P for Process (Or Productivity or Plotting….)

I have often been asked about my writing process. Having struggled from being an ‘aspiring’ (read clueless about how to get that damn draft done) author to someone with multiple books, I have realized the value that following a process brings in. The journey of putting down ~100,000 words does not happen riding on inspiration alone. This is my attempt to document the steps I take now to get my first drafts done.

Authors on A-Z of Writing

Jotting the idea

It is important to put the idea on to paper as soon as it visits your brain. (If you delay, it gets angry and leaves!…Well kidding…or am I?). We get new story ideas from many sources. The act of jotting it down helps us identify the key protagonist, her purpose and her journey – the whole snake and ladder game that her destiny makes her play.  On answer these simple questions

  1. Who is your key protagonist?
  2. What does she want?
  3. Who or what stands in her way? (The whole story would obviously be about how she overcomes 3 to achieve 2)

I prefer doing it on paper than on a machine as the whole striking off what is bad, adding new elements and everything else is visible and there for us to revisit anytime. Same can’t be said about typing in on your laptop.

Refining these elements helps the writer firm up the idea and proceed to the next step that is plotting.

Plotting

When I started out my journey, I indulged in this much forbidden act of ‘pantstering’. Well, there are many writers who have churned out master pieces. But given that this took me short of four years to complete my first novel, I stay away from pantstering. The age old task of plotting the entire novel is a lot less of a burden on my right brain.

Once the crucial questions have been answered, I proceed to jot down the key events that define the protagonist’s journey. The dangers that threaten her or those dear to her, discoveries that she makes while running away or fighting back, her course of action, her pit falls and everything leading to the final conflict. (Sorry for making this seem too action or fantasy, but believe me, the process works just as well for a cosy romance too)

I follow a two level plotting process.  A process that has now seen me through four full length novels (and is helping me through my fifth and sixth too). This ensures a focused workout to the creative muscle, avoiding needless loops which could prove fatal to our motivation (which is as such a precious scarce resource).

Sprint, sprint and sprint productively

The initial spurt of enthusiasm should be made use of to cover the early miles and that is like an investment that generates returns all through your journey. It all boils down to showing up regularly and adding a few hundred words (push it to the four digit) to the manuscript. It all boils down to doing this every day. Every. Single. Day. Till you reach the end. That’s how you make your writing sessions productive. Life always comes in the way, coercing you to put away writing for a better day. But that better day is today. It is lost if you ignore it. (Read this post on how I managed to type my 100,000 words within seven months of becoming a mother.)

As the earlier phase of plotting zeroes down on blind spots, we need not write the story linearly and first fill up those chapters where we have clarity. Do not wait for that one hundred percent clarity before you start writing. While travelling on a misty day, you need to advance a mile ahead to know what lies on the next. Writing is just that. Adventurous, uncertain and an immensely fulfilling activity. Only if we can adopt the ‘Process’.

This post is a part of the A-Z blog posts on A-Z writing Series that I am participating along with my writer friends. Visit back in a week to find links to all their P posts.

 

 

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#AuthorpreneurSpeak- Guestpost by Mayur Didolkar #MondayMotivation

Today’s guest post is by Mayur Didolkar, author of two novels and a number of short stories. His recent anthology Nagin has won accolades from book lovers all over the country. 

Ernest Hemingway supposed to have said once “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”, and while there is no point in lesser (much lesser) authors like us talking about the truism of the statement by the great man, I think most of 21st century writer will agree that while there might be nothing to writing more than bleeding, career in fiction writing today takes more than just writing.  In my case, selling my novel The Dark Road to Juggernaut publishing and then going through the paces of pre-production with their ace editing and marketing team has been a big learning curve. This experience was further fine-tuned when I published my second novel Tears for Strangers and my first paperback short story collection Nagin through them this year and here are some things these 2 years taught me.

  1. Keep your day job- The simple truth is publishing (whether self-published or trad) is a tough industry to make a living out of, especially if you are the primary (or only) income earner of the family. As William Darlymple recently noted the advances paid to authors are going down (but speaking fees are increasing!), so this career has a longer gestation period. The good news is it is possible to write while you keep a day job. I run an investment consulting business in Pune since June 2015, and in the last 3 years I have written first drafts of 3 novels, 14 short stories and over 100 articles as well as the re-write/editing work on all of the above. You need to be  smart about your time management, have a positive attitude to the work in general and understand and appreciate how delayed gratification works. Having your livelihood independent of your writing takes a lot of pressure off the entire creative process. It also means you can afford to take smart decisions for long term rather than saying yes to the first available offer. In my case, as my day job involves interacting with people from diverse walks of life, it also gives me great opportunity to observe various types of people in different everyday situations, which is a great learning in itself.
  2. Editors look for professionalism over flash of genius- Unless you are a John Grisham or a Stephen King debuting at the top of the bestseller lists, your first work is a statement of possibilities for the editor at a publishing house. He/she is trying to judge if you are someone who shows promise for future along with the appeal of the current submission. Try and submit as finished a product as possible (I had hired an editor to work on The Dark Road before submitting the full MS and I consider that among the best investments I made so far), stick to your deadlines as closely as possible and remember Woody Allen when he says “ 80% of the success is showing up”.
  3. Once your MS is accepted and you start working on the edits, be open-minded about the changes recommended by the editor/s. In some writing forums, writers write about their battles with editors with a pride in their own stubbornness that completely baffles me. Understanding that as a writer you are too close to be your own editor is the first key to becoming a professional writer. I feel self-published writers need to be even more open minded as in their case they are also the client of the editor who is telling them what doesn’t work. Remember the old adage about a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client is equally true about editing.
  4. A professional writer will always have projects going on in different stages of production. While we were editing The Dark Road, I had already written five short stories and pitched them to Juggernaut. Once The Dark Road got ready for release, we were working on the editing of these stories while I had started writing the first draft of Tears for Strangers and while that was going through its paces post first draft, I had started writing the short stories that became part of Nagin. After the advent of digital publishing and explosion in the self-publishing market, the bandwidth on offer to each new writer is getting squeezed. If you want to hold onto that bandwidth, you need to have projects ready for publishing with a fair bit of continuity. Adam Croft, a successful self-published writer from England says the best thing he did after he finished writing his first book, is he wrote another. I endorse this whole-heartedly.
  5. Whether self-published or trad, do it for the right reasons. If you want to self-publish because you don’t have the patience for the process or the stomach to reject large swathes of rejections or criticisms, you are doing it wrong. If you want to go trad because you think self-publishing is somehow demeaning or if you think traditionally published authors don’t have to sell their own books, then you are doing it wrong. Both options come with their own pros and cons and it is very important to first understand both and then decide which one plays best to your strengths.

Stephen King has described writing as a form of telepathy, extending the same analogy, I would say published writing is a form of a magic show that you as a magician produce with the help of many professionals. A wise magician knows his strengths and surrounds himself with teams that compliments his strengths.

Be  that wise magician.

Mayur Didolkar is an entrepreneur cum author with an undying passion for literature, politics and marathons. Check out his whole published collection here.

 

 

Plotting your novel, a two phase method to face your demons

Hello all,

This was a post I had promised myself to upload after the release of my second novel, Avishi.  If you are an aspiring novelist, I am sure plotting would have been a topic you pondered on quite a bit. It is daunting to envisage that 80,000+ word novel without a guide map and it is all the more torturing to have it haunting you while it remains unwritten.

Back in 2016, I was going through a usual journey of uncertainty, marketing (or rather wondering about marketing) my debut novel Abhaya and getting stuck at multiple places while writing Avishi. It was in March 2016 that I put what I thought as the first chapter together and all the way through March-July 2016, I had only written different versions of the beginning without making any progress. The method of plotting helped me progress (It is also helping me as I write my second instalment of the Abhaya series!). I think it is worthwhile sharing with you. Hope it helps you in your writing too!

Plot at two levels

You heard me right. The first level, (hoping that a little bit of jargon does not bother you) or L1 Plotting requires the writer to jot down the events of the plot in order. For simplicity sake, assume that each event makes up for a chapter. (Splitting and merging can and will happen later). For Eg, This is how I wrote down the events of Avishi’s plot :

img_20170904_124812419.jpg

While at it, 

  1. Try not to spend more than 5 minutes on what each event. (Write the first thing that comes to your mind in the sequence)
  2. Feel free to write down the points where you don’t know and mark them (This helps you improvise your precious day dreaming about the story!)
  3. Keep in mind that changes will occur at each stage. The plot you write now is NOT sacrosanct. 

During my plotting, I managed to jot down 35 events which I thought would define the crux of each chapter. The process took me about less than two hours and left quite some questions unanswered. But at least I knew what I did not know.

Second level

Take a break for a day or two before doing this. The L2 plotting requires you to zoom into each event/chapter and detail out how the events pans out, which character is introduced, what would he or she aim for and how it connects to the next event.

The L2 of my first chapter looked like this :

IMG_20170904_124833107

Again while at it,

  1. Devote not more than 10-12 mins for each event
  2. Note down and highlight the unanswered parts
  3. Liberally change the L1 Plot as your mind unravels the story

It took me a couple of days to complete L2 Plotting for Avishi. I noticed that new events (and characters) which I had not imagined in L1 phase came up and some old events had to be deleted. Some questions could be answered and new questions sprung up, demanding answers. All in all, the story was assuming a life of its own!

Take a break of another couple of days to dwell on these unanswered questions or even try keeping your mind off the novel for a while.

In the third phase, type the L2 on to a document on your laptop. Yes, I strongly advocate that you plot the first two stages in a journal. It has its benefits. When you type out the detailed plot on your laptop, you will again find some inevitable changes happening in the course of the story. The blind spots are narrowed down enough to not bother you when you are working on the other parts of the novel.

Now is when you actually start writing. The biggest advantage of this process is that you can write your draft in a non linear fashion, pick up the incomplete parts later and make changes as required. I have to reiterate that changes happen at every stage. (An event or two you see in the first image did not even appear in the draft in my case!). Changes and question marks are a sign that your characters are asserting themselves and it is good!  Needless to say, your confidence would have grown multi fold. You are now ready to begin the writing journey.

Happy Writing!

Do you have a plotting related experience that you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below.

 

 

 

Book Review : Saraswati’s Intelligence by Vamsee Juluri

I had originally written the review for First Post where it was first published. Republishing here with their permission.

The fantasy genre is known to take a story-teller’s imagination to a pinnacle. In the cosmos of richly descriptive Ancient World fiction, Saraswati’s Intelligence, book one of The Kishkindha Chronicles, stays true to the promise of “intelligence” in its title and sets itself apart. The edge that this novel has over its Western literary counterparts is most of all the presence of the original superhero, Hanuman himself.  Hanuman is a multi-faceted personality, and in Saraswati’s Intelligence, the action and adventure associated with him also meet intellect and a commitment to a universal ethical ethos.

What Vamsee Juluri does in Saraswati’s Intelligence fundamentally is to offer a story-teller’s tribute to civilization, to the roots and to the forces that have sustained and evolved mankind through the ages.

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Set in a world (Kishkindha, inspired by the ancient Indian subcontinent) that espoused an unbreachable code called Parama Dharma (read “Ahimsa” here), Saraswati’s Intelligence starts on a contemplative note where an adolescent Hanuman faces banishment by his scheming aunt, the Empress Riksharaja ,who takes advantage of a superficial breach of Parama Dharma. In the journey that ensues, filled with a variety of memorable encounters, Hanuman finds himself facing the dark forces that know no morals and threaten to upset the creation of Saraswati, the Supreme Goddess.

While Hanuman makes for an endearing protagonist, the narration brims with reverence towards the feminine universe. The world creation (or call it exploration) of the author is a soulful cognizance of how various species depend on each other and connect themselves to the ultimate source, the Mother of Knowledge. The pages carrying the description of River Saraswati worshipped as the source of life are a delight to every nature lover. To quote a belief of the Kishkindhans about creation:
“In the old days, when much of the world was covered with fire, they say the Goddess herself appeared in the form of a river, and she cooled the fire down slowly, into steam, into water, into earth, and then, into our ancestors, Shiva and Vishnu.”

While the love for nature remains an important aspect in the story, it is refreshing to see that this love is very unlike some of the patronizing and superfluous current day animal protection activism which exhibits overzealous intrusiveness in unnecessary places and callous negligence where action is most needed. The nature worship of the Kishkindhans is rooted in a deeper connect that the various beings such as the Ganeshas and the Jatayus, feel towards each other despite their diversity. ‘Some of us move, some of us lie in wait. Some of us have speed, some have strength. But we all have dharma at heart. So we must think. What is the best way for all our races to work together now? What is the best way for us to work with the forces of land and climate, and not walk into more opposition than we really need to now?’ can be seen as a commentary on the vibrant civilization that was Ancient India and will stay with me for long. Does this universe of Kishkindha espouse everything that we had in the past and everything that we stand to lose in the turmoil of today’s rush to “progress”? I lost track of the number of times I asked myself this question while reading the book and for that reason alone, the book deserves to be read by the young and old alike. Saraswati’s Intelligence is that call from the past to realise what we were and to rediscover what we ought to be.

The story is not a racy, read-and-forget tale that some action and adventure readers might expect it to be. I would advise the readers to be prepared to have their deeper beliefs challenged and coaxed into contemplation to appreciate the nuanced narrative of what Parama Dharma is. Ahimsa, to my delight, is not interpreted as pacifist nonviolence that defeats itself, but it is instead the assertion of vibrant coexistence that pins down the dangerous characteristics of lust, oppression and greed.

One would expect that this ideal universe which recognizes the need to coexist would not run into trouble. But power games, invasions by blood-feeding beings, weaknesses of those whose strength is taken for granted, all form a layered plot skilfully built upon the various shades of the characters. Anjana and Kesari evoke an unearthly reverence as indulgent and yet unattached parents.

Among the well etched characters, Vishwamitra and Vaishnavi (the author’s name given to the Puranic character of Suvarchala) are my favourites, given their stimulating conversations with Hanuman as well as their ability to take quick decisions on their feet. The companionship woven between Vaishnavi and Hanuman (Yes, Hanuman HAS a romantic side and hold on, you will love that!) throws up some interesting debates on Dharma. It made me root for them as a couple and yet…. No spoilers given. One should read the book and travel through the universe of Kishkindha to know what happens.

Saraswati’s Intelligence invokes the rich ancient Indic art of story-telling and cannot be cast into a single genre. Action, Adventure, Spiritualism, War, Romance, Politics, all aspects that take the world of the narrative forward are dealt with through aesthetic storytelling. The book deserves special praise for defying the commercial genre tropes of fantasy like blood, gore and objectification that have unfortunately become a rage in the Western fantasy sphere.  To those under-informed commentaries on why Indian fantasy writing sticks to its ancient scriptures, Saraswati’s Intelligence is the intellectual answer. While the commercial fantasy tropes draw from two-dimensional character motivations dominated by Artha and Kama, the Indic fantasy provides the complete cycle of motivation adding Dharma and Moksha to the carnal side making a story worth its letters.

Interested readers can order Saraswati’s Intelligence from Amazon

Prof Vamsee Juluri is also the author of the Best Selling Rearming Hinduism

An evening at Novel London

Reading out the first chapter of your novel to an audience enthusiastic about reading and writing in a small world of books, be it a book store or a library, is an exhilarating experience. It is so much different from the the usual blitzkrieg of a book launch or a tea talk with a kind celebrity who pulls crowds for you. Because at Novel London, you are reading out to the best audience you can get, all of them authors, published or soon to be published. Your first chapter is heard by those who are stationed in the various milestones of this beautiful journey of writing.

Novel London is such an initiative by Safeena Chaudhry (author of Companions of Clay) to provide a platform for upcoming authors. Must say Safeena takes a lot of care to ensure voices are represented from all over the world. The monthly reading events, usually held on the first Friday of every month are a must attend for book lovers in London. I had come across Novel London’s events through some Meetup groups earlier this year, but had not pushed myself thinking that my genre might not be of interest to the Western audience. Destiny had other plans and I ran into Safeena herself during London Book Fair in April after which she took the efforts to slot the reading of Abhaya into an appropriate theme and proactively followed up. I totally loved the rehearsal session and Safeena being a professional with Video making, had some great tips to share about public reading/speaking.

On Aug 5 2016, I got to read the first chapter of Abhaya for “An Evening of Theosophical Fiction” along with Adam Bethlehem who read out from his second novel, The Universal Theory of Immigration (highly recommend it). Swedenborg Society, Bloomsbury made for a perfect location. It was worth noting, the amount of literature one man (Emanuel Swedenborg) could write and inspire.

Here is the video of my reading out the first chapter of Abhaya -. Was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of interest the reading generated among the audience gathered during the event. (Adam bought the Kindle edition on the spot!) It was a proof that audience irrespective of their ethnicity would really connect with your writing when they feel it coming from your heart. Do watch and leave your comments below.

Also, please don’t forget to visit Novel London ‘s Website and do attend the future events. I’ll not miss it while I am in London 🙂

Book Review – Arjun Without a doubt by Dr. Sweety Shinde

Re-telling of Mahabharata from individual perspectives has been an ever-green favourite of the Indian literary segment. Arjun without a Doubt by the debutante Sweety Shinde stands out of the rest, giving a voice to the ever inspirational Arjuna while admirably balancing the macro narrative. It is not surprising that the author actually chose that perspective which refreshingly does not blame the world for his misfortunes. In a unique approach to balance the male and female (perhaps) narratives, the author chose to retell the epic through the eyes of Draupadi and Arjuna.

Warning, I am going to rave about the book, it finally retells Mahabharata as I loved it since childhood.

This is in contrast to the various other books which retell Mahabharata from many individual points of view like Draupadi, Karna, Bheema, Duryodhana and so on.  While each of these books have a passionate narrative and raise uncomfortable questions, most of them heavily fall short on doing justice to the macro narrative. Bringing out the macro-narrative of this immortal epic is possible only with multiple perspectives (something that the SL Bhyrappa did with scholarly élan in his critically acclaimed Parva which became the reference to most of the new authors and in the recent years, Krishna Udayasankar attempted with a unique macro plot though with a fantasy approach).

Arjun

What stands out in Sweety’s Arjun is his aptitude for intellectual and philosophical discussions and his way of dwelling on each of the challenges he faced, every misery making him stronger and wiser than before. Adhering to the allegory of Nara-Narayana, Arjun comes across as a befitting comparison to Krishna. His valour, obviously is peerless. But Arjun is not someone who flaunts his expertise in archery to prove a point to this world. In fact, the skill of archery is his passion, his love and his solace and the Gandeeva, his ‘bride’ that would always be by his side after he lost Draupadi to the complex marital predicament. That apart, he perpetually strives to be worthy of Draupadi’s acceptance while being sensitive of Subhadra’s love. I liked the way Karna was dealt with the contempt he really deserves. Arjun is shown too busy facing his own intrigues inside and out to care for the wannabe rants of Karna. While Karna’s aim was to better Arjuna in archery, Arjuna’s love for archery was not for fame but an endeavour to discover his own self, something that he achieves without disappointing those who believed in him. This is one book I can thrust on the faces of Karna’s admirers with complete confidence. I would have loved it more if the author had elaborated more on the episode of Kiratarjuniya and the killing of Jayadrata. The numb shock that casts him into a daze during the gambling scene could have been dealt with a bit more detail.

Arjun

Draupadi

“Oh My God! Not again!” was my initial reaction after learning that the book carried a Draupadi centric narrative. But Sweety’s Draupadi is amazingly refreshing. This Draupadi loves Arjun and not Karna (No sane woman would love an eternal cribber in a perpetual battle mode like Karna and even thinking of a strong woman like her falling for the loser is such an insult to her personality!) as some popular literary works speculate. This fits with the narrative of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, keeping in mind, Draupadi’s reaction about Subhadra wedding Arjuna and Yudhishtira’s last words about Draupadi. She is a heroine, a true Kathanaayika blossoming from a bewildered bride braving a complex marital relationship to an empress that held the family together through hopelessly miserable situations. What I loved the most is the author’s portrayal of Draupadi’s facing the ignominious and horrifying episode of dice and disrobing. The Empress of Bharatavarsha is not a distressed helpless woman calling out to Krishna. She is not numbed by the shock of being wagered, lost and branded as a slave. That is the moment she behaves as the true Samragni who realizes that she is the only one to stand between the Kauravas and the women of the Pandava family (who might be put to a greater misery than her as she speculates). She was not the victim, she was the saviour! Could not help tears of sheer admiration reading that episode. Different shades of her character surface during various incidents and Draupadi never fails to intrigue and inspire.

Where I disagreed

Subhadra’s demure personality somehow did not go well with me. Felt that the author could have portrayed a more vivacious and endearing woman in her and still retained Draupadi’s superiority if I may say so. To me, Subhadra is always that sister of Krishna who is a befitting comrade in all his quests and her greatness need not be in clash with that of Draupadi.

Yudhishtira is someone I feel is a character who is always dealt a raw deal from the poets and authors. The author, in fact, tried to balance with a redeeming last chapter. But the root problem I feel is that not only her but most other authors including the literary scholars also see Yudhishtira only from a collection of perceptions and not as an individual himself. Any modern author who dares to sympathize with him will have to face the eternal battle with the feminist rage of the world: D (Kidding, or am I?).

Final word: Arjun is a must read for those aiming to draw inspiration from the epic of Mahabharata. Interested readers can buy the book from Amazon

Free Ebook – Creators of Telugu epic literature

My friends and readers are aware of my love for Telugu literature. Prompted by the ebook carnival hosted by Theblogchatter, I put together a collection of my older blog posts on historical Telugu poets into an ebooklet.

Do please download the ebook Creators of Telugu epic literature. It is also featured in the above Ebook carnival.

 

Telugu Epic poets

Ebook Cover design

 

It is an ongoing work and I hope to cover more Telugu poets and composers in future. Please feel free to leave me suggestions and comments below.