Okay, let’s put all of you in a petri-dish. Yes, you, you aspiring novelist who abandoned your book so many times over that you’ve lost count. Now, let’s bring out the lenses of introspection and look hard. What cultures do we see?
Ah, expectedly we see some patterns here, some scenarios playing out like repeats of that 2000s US sitcom that fills up post prime-time slots.
Scenario A – The Non-Starter: You’ve read some recently published novels and you’ve thought, “Hey, I can write better than this,” but you, er, didn’t, because you haven’t started.
Scenario B – Busy Drone: You have written a few pages, even a few chapters but then there is that desertion because you are a busy, busy executive or a busier home-maker. You try and write once in a while but abandon it soon enough because, Hey! There’s work to do. And, that niggling feeling of guilt pokes you now and then like that annoying FB poke (flirtatious or courteous or what??), and you don’t know how to respond.
Scenario C – The Lost Writer: You write, write, write and delete; there is an infestation of those self-doubt pantry moths that have settled down comfortably in colonies in the right side of your brain. Or, you write, you’re lost, plots fall apart, your characters reel out of control mouthing inane dialogue like Sunny Leone in Jism 2 and you don’t know what to do or how to proceed – some people also call it the Writer’s Block
So, whichever scenario you fit into, here are seven steps that work!
7 Proven steps to complete your book
1. Brainstorm Solo:
Put fingers to a word-processing document and type out everything that comes to your mind – the genre, names of your characters, place where your story is going to be set, some killer original one-liners that you have been holding inside you right from your school days (the ones you always thought you’d use in your book 🙂 – yes, I know), events that will shape the story, places where you want to set scenes , family members of your characters – anything that is important to you. If it looks like a random grocery store list – congratulations!
We’ll call this THE LIST.
(Dear Non-Starter, this works very well for you but others too can choose a topic off this list when they encounter the famous ‘Block’)
2. Draw out a writing schedule:
Yes, like a time-table. Oh, but you never followed those self-made timetables did you? Okay, then make a really simple plan – begin by writing 100 words a day and write every day. Popular consensus is that a novel is about 70,000 words or more. 100 words is not a lot – it’s the length of 4 or 5 text messages, two FB status messages (sometimes just one!), 3 tweets, a smallish conversation on your BBM or WhatsApp messengers and pretty much the length of this paragraph.
The good news? Once you write every day the word count will increase. By the end of the first week you might be writing 500 words or more every day, because, yes, the writing flows naturally, (maybe, just maybe, you’ve found your style). And, because it has become a habit.
3. Leverage Technology (or invest in a journal or both):
So you have a smart-phone. And a tablet. And a dozen Apps that allow you to “organize” your life on-the-go. Use them to write. On the days you are stuck in the commute write into Notes and then email it to yourself. The key is to keep writing. A friend of mine wrote an entire essay as a series of SMSes to herself!
Some would advise you to lovingly nurture a writer’s journal, a little notepad where you make notes – things you observe as you go about the day – people, conversations, the whistle of the pressure cooker, fat-man’s swimming splash – whatever that would make writerly sense (and plot sense as you write). Refer this and ‘THE LIST’ each time you write. You’ll surpass the 100-word mark in no time.
4. Think Quantity as much as Quality:
Don’t delete a sentence because you don’t like it. Keep churning out the words like how a barrel-type butter drum churns out cream in a dairy. It is important to churn out the first draft. Remember, there will be multiple drafts (read: many, many editing opportunities) of your book before you can begin talking to literary agents or publishers.
The idea is to bring out everything. Refer THE LIST, tick off “topics” you’ve written, strike off ones that don’t make sense anymore and if you slip into The Lost Writer zone, it’s time to make another list.
A word of caution, it is easy (and tempting) to force-fit that killer one-liner or a paragraph of lilting literary prose into your day’s work to complete word count or because you can’t bear to see that going waste. Make a decision – if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t belong. Keep it aside but keep writing.
5. Give your book mind-space:
Constantly engage with your book. Think about the problems of your characters, think about resolutions and keep the plot going in your head; ideate, imagine, mull, think – while you are running on the treadmill or sitting in a Churchgate–to-Virar bound train.
Or taking a chai-break at work. You’ll feel the familiar poke – of words and this time you’ll know what to do – pull out that phone or journal and write.
6. Understand what works for you:
This could be the time of the day or finding and fixing a writing slot within an existing routine. It’s often said that an established non-writing routine is the biggest impediment to writing. When will you write those 100 words (and the more to come)? Mornings? Noon? After-work? Only you know the answer.
A possible answer is, “when there’s so much to be written, I can’t hold it back anymore”. And, only you can get to that point. Think THE LIST, THE JOURNAL or PHONE.
7. Kill Those Pantry Moths:
Yes, those colonies that have infiltrated your brain, yes those that tell you that your writing is not good enough. Remember those are moths, you are a person with skills and resources. Firstly, ignore the voices by writing anyway. Then, kill the voices with strategy – tell yourself, “Today I am going to write about how X finally files for divorce” or how A proposes to his lady love.”
Ernest Hemingway’s famous advice to a young writer: The best way is always to stop when you are going and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it - Monologue to a Maestro: A High Seas Letter, published in 1935 in an Esquire article.
Look at THE LIST, think of Hemingway – there will always be something to write about.
How am I so confident that these ideas work? After abandoning my book twice at a time when I worked for an insurance firm full-time, using the steps mentioned here I finally completed my literary fiction novel set in pre-partition India. The book has been accepted for publication by a reputed Indian publishing house and is expected to come out later this year.
Write first, polish later. Your first draft will make you feel proud of yourself and as you sit atop the famous pyramidal hierarchy of Maslow, self-actualized, the moths will be nowhere. Guaranteed.