Let’s call her R. We met at Bangalore Lit fest, 2014. We were among the chosen 15 who pitched our stories to the panel of editors. She made a brilliant pitch but is yet to finish her manuscript. I've lost count of them...those who say they want to write but never get around to it.
There’s a story in each of us. We are all born story tellers. But getting the first story out is far from child’s play. Writing is never easy, nothing really is. It requires a different kind of commitment, so here are few tips from me. Hope they help you get started.
THE LIST OF DOS
- The only way to start is to just start. Planning to do it isn’t doing it. Nobody has ever got anything done by merely thinking about it. So stop kidding yourself and get going. Kiran Manral, bestselling author for four successful books across genres says, “Write your story. One word at a time, one day at a time. Set yourself a deadline to finish the book. Set yourself a daily minimum word limit. Don't indulge in the narcissism of a writer's block. It will stop you from reaching 'The End.”
- Start with detailed summary and character sketches. You have an idea of the story, even if it’s just a sliver of an idea. Do a detailed summary writing and then think of some characters. Write detailed character sketches. This is often a great way to start.
- Have a memory list. This is your first novel, so your life experiences will come tumbling out. Spend a lot of time on which memories you want to include in the book. Making a memory list sounds quite ridiculous but it’s not a bad thing to chronicle them and use when you need.
- Begin by writing chapter outline of the story. You could do it for the entire story but if that’s daunting then do it for the first 10 chapters. This will set you off well.
- Constantly think about the story and the plot. Even when you aren’t writing, think about it. I never stop thinking about the WIP. I keep jotting things in the mobile notepad, which I incorporate in the story.
- Needless to say have a fixed time to write. Don’t keep it flexible. Either wake up before rest of the family does or burn the mid night oil. I often woke up at 4 am to write. The story churning in my head drove away sleep. So better write than toss and turn. One rule was and is sacrosanct for me – I never keep writing till the end of the day. I never told myself, I will finish my household chores and then write. I am brain dead after having shopped veggies, dealt with maid, carpenters and etc…creative juices die in me. So the most important thing for me, my writing – I did first thing in the morning. I clocked in 2 hours before the family woke up and then of course did more throughout the day. But on days, when I couldn’t get any more work done, I knew that I had done 2 hours at least.
- Yes, the idea is to write not to finish the race and come first. But set a deadline. Not a 2 year deadline! But not a three month deadline either. Stephen king says, first draft should be done in one season, that’s 4 months. I gave myself 9 months. I finished in 8. If the NaNoRiMo works for you, great but I don’t like to push myself to that extend. Writing is my passion. It’s the love of my life and I relish it bit by bit. I have a deadline to meet but this isn’t a 100 m sprint. I’m too much in love with the journey; making characters, sketching the plot, changing it, taking it through. I have a blast while I write.
- While writing the first draft, don’t edit. Just get the story out. You will have time to perfect it later. Don’t slow down the thought process. The story is churning in your head, let it flow. Bestselling author says, Kulpreet Yadav says, “Be original, understand that conflict(s) drive the plot & engages the reader. Don't fall in love with the characters you create. Always, have the reader in mind.”
- When you start writing, other story ideas will keep popping in. you will not distract yourself by even writing half a chapter of the second novel, till you are done with the first. You don’t two time. Ok? That’s not how this works. One lover at a time. Be faithful. If the relationship isn’t working and you feel it’s not going anywhere, cut your loses and move. But you will abandon the first one only after you are sure that it’s a dead end. We don’t want or need ghost of past unfinished WIP haunting you!
However, feel free to jot down random thoughts about other ideas. But only jot them down. I do that a lot. My WIP 2 is done. Currently polishing it. Novel 3 is fleshed out. Novel 4 is germinating. Let’s put it like this, I’m in a steady relationship with Novel 2, but am allowed to have a coffee or just a casual chat with Novel 3, 4 etc. nothing more.
- This one’s a no-brainer. Put away the mobile. Mute whatsapp, FB, twitter and everything else. Writing is serious business and this isn’t something anyone gets done while flipping thru social media. I keep my phone away from my work area while writing. My family is informed of the timing I keep. So no one disturbs me. Only my mom and dog Archie dare to step where others fear to tread. The former believes since she’s my maker, so she has the leeway. The latter…he’s furry, cuddly and cute, hence exempted from rules.
- Recently I read an interesting article: Ten ways to get writing by Hazel Gaynor, author based in UK. She says, “Tell everyone you’re writing a novel. Tell your friends, family, colleagues, domestic help…everyone. The external world will enquire about your progress, thereby putting pressure on you to finish the book you’ve thinking about.” I think this is an excellent idea.
- After the first draft, ideally stay away from it for at least 2 months. Then go back to it ruthlessly with a severely critical eye. Chop, re-write, re, re-write, sharpen…polish it till gleams.
- Get a beta-reading done. Show it to your family, partner, best friend but don’t ask for feedback. This could be dangerous for the future of your relationship. Get a professional beta reader. I don’t believe in circulating the manuscript to all and sundry. Get advice from people who wouldn’t mince words. This isn’t the time to pamper your ego. This is the time for reality check so that you can hone your manuscript to its best.
Writing your first novel is special. It’s the most amazing journey you will ever take. So stop thinking about it and get started. It’s criminal to have a story in your head and not write it out. So get to it!!