11 Sept 2020 – “A 400 word day is a beautiful day” – thus spake Tanuj Solanki! This was sometime last year; and he wrote it in response to a post by Michelle D’costa, on writerly anxieties. After all these months, and hundreds of posts later (read/browsed through/scrolled down), I still remember this one. Partly because I have read very few honest posts on Facebook about the vulnerabilities of the writing life – frequent rejections, endless waiting, a gnawing sense of inadequacy, the indifference of the world, iniquitous recognition (if at all), among others. Michelle was laying herself bare in this post in a way few do – in this instance, about her inability to write as much as she targeted. But what made it even more memorable for me was the response by Tanuj. It was a long text… but that phrase jumped out at me. It was meant to console, reassure. I was, however, most moved by the tone: both tender and affectionate, it was a voice that was a cross between a mentor and a friend. Only the writer-friend of a writer can do this, I thought!

T.S Eliot had said that the best critic of poetry could only be a poet. That, any art could best be understood by a practitioner. He was talking primarily of the reception of art; but I think something of the same logic can be applied to the production of art as well. Nothing like the solidarity of fellow artists while one is hammering away, at whatever…! I can vouch for this myself. I felt this most keenly with my writing-group friends in Amsterdam. #GariahatJunction would not have happened otherwise. In Kolkata, I continue to write, of course, though I am not a part of any writing group here. Truth is, I wouldn’t have able to attend a single session, had I been. So, I have no regrets! I do have writer-friends widely dispersed across the globe, though, with whom I am well connected through Facebook. Gives me a sense of community to read and respond to their posts, get their feedback on mine.

The significance of this community has only increased during the pandemic — when the entire eco-system around writing has undergone a drastic change, like with all the other arts; in fact, all other fields of human activity.

It was a great co-incidence, therefore, when, a couple of months back, I read a repeat advice in an article by Vikram Chandra. Talking of his own practice, he said he aimed at 400 words every morning – after editing the previous day’s work.

I have agonized about the utter lack of time to write during these lockdown months… then, in a private aha-moment, I told myself I’ll follow the 400-word rule, and let Tanuj know he has done me a huge favour (without knowing it) by setting a do-able target. I’ve been trying this… with occasional success. But just when I thought of sending him a text, I saw a ‘Story’ by him: “Stoic selfie-face after worrying the whole morning if I’ll ever be able to write again and writing precisely 16 words”.

I was supposed to feel bad reading this, but it had a very different effect on me… I felt less alone in my misery. Told him so. As I wished him more productive days ahead, he responded with disarming good humour: “The target for tomorrow is 17 or more”!

This morning, I managed 560 words. Though I basically wrote about not being able to write, I am absolutely sure I am going to have a great day!