.By.Sweta)

Yoga and Creative Nonfiction in Costa Rica

January 10, 2017 § 4 Comments

img_1304In addition to writing, editing, and teaching, Creative Nonfiction founder Lee Gutkind is also a devoted yoga practitioner, and Lee plans to share his enthusiasm for both his interests this spring in a Yoga and Creative Nonfiction Immersion in Costa Rica.

Lee, a frequent speaker about the genre of creative nonfiction, has always stressed the need for writers to keep a regular schedule, as he has for decades. “It can be exhilarating, frustrating or exhausting experience — and sometimes all three,” he writes. “My yoga practice helps me reflect on what I have written and prepare for my next writing day.”

The yoga and writing immersion will take place April 8-15 at the Blue Spirit Resort, located on an isolated five-mile beach (also a turtle refuge) along the Pacific. “We will write every day, then discuss the craft of the genre and share our work. There will be daily yoga and meditation sessions.  Not to mention good food and drink,” Lee explains.  “At the end of the week, I am hoping that we have written something we feel good about and that we have established a schedule and a rhythm of work we can follow when we return home.”

Lee will be joined by Sean Conley, a former NFL kicker turned yoga instructor. Conley is author of the book, Amazing Yoga: A Practical Guide to Strength, Wellness, and Spirit.

More information and a registration link can be found on the Amazing Yoga Website.

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