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

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

My Writing

Feet in Two Boats

In January this year the venerated magazine The Writer held an essay contest on the theme ‘Your Writing Life’. I sent in my essay with hope in my heart and a prayer on my lips.  

When the inevitable rejection popped up in my inbox a few days later, I had a tough time reading the email. But I was glad I did, because at the end were the words that gladdened my heart. Though I had not placed in the competition, they wanted to publish my essay anyway! 

It was scheduled for the September issue which is out now.  

You can read my essay Feet in Two Boats here and do let me know what you think!