Thursday, December 24, 2015

Looking To Write Your First Novel, Eh?

(Cross posted from my FB page here - you may as well go and like that for more regular updates. But I'd love to hear your comments to know what you'd like to see more of on the blog in 2016. Merry X'Mas and a Happy Happy New Year, Folks!)

A lot of people are apparently looking to get that book inside of them OUT into the world, and they often reach out to me for advice. The most recent reach-out was a conversation I had with someone two days ago - an ex-batchmate from IIMB who said he's inspired by 'you guys' - referring I presume to Karan Bajaj, me and a couple of others from our batch who've churned out a few books.
I had about 5 minutes to give him some stuff about writing and publishing, and here's the gist for anyone else who might find it useful.
1. Get your idea and a basic plot outline in place - who's the protagonist? Their goal? Obstacles? Can you see a climax? A resolution? The basic outline of any story contains these elements.
2. Do some reading to inspire yourself - a lot of writers swear by Stephen King's 'On Writing'. I recommend it too, although I found a couple of suggestions didn't work for me - for example, having a plotline doesn't seem to be high on his priority list! Still worth a perspective.
3. Do some further reading to kick yourself some more - read Stephen Pressfield's works - 'Do the Work' and 'The War of Art' where he will help you figure out what it is that's stopping you making progress on projects most important to you -the 'Resistance' you'll naturally find.
4. Write, write, write - find your own rhythm. Some people write 1500 words a day. When I'm writing, I try to do a chapter a day, but sometimes fall short. I try to write for 1.5 hrs a day. It helps to try and write at the same time each day, if possible. Figure it out for yourself - I've tried mornings as well as late nights and they've both worked. Check when you can fit it in. 1.5 hours is what I recommend, based on a wonderful video by John Cleese, who summed up why you need that much time ( because you'll spend a lot of time fighting resistance)
5. Use little rewards that work - one of the things that really helped me - figuring out that if I ''allowed'' myself to waste 5 minutes on Facebook or general internet surfing before I started to write, it really helped me avoid feeling distracted while I was actually in the flow of writing something. Naturally, you're better off switching off from the net completely when you get down to writing - this is because (interestingly) it helps you avoid the temptation to check that new update and this in turn saves you energy.
6. Energy management - hoo boy, this has been important for me. I've found that I'm one of those people who really needs a bunch of different activities to keep me going. I switch between music, my kids, my work, reading and a bunch of other things through the day. I also find that if I write for too much in a single day it actually drains me rather than energizing me. Again, you'll have to find your own sweet spot.
7. Don't self edit - this is one of the most important things to keep in mind. I tried writing in 2006, and showed my husband the first couple of pages. I didn't write again till 2010. It wasn't his fault. It was mine for constantly seeking validation, and worse, evaluating myself before the the work was finished. Just resist that temptation to read and judge your own work. Get the first draft in place. What helped me tremendously was a post I read once which referred to the process as 'making mud'. I was like 'yeah! mud doesn't have to be pretty or's just...mud.' The base. The foundation. Go for it and don't look back till you're finished.
Yeah. That's it, then. My top 7 tips for writing your first novel. Needless to say, a command over the language helps. And that comes from reading. To borrow from Stephen King's book - he suggests that you 'Read, read, read' as well as 'Write, write, write.'
Final word - publishing itself.
Honestly, when people ask me for publishing contacts, I tell them it's actually as simple as looking up publisher's websites and finding their submission IDs. I got many responses from different publishing houses that way. I don't think publishers have ever been as accessible or as open to new writers as they are today. The battle is really creating that piece of work which you can convince them deserves publishing. It's always much better if the work does the convincing by itself.
Therefore, read points 1 through 7 and just start already, dammit, rather than being one of those annoying people who go about saying ''I've always wanted to write a book but I just didn't because of XYZ''.
Seriously, that would suck big-time.

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