How to describe a writer

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Last week, I had a meeting with a designer about setting up my website. We met at a café on a blazing Sunday noon. The sun was burning a hole in the sky; the air was molten lava, the city was dangerously close to bursting into flames. Temperatures in Delhi can shoot up to 47 degrees Celsius (—Fahrenheit). In a long and harsh summer, May is the cruellest month. Stepping outdoors at noon on a typical day in May is a feat. Medals must be handed out to those who dare to venture forth.

I took the plunge on Sunday because I really didn’t have a choice. The person I needed to meet was in town only for a day. If I didn’t sit down with him and figure out a plan for my website, I’d continue my existence as the last writer on earth without a website. Not that I minded. My writing life wouldn’t wither and die because of the lack. Words come to you whether you have an online presence or not. Website or no website, plots will be weaved, characters fleshed out, stories told. I am happy to continue my website-less existence, but other people – agents, publishers, writing fellowship administrators – seem to disapprove. A writer without a website in this day and age is a strange animal, they say. Give us an explanation for this state of affairs or forever be silent – I am warned.

I am not a hermit who lives on a mountain or in the belly of a cave. I am neither addicted to technology nor allergic to it. I use a computer at work. I do all my writing on my laptop. I waste a lot of time surfing the internet when I should be writing. I wasn’t making a statement by not having a website. I simply didn’t think it was the be all and end all of a writer’s life. Anyway, when I decided it was time to set up one, I found a designer who seemed to understand my requirements. We met at a café in my neighbourhood on the hottest day of the summer to talk things through. After complaining about the weather for ten minutes – a mandatory conversational requirement when people meet in Delhi – we got down to business.

We chalked out a plan. The look and feel of the website, the responsiveness of the design, the best way to order the content – the necessary details were discussed.

“Your bio goes on the opening page,” said the designer. “Best to write a crisp one. Start off on a light note, preferably”
My whole life flashed before my eyes. Many amusing incidents to report. Much lightheartedness in there. But how to pick one among several amusing incidents and make it the opening paragraph of a bio note? What if said incident didn’t amuse the people who browsed the site? Would I have to invent an incident to add the right touch of lightness? Being a fiction writer, was I expected to inject a dose of fiction into my bio note to amuse and entertain readers? Questions, questions….

Then I got thinking about writers’ bio notes in general. If we were to be honest, most of us could fit this description: XYZ is a cranky perfectionist. Obsessively revises everything she/he writes. Agonizes over every damn word. Is a pariah at social gatherings and family reunions because of a tendency to tune out of conversations and work out tangled plot details in her/his head. This habit drives XYZ’s friends/lovers/family crazy. XYZ is hungry for validation in the form of feedback on her/his writing. Has been known to ask people for honest criticism and then resent them for a lifetime for giving it. XYZ can quote a Shakespeare sonnet or a soliloquy from Hamlet from memory but she/he often forgets to pick up the dry cleaning. XYZ is a mix of bravado and agonizing self-doubt – a volatile combination. Approach XYZ at a party at your own risk. Never start the conversation with the question, “have I read anything you’ve written?” This triggers extreme responses in XYZ including homicidal thoughts.

Obviously this is not the sort of bio note you display in public. I am working on a more appropriate version for my site as we speak. Once I iron out the wrinkles and add the right touch of lightness, it’s going to sweep readers off their feet. I think it’s going to be the best damn piece of fiction I’ll ever write.

Vineetha Mokkil

About Vineetha Mokkil

Vineetha Mokkil is a writer and reviewer currently based in New Delhi, India. She is the author of the short story collection, “A Happy Place and Other Stories" (HarperCollins, 2014). Her first novel is in the pipeline. Mokkil’s fiction has appeared in the Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Cha: an Asian Literary Journal, The NorthEast Review, The Missing Slate and Sugar Mule Review.

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