How To Pitch Articles to Magazines/Online Publications

Follow these easy tips to pitch an article!

I started freelancing last year & ever since, pitching articles has always been the most intimidating process for me. Now that I have applied to multiple places, multiple times, it’s no longer as difficult as it appeared earlier.

If you’re thinking of pitching to magazines or online publications, here are a few tips to keep in mind!

 Article idea:

Only having an article idea isn’t enough. You have to research and be able to back it up with facts. Once you have an idea, spend a day or two mulling over it, looking up for sources online, or making sure your idea is unique or hasn’t already been attempted. It’s important to ensure you’re invested in the article to be able to write from the heart. 

Understand the requirements:

Before you start sending out pitches, please go through the magazine websites to familiarize yourself with their submission guidelines, the kind of articles they publish, and whether or not they’re commissioning articles at the moment. A lot of the times a magazine already has enough materials & they’re not looking for articles. You can pitch the same article to multiple magazines if they fit the submission guidelines. Prepare in advance: This is something I prefer doing but you can choose to skip it. If I’m sure of the publication I want to pitch an article to, I always have a first draft written. It gives me an idea of what the article will look like, the estimated word count, and the structure. This is helpful when you sit down to write the email. 

Writing Samples

  If you’re starting out, look for publications that accept writing samples that are not published. Most of them want experienced writers who have had their articles published somewhere. But it’s okay, don’t feel disheartened. There are several more platforms where you can submit unpublished writing samples. 

 Choose carefully:

When you’re attaching the writing samples, choose the ones that mirror the ideology and style of the publication or is the closest to their agenda. You may write a sample that fits their requirement if you really want to hear from them( but it’s not mandatory). 

Now that we have the basics out of the picture, let’s get down to writing that cover pitch.

· Subject

Mention the name of the article in your subject line. The editors are flooded with emails everyday and they mostly don’t spend much time on a single email. To make it easier for them, it’s better to write the title of the article and get it over with.

· Body

Now every submission guideline is different, but most publications want you to give a short summary of 50 words explaining what the article is about. Here is where your creativity and email writing skills come to use. Is it a personal essay or a feature or literary criticism? Why should they publish your article? What is unique about your story? What will be the target audience? Why will the readers want to read it? The idea is to perk the editor’s interest in the beginning itself. Be as direct as possible. 

· Estimated word count

Remember how I asked you to have the first draft ready? Here is where it comes to use. Giving an estimate word count is always helpful and prepares the editor. A lot of magazines require you to give the word count. 

· Offer a proposed deadline:

Don’t be too ambitious & say you’ll submit the article in a day. But think carefully and give a proposed deadline. This makes the editor feel you’re not fooling around and that you’re serious about the work. Your deadline will also depend on your research; the people you want to interview, the field-work (if any) required for your article. 

Attach your writing samples, preferably 2-3. 

· Follow-up:

Magazines or any online publication receive hundreds of emails every day which makes it humanly impossible to reply immediately. If you haven’t received a reply, send a polite follow-up email, inquiring about the pitch you sent. A lot of editors don’t revert, so take this as a reply, and try sending out more pitches. But do not be disrespectful and hound them. 

· Be patient:

These are just tips. At the end of the day, your writing is what’s going to get you that writing gig. A lot of the times, it gets frustrating and you may want to give up. But that’s part of being a writer. Just keep at it.

I hope the above tips were helpful. If you’ve got something more to add, please let me know!

Till then, keep writing!

Meanwhile, check out this personal essay: Of Losses; big or small

My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy

There is gentleness in Zeba’s intimate story; the fragile relationship with her mother, the silences lingering between them, the possessive nature only a child can have for a parent, the way Zeba would want to know her mother’s movement, watching her like a hawk. Zeba grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia but both her parents … Continue reading “My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani: Identifying as a muslim feminist & dealing with patriarchy”

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson: A personal memoir of lost loss, and the search for love.

Winterson says, ‘Adopted children are dislodged. My mother felt that the whole of life was a grand dislodgement. We both wanted to go home.’ A harrowing childhood of being locked in a coal-hole, punishment by means of sleeping on the front porch all night, undergoing exorcism for having an affair with a girl, and spending most of your life feeling like you didn’t belong. With sheer courage and honesty, Winterson in her personal memoir, talks about being adopted in a Pentecostal family bordering on religious fanaticism. Mrs Winterson, as the writer addresses her mother throughout the book, was suffering from depression, fighting demons of her own and waiting for the Apocalypse. She believed she was brought into the world to suffer. 

Mrs Winterson despised happiness, as the word in itself was tainted with sins. Perhaps, she didn’t know how happiness felt like so she stopped her daughter from pursuing it herself. Jeanette’s love for the written word was soon stamped and punched to the ground by her mother who burnt all her textbooks. It didn’t deter the author because she started memorizing the texts. How can her mother snatch the words that were now written in her soul?

The title of the book is taken from Mrs Winterson’s admonition upon finding out Jeanette’s affair with a girl. She retorts, ‘Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?’

But the author also talks of the way words saved her from herself. The more her mother tried to drown her, the more she felt liberated. The power of language, of stories, of escape, wasn’t lost to her. The first half of the book is a tale of a wounded childhood, of the desperate need to belong somewhere. It’s also filled with lessons learnt the hard way. The second half, according to me, was written hurriedly as if the author was trying to see how it ends. Winterson went on to becoming a successful author, falling in and out of love before finding the ‘one’. All her life, Winterson felt, she wasn’t loved. How could she? Her biological mother gave her up for adoption when she was six-weeks old, and she was brought up by a tyrant who couldn’t see her as human. 

The quest to find her biological mother, Ann, turns into a rigorous path as Winterson comes to a painful realization; she maybe be adopted but her identity is shaped by her upbringing. She feels as far away from her own mother as she did with Mrs Winterson.  She says, ‘ I notice that I hate Ann criticizing Mrs Winterson. She was a monster but she was my monster.’

Despite the violent childhood and a series of ‘lost loss’, this memoir ends with acceptance. It directs you to march ahead, to always seek love where ever you go. 

My Blogging Journey and Celebrating 100 Posts!

Celebrating 100 posts and reflecting on the years gone by.

This is my 100th post.

I don’t know what people write in their 100th post because I sure as heck don’t know. I didn’t think a day such as this one had any possibility of becoming a reality but here we are.

I started my blog when I was in my first year of college. But let’s go back a little further. I started reading a lot more in the 11th standard, and would read in between classes, and on my way to school even though I was always drawn to reading, devouring all the books from the library, and buying books from the Scholastic book fair. But during my late teens, there was this need to read books at all times. I would be lost in the written word, finding solace and excitement and thrill. Naturally, my choices in books were questionable but gradually my reading taste changed and has continued to do so. While in school, I had developed a deep fascination for writing. I also started writing a lot of poems( which were a cringefest) but also short stories. So when I went to college, starting a blog seemed like the right thing to do.

I figured out the logistics (googled it) and created a blog named, ‘The Literary Cat“.

For the longest time, I would write under this blog name and changed it to ‘Books and Teaa’ only recently. I started off with book reviews, short stories, and then slowly went on to writing how-tos, and listicles. However, I was involved in a number of extra-curricular activities in college and my blog wasn’t the highlight at this point in time in my life. Throughout my under-graduation, my posts were sporadic, and all over the place. I didn’t start a blog to make something out of it or to become a full-time blogger—It was created because the thoughts in my head needed a home.

Fast forward to 2016, and I had just finished my post-graduation diploma and was pursuing a Masters degree. At this point in time, two things happened.

  • I was searching for a job, and pursuing an online masters. I had time to spare.
  • I stumbled upon Bookstagram.

Here’s where things started to turn around and by that, I don’t mean I started earning money through blogging. This was never my goal. I always wanted to be known as a writer and someone who likes reading books.

Blogging has been that corner of my life which I can pick up wherever I left. I always write whenever I have an idea that can no longer be contained in my head. Here’s when the words flow smoothly, my mind running at the speed of light spewing idea after idea, and the stories writing themselves.  It’s rewarding and satisfying but at the same time A LOT of work. I still don’t understand how WordPress works and there are so many things I can improve on my site. I would like to be more active, put in more effort, and be consistent. There have also been times where I didn’t want to think I have a blog. To be honest, I still wonder why people read what I write.

If I show you the stats, it’s going to reflect poorly on me, and probably expose me as a ‘fake’ person who only claims to love writing. But wanting to do something and actually doing it are two separate things. I still haven’t figured it all out, I still can’t think of blog post ideas, and I know I will not be able to stay as consistent as I would like to be. But that’s how life is sometimes. I like to think of my blog as a safe space devoid of any obligations. I cannot force myself to do things and I don’t want to make blogging a chore, a checklist I can tick off. And neither should you.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after all these years of blogging, it’s this:

The results are going to be slow. The views on your posts won’t be too high initially, you’ll have to promote your posts relentlessly, and even then you’ll have days where you won’t see any traffic on your blog. It’s going to get frustrating and you would want to give up. But this is exactly when you shouldn’t. The fact that you’re still sitting at your desk, typing away regardless of whether or not anyone is reading the posts is when you’ll know you’re doing this for yourself. And that’s when it won’t matter. 

 

 

 

 

In Conversation with Sanam Maher: Author of The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch

Sanam Maher gets candid about what prompted her to write, the difficulties she faced and what it’s like being a writer.

I read Sanam Maher’s debut novel, The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, back in May, and devoured the book within 2 days. The author’s crisp, and intelligent writing coupled with unsettling yet relevant account of the murder of the social media star, Qandeel Baloch not only made a huge impact on me but it also prompted me to delve further into the writer’s psych and have a few questions that were lingering in my mind, answered. Sanam is one of the nicest person to talk to and if you’re not following her hilarious IG stories, what are you even doing with your time?

To know more about the book, click here: The Sensational Life & Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Meher: A fierce and bold account in non-fiction.
Interview:

  • Qandeel had already created ripples through her online media presence, and had always been on the radar. What did you think of her back then?

Before I started freelancing and then working on this book full time, I worked as in a newsroom at a daily paper in Karachi. The first time I heard about Qandeel was in that newsroom, when a couple of guys who worked at the desk with me were talking about her viral “How I’m looking?” video. I looked her up and the little that I did see led me to want to do a story – I thought the piece would look at how young women are using platforms like Facebook and Instagram to push the envelope on how they can dress, speak or present themselves in Pakistan. I’ve long maintained a fascination with what we as Pakistanis do on social media and I thought Qandeel would be a great person to focus on for a piece exploring this. I would see Qandeel’s videos or photos whenever someone I knew would share them on Facebook, and then when it became popular to imitate her in DubSmash videos, but my piece was never written, lost somewhere between deadlines and switching jobs. The idea stayed with me, and I told myself I’d have time to do it later, to meet Qandeel later and to find others like her.

  • How did writing a book on Qandeel come to you?

In July 2016, I remember staring at the television the day news of Qandeel’s murder broke, and feeling stunned. I didn’t want to let go of her story once again. The idea of this woman who had managed to fool all of us – her audience and the media – and who had created this persona that we had bought into wholesale took root. I admired her gumption and the courage it must have taken to create the persona that she did.

Then, in the hours and days after, it was terrible to see the reactions online from many Pakistanis who were very happy that she had been “punished” for behaving the way that she did. I saw acquaintances in my own social media feeds having arguments about whether what had happened was right or wrong, whether Qandeel “deserved” what had been done to her. “Offline”, many of the men and women I knew were condemning Qandeel’s death but then, in the next breath, following their statements with “… but if you think about it…”

It was a moment when I was seeing friends and family members draw a line and very firmly position themselves on either side, and I think the last time I’d seen something like that happen – a moment that calls for definition or clarity on the question of how we see ourselves as Pakistanis and what we hope for or believe we deserve – was when Salmaan Taseer was shot and killed in 2011. The reactions to Qandeel’s murder have revealed two very different answers to the question of what it means to be Pakistani, and more crucially, what it means to be a woman living in Pakistan today. I wanted to tell a story not just about Qandeel, but about that moment and that definition. I knew that this book wasn’t just about Qandeel, but about the kind of place that enabled her to become who she did, and the place that ultimately found that it could not tolerate her.

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  • What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

One of the very first hurdles I faced was that I felt handicapped by never having met Qandeel. It was the first time I’d had to report on someone I had never spoken with, with whom I could not verify a single detail of anything I was learning about them. Try and think of your own life – imagine a reporter trying to find out everything they can about you. Who do you trust to tell your story? We show different facets of our personality to different people, and Qandeel was a chameleon. I had this trove of photographs and videos and interviews of this person, but at the end of the day, every appearance, video, interview, tweet or Facebook post was her in character.

With every new piece of information I received about her, I would feel, “Yes, this is it, I understand her now”, only to learn something else and be utterly confounded again. Everything I was learning about Qandeel in the interviews I did was secondhand information, and then there was the added problem of this information having been repeated so many times – particularly when it came to the principal “characters” in her life, such as her manager Mec or her parents – as they had been interviewed so many times, and continued to be, for news stories or documentaries on Qandeel. Qandeel passed away in July, and I started meeting these people two months later. By then, they almost seemed to follow a script each time for what they wanted to say. Their information was now coloured by feelings of grief or guilt or wanting to come across a certain way in media coverage, or understanding that certain things they said would help them stay in the limelight and keep the media interested in the story.

With all the news reports, gossip, TV shows and documentaries, I think many of us feel we already know Qandeel’s story – it was difficult to figure out a way to tell a story that people feel they already know, but ultimately, I realised just how little I myself actually knew, even after poring over every piece of information I could find out about her before I travelled to Punjab and started my own research and interviews. What we know so far has been coloured by the media frenzy around Qandeel’s murder.

  • You mentioned being stuck after your first week in Multan as the information about Qandeel was more or less scripted. How did you filter facts from gossip and hearsay?

Before I went to Multan, I had read and seen anything that had been put out on Qandeel and her murder. I believed I knew what had happened and I went to Multan with a plan to report on what I thought was a neatly aligned story. I was so completely confounded because most of the stuff I was encountering or hearing wasn’t being covered in whatever I’d seen and read so far. And yet, everyone I met was convinced that they knew ‘the Qandeel story’. I don’t want to be a part of that, and ultimately, I decided that I would use all the inconsistencies and lingering questions, the gossip and hearsay, to force readers to question their understanding of Qandeel and whatever she did. Its very easy to judge her and feel like you have her pinned down, but what if all you know about her was challenged? Throughout the book, I’ve included the little fibs that Qandeel told about herself, stories that sources told me that I knew were filtered memories and probably largely untrue or designed to make themselves look a certain way. This was my attempt to make the readers feel doubtful, and just when the reader feels as if they have finally “gotten” Qandeel, I wanted them to receive new information that made it all feel questionable. That was certainly my experience of researching this story.

  • ‘Not everyone seeks fame. Sometimes fame–the kind some people spend their entire lives courting, finds you.’ Do you think Arshad Khan, to whom fame arrived on a silver platter albeit unwanted was largely exploited by it?

When looking at Qandeel’s fame as a viral star, I began to think about how my generation of Pakistanis has been connected to the world like never before – what are we doing in the public spaces we are finding online? What does it mean to go viral in Pakistan? How are we building communities online in order to speak in ways that we may not be able to “offline”? What happens when we behave in a way online that seems to break the rules of how we are supposed to behave, particularly as women, “in the real world”? Something important that Qandeel’s story shows us about the ways in which we engage with social media is the constant trickle of information from online spaces into the greater public sphere – conversations and movements online are discussed on talk shows and in the news and so even if you aren’t on social media, you’re probably still going to receive information being spread there. What effect does that have?

In exploring these ideas, I met with Arshad Khan aka the Chaiwallah, as well as the men and women who are trying to patrol our activities online and monitor and censor us, and others who are determined to keep us safer and more vocal online – particularly in the case of women and marginalized or minority communities. Qandeel’s social media activity also gave me a way to talk about how we might be connected to a global space of ideas and possibilities online, but we’re still very much grounded in the society and culture we live in here in Pakistan, and through her story and some of the other stories in the book, you see the terrible ramifications that a clash between the two can have. I think with someone like Arshad, or even with Qandeel, when you’re dealing with an audience that is difficult to keep entertained, an audience that has an attention deficit and has so many competing avenues of entertainment, you have to figure out ways to keep upping the ante and giving the audience the next new thing, the next scandal, the next piece of gossip. Once someone like Arshad is thrust into a completely new world and that world loses interest in him, what happens to him? He may no longer belong to his old life, and he may no longer be interesting to people from his new life once the novelty of “the Chaiwallah” wears off – so what happens to someone who is caught in the grey space in the middle? That’s what I was keen to look at with viral stars like Arshad.

  • During research, did you approach the book as a journalist or a writer?

I still find it hard to think of myself as “a writer” or “an author”! This was definitely a work of journalism, albeit much longer and more complex than any other story I’d worked on – I’d never worked on a crime story, never had to deal with so many stories and figure out a way to pull it all together so it was cohesive. I think I approached it more as a reader, constantly asking myself what I would want to read and know about with this story, what could it tell me or reveal to me. I’d read and re-read bits of writing over and over again out loud in order to hear if it was too dense, if it wasn’t fast paced enough. I needed something that any reader here would find easy to get into and wouldn’t want to put down and get back onto Instagram again.

  • Do you read reviews of your books? How do you deal with them?

This is my first book, and initially I told myself I wouldn’t read reviews because I was so nervous about what they would say. Obviously I didn’t stick to that rule. I’ve had such a great time getting mini-reviews and feedback from people who follow me on social media, especially Instagram, that that helped me feel a lot less nervous and able to hear any criticism or critical points that I might see elsewhere. So far though the reviews have been very good.

  • What has been one of your most rewarding experience as an author?

Hearing from people who are buying the book not just for themselves but for their mothers or friends or siblings. Getting messages from strangers about how they really loved it, they understood what I was trying to do and they raced through the book because they couldn’t put it down. There’s nothing more gratifying than to hear that a reader lost themselves in your work, especially because I know how easy it is to ditch a book in favor of going online or scrolling through your social media feed.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I get asked this question a lot, especially from aspiring writers and journalists on Instagram. For me the most crucial thing, and its so basic, is to read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Definitely read one newspaper a day – its free if you go online, you don’t even have to pay for the physical thing – and read every section, including the pages you don’t care about (one of my favourite stories that I worked on came from a small news item in the sports pages). Don’t worry too much if you haven’t read “the canon” or “the greats”. There have been many times when I’ve said this to people who message me and I get replies about “but I get bored” or “but I don’t like reading the news” or “the news is boring” and most memorably one time, “This seems like a lot of work.” There really isn’t a shortcut unless you’re a literary genius. When you don’t feel like reading, watch things that are beautifully made, listen to a podcast or an audio book, but constantly train your brain to think a certain way, to hear well crafted sentences, to hear how conversations can be written. Its like a muscle that you have to just keep strengthening.

  • Lastly, if your novel was being made into a movie, whom would you pick to play the lead roles?

You might actually hear some news about this very soon from me! So I won’t spoil it or jinx it.

*Image Credit: Shehrezad Maher

Complete Guide to Writing a Smashing Book Review.

Writing a book review is not as daunting as you think. Follow these simple steps to write a perfect book review!

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL BOOK REVIEWER( IF THAT’S EVEN A THING?) NOR AM I CLAIMING TO BE ONE 🙂

With the start of 2018, I want to introduce you to a few tips on ‘How to write a book review’. Since the only thing I can consider myself competent in is reading and writing reviews, I thought I’d take the bait and write a blog post. If you’re in school or college, and are required to write a book review for your English paper or if you’re thinking of starting a blog or a page dedicated to reviewing books, then keep on reading. (Also, please overlook my sense of humor and sad attempt at sounding smart).

Let’s clear a few things right in the beginning. There is no ‘right’ way to write a review. Books are highly subjective and a review is not a testimony to the credibility of the said book. There are a number of books I loved which didn’t get GOOD reviews or in fact quite a number of books I HATED  with a passion that went on to becoming International bestsellers, but that’s the whole point. One shoe doesn’t fit all.

Now how I see it, there are two ways of writing a review;  Personal and Formal. Let’s understand what both formats mean.

  • Personal:  Here, you write whatever you feel about the book. You express your love for the characters, your admiration at how the plot was crafted and genuine applaud to the author concerned. In short, letting your emotions do the reviewing. Now you can do this either on your blog or Instagram page or your Facebook page. You’re taking a more informal approach to the book. Nothing is wrong with using this format. If this is how you’d like to review the book, then go ahead. YOU DO YOU. Of course, you will not be getting into the technical details of book reviewing i.e commenting on the narrative technique, plot, theme, writing style etc. You only focus on how you felt when you read the last line of the book.

Many people who don’t review books as a hobby or as a book blogger, adopt this format.

  • Formal:  Here, things get a little tricky. (Don’t worry, it’s easier than math, I promise). When you’re writing a review as a blogger, you need to be careful of not bashing the author’s work just because the book didn’t appeal to you. By this I don’t mean you should lie or sugarcoat information but instead use a more constructive approach. Let’s take an example:

    You were disappointed at the climax and you were expecting a different result but at the same time you found really interesting quotes in the book, and were impressed by the writing style. You then go on to mention what you didn’t like about the book, your concerns and tips on what could have been different while simultaneously praising the author for what worked for you.

    It’s really important to understand that authors are humans, and cannot produce work that’s going to be liked by everyone especially since we’re dealing with something as subjective as art.  If you’re a book blogger, you’ll get books for review by various publishers and even authors. Remember, constructive criticism goes a long way.

The following points should be remembered while writing a formal book review:

a.) Try to introduce the author and the premise of the novel in the beginning of the paragraph.  Preferably, a short summary of what the novel is about and what you thought of it. The reason behind this is that people are busy and no one really has the time or patience to read through an entire review.  As sad as this might be, with the onset of online reading and social media anything exceeding one paragraph is too much reading material.

b.) The second paragraph should be a more in-depth analysis of the book; what are the characters like, what problems they’re in, and how they try to overcome their problems, etc.

c.) The third paragraph should be about the narrative technique, plot, writing style and theme of the novel including other details such as how the author managed to put together important pieces of the puzzle and present a masterpiece or how it was inspiring or moving to you as a reader.

d.) By the fourth paragraph, you should be on your way to wrapping up your review. It’s more like a conclusion. Your final thoughts and the kind of reader base the novel can appeal to. For instance, if readers of historical fiction would enjoy a YA novel or not, or if crime mystery lovers would like to read a romance novel. Give a heads up to your readers of what they might expect from the book.

Now let’s talk about the format of this particular way of reviewing:

  1. You can either start the review by writing down the essentials i.e Author’s name, publishing house, rating etc followed by the blurb of the book. After you’re done filling in the above mentioned points, you proceed to write the review.  You can take a look at this post to get a clearer picture: Book Review: Option B
  2. OR after you’re done writing the entire review( taking into consideration all the technical aspects), you can write a short paragraph at the end narrating your personal thoughts about the book. I’ll give you an example:

All in all, the book appealed to me in a number of different ways. I could relate to most of the characters and their situations. Although, I was left disappointed by the ending, I think the book as a whole is a good read.

3.) Another way of writing the review is by filling in the details (author name,                           publishing house , blurb etc) at the end of your review.  This means your review starts in the beginning and then towards the end you mention the details. I personally prefer writing reviews this way and have only recently adopted this method.  Click on this review to get an idea: Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra: If you could read just one book, let it be this one.

4.) Usually the blurb for the book is written at the back. You can copy-paste it directly to your review or you can write a blurb of your own. To be honest, writing a blurb of your own requires practice and takes time. This, however, does not mean you shouldn’t do it. It’s credible if you can come up with your own blurbs.  It definitely adds a more personal touch whilst maintaining a formal approach. (The only time I wrote blurbs were when I was interning at a publishing house. IT WRECKED MY BRAIN)

These are some of the tips  I have learnt over the years. Like I said, there are many ways to write a review, but I tried to narrow it down as much as possible. Just keep in mind that you don’t have to follow these steps. You can mix both the formal and informal formats as and when you like 🙂

Please let me know if this was helpful or if there are other ways you like to write reviews. I’M ALL EARS.

Also, happy new year. 🙂

 

February Wrap Up

A month in books and reviews.

I hibernated in the month of february. Not much happened in terms of blog posts. I almost forgot I have a blog. (Sorry for the exaggeration). I suffered from lack of motivation and I decided no blog posts were better than poor quality content. BUT I did read 5 books, more than I read last month. Let’s take a look:

  • The Catcher In The Rye: J.D.Salinger’s novel talks about teenage alienation, a sense of abandonment, identity crisis and longing to find onself. It’s part of my second year syllabus and I personally didn’t like the book much. I know it is regarded as one of the finest pieces of literature the world has seen but it just didn’t resonate with me on any level. I had difficulty getting used to the writing style and I legit forced myself to read. It’s okay if its your favourite novel. No judgment. It didn’t appeal to me.

Blurb:

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

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  • The Boy In The Striped Pajamas: I think its one of those rare books that stay in your mind long after you’ve read it. I knew it would be heart-breaking the minute I started reading it. The writing is simple and easy flowing. You’ll get it done in just one sitting. I was devastated towards the end and I don’t think I will ever recover from the heartache. Also, I plan on watching the movie in a day or two. Hoping it lives upto the book.

Blurb:

Berlin, 1942 : When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences

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  • The Color Purple: Alice Walker is one of the finest writers the world has ever seen. The book is set in rural Georgia and is a story of a woman named Celie who is abused and beaten when she was a child and raped by her father. It is her story of self-discovery and her triumphs and joys. It’s heartwarming to say the least. I highly recommend reading this book.

Blurb: 

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence

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  • An Ember in the Ashes: Where do I start with this one? I think it’s definitely one of my top favourite reads of all times. I am not even kidding. An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy novel written by former American Washington Post editor Saba Tahir. Fantasy novels have never been my go-to genre ever. BUT I am so happy I read this book. It’s the first book in the An Ember in the Ashes series. The second book A Torch Against the Night was released last year in August, 2016. And guess what? The book will be made into a movie and is in development at Paramount Pictures. Guys, we’re in for a treat. I ordered the sequel the day I got over with AEITA because I needed answers. Please read this book. (I’ll post the review of both the books when i’m done reading them).

  Blurb:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

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  • Animal Farm: I guess most of you have read this masterpiece by George Orwell. It is an allegorical novella that was first published in England on 17th August, 1945. According to the author, the book is a reflection of the events leading to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stanlisnist Era of Soviet Union. It was chosen as one of the 100 best English Language novels by the Time Magazine.

Blurb:

“All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

One night on an English farm, Major the boar recounts his vision of a utopia where his fellow creatures own the land along with the means of production and are no longer the slaves of humans.

Before long his dream comes true, and for a short while all animals really are equal. But the clever pigs educate themselves and soon learn how to extend their own power, inevitably at the expense of the rest of the community.

This well-loved tale is, of course, a satire on the Soviet Communist system that still remains a powerful warning despite the changes in world politics since “Animal Farm” was first published.

This production is based on Orwell’s own radio version which was first produced in 1947.

 

What did you read in the month of Feb? March looks like a productive month. I also hope I will be writing more. See you. 

Exam Tips: Last minute study hacks.

Last minute tips and tricks to ace exams.

It’s that time of the year again.

Last year I wrote a blog post on acing examinations which was not very specific but aimed solely on how to study. Today I am going to attempt to write and explain to you some of the last-minute exam tips and hacks I’ve learnt over the years and I’m still learning. Since most of you will be appearing for your University and Board examinations, I thought I’d help you ease off a little. And as I always say, do not let these marks define who you are.

  • LEARNING: Most of you might be at the revision stage right now (kudos to you, I have no idea how that feels) but I’m sure or I hope some of you still have to learn the subject material. So how do you do that when you’ve got revision to do?
  1.  You start by picking one topic a day and scheduling it with other topics you have to revise. Don’t learn every thing on the same day. If you’re short on time and studying one topic a day wont cut it then use what I call, “Divide and Conquer”. This means that you study a new topic in the morning and take up another new topic sometime in the evening/night. You revise your subject material in between the ‘learning’. This avoids cramming. Your brain needs time to process new information so be kind and revise instead of continuously hammering your brain to function.
  2. Before you start a chapter, go through the previous years question papers and see if the chapter is worth spending time on. Since time is paramount, you can’t waste it on a chapter that’s only going to amount to 2-3 marks. Don’t come at me, nerds, I know even 1 mark is extremely essential. But you’d rather lose 10 marks than 1, right? Prioritise what’s important. You’ll realize that you’ll be feeling less stressed and are able to study more. If you find some extra-time, go ahead and tackle the 2 mark chapter.
  3. DO NOT STUDY THE ENTIRE CHAPTER. When I gave my boards, I was of the opinion that I HAD to study everything. Every chapter has certain topics that are more important and always have a chance of being in the question paper. Focus more on them.  If you’re certain about a particular question, practice writing down the answers. You’ll be surpised how much time you save in the exam hall. Which brings me to my next point:
  4. Practice writing. I have always advocated using a pen and a paper while studying. Really, it works wonders. Keep making sub-points while you’re studying. Seeing answers written on paper have a higher chance of staying in your mind. I don’t know how it works but recalling answers become 10 times easier. Be creative, use diagrams, flowcharts, acronyms, anything that will help you retain information. You might feel you’re wasting time writing down answers but then when you sit down to revise, it’ll take you less time.(If you followed my advice of writing answers, you’ll already have a set of notes prepared. SEE WHAT I DID THERE? HA!
  5. Something I discovered this year was studying using Youtube. I gave my first year MA exams and was OBVIOUSLY behind schedule. Since I was required to read a lot of plays and novels and all that cool stuff, I realized watching videos on certain dramas helped. For instance, I read and watched, Dr.Faustus. I was not very sure of the context of the play and watching Youtube videos helped. Visual learners are in for a treat with this. I’m sure there are several videos on various subjects out there. Check out Salman Khan Academy, CrashCourses if you’re short on time and can’t find a quick fix.
  • ORGANIZE: I am still understanding what organization stands for. But I’ll try to break it down.
  1.     To-do-list: Make a list of the things you have to study for the day as soon as you wake up. This helps a lot. You kind of get an idea of where you stand and what you need to do. Also, ticking off things from the to-do-list is the single most best feeling in the world. Take it one day at a time. You have to try to stick to the list you’ve made if you want to avoid wasting time. BUT and there’s a big but, do not make a list that’s ambitious. I know you want to make the most of your day but always keep sometime for relaxation. Being well prepared is not directly proportional to 16 hours of studying. Even if you study for 4 hours with breaks in between, you’re doing fine.
  2. Test yourself. I think the best way to find out what you’ve learnt is to attempt question papers right after you finish a chapter. This works pretty well for me. You can dig up previous years’ question papers and see if you’ve understood the material. Again, this might not be the case for you. Maybe you’re better off answering questions after a revision. Great, do that.
  3. Study with a friend. I remember studying with my best friend for my 10th boards and during under-grad and we used to update each other on what we studied. Not only does it give you the encouragement you need, it also makes studying fun. And if you’re someone who is competitive, you’ll make sure you study way more than your friend does.
  4. Take regular breaks. Since you’re studying a few days before the exam, it might not be possible to take breaks often. What you can do is study for 2 hours and take a break for ten mins. No matter what you do, your brain needs time to process. Jumping on to different topics won’t help. I’d rather spend 10 mins watching cupcake videos then cram. (At least, I’ll learn something). I don’t think I need to say this but keep yourself hydrated at all times. Keep snacks and drinks at your disposal to avoid wasting time.
  5. If you’ve been trying really hard to study and are not able to focus at all, leave it for the time being. Just go for a walk or listen to music and come back to it. Forcing yourself is never going to work. If you find yourself still struggling, move on to the next chapter or a different subject. Tackle it again the next day or after a day or two. Sometimes you have to take a detour to find yourself home. *mic drop*
  • FOCUS ON YOUR WEAKNESS:  We all have THAT one subject that makes our insides curl and gives us nightmares. For me it was maths. I HATED IT. I no longer have to study numbers( Thank heavens for that) but I still get jittery when I think about it. Try to devote each day on such a topic. I know it’s hard but that’s the only way you’ll be able to score well. If it’s maths for you, then practice maths more than you would normally do. If it’s history or geography, study half a chapter or a full chapter everyday. The idea is to stay in touch with the subject so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming a day before the exam. If you score very well in all other subjects but don’t score well in one subject, your total goes down drastically. That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid.
  • STOP COMPARING:  I cannot stress how important it is to realize who you are and what your battles are. Your dreams are different from your friends. You’re not the same. Don’t get bogged down by what your friend is accomplishing or plans on doing. It’s easy to feel lost but losing yourself in the process sucks more. Just do your thing.

Please remember, these exams don’t carve out a future plan for you. Sure, it helps you get into a good college et cetera but they’re not everything. Don’t burden yourself with what others expect of you. Focus on what you want the most and never compromise on your mental state over something as trivial as exams. I say this from experience. Most of the things you’re worrying about won’t even matter in the future. Give your 100%. That’s all.

The above tips are very subjective. One formula does not work for everyone. I hope It was of some use to you. Do you have a study hack I could use? Let me know!

 

9 Study tips to ace your exams

DISCLAIMER:  Before I begin, I’d like to make it clear that I’m no expert or know-it-all when it comes to effective studying but the following are a few tips or hacks that helped me during my university exams in college. If you’re someone who studies at the last-minute, then keep on reading! Also, all the tips are very subjective. Some might work for you, others may end up being a total fail.  It all depends on the kind of learner you are. 

 

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First things first, it is extremely important that you don’t panic. I understand that’s not possible but stressing out makes it all the more difficult. You have to take an exam in 2 days and you haven’t started studying or even worse you don’t even know what’s in the syllabus. So what? Try to relax , take a few deep breaths and forget about what “could” happen. Focus on the task in hand which is figuring out what you have to study.

 

  • Stop Procrastinating: STUDY. KEEP YOUR PHONE DOWN AND STUDY. It’s crunch time and you hardly have any time left. You should understand that you’ve wasted your entire year on TV shows and eating  and now is the time to get your act together.

 

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  • Study smartly: If you’re a Calcutta University student, you’d be familiar with the pressure and load that the syllabus entrails. Do not get intimidated and be practical. It is not humanly possible to study everything (unless you have a photographic memory then why are you even reading this?). Choose the topics that you think are important. Usually the professors inform you of the chapters that are more significant than the others. If you’ve accidentally paid attention in class then brownie points for you! If you didn’t, like most of us, then figure out what needs to be tackled first.

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  • Study Partner: Having a friend or a study partner or a study group makes studying a lot more easier ( I wouldn’t say fun because let’s face it you have an exam in two days). If you’re stuck, your friend can always help you understand the topic in a better way. I realized this worked best for me because I knew I wasn’t alone and also constant motivation and break from rigorous studying.  Here’s a little picture for motivation 😉

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  • Refer to previous years’ question papers: One of the most essential studying tips is referring to past years’ question papers. Understanding the question pattern is half the battle won and looking back on earlier questions gives you a decent idea of what the probable questions can be. I’m sure you did this for your board exams back in school so just continue with this tradition.  I’d suggest looking back at last 5 years’ questions.

 

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  • Understand more, cram less: Mugging everything from the page number to the index of your book without understanding is NOT going to fetch you marks, leave alone getting good grades. Cramming is an ineffective study method. You’re not a parrot who is to repeat everything in exact form. Try to grasp the content that you’re seeing, make your own interpretations and remember the key points. It not only saves time but helps you broaden your mind about the subject. If you’ve understood the topic well, you can write.

 

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  • Time Management: The most common pre-exam mistake we all make is studying for hours at a stretch. Stop it right away. Take a topic, study for an hour at first. Try to finish majority of the portion in that one hour. After that, take a break of say 5-10 minutes and then continue again. Start another topic, study for an hour and take a break. The break helps you retain what you have learnt and allows your memory to take in more. It is essential to stick to your time schedule. You learn faster and retain better. Remember the break should not be more than ten minutes. (Utlilise your break by checking every social media possible because social obligations)

 

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  • Write and Learn: I’m aware that writing and learning a few days before exams is impractical but it has helped me immensely. I’m a visual learner and I prefer jotting down everything I’ve learnt. Writing down what you’ve studied means putting down all the key points from your memory. I think it’s a great exercise as you find out how much you’ve learnt and at the same time you have effective notes prepared that you can leaf through on the big day!

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  • Mnemonics: “A system such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations which assists in remembering something.” What am I even talking about? Well, Mnemonics means associating things to a particular pattern or events or names that assists in memorizing better. It improves memory. If there are sub-points that you need to remember but are having difficulty retaining then you can associate them to an event in your life or any pattern. Let’s take an example:

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