Writing

To Hell and Back – My Writing Process

A budding writer recently connected with me offline and asked me how I write my stories. My initial reaction was ‘Duh, I just write them.’

But I realized, that’s not really true. After 30 published stories I have a fair bit of process. There is quite a bit of thought that goes in and I do have a process, if not an elaborate one.

First things first, I maintain a document listing out my ideas, and another one for prompts I collect. When it’s time to write a story, I choose one from either, and then I percolate the idea a bit, let it stew in my brain for a day or two so that I have my characters and scenes in place. This is what I call focused daydreaming, and it’s important to the outcome. For me it’s not even during the day – my go-to time for plotting out stories is usually in the minutes before I fall asleep, because that’s when the best ideas hit me.

A day or two later, I start writing. If the story is clear to me then I start typing straight away in Word. Many times, however, I’ve preferred instead to write by hand in a notebook and at some point, transfer the contents to a document. The point at which I transfer varies for each story. Sometimes it’s after a page or two, other times its almost until the end. I don’t always write the entire first draft by hand.

Once I’ve written it out completely, I close the document and forget about the story for a week, longer if possible. When I return to it I do so with a blank slate and renewed focus, and realize that all those quirks I deemed brilliant are not really so.

Then it’s back to the drawing board. I hit ‘Save as’ and create a version of the doc with a tentative title suffixed by date. I’m a programmer so I’m obsessive about version control 🙂

The title I choose initially may have nothing to do with the story, and may land up being just a descriptor, like ‘Friendship breakup story’. I brainstorm titles much later.

I edit the story once, then return to it again after a day or two. This cycle repeats until at some point when I feel it’s good enough, I send it out for feedback to one of my many writing peers. Or if it looks like I might miss a magazine’s submission deadline, I just go ahead and send it with the version I think is best. I try critiquing it as critically I can on my own, but of course it’s always best when another pair of eyes has looked at it.

Then comes the time for submission, which is a separate whole post by itself, but I’ll summarize here. I first try to find markets that have themed issues where my story might fit. If I analyze my published stories and even essays, I find this has the most chance of success. Apart from this, I search up to 5 venues where my stories might fit best.

If the first five lead to rejection (as it usually does!), there’s always the next five and the five after that! So on and so forth the process goes, until its either time to shelve the story or clap your hands in joy because its finally published!

So that’s my process. Not really rocket science, is it?

What’s your writing/creating process like? Any tips you would like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

Writing

Short Story Month

Crickets have been chirping here for close to a month because I’ve had no time to pen a blogpost due to health issues in the family. In lieu of all the writing I could have done, I instead did some spring cleaning on my writing-related folders, though we are firmly in the thick of summer here.

May is celebrated as Short Story Month. There’s even a website and a challenge associated with it – write a short story every day in the month of May. If you want to try it even now, you can sign up here. You will get a prompt for each day which would result in at least a flash piece if not a full-fledged short story. I find a short story (of around 3000 words) takes between 3 days to a week to finish the first draft. If I let it linger any longer than that then the story idea and the excitement that drove me to write it fades just a little.

I have never been brave enough to attempt this challenge. The most I’ve done is write one short story per month and even that’s a pretty good pace for me.

Lit Hub has compiled an excellent collection of links in celebration of Short Story Month, including a look at one of the best short stories ever.

Some of my favourite short stories (mainly from the pre-Internet-era) include:

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

I read this story as a tween, and it has stayed with me ever since. Any story by O. Henry is a pleasure to read, but this is one of the best.

A Temporary Matter by Jhumpa Lahiri

The author’s debut short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999, and quite deservingly so. This story introduces the collection, and one of the best of the lot.

Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger by Saki

Saki was the pseudonym of Hector Hugh Munro and there are several stories of his that are more popular, like Sredni Vashtar. I read this story Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger in school, and enjoyed it a lot, especially the humour in it.

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant wsa another prolific genius writer of short stories, and this is one of his most famous twist-ending stories. Read it here.

The Luncheon by W Somerset Maugham

One of the funniest short stories by the great W Somerset Maugham. Though his novels are filled with pathos, this particular story wins on humour and irony!

What are your favourite short stories? Are you writing any short stories right now? Let me know in the comments below!

Writing

Rules of Writing

In a bid to improve my writing, I soak up tons of blog posts and articles online hoping that they contain tiny little nuggets of advice that will prove useful for me. Let’s be frank – not just prove useful, I hope they’ll transform my writing and turn me into a Booker-winning author. Perhaps that’s just a teeny bit too ambitious, but a girl can dream, right?

Websites like Brain Pickings, The Guardian, Aerogramme Writers Studio routinely run a series of these compilations of tips from various bestselling authors. I’ve amassed a whole collection of them!

First learn the rules then break them

Check the resources below and let me know your favourites!

Rules of Writing from 35 writers

Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers

George Orwell’s tips for Effective Writing

Joyce Carol Oates’ 10 tips on Writing

Jonathan Franzen’s 10 rules for writing fiction

PD James’ 5 bits of writing advice

Hilary Mantel’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

Michael Moorcock’s Ten Tips for Good Storytelling

John Steinbeck’s Writing Tips

Michael Morpurgo’s Rules for Writers

Sarah Waters’ Rules for Writers

Zadie Smith’s Ten Golden Rules for Writers

The tips in Roddy Doyles Rules for Writers make sound sense:

1 Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

9 Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.

I like this one the best for the utter simplicity of the rules:

Neil Gaiman’s Eight Rules of Writing

Do you have any tips or rules that you always follow? Which is your favourite set of rules? And who’s the writer whose tips have helped you the most?

Writing

Writing – Expectations vs Reality

All those years ago, when I picked up a pen for the express purpose of writing a humor piece, little did I know I’d caught an obsession that would last so long. Despite brief breaks and gaps when I never picked up a pen for months on end, writing has proved a steady and loyal companion through the years.

But there’s no doubt that the life of a writer I had pictured did not match the reality!

1.         Writer’s expect: Words to flow easily from the pen like so many rolls of silk being unfurled

The Reality: They don’t, not without regular practice, and even then it’s like pulling teeth.

2.         Writer’s expect: to love writing always in every moment and forever more.

The Reality: Not always. The days when the words aren’t coming or rejections clog the inbox do not really feed the muse.

3.         Writer’s expect: to write everyday

The Reality: Again not always, for a host of reasons – no time, no energy – physical or emotional, fear of failure, fear of success. Sometimes editing/revising/marketing/pitching will take priority.

4.         Writer’s expect: that every piece will find a home

The Reality: Ironically some of our favourite pieces might never find a home or take an incredibly long time to do so. Do I speak from personal experience? Nah! Every story I’ve ever written has found the perfect home LOL!

5.         Writer’s expect: Increased Practice means improved quality

The Reality: This one’s so close its almost 100% true, except that one also needs to diversify the type of writing they’re doing and focus on targeted practice.

What differences have you found between the dream of writing and the hardcore reality of it?

Writing

Ten Things I Love about being a Writer

Last week I wrote a post listing out all the things I hate about writing.

This time let’s look at the flip side. Here’s some of the things I love about it:

  1. It makes one feel alive
    Without writing I’d feel bored and bereft in life.
  2. Helps you learn new things about yourself and the world
    When you write something new, you invariably land up learning something new as well, even if you’re mining from your own life.
  3. It juggles the brain cells and makes you creative
    Monsieur Hercule Poirot would always let you know the importance of “ze little grey cells, mon ami!” and I’d agree with him.
  4. The sound and feel of a well written passage….
    …is just music to the ears!
  5. Keeps you on your toes
    Everyone knows walking or any kind of exercise only helps you improve your writing, so get on your feet and get moving!
  6. Makes you look smart!
    When you’ve written and published something, share the link with your friends and soak in the appreciation for your brilliance!
  7. Makes you empathetic
    Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, you’re forced to think from a different perspective than yours which increases your empathy.
  8. Gives you newfound appreciation for books you read
    When you’ve toiled hours for a five-hundred-word piece and its still nowhere close to perfection, you realize the effort every writer makes, no matter whether their books become bestsellers or not.
  9. Connects you with smart people on the same wavelength
    Writing is usually done in isolation but when you seek out fellow writers, you come to know so many talented people who share the same interests as you.
  10. Allows you to free the mind and demons in the mind
    Writing is known to be cathartic, and though it may not work for everyone, it certainly helps relieve and work out the kinks in the brain.

I’m sure you could come up with a few more reasons why you love writing, but while this is my list, feel free to add your own in the comments!

My Writing, Writing

Ten Things I Hate About Being a Writer

Don’t get me wrong – I love writing, especially now, despite all the gazillion rejections streaming in on a daily basis. I am finally enjoying the process, rather than indulging in the thrills of “having written.”

However there are quite a few things I don’t like about being a writer:

  1. So much to write, so little time

This is not the fault of writing of course, but it does demand intense concentration and time. The creative gene inspires ideas but the world doesn’t grant us the time to write all of them. It also takes away time from socializing in the real word – I’ve skipped many a weekend party in favour of writing.

  1. Sometimes, the words just don’t come

After stealing all that time, when I sit down to write, the words that bombard my brain at all the wrong times retreat into a shell and need immense coaxing to draw them out.

  1. When the words come, they’re crap

The first draft of everything is crap. It may improve with practice but sometimes it’s so bad it’s better to scrap it all and start again.

  1. When we send our stuff out we get rejections

In more than five years of writing and submitting, I can count only a handful of times that a piece I sent out was accepted by the first place I sent it to. My story that won 2nd place in the On The Premises contest last year is a good example of this.

  1. When we don’t send stuff out we’re not moving forward

The fear of rejection and submitting makes us hold on to our creative efforts, but without sending it out we’re not really taking ourselves to the next level

  1. We have to believe we’re the best in order to succeed

Writers need supreme confidence in themselves and their work so they can pitch agents and publishers and plough through despite all the rejections

  1. We have to accept we’re not the best so that we can improve in order to succeed

Writers also need to turn a critical eye on themselves so they can humbly accept feedback and revise their work to near-perfection

  1. Stuff that looks perfect today looks crap the next day

The final draft is never final and even after time and distance away from it when I see it next I feel its way below par.

  1. The right word lies on the tip of the tongue and rarely ever comes out

The struggle to find the word that exactly matches what you’re thinking of is perpetual. A thesaurus makes it easier but not always.

  1. Looks easy but is very tough to do

This is the biggest problem with writing – the easiest writing that looks the most effortless is actually the hardest to do.

How do you feel about writing these days? Anything you can add to the above list? W

reading, Writing

This Week in Writing and Publishing News

The last few weeks have seen have quite some excitement in the world of books and publishing. Each of the news pieces I’ve mentioned below are fascinating to read about.

A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions

AJ Finn’s novel Woman in the Window became a huge bestseller last year. It followed the trend of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. But how much do you know about the author? This article on the New Yorker tells a long and absorbing tale of a writer whose personal life offers more drama than his books. Don’t miss this – worth a read despite the length.

YA author pulls debut novel due to accusations of racism

Author Amélie Wen Zhao had to pull her YA Fantasy novel after early reviewers dismissed the book as racist. This and other instances has created the need for sensitivity readers, though their impact on books and publishing is something we’ll observe in the years to come.

Jeff Bezos exposes Dan Pecker before he exposes him

I think everyone must have read about this one by now. The news was hardly out when McSweeney’s had a riposte ready. Check out I Am Jeff Bezos: Man Of Principle, Champion of the Exploited

Using Literary Techniques in Narrative Journalism

Not a news-related piece, but an excellent one nevertheless on livening up your nonfiction using storytelling techniques.

If all that wasn’t enough, here’s something to tickle your funny bone:

Eat Your Feelings at These New Restaurants for Writers“From the Memoir Bistro to the Rejection Café, we’ve invented 8 dining establishments for the literary”

All these articles gave me more than enough food for thought over the last few days. Anything else that caught your eye but missed mine? Let me know in the comments! ac