Writing Life & ‘The Year of Penny’

Like some of you might know, the character of Penny in the American sitcom Happy Endings (that was playing in India in 2012-13) is a sweet nerd, who decides at the beginning of every year that it’s going to be ‘The Year of Penny’. You know — the year when she gets a cool job/gets promoted/finds Mr. Right etc.

Inspired by Penny, I decided at the beginning of 2013 that this was going to be ‘The Year of Bhakti’ (I’m just nerdy enough to not find that corny). This was the year I was going to write for the New York Times and complete my novel. This was also the year when I was going to stick to a diet and lose weight. See, I thought my time had finally come. My kid was over a year old, and I had mostly got the hang of things vis-a-vis motherhood. Or so I thought.

Hardship
Winter in Frankfurt am Main (C) Bhakti Mathew

I love the saying that goes (to paraphrase), ‘if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans’. I’ve been chanting it to myself for most of 2013, and even now, it pops up in my head every now and then.

2013 got off to a great start. I wrote for a number of major Indian national-level publications. I submitted the first three chapters of a romance novel to Mills & Boon and was asked to send the complete manuscript. Yay! My niece was born mid-year and that was another source of joy for the family.

Then around August onwards, things began going downhill. The romance novel was rejected by the publisher. They let me down very nicely, with a three-page feedback about what they thought. They used phrases like ‘engaging read’, ‘confident narrative voice’, ‘promising voice’ etc. to describe my writing. And part of me believes it got rejected because my heroine was too ‘alpha’. But fact is, at the end of the day, it was still a No.

I was mostly disappointed because I had badly neglected my kid in the 2.5 months it took me to finish the book. Sure, I’d have loved to be published. And writing easy-breezy romantic comedies can be fun. But I had actually sent the first three chapters on a lark, thinking they wouldn’t really make an impact and that I anyway wanted to debut as a ‘serious writer’ (whatever that means, hmm).

Thinking that there was yet time left to still make it the ‘Year of Bhakti’, I put together a book proposal for a nonfiction book I had been thinking of writing for some time. Even got a well-known Indian literary agent interested enough to give some sound advice about how to get started…I lined up contacts needed to write the book, and then well, a few more things happened.

There were serious health concerns for three members in the family: my kid, my grandmother and my brother-in-law. So that kept us worried and busy for a long, long time. While things have stabilised as well as they could now, it means that 2013 was not the year I wrote for NYT or completed my novel (sort of). What a surprise!

No, I didn’t declare 2014 as ‘The Year of Bhakti’…at least not out loud 😀 But now that things are more stable, I want to be more consistent about writing for publications and with my creating writing. This blog is a step in that direction.

Looking back, I should have guessed that things mightn’t go as expected, since in Happy Endings, Penny NEVER has a successful ‘Year of Penny’.

What do you know, turns out, you need to be careful where you seek inspiration from!

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