My experience with writing a story

Written By

Ila Gautam

Writing a story Loading

In 2014, someone told me about a Story writing competition. His information was very vague; it was being conducted by Penguin. The rest was up to me to find out. For many years now, I have been doing my writing directly on my Computer. But other than the basics which I need for writing and checking my emails, I know very little about handling the internet and the computer, and therefore have as little as possible to do with it. However now, there was now no option. I made several attempts before I found the information I needed. To my shock, I discovered the closing date was really close. I had to think fast and write it all straightaway.

The brief was to write a personal experience [whether mine or a friend’s] with a ‘feel good about Humanity’ sort of conclusion. The first snag was that in all of my experiences that I tried to think through to the end, nothing fitted all the requirements. Either they were boring or the end was not as it should have been or it took too many words to tell it all. Finally, I remembered something which matched up, somewhat. At least I thought it could be beaten into shape. The incident was an excerpt from a family trip from Kochi, where we were then posted, to Munnar. There was our little family of three, and another one of a friend. Some problem with the refuelling had already delayed our ‘early departure’. Then, unexpectedly, we were faced with bad road conditions for almost half of the journey. And to add to this, as it was getting dark and we were on the hilly road, one of our headlights conked off, leaving my husband [who was the designated driver as the car was ours] guessing about precisely where the edge of the road was. A small error in judgement and we would be hurtled down. We were all terribly tense as we crawled along slowly and steadily. At last, thankfully, we reached Munnar. Naturally, with all the problems, we reached much later than planned. We were all tired and hungry, but more importantly, we had two kids with us. Then we were in for a shock. The place we had counted on, to spend the night in, was already fully occupied!

We asked around and were directed to a ‘company guest house’ which took in outsiders when they had a vacancy. So we drove to that location and discovered that they could oblige us with the two rooms we needed, provided we vacated early the next morning. Very gratefully we put our stuff in the rooms and came back at once to eat. Then they told us that they had no arrangements for cooking meals and that the closest eating joint was back in Munnar which was a half hour ride downhill! It was already 9 by then so we would reach just as the restaurants were shutting for the night at 9-30! Then I remembered that he had said we had to clear out after breakfast. So clearly some arrangement for that existed! He said yes he did have bread and eggs. To us, bread and eggs were food, but to him, it had seemed inadequate. He made omelettes and soon, with food inside us and a soft bed under us, we were relaxed and comfortable! I wrote all this down and discovered I was way over the word limit. Then I rewrote it trying to fit the long story into the word limit. It looked lifeless. I read and re read and rewrote bits and pieces here and there, hoping to improve it. But nothing seemed to be working. I felt utterly defeated because there was no time to write and generate a fresh piece. Still, in desperation, I tried that too! But no, even that was no good. I was sure my career as a writer was over since nothing good was coming out of the exercise.

By then it was a few hours to the countdown of midnight. With very little hope I wrote about something else. Read the first draft and felt better about this latest one. I worked feverishly to edit it for word limit, grammar and language. When I was done, I dispatched it immediately, just making the deadline. I felt spent but satisfied that I had done my best.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sixty-seven year young Ila Gautam retired from a lifetime of teaching English and is now writing her Memoirs of coming of age in post-Partition Delhi. Apart from writing, she enjoys listening to classical Indian music and is a reading addict. Married to a retired Naval Officer, she thought she had brought up two daughters until they recently told her that she is a very recalcitrant ward for them. For her, therefore, the world of books is at least more predictably undependable; writing is currently her best shot at immortality and/or World Domination!

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