SEPTEMBER 02, 2022: A personal approach to cultivating a more disciplined and sustainable practice of reading, writing, and translating and filling my personal tank.
I get asked often about how I manage all my reading and writing. 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. This practice of ‘The 100’ is mostly about filling our personal tanks 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.
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 for 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 that you see in the graphic.
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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. My hope, with sharing this entire approach as a cheatsheet, is that readers might cherry-pick whatever resonates for them and deepen their own reading, writing, and/or translating practices.
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, all of them feed into each other and into the longer book projects.
—I did not start all of these at the same time and added as I felt the need.
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, 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 the quote on social media with, sometimes, a brief thought. But the real work has always been happening during the journal-writing. Since 2020, because of all the other stuff I’ve been sharing via social media, particularly with Desi Books and this newsletter, I haven’t been sharing quotes regularly. That said, they’ve certainly been informing everything I share, from Twitter threads to this newsletter.
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 — which were 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 always rewired my inner circuitry. Like the ‘100 Quotes’ practice, this one also helped me appreciate language at a much deeper level. And, naturally, I try to bring all of that into the rest of my reading, writing, and translating work.
3) 100 Sentences
Somewhat different to 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 basic sentence-level craft for myself. Unlike the above two practices, I need to be careful here 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 one in 2015: reading, writing, and translating a hundred short stories. Often, the daily quotes, poems, and sentences would get me thinking about a theme, idea, or topic deep enough that I wanted to explore it as fiction.
With the reading, I blew past the hundred goal 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.
With writing and translating, I’ve probably reached about sixty or so, 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 so that there’s something for every taste-bud. Yes, the collections are united by specific, overall themes. But story collections are capacious enough to allow both writers and their readers to inhabit so many characters, voices, places. Why not make the most of that?
Looking for book recommendations? Check out my ongoing book lists.
5) 100 Essays
I’m including book reviews here because, mostly, those are the kinds of essays I write. And reading lists too. All of these are just different ways to engage with our reading and to 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.)
I started writing in this genre in 2015 but the first two years were slow-going as they are for anyone just starting out with publications. And, often, this kind of writing is deprioritized when I’m focusing on book-related work. As with the short stories, though, the writing I do with quotes, poems, and sentences informs and feeds into the essay-writing.
6) 100 Author Interviews
As I’ve mentioned often before, 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 all of 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, an interview 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. This does not include all the literary festivals and events I’ve moderated over the years, which were also interviews.
What I’ve learned about the art of the interview (and am still working to learn) and the publishing ecosystem through these interviews is enough material to fill at least two books. I’m getting better as an interviewer each year but I’m not where I’d like to be yet. Still, when I’m reading a book for interview purposes, I engage with it differently again so it’s another learning mode.
[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 The WAAT Sessions.]
7) 100 Newsletters
Over the years, I’ve had different websites and, therefore, different newsletters. When I was 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 had reached 500+ subscribers within six months. That was when I knew nothing about newsletters, really. I’m still learning now as you’ll see from how WAAT has evolved since it began on January 07, 2022.
Count? If I include the weekly Desi Books newsletters with these WAAT ones, I’m close to about seventy this year. It’s an important practice, I find, because of the immediacy and required constancy. And, despite the informal tone of a newsletter (as compared to an essay for publication at a media venue), it’s still a mode of thinking and learning. 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 figure out what works and what doesn’t within your own writing/translating and, ore 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 last two years, I’ve taught more than twenty workshops with more than a 100 participants in total. Some workshops in-person, 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 of its own. Most of my students are the non-MFA kind, like me, who’ve 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 invigorating and inspiring too.
Well, this one turned into a lengthy one, didn’t it? I hope it’s been useful 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 feed into each other too. If you think of a better visual, please let me know in the comments? I’d love to know your thoughts about any aspect of this that resonates for you. You can now respond directly on the website now. Just go to the newsletter page and select the latest edition right there. And please do share this with others who might find it useful? 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 on Sundays because that’s when I catch up with my saved reading. There was also some feedback from some of you that the newsletters covered too many topics. So, this way, we focus on a single topic each Friday. And there will be a set of five to seven links on Sundays. I hope that works.
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Until the next newsletter.
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