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Down the Writing Memory Lane of 2023

- Reflections of a year gone by and resolutions for a year to come: Part 2

Writer Smita Das Jain signing the copies of her debut novel A Price to Love


“The ending of a year is like closing a window. Even though it is shut, fresh light will still shine through.”

- Unknown



This is the second year in a row that I am penning this review, and my third year in my new careers. (Can I say they are new anymore?). The fact that I am writing this review gives me the confidence that I am doing some things right and am on track with my overall goals. It is also an opportunity for me to reflect with gratitude on the time gone by and take the learnings to a New Year. 


Before setting goals for the future, it is always a good idea to reflect on the past with gratitude, pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and sum up the learnings so that we are well-positioned to begin the New Year. We cannot change our past, but we can definitely make sure not to repeat our mistakes.


Besides, if you remember my last review, I had made a pact with you – dear reader – to share my progress, achievements, successes and failures every year before the New Year. I have come good on my promise this year. I hope my learnings inspire you to make 2024 the best year of your life.


2022 was a good year for me. When 2023 started, I was wondering if I would be able to replicate the success. I had prepared for the year by setting my goals for 2022. So the year was about executing my plans.


I am happy to share that by God’s grace, 2023 was an eventful year with a lot of achievements in both of my careers.


Taken Significant Leaps as a Writer and an Author


I had a lot to be grateful for during the year. I continued with my daily writing ritual, albeit with more flexibility now that the same has become a habit. I stuck to the writing plan made in 2022 and focused more on quality rather than quantity. This paid dividends for me.


My Writing Goals for 2023

At the end of 2022, I had set out the following writing goals for myself:

  1. Quality over quantity in short stories – Penning at least 20 and no more than 30 short stories during the year. Every story from my pen should have some meaning, and I wanted to develop my signature writing style

  2. Win at least 2 pan-India short story competitions and 1 international short story competition during the year

  3. Publish my third fiction book in 2023

  4. Finish editing and polishing the manuscript of the draft of the book written in 2022 for publishing in 2024 

  5. Write more book reviews- Do at least 20 book reviews during the year

  6. Revamp and update my writing website which was last done in 2021

  7. Speak at two to three literature festivals during the year

  8. Invest in myself as a writer- take some writing courses

  9. Read more. The target was to read at least 24 books in 2023—about 2 books a month

The above goals were for fiction writing. I had set separate milestones for myself in non-fiction, which I have mentioned in the blog post on my coaching site.


Behind the Pages: Glimpses of A Writer’s Life


1. Burnt the early morning oilevery day (almost)


I woke up between 5-5:30 am for most of 365 days in the year, including when I was sick, travelling or on vacation. For a few of these days, I forced myself to get up from bed, not looking forward to writing. On other days while travelling without a laptop, I took notes on my phone.

 

This is also the year where I started intentionally stepping back, giving myself permission to not write intermittently for one or two days a week to make up for my late night. I realised it was important for me to rest and recharge as a writer, for I am in this for the long haul.

 

I continued making incremental progress daily with the results starting to show up.


2. Followed my writing calendar


At the end of 2022, I made a list of publications and platforms where I would send my stories for consideration in 2023. At the beginning of every month, I simply looked at my calendar and knew for which platform I had to write and submit my entries. Additions—and in occasional cases, deletions—happened in the calendar throughout the year. Then I set about writing accordingly. This year, because of the focus on quality, I hardly remember scrambling to meet a deadline for submission in spite of other commitments and distractions — everything was smooth, and submissions were completed well before the deadline.

2022 Writing Calendar of Writer Smita Das Jain

Partial screenshot of my 2023 writing calendar


3. More than doubled the word count of last year


My Grammarly editor tells me that I edited more than 11 million words during the year using the software. The final figure for the year is likely to be more since the dashboard hasn't been able to provide the number after Dec 5th owing to some technical reasons.


Grammarly Word Count of Writer Smita Das Jain
Writer Smita Das Jain's grammarly screenshot

My 1.5 years Grammarly word count as of Dec 20, 2022 My 2.5 years Grammarly word count as of Dec 5, 2023


The Grammarly word count above only includes fiction and non-fiction written by me. It does not include the non-fiction content of my coaching blog which was written by my team and reviewed by me.


4. Sending Fortnightly emails to my Email Subscribers


I was regular in sending newsletters and emails to my site subscribers every fortnight despite the low numbers impacting my motivation. I am proud of the fact that I didn’t let the lack of motivation come in the way of discipline.


Draft Manuscript of Writer Smita Das Jain's A Price to Love

Image of one of the emails sent to subscribers



Writing Report Card: Progress Vs. Plan (And Beyond)


Here are my actual accomplishments against the goals I set for myself at the beginning of 2023:


1. Penned 32 short stories, 9 articles, 5 personal stories, 3 book reviews and 10 blog posts during the year


My emphasis on quality and selective writing during the year meant the completed short story count halved as compared to the past year. This was still slightly higher than the upper range of my target. I also diversified as a writer by attempting personal stories and articles centred around women’s issues  – an endeavour that resulted in awards and accolades. The power of personal stories to inspire and motivate was a serendipitous discovery that has led to my growth. Common interest subjects like ‘Mom Guilt’ and ‘Good Girl Syndrome’ proved to resonate extremely well among women readers. I also wrote blog posts on out-of-the-box subjects like ‘how fiction benefits leaders.’

 

The above count doesn’t include the blog post written by my team on the topics suggested by me which I have reviewed. Including those, I have crossed a century.


A story written by Writer Smita Das Jain on the Penmancy Platform
Writer Smita Das Jain's story published on Women's Web

Cover images of some of my published on Penmancy and Women's Web

                      

2. Won 2 prestigious pan-India short story contests and multiple prompt-based fiction contests and received a prestigious commendation for a personal story. Was also a finalist in 3 writing awards cum competition, including an international one.


The highlight of the year was being awarded the Bharat Award for Literature, 2023 for my flash fiction Purchased Love. The international jury of the award described the story as one that “belongs to the league of classic short fiction” and “an exceptional tale that carries many messages”—words that motivated me to better myself. My second attempt at historical fiction, Of Words and the Wordsmith won me the third prize at the prestigious Wordsweaver short story contest, adding one more anthology to my co-author credit.

I was also shortlisted as a finalist for the Women's Web Orange Flower Awards,2023 and Inspire Beyond Motherhood Awards.

Writer Smita Das Jain shortlisted for Women's Web Orange Flower Awards

Writer Smita Das Jain wins an honorable mention in WOW









Some Awards Won during the year: The Bharat Award for Literature and Inspire Beyond Motherhood


Some of the other key highlights and recognitions of the year include:


1.  2 of my stories won the prompt-based short fiction contests in my favourite writing community- Penmancy. 3 other stories got a special mention. This is out of the six stories I wrote on the platform during the year.


Fire to Ashes is one of the winning stories by writer Smita Das Jain
A leap of faith is one of the winning stories by writer Smita Das Jain

Snapshot of some short fiction wins on the Penmancy Platform


2. Wrote 19 short fiction, interview feature, personal stories and women development articles for Women’s Web during the year. All of them were featured pieces, and one of the personal stories was a winner in that month’s contest. 4-5 of these writeups were recommended as reading picks by the editorial team.


Smita Das Jain is Author of the Week on Women's Web
Smita Das Jain is Author of the Week on Women's Web

Snapshot of some 'Author of the Week' weeks on the Women's Web Platform

3. I was among the Authors of the Week for Women’s Web 14 times during the year – i.e. for 14/19 writeups. I was also consistently among the Top 10 Power Contributor Writers for Women’s Web during the year.

Writer Smita Das Jain is one of the Power Contributor Writers for Women's Web

Screenshot of the Women's Web Power COntributor Mail for the month of Dec 2023


4.  My flash fiction was shortlisted as a finalist in one of the contests by the U.S. based platform Women on Writing(WoW!) at the beginning of the year. It is worth noting that I submitted 18 stories and flash fictions to international publications. 1 out of 18 is a ratio that tells me I have a long way to go as a writer. I did miss my goal of an international win here.


While I am not disheartened, I do want to put the struggle in perspective – there are a whole lot of failures behind one writing success.

5.  I was also invited by WoW to contribute an article on Writing Techniques for aspiring writers. It was a surreal feeling when a prestigious international platform consider a writer like me worthy enough to share their experience with their global audience. The article Embrace the Blank Page was very well received.


Writer Smita Das Jain wrote an article on techniques of Daily Writing for a popular US ezine

Cover Image of my commissioned writing technique article published on US-based WoW


3. Published my third book – Twisted Tales and Turns: A Journey Through the Unexpected


The multi-genre short story collection was an experiment, a book intended as a thriller without containing what purists will ascribe as a conventional ‘thriller’ genre. The book – conceptualised and developed in three months – was as much an attempt to serve a diverse reading palette to readers as it was an invitation to the readers to reflect on the world around them.


Author Smita Das Jain's book Twisted Tales and Turns trending with Colleen Hoover and Jeffrey Archer
Review of Writer Smita Das Jain's book Twisted Tales and Turns

Snapshots of Amazon Rankings and Readers Review during the launch month of Twisted Tales and Turns


The reviews received were the best among my three books – 115 odd reviews within 6 months were heartening. So was the sight of young readers coming to me and sharing that they loved the book, which they picked up because everyone in their circle was reading it. It was humbling to read some of the remarks.


Writer Smita Das Jain at the launch of her book Twisted Tales and Turns

Precious Moments: At the book launch event of Twisted Tales & Turns

Then, in the penultimate month of the year, the copies from the book’s first print run were sold out, with the publisher going for a reprint. This was my second book in a row, after A Price to Love, that went for reprint. Nothing can be more of a testament to the fact of the book selling well than the reprint of a short story collection within a few months. Grateful.


First Print Run Copies of Author Smita Das Jain's A Price to Love is sold out

Publisher Announcement of the reprint of Twisted Tales and Turns



4. Finished writing and editing the manuscript of my next novel to get it ready for publishing in 2024


I wrote the first draft (‘Draft Zero’ as I call it) of a manuscript in 2022 in NaMoWriMo style. It had taken me a month to pen those 63.5k words.


By the time I picked up that manuscript for polishing and editing this year, as planned, I had decided to change the protagonists and premise of the story. This meant practically rewriting the entire story even while the skeletal plot remained the same. I rewrote the story and did four rounds of editing. It took me two months to do so and the 63.5k story became a 53.5k one. 10,000 words — equivalent to three-four short stories got edited out of the original manuscript.


That is what the life of a writer is — editing always consumes more time rather than writing something from scratch.

The story doesn’t end here. I was going through this process when Twisted Tales and Turns came out. After completing four iterations of the manuscript, I decided to invite three beta readers to go through the manuscript. Much to my surprise, I got a tremendous response and ended up having six beta readers on my team and closed out the invitation within 24 hours. The feedback was both encouraging and eye-opening; these readers pointed out certain angles and aspects that I hadn’t thought of.


Writer Smita Das Jain wins an award for her debut fiction A Slice of Life

Promo of invitation to readers for Beta-reading my next manuscript


I picked up the last version of the manuscript again at the beginning of December, after completing all the To-Dos of my 2023 writing calendar, and started incorporating the beta-readers feedback and doing the final round of edits. As a process, this is the longest that I have worked on any of my manuscripts.

The final version of my next work is now complete from my side and stands at close to 58k words. I can positively say that this edited draft is a lot better than the draft I had first started with. Will start with the querying process in the first quarter of 2024. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed that the publisher feels the same way about my work as I do.



5. Wrote 3 book reviews during the year against the target of 20.


This is an area where I need to improve on a lot.


As a writer, I know how much each and every review matters. I really wanted to read more and encourage my fellow writers. While my 3 reviews were honest, incisive and well-received, the quantity was inadequate from my perspective of contributing to the writing ecosystem. Further, I realise that reviews attract more traffic to my website than regular blog posts – so writing reviews is beneficial for me as well.


My busy schedule is not an excuse here. This is an area I am going to work on in the coming year.

One of the book reviews written by Writer Smita Das Jain

Cover Image of one of the book reviews written by me


6.  Refreshed my writing website for the first time after 2021


The first version of the website was made when I was a novice without any published book. By the middle of 2023, I had three books. So you can imagine the refresh and update that the site required.

 

Starting with a new logo at the start of the year, I took out the necessary time at periodic intervals and completed all the revamps that I had in mind – by myself without taking the support of anyone. I am happy to say that the website now fully reflects the journey and progress I have made in my writing over the years.

 The new logo of my writing website

 

7.  Spoke at 2 major literary festivals and 2 significant writing events during the year

2023 started with major lit fests and ended in the same manner. I had the pleasure of speaking and moderating panels at the Ananke Literature Festival(February), the New Delhi World Book Fair(February), the Orange City Literature Festival(November), and the Jashn Literary Carnival(November). It was an awesome experience to connect with fellow writers and reach out to more readers.


It was also incredible to see both my books (the third one hadn’t come out by the time) represented at the New Delhi World Book Fair – a large forum for a writer like me.


Images of some literary festivals and events during the year

  



 Interactions at the OCLF Nagpur Literature Festival 2023


Besides the major lit fests, I am also grateful for the chance to increase my reading audience through interactions like the PenKonnect with Penmancy and the conversation on stories with Readomania.

 

8. Invested in my development by taking up 4 writing courses during the year.


I hadn’t taken up any writing courses after 2021, and investing in my development as a writer was high on my priority list when I started the year.

 

By taking up 4 courses – 3 international ones online on stories and writing craft and 1 in person in India with the Himalayan Writing Retreat (actually did 2 courses with HWR, but considering the blogging workshop in the coaching count) – I exceeded my own expectations on the front.

 

As the world we live in evolves, it is necessary to keep upskilling and relearning your craft. I am a vocal propounder of upskilling as a coach, and I am glad to have walked the talk here. My perspectives have changed and my approach to writing has evolved after taking these courses. I am sure this has started to impact my writing positively, and I will start reflecting sooner or later. The courses were also opportunities to connect with fellow creatives and stalwarts from around the globe.


 With Siddharth Jain for the BooktoScreen Writing Workshop at the Himalayan Writing Retreat

 

9.  I read 10 new books in the year.


Reading is the fuel providing fodder for writing. Not every reader is a writer, but every good writer has to be a reader.

 

Regrettably, my reading time has gone down since the last 3 years I have become a writer. I had hoped to make amends this year by targeting to read at least two books a month. By reading less than one book a month, I have fallen woefully short of the target.

 

Citing the schedule, work and personal commitments etc etc would be excuses I don’t want to resort to. I need to improve on this front- no two ways about this.

 

10.   Cracked the literary magazine code – 2 of my stories got accepted into literary magazines


Every writer serious about their craft dreams about getting accepted and published in a literary magazine or journal. At least that’s what I think.

 

Even though I don’t consider myself a literary fiction specialist, I did aspire to get accepted in literary journals. A goal that sounded so out of reach that I had dared not set a formal target on this front.

 

I am happy to say that I experienced this happiness twice during the year. In the middle of the year, my story got accepted and published in Muse India ezine while the closure of the year saw my short fiction published in the reputed literary journal Kitaab.


 


Cover Images of my story published in Muse India and Kitaab

 

These acceptances are a validation of all the hard work I have put in and have made me more confident as a writer.  



11. The Writer in the News: Media Mentions


I found myself in the media 11 times during the year for my books and my writing journey combined. Prominent publications include The Times of India, Storizen, The Pioneer, The Hitavda and The Daily Guardian. This also includes a TV appearance on CNBC Awaaz providing my views on books and reading, and appearances on a podcast and HT Media YouTube Channel.


Writer Smita Das Jain in The New Indian Express
Writer Smita Das Jain in The Literary Mirror
Writer Smita Das Jain in The Daily Guardian

In the News for my Writing: Images of media appearances as a writer during the year





My Writing Goals for 2024

What can I do differently in 2024? How can I grow as a writer?

I put the same questions to myself that I had last year, and share my 2024 goals with you after reflecting on my learnings from 2023:


1. More rigorous focus on quality than quantity in short stories- Will pen no more than 20 short stories during the year. But each story will stand out and be meaningful. My focus is to empower, encourage and motivate readers with my words, and convert more fiction non-readers to readers through my writing.

 

The writing calendar I have made for 2024 reflects this focus on quality

 

2.  Win at least 1 major international fiction competition

 

3.  Publish my fourth fiction book during the year, which should reach more readers than my first three books did.

 

4.  Write the first draft and complete editing of my next manuscript for publishing in 2025  

 

5.  Review at least 1 book a month and 12 books during the year

 

6.  Read at least 15 books during the year


My Writing Journey… The Last Word for 2023


Writing is a passion that I indulge in every day. It is also a journey of hard work and rejections. I am fortunate to have achieved some successes and garnered lots of love along the way.


I can honestly say that rejections during the journey don’t discourage me – my resolve to improve further only gets stronger in the process. Perhaps this is what love is.


I have realised that the road to improvement doesn’t pass through a multitude of tasks but lies in doing a few things well. This is reflected in my goals for 2024. Looking forward to the year with hope and anticipation.


Thank you for keeping with me so far. Please continue to shower me with your love.



My Second Career: Journey as an Executive Coach and Personal Empowerment Life Coach


My journey as a coach was equally exciting and eventful as that of being a writer, with the revenues and impact from my business growing manifold. I have penned the blog post in a similar format at my coaching website here if you wish to go and read the same.

Writer Smita Das Jain is also an Executive Coach and TEDx Speaker

A Special Day: Photo from the day I became a TEDx Speaker

I am blessed to make a direct impact on the lives and careers of so many people through the work I do.


My Personal Round-Off for 2023

Last year was the first time I set some personal goals for myself so that I don’t lose sight of personal priorities during the quest for work. Having those goals helped.


My personal goals for 2023, and the progress under them are:


1. Travel at least twice with family during the year— 1 domestic vacation and 1 international vacation: I travelled on one domestic vacation, but the international vacation couldn’t materialize due to scheduling challenges. Not that I regret it, but here’s one more reason to look forward to 2024. I also travelled to my home town twice during the year, much to the pleasant surprise of my mother.


2. Make 1 solo trip: I made three 😊 Though all of them were for work purposes, I enjoyed them.

3. Give more time to family- block at least 3 hours every day for quality family time: Honestly, had forgotten all about this goal till I revisited it while writing this blog post. I know I have failed on this front, and this goal gets carried over.


4. Pay attention to health- Start doing some physical activity for at least 30 minutes every day before ramping it up to 1 hour: It was only in September that I started with the physical activity and am doing some exercise for 20 minutes daily. I will be more realistic here and set myself the target of half an hour of daily exercise.


5. Start maintaining a daily gratitude journal and end the day by noting the things I am grateful for: While I believe and have witnessed the power of this technique in the past, this is again a goal that I had completely forgotten about.


The above scorecard undoubtedly shows that I attach more significance to my professional than personal goals – something that I will look to make amends for during the year. Thank you to my husband and daughter for bearing with me. I don’t take my family for granted – it is time for me to demonstrate my belief through my actions.



Writer Smita Das Jain's Family Photo
Writer Smita Das Jain on a vacation

The pleasures of travelling and being with the family: Glimpses


Personal Goals for 2024


My mantra for 2024 is simplicity- be it in work or life. Accordingly, here are my personal goals for 2024:


1. Travel a lot more during the year – solo, joint, vacations and otherwise. I don’t want to put a number but definitely want to experience more of this beautiful world

2. Spend quality time of 3 hours every day with family – hoping for a better score on the front this year

3. Spend at least half an hour daily on some physical activity

4. Declutter my surroundings – simplify my life and do away with the redundant objects at work and home

5. Start maintaining a gratitude journal and write something in it every day – again hoping for a better score on this front.



The last word…I manifested the best year of my professional life, again


2022 was a good year for me. 2023 was even better. There were no shortcuts here; the results and accomplishments came by dint of hard work. Like last year, I continue to use manifestation as a tool to achieve my professional milestones.


Destiny is a choice.

2023 was the best professional year of my life. At the same time last year, I said the same thing about 2022. And I am sticking my neck out in pronouncing the same for 2024.

2024 will be the best professional year of my life. I will manifest the year I want for myself.


Do you want to make 2024 the best year of your life? Read my tips for the same here.



What if reality was a carefully crafted illusion, and every truth you thought you knew was a mirage?

                                                          Find Out in Twisted Tales and Turns

Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion and writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car, and the kitchen napkins. Her debut short story collection 'A Slice of Life' was named among India’s top three fiction works in 2021 by Writefluence. Her debut novel 'A Price to Love' came out in October 2022. Smita is the only Asian to be named in the Top 20 flash fiction winners list in the Spring 2022 contest of the prestigious US-based Women On Writing (WOW!) magazine for women writers, and her award-winning short stories have been featured in prominent national and international anthologies around the globe. You can learn more about her writings at https://www.smitaswritepen.com/


Outside the world of writing, Smita is an Executive Coach and Life Coach enabling people to get better at what they do, a TEDx speaker, a keynote speaker at prestigious corporate conferences and a guest columnist on personal development matters for leading magazines and platforms. You can learn more about 'Smita's Empower Yourself' coaching program at https://www.lifecoachsmitadjain.com/


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