In the New Year, Old Projects Linger


edit on the go
edit on the go (Photo credit: fensterbme)

Editing and revising are two words habitually used as synonyms. Though they are related, they are not the same.

In the last year, as I’ve published fiction, non-fiction, even academic pieces, I’ve been guilty of blending these distinct stages. I assumed I could revise and edit as I went along. The system worked, more or less, until the last two projects sat languishing on my laptop. If like me, you want to take your writing to the next level, then you’ll want to understand the critical differences between these important stages of the writing process.

Writer Wordart
Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at how to tell editing and revising apart as well as when you’ll know which your project needs. No matter how many books you’ve written (and I’ve written over ten), every writer serious about his/her craft has a plan to tackle these two stages. The more experience you have does not necessarily mean the process moves more quickly or easily as I discovered when the final two novels of my 9 book foray into epublishing stalled.


Editing is the final stage of polishing a manuscript. Most writers cannot and should not edit their own work. Would you want to pour the foundation of a building and install the windows as well? Usually a specialist is called in to do the wiring and other fine points of a building. The same applies to writing.


Revising, however, is something writers can do on our own, aided and improved  with the help of a team of helpers: early readers of the manuscript, other writers, and indeed, editors.  When revising you may notice the grammar error here or there as you re-read a part of the manuscript. But your real focus is the content. Are the characters believable? Do we need more details in the setting? What can make the plot more dramatic? How can you strengthen the narrative arc?


Revising allows you to go section by section – not always chronologically – and take the nitty gritty view of your story. You find out where you’re on firm footing and where your foundation is on shaky ground. Names, nationalities, motivations of characters can all change at this stage as the primary question you ask yourself is: does this serve my story?


Here’s an example of how I revised the opening of my current novel in progress THE OPPOSITE OF HATE, a historical novel set in the Southeast Asian country of Laos in 1969. This project has taken over a year to create the first draft and will need many months to revise before we head into the editing stage.


Notice the changes from the original and the revision which were written about a month apart. Point of view, character, setting, and even the novel’s title, all transformed the more I thought about the story.


Questions for you as you consider revising:


  1. Beginnings are important. Consider the beginning of your story. Does it start at a moment of drama? Is there another character who would be more compelling?
  2. Consider your setting: Does the reader receive the important details that will carry him/her further into the world you are setting?
  3. Consider your conflict: is it big enough to hook and maintain interest into the first chapter?

Based on your answers to any/all of the above, revise. Yes, go on, rewrite this small section. And share with us your results!


An enlargeable relief map of Laos
An enlargeable relief map of Laos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Original: October 2011


Chapter One


Nelee slid from the backseat of the car as the driver continued toward the garage she pulled off the sweater, the worst and most unflattering part of her school uniform. She then shook free her elbow length hair from the regulation braid, massaging the back of her neck. She marched up the concrete steps of the house, the most of any on their street, expecting to see her mother reading the latest ladies magazine in the formal living room, waiting for Nelee’s stories of another day spent at the Sisters of Mercy School for Girls.


Revised: November 2011


Chapter One


Vientiene 1969


Than climbed the steps to the two bedroom house his job afforded him; the small government cottage a mansion to his wife, a country girl from the Philippines. He was tired after hours of pouring over diagrams for a new aqueduct system planned for a Northern territory. As the only academically trained engineer in the office, he bore the brunt of the technical work as the others drank, sometimes coffee, as the day wore on something stronger, Than ran from one meeting with the westerners to another, trying to take advantage of their interest while it was hot. He came onto the porch. Next door, at his neighbor’s, most of the street was crowded around Uncle Ong, the best Lao folk story teller in the district. Some said all of the capital. Than scanned the crowd, hoping to find Rutchil amongst the women. Failing to see her rounded bulk, he nodded to John, the CIA agent most people thought was a grass smoking hippie, whose green eyes glimmered in the waning light.




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From Dunes to Dior


Chennai in India
Chennai in India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July 2012 will mark seven years that I have lived in Qatar. Seven consecutive years is my record with only three other cities in the world. Doha joins a short list which includes Gainesville, Florida and Raleigh, North Carolina.

My formative years in American suburbia had erased most traces of my parents’ sub-continental pronunciation in my own speech. My “h” was “h”; not the “heche” of my parents.  I was American in sight and sound. However, on the inside, I was still Indian. By looking at me, you couldn’t sense there was a war being waged on the inside. To the outside world, identity was measured by clothing and speech—having an established Western orientation in both cases,  I was regarded as one of the crowd by my white, Southern classmates. On these counts I failed both tests and was eyed with suspicion by the other housewives at my mother’s parties. But blue jeans and flat vowels never hinted at  the inner world of my family or what happened when the front door closed on our home.
Inside life was governed by the same principles that had ruled my mother’s teenage years in Chennai, India. No movies after seven p.m. In fact, no women outside the house after dark, not for football games, parties, or sleepovers.

Like so many of the “American Born Confused Desi generation,” referred amongst ourselves as the ABCD generation, I was a socially emaciated, well-behaved Indian daughter who railed at endless parental restrictions. The split identity meant non-relatives never saw all of me. They only knew “white” me. Meanwhile my immediate family thought they might lose me to the outside world, so they mounted an “it’s better in India” campaign to override my resistance and

North America
North America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

suspicious of inferiority with reasons for our cultural superiority.

“A better maths education,” was one of my father’s favorite refrains as I remained confounded by geometry.

“No child shows an over-dependence on calculators,” he would say throwing up his hands on yet another weekend when I failed to solve one of his problem sets…

Respect for elders – children taking care of their aging parents – more of it in India.

“Marriage as a commitment.”

My mother wouldn’t  say more but implied where a boy and girl learn to love rather than fall into it is taken more seriously in India.

I didn’t ask the obvious question, although it hammered in my brain; If everything is better there, what are we doing here? I didn’t dare. Partly out of fear of my father, but also partly out of fear there would be no answer.

What if the secret behind our semi-nomadic life had no greater answer than my father’s wanderlust? What if a series of pharmacology grants was the single red line on the map leading us from a veterinary program in South India to a series of North American institutions?

I continued to play these two parts simultaneously; intensely outgoing and enthusiastic – “American” – and constantly communicating with my parents – “Indian.” I didn’t find the bridge that spanned the outside/inside gap until later, after college and graduate school, when my own desires for professional fulfillment and monetary rewards led me to move several times. This realization emerged slowly as pieces of a scattered puzzle – from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C. – as I met more of my generation, children of immigrant parents from all over the world, juggling these competing demands. Then, for the second time in my life, globalization entered stage left, having already taken me as a small child with my adventurous father and sheltered mother from Chennai, India onto and all over the North American continent.

This time I traveled alone, east, not west, ending up four hours from my birthplace. I landed in the Arabian Gulf, thousands of miles from my upbringing in North America, and in an ironic twist, closer to the extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, than any of my immediate family. Situated in Qatar, I found myself in a region often described as a human rights quagmire for migrant South Asian workers. The questions from my young adult years resurfaced within the minutiae of life in the Gulf. Their return disturbed my temporarily coalesced identity. Familiar, opposing pressures reappeared – the tension between an outside/public life and the inside/private one, the contradiction between physical appearance and personal affiliation – and my newly gathered reflection erupted like a cracked mirror, splintered pieces flying in all directions.

The splinters of being South Asian American in an Arab country and the echoes of my teenage angst are the stories I tell in From Dunes to Dior which will be soon be released as an e-book on You’ll see some of the contrasts in Qatar in the book trailer.

In the meantime, enjoy one of my other four ebooks – on everything from modern motherhood to how to get started as a writer. The best part is they are ALL free to download until May 16, 2012. Drop me a line (or a review) and let me know what you thought about any or all of them. Happy reading!


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Idiotic, Disgusting, and Other Things Said to Freelance Writers

Traditional freelance writer work system.
Traditional freelance writer work system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Freelance writing alternates between the glamorous (invites to the latest openings) and the torturous (waiting for interviewees to show). Last week I added abusive to the list of adjectives that apply to being a free agent as a writer.

In November another publication in the region wrote me to see if I was interested in contributing for two forth coming issue with tight deadlines. After I indicated yes, I ‘d write for them, I was sent interview dates and times for the next time, without a brief. The brief tells the writer why the publication is interested in a particular person or story, suggests a few angles, mentions the payment as well as the word count.

The fact that many of these details were missing were my first indication that all was not well at this particular publication. But I chalked it up to the youth and inexperience of the staff, (the editor of the publication commissioning me had even attended an editorial meeting of Vox, a magazine I worked on; she was wide eyed and impressed by our organization in planning at least three issues at a time) reminding myself this was a magazine located in the Middle East. Not that I’m bashing locals: if you’ve been overseas for any length of time, you know that expats often sink lower than the standard of their home countries and this seemed to be the case in this particular situation.

But I wrote the pieces as best I could with the information I had and sent it in. I heard nothing for several days and moved on with my life. Then, over a long weekend during a national holiday, was surprised by an irate email from the editor (who I had no interaction with until this point). The tone and superiority of her message flagged up the issues I had been overlooking. In India at the time, I again let it go. After all, I knew I didn’t want to write for them again.

Hearing nothing else from them, I wrote on the 23rd of December requesting payment information. My email went unanswered. Cue the holidays. End December.

In January, when the world went back to the normal, if dull, pace of business, I wrote again to inquire where my payment for these pieces was. No answer. I called the offices. “We pay 45 days from printing,” the person I had been corresponding with said. Wouldn’t that have been nice to know the first four times I asked?

These kinds of terms give one pause, but again, I let it slide. Until March, when I saw the printed issues of the magazine (with my ‘sub-par’ work) in a library. I wrote again. I kept writing, every week; most of the time with no replies. I even texted the editor asking what was happening. By now, of course, it was a matter of principle.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

On April 16th everything came to a head when I took the issue on to Twitter. Here’s what I said:  “Freelancers: don’t recommend writing for xxxxx unless you can wait 90 days or more for payment. Still waiting-will keep you posted.”

Social media creates a direct line to replace static channels: I’ve seen four star hotels like the W Doha and the Four Seasons respond to a Tweet with an efficiency and effectiveness I may not have gotten from speaking to the onsite manager.

But in this case, instead of replying with an apology or a vow to make it better, the email from the Special Projects Manger (whose automatic away message first said he was out of the office) ripped off any veneer of civility:


The payment has been made and should be in your bank account soon. 

Although we cannot excuse the delay in your payment your idiotic remark on Twitter was disgusting. 

We're disappointed by your constant lack of manners and poor attitude that you have shown towards xxxx.
Good day Mohanna!

Nothing like misspelling the name of the person you are insulting to make sure they know how professional you are.

If you are an aspiring writer, beware that you’ll need thick skin. Not only to receive feedback on your writing but also deal with the intrapersonal dynamics.

If you are a freelancer, what strategies do you have to do deal with delayed payments or snide staff?

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