WAAT #35: ‘The 100’: a Practice for Writers and Translators


A personal approach to cultivating a more disciplined and sustainable practice for writers and translators. A DIY MFA, if you will.

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I often get asked about how I manage all my reading and writing. But, honestly, even with all the reading and writing I do for the workshops I teach, Desi Books, book reviewing, work-in-progress translation, and work-in-progress novel, I’m not always able to fill my personal tank. So this practice of ‘The 100’ is mostly about doing that and cultivating a more disciplined and sustainable practice of reading, writing, and translating. And, as we all do, I’ve sometimes fallen off the wagon, but I always get back on.

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A decade or so ago, when I was deep into reading everything I could find on how to master skills through self-learning, I came across this concept of doing something a hundred times to gain some level of expertise within it. Worth a try, right? Around the same time, I also came across this practice of setting a single word as an annual intention—versus, say, a set of goals—to guide all your plans and activities for the year. So I combined both into this hub-and-spoke model you see in the graphic.

In 2020, I wrote briefly at The Millions about how the ‘word-of-the-year’ annual intention is a part of my reading, writing, and translation practice. Here, I’ll focus on the eight spokes that help me ensure I’m working toward that annual intention. By sharing this approach as a cheatsheet, I hope readers might cherry-pick whatever resonates for them and deepen their reading, writing, and/or translating practices.

All of this also became a sort of DIY MFA for me.

Three prefatory notes before we get going:

—The “hundred” is a minimum limit, so with at least half of the practices below, I’ve gone well past that.
—Only two of these make me direct income, although, as you’ll read below, they all feed into each other and the longer book projects.
—I did not start all of these at the same time and added as I felt the need.

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1) 100 Quotes

This involves selecting favorite quotes related to the word-of-the-year and writing privately in my journal about what they mean — in terms of intent, context, emotion, and tone — within the source context and to me personally. A quote can be a sentence-long or a paragraph-long. My day starts with this and my morning cuppa, so it’s a clarifying and centering process.

A few years ago, I also shared each quote on social media with, sometimes, brief notes. But the real work has always been happening during the journal-writing. Since 2020, I haven’t been sharing quotes online regularly because of all the other stuff I’ve been sharing via social media, particularly with Desi Books and this newsletter. That said, they are still a part of my private writing practice.

2) 100 Poems

Since 2010, I’ve been reading one poem a day. It doesn’t happen at any set time, just whenever I need a reset during my working hours. In 2014, I took this practice to another level by selecting one poem each weekend to write a close, annotated reading of it. I used to post these annotations—sometimes rather long—online, but I’ve taken them all down now. I’d reached close to seventy or so this way, which means I’d done this consistently for over a year.

This way of responding to poetry has constantly rewired my inner circuitry. But, like the ‘100 Quotes’ practice, this one also helped me appreciate language at a much deeper level. And naturally, I try to bring all that into the rest of my reading, writing, and translating work.

3) 100 Sentences

Somewhat different from what I do with the quotes and poems, this one involves taking favorite single sentences and riffing on them to create an entirely personal version. It’s a bit like reverse engineering, if you like, because I study the sentence carefully, understand what I like about it and why—rhythm, metaphor, allusion, sensory detail, etc.—and then think about how I could use some of those literary devices to create a better sentence within my own work-in-progress.

I spent a lot of time with this last year because I wanted to get back to this essential sentence-level craft for myself. Unlike the above two practices, I need to be careful that I’m not simply copying or creating a weak imitation of the original sentence. The challenge is to focus on the literary devices and not the actual content of the original. If ‘100 Quotes’ and ‘100 Poems’ are about, in a way, transcreation, then ‘100 Sentences’ is really about a complete localization or adaptation.

4) 100 Short Stories

I began this in 2015: reading, writing, and translating a hundred short stories. The daily quotes, poems, and sentences often get me thinking about a theme, idea, or topic deep enough that I want to explore it as fiction.

With the reading, I blew past the goal of 100 within a year because I also wrote a monthly short story column featuring five of my favorite short story reads organized around a specific theme or topic.

I’ve probably reached about sixty or so with writing and translating, including my book-length collections. So I have some work to do here.

I love the short story form, and with both my own and my translated collections, I’ve always aimed to present a complete thali-like offering where there’s something for every taste bud. So yes, the collections are united by specific, overall themes. But story collections are capacious enough to allow writers and their readers to inhabit many characters, voices, and places. Why not make the most of that?

5) 100 Essays

I’m including book reviews here because, mostly, those are the essays I favor. And reading lists too. These are just different ways to engage with our reading and share with other readers. I’m almost there with seventy-six at last count (and this does not include the many essay-length pieces I’ve written at Desi Books since April 2020.)

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I started writing in this genre in 2015, but the first two years were slow-going, as they are for anyone just starting with getting work published. And, often, this kind of writing is deprioritized when I’m focusing on book-related work. But, as with the short stories, my writing with quotes, poems, and sentences informs and feeds into the essays.

6) 100 Author Interviews

As I’ve often mentioned, I haven’t come to my writing and translating career with any literary pedigree or credentials. That hasn’t stopped me from pushing myself in different ways to learn the craft, as you see from the above. It has, however, meant a lack of literary networks and connections. So, when I began doing author interviews, it was to find a way to connect with writers whose works I appreciated. And, of course, a discussion is also another way of engaging with a book.

At the time of writing this, I’ve done about sixty author interviews: fifty-four at Desi Books and six for other venues. Of course, this does not include all the literary festivals and events I’ve moderated over the years, including interviews.

What I’ve learned about the art of the interview (and am still learning) and the publishing ecosystem through these interviews is enough material to fill at least two books. I’m improving as an interviewer each year, but I’m not yet where I’d like to be. Still, when I’m reading a book for interview purposes, I engage with it differently again, so it’s another learning mode.

Looking for book recommendations? Check out my ongoing book lists.

[NOTE: Later this month, I’ll be starting conversations with other literary translators right here for We Are All Translators, as I’ve mentioned before. So please stay tuned for WAAT Sessions.]

7) 100 Newsletters

Over the years, I’ve had different websites and, therefore, different newsletters. While studying financial planning, I maintained a newsletter for my few clients and other readers who wanted to learn about personal finance management. Though it was my first, it was also my most popular to date. Then, when I ran an e-zine called Storyacious, I maintained a weekly newsletter that reached 500+ subscribers within six months. That was when I knew nothing about newsletters. I’m still learning, as you’ll see from how WAAT has evolved since it began on January 07, 2022.

Count? I’m close to about seventy this year if I include the weekly Desi Books newsletters with these WAAT ones. It’s a critical practice because of the immediacy and required constancy. And, despite a newsletter’s informal tone (compared to an essay for publication at a media venue), it’s still a mode of thinking and learning. Of course, all of the other 100s feed into this one too. The most rewarding aspect of this practice is the direct connection with readers. And I respond to all of them.

8) 100 Workshop Students

You’ve likely heard of how the best way to learn something is through teaching it to others. Teaching helps you determine what works and doesn’t within your writing/translating and, more importantly, why. It’s also about being able to articulate and communicate ideas and how-tos in ways that help you internalize them better as well.

I’ve now been teaching writing workshops for a few years but only stepped this up in the last two years. So, in these previous two years, I’ve taught more than twenty workshops with more than 100 participants in total. Some workshops are in-person, and most are online. Some are live; most are via asynchronous online workspaces.

Each workshop has made me a better reader and a better writer, for sure. I enjoy teaching so much I’d do it full-time. There are various craft topics for which I’d like to create multi-week curricula. Just that process of creating detailed lesson notes, readings, etc., is an excellent learning one. Engaging with workshop participants to discuss their writing and other sample works is a pleasure. Most of my students are non-MFA, like me, who come to writing later in life due to other work and life priorities. They have a different kind of commitment and engagement that I find refreshing and inspiring.


Well, this one turned into a lengthy one, didn’t it? I hope it’s been helpful for you, though. It was certainly interesting for me to organize my thoughts and processes like this. Reading through it now, I see that the hub-and-spoke model is probably not the most accurate representation because each of the spokes feeds into the other too. I’ll think of a better visual soon enough. I’d love your thoughts about any aspect of this that resonates for you in the discussion area below. And please do share this with others who might find it helpful. Thanks.

One housekeeping matter in closing: as of this month, I won’t be adding links to this newsletter. There will be a separate links roundup newsletter once a month or so.

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Jenny Bhatt is an author, a literary translator, and a book critic. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student of literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. She has taught creative writing at Writing Workshops Dallas and the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Program. Sign up for her free newsletters, We Are All Translators and/or Historical Fiction Craft Notes. Jenny lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Texas.

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