Joel Thottan is the chief curator (app) of India’s largest storytelling platform, Terribly Tiny Tales. He has created trend-based content as a content creator. He’s also a dog-lover, a former Digital Strategist, and a writer who writes with brevity.
Starting his journey with TTT as a freelance writer, Joel has worked his way up then as Lead Brand Collaborator and Assistant Curator before stepping in and taking the app to whole new levels.
Storiyaan had the opportunity to speak with Joel, who spilled the beans on working behind the app, his passion for writing, and his journey with the platform.
Questions and answers
You were in a band earlier, do you still get together at times and perform, are you still in contact with them?
We played at college festivals, and we did it because it was fun to do. After college ended, we all went our separate ways. But I’m in touch with a few of them. We’re good friends. But we haven’t played together since.
You refused twice to get on board with TTT and accepted it the third time. Why did you refuse to join in the beginning? What made you change your mind?
As much as I loved writing, I came from an advertising background. The writing I was doing before TTT was reasonably different. And so I was scared and not too sure if I’d be able to adapt to the publishing environment at TTT. Believe it or not, it was my mom who told me I should give it a shot. Glad I listened to her.
You started your journey from BBH India, followed by Weaver Films and Daddy's Capes. How were those times different from now?
BBH India was an internship that taught me a lot. It was a proper mainline advertising gig. I got a chance to work on some cool pitches and had some work published all in a mere month. Daddy’s Capes was a full-time job I took up in my third year of degree college. I joined as their Copy Head. It was a proper e-commerce portal, and I learned a lot about digital advertising from there. I even worked on creating their new product lines. Weaver Films was a passion project that I co-founded with three friends. I used to write and co-direct. They were shoestring budget short films made purely because those were stories we wanted to tell. I miss it. Not much has changed for me even today since I’ve held on to the lessons I’ve learned on all those jobs and projects.
Is there something you'd like to change about the literary world?
I hope readers and publishers encourage writers to be more experimentative. It’s slowly happening. So I have hopes that we’ll get there eventually.
What was the first tiny tale you ever wrote, and what was your inspiration behind it?
The world called him a loner
The girl in the story thought otherwise
—It was at the first workshop TTT had ever held
The word prompt was ‘chai.’ The inspiration, however, was the 10-minute deadline.
You enjoy singing and have a phrase - ' Lines from a song I'll never write.’ Have you tried your hand at songwriting before, or do you wish to? Can we expect a song from you?
Never. I’m a terrible singer. But ‘Lines from a song…’ is a series I started because I had a ton of photographs and a lot of ideas around them that I just wanted to put out. It’s now a running joke because now I just put out more and more lines while the song never comes. I’ve never written a proper song before. And maybe someday I’ll write one. But I still won’t sing it.
You also used to work as a digital strategist for a year at FoxyMoron. What made you want to work as a digital strategist? What made you stop?
Foxy was a job I landed straight out of college. I had some great learning there, worked on some cool brands with cooler people, and had some fantastic clients. But eventually, the advertising part got to me. A lot of my former colleagues (and clients) there who had read my work kept telling me that I should look at a proper writing career. Then one day, the chance came, and I took it.
You say everyone is scared to do something in the beginning. What were you scared of the most when you started?
The most scared I’ve ever been was while traveling solo for the first time because all of it was new. What was scarier was the first airplane experience at the start of that trip.
How do you manage writing such beautiful pieces on your Instagram? What is your secret recipe for managing to say the unsaid?
There’s no recipe as such. I don’t like romanticizing the idea of writing. I always feel there’s a better way to tell every story, and so you push yourself till you think you’ve found that better way.
How does a regular Monday in your life look like?
Before the pandemic, it was changing four modes of transport, traveling with sweaty uncles on a local train, standing in a metro line, and walking to the office. Then working and coming back. Now, it’s more relaxed since I’m working from home. But now Monday looks like Tuesday, which has started to look like Wednesday. At the same time, Thursday and Friday are becoming doppelgangers too.
Can you share what your international short film was about?
‘Love, Her’ was a film for this NY based writing app called Letters. It was a 25-minute film- the longest I’ve ever written and was first premiered in Manhattan. And then screened through the app in more than 20 countries. It was about a writer who is stuck on his last story and ends up taking a journey to meet a girl who he converses with through a series of letters. It’s available on YouTube to watch.
Unlike many of us over-attached to the characters in stories we've weaved in our heads, your creations, by your admission, live in the constant fear of being killed, why so?
Haha, it’s just something I like saying as a joke, which started mainly because a lot of my friends and readers kept pointing out how characters in my stories always died. They’d message me saying- Please don’t kill someone in your next story. And then I’d just go ahead and kill someone in the following story again.
What are your views on the basics and essence of writing stories?
I feel that there’s already so much talk about how to write that people spend more time talking about writing than actually writing. Practice makes it better. That’s a basic rule I’ve always stuck by. Spend time on developing your voice, and you’ll do good.
Since its inception in 2013, TTT has come a long way. The platform has tales, talkies, and books being published. How would you describe your journey?
The best I’ve had so far. I worked across all the verticals at TTT- Brand, social, app, and books. So for me, I’ve had a great experience across the board. Plus, I get a chance to learn and do so much more with every project.
You love watching Malayalam movies, even when you don't understand the language. What about those films attract you to that genre?
I love the stories Malayalam movies explore. Like most regional films, they’re grounded in reality and simplicity. That’s what I prefer. I don’t like the whole song-dance routine, so for me, regional cinema and Malayalam cinema mainly has been a huge inspiration. Besides that, I’m a Fahad Faasil fanboy. So I love all of his movies and hope to write a film for him someday.
You also seem to enjoy photography, is it just a hobby, or do you think it might turn into a passion?
I already do a lot of phone photography. I like clicking pictures because then they eventually become the right trigger for a story.
How can one contribute to getting featured at TTT?
Attend a workshop and submit on the prompts shared. It’s the fastest way to get discovered. Besides that, you can also write on the TTT app, and if we love your work there, we’ll reach out.
Can you elaborate a bit more about the TTT app? How does the TTT app work?
Anyone can use the TTT app. Just download it from the Play Store or App Store and start writing (or reading). We’ve recently launched Bundles (mini-books) that you can read and listen to. You can also create your mini-book from scratch or assemble one from your already published pieces. So if you’re looking at writing a novella, the app might be an excellent place to post it. If we like it, it could become a film, audio/video show, or even get published as a paperback.
1. Reading or music: Music. I’m a terrible reader.
2. Favorite place for thinking?: My bed
3. Interesting writing quirk: I love writing in the dark
4. Favourite Brand: Cigarettes After Sex.
4. Cats or Dogs: Don’t make me choose, I love them both.