Believe me or not. Writing that first novel is the easiest step in the journey of a writer. (For those first timers who are feeling violent after reading this statement, I would have reacted in the same way about a year ago!) Continuing on this path while balancing with the added responsibilities of marketing the first book can prove trickier than expected. Chasing different players of the book ecosystem for reviews, sales, events and what not to market the first book and finding the time to sit and write makes it seem like the 24 hours of a day have shrunk to half the size! Adding to that the drive of inspiration that had miraculously guided the powering of the first book seems to have gone on a long leave when it is needed the most! To top it all, the burden of expectations that the first book has generated sits on the shoulders.
After Publishing Abhaya, I experienced all the above.
Optimising the marketing time and activity (An essential thing that an author cannot afford to neglect) is a topic of another blog post (rather, a series of blog posts!). In this post I shall focus on what helped me overcome the inertia. (Or call it a writers block for the sake of simplicity, though I sense some technical difference).
As much as we debate endlessly about Pantsters vs Plotters, the process of plotting helps us to make a headway during the toughest points of the crucial first drafts. I remained a ‘pantster’ for a long time and a dependant of the proverbial ‘muse’ to propel my writing forward. I realised that had to change. When a spell of six months passed, the lack of any substantial output alarmed me. I sat down to plot.
Following a simple process of outlining, I wrote down the sequence of key events of the plot. The events mostly defined the chapters. (Again, for simplicity sake. At times a chapter can encompass multiple events and a single event can span over chapters depending upon the intricacy of your plot). The process of plotting I followed merits a separate blog post as well. Shall soon pen that down!
But in short, I realised that by writing down the plot on paper, I could now pin point the chapters where I might get stuck and those ‘easier’ chapters which I would be able to write with clarity. I chose to work on the easier ones first. The momentum was achieved! After the agonising spell, it just felt great when the word count kept going up. As the writing picked pace even the ‘harder’ chapters began to unravel.
To quote one of my favourite authors, Shatrujeet Nath – “There are days when the muse fails to show up. On such days, the writer should.”
Plotting helps the writer show up when the muse fails.
Your mother and mine were right. We know discipline matters. The problem is in executing all those ideal routines that just end up remaining in our imaginary calendars. Here is where we need to make peace with realistic goal setting. In a recent conference on Self Publishing held by Amazon in London, I heard a talk by Talli Roland, a journalist by training and a very successful author of eight romance novels. She said that a word count goal of 3000 words per day defined the first part of her day. Without reaching the word count, Talli said she does not open her mail or social media. (That rules out any marketing related activity too!).
While 3000 words a day seems like a daunting goal, one can appreciate the amount of commitment that goes into sticking to that. I tried having weekly word count goal. I stuck to five weeks of sticking to it where my weekly goal was 10,000 words before taking a break. ( Again I confess, I did not beat the goal every week. Some times I could manage ~7000-8000 words. A lucky week saw me past 12000 words). But the magical five weeks saw me completing 70-75% of the draft!
It was a huge boost to my confidence.
Manage your own carrot and stick!
The age old technique that our parents used to do back in the nineties! Turns out it works now too! (Didn’t someone say there is a child in all of us?) My very indulgent husband was generous with ‘carrots’ (Call it a shopping spree, dinners, trinkets and what not!) at each milestone ( Completing every 15,000 words milestone called for a celebration of some sort). I was more than happy to let myself indulge. I owed it to the writer in me who showed up!
Did I say I had some misses too? The ‘Sticks’ work better! I had to manage my own ‘sticks’. I put off salon visits, increased gym time, went without favourite foods and postponed movie weekends (this was effective as the movies played in the theatres only for 2-3 weeks and I needed to get past the milestone to treat myself for that particular movie!)
Output Matters. So keep writing.
This happened with me. Turned out that my muse was just testing my commitment and returned when she saw me ready to put in my writing hours and stick on. Convincing that inspiration to return involves in us writers being content with what we call as ‘bad’ writing. Bad writing is not a crime like we think it is. It can be edited. It can be improved. Only if it is put out on a draft first. There are times when I powered through, forcing myself to keep adding words whether I liked my writing or not and then was rewarded with bouts of inspiration later.
The toughest and the most tasteless 300-400 words (which in all possibility would get trashed or rewritten) but written with commitment rewarded me with 500-600 words of inspired writing. Call it gaming the inspiration! It worked with me and I am sure it will work with you. But only on the condition that you are ready to forgive yourself for that ‘forced’ writing.
The ‘forceful’, ‘bad’ and ‘uncharacteristic’ writing as you might call it is any day better than a day of no writing. (That is what I call is a writer’s crime!). So Keep writing whatsoever. The result is as you can see below. A screen shot from my folder.
The attempt started in March, followed by a six month long dry spell of not progressing much till August where I started to put the plot down on paper and work on it. 16th of August was when I had crossed 10,000 words milestone (And celebrated promptly!). Plotting and discipline worked. By 15th November, I reached the magic finish line of 82,000 words. By 18th November 2016, I could send the first draft to the editor for her initial comments (Addressing the Edit comments took the count further up but that is another matter).
The end of 2016 saw me wiser and more confident about setting expectations, goals and working towards them. If you liked the above post, please share it and also feel free to add from your experiences. If you have a #beatingtheblues story about writing your draft, I would be delighted to read about it and learn more. Please comment below.