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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Complete the draft – Silencing the inner critic (for now) #Writerslife #Productivity

Whenever anyone tells me that s/he is an aspiring writer, the first thing I tell them is to get rid of the word ‘aspiring’. I tell them to sprint through the first draft of whatever has sprouted from the creative depths of their minds. Often, they tell me that they aren’t able to complete the first draft and a sizeable proportion of these aspiring writers are victims of their own inner critic.

Now, this inner critic is a result of two contradicting drivers. Fear and Aspiration.

Fear

“My writing is not good enough.”

“People would laugh at me!”

“I myself would not read what I write!”

“I hate my own writing.”

Aspiration

“I can do better than this. I must do better than this.”

“I shall settle with nothing less than perfect.”

“I shall not stop till I make this the best written piece.”

You would have realised by now, that these two contradicting forces drag your creative self in two opposing directions and as a result, you stay where you are. And you risk staying there forever! If you don’t tell your inner critic to go an a vacation. I say vacation because we would need him back in the editing phases of the draft. But as far as writing the first draft is concerned, he has to observe silence.

Completing the first draft is largely about Momentum. The Creative self hates inertia. She hates stagnation. She is this dynamic being which needs to be on the move. She survives on that. Measure it in terms of word count or chapter count or just the progress of the story, but you can’t stop. You just can’t stop if the reason is this nagging need to perfect the draft till date. The creative self is all about progress, not perfection. As Susan Kaye Quinn candidly puts in, there is nothing called perfect. There is only finished. You can hone your imperfect first draft. But there is little you can do about an unwritten draft.

If you end today at the same point where you ended yesterday, you might or might not satisfy the inner critic, but you shall definitely fail the inner muse. As an aspiring writer who genuinely wants to get rid of that annoying prefix, you cannot afford to fail your muse.

The muse and the critic are like those members of the same family who can’t stand each other. As someone who needs them both, you need to take control and delegate their tasks. Importantly, you need to stop them from interfering with each other.

Let me give an example. I am a new mother and my baby is a perfect example. She is trying to stand with support right now and it is a matter of weeks before she would start walking. When she puts her first steps, all I want from her is to take her next step without losing her balance. What would you call me if I cribbed to you about her wobbly posture, unsteady gait and body language on the day she puts her first steps?

While writing Abhaya’s final draft, I was bitten this perfection bug which made me hover around the beginning chapters for no less than a year and a half! Progress happened when i did these things:

  1. Convinced myself that I would self edit the whole thing only after a whole draft is done.
  2. Plotted the story roughly and pursued the smoothest thread that kept my momentum up
  3. Set a hard deadline for the draft, and for the publishing date.

The rest as they say, is history. But I am glad that I could delegate it between my inner creative self and inner critic well enough to travel through three published novels and a whole draft submitted to the publisher.

What was your story behind sprinting through your first draft? Share in the comments.

 

How I wrote 100,000 words within seven months of delivering my first born #Productivity #Writerslife

I still remember that numb mixture of joy and uncertainty that enveloped me as I stared at the life changing double line on the pregnancy test kit.

I was going to become a mother!

The long wait for this to happen and the celebration of the news is for another blog post. Along with the exhilaration that followed, there was a voice with in which said I just had 9 months to get as much writing done as I could. Come motherhood, the early phases demand that everything else be kept on back burners (rather pushed off the stove for a while!). Not writing makes me miserable. But I could also not bear the thought of being that selfish mother who neglects her infant for her ‘passion’. At the same time, I was not sure how much justice I could do to this bundle of joy, when the thought of being unable to write gnawed at me from within.

Come the big day and the months that followed, I surprised myself.

  • I edited and published Mauri, a manuscript I had worked upon during my pregnancy. Effectively added more than 15,000 words in the process. (Editor, Vrinda deserves a shout out for the quick turn around)

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  • I wrote the first draft of Draupadi and submitted it to the publisher. A 79,000 word long output after a quick round of self editing
  • I edited and published another manuscript under a pen name, effectively launching the pen name too. Had worked on this last year. Editing phase added another 4000 words.
  • I started upon a new project, implementing an alternate history idea on Ramayana. The manuscript is young and has crossed 2,500 words last Thursday.

Without counting the couple of blog posts, That puts my output past 100,000 words after the big day! In less than seven months. Now that I have gloated enough, let me come to the how part of it.

How did I do it?

100,000 words in 180 days (Removing a month considering the neonatal fortnight and the big move from London to India), the average daily output is about 555 words. Suddenly it does not look like an impossible thing. Of course, creativity muse is not always subservient to a daily routine. Realistically, there were many zero output days and some high spike days, the highest daily output being about 4500 words. That said, a daily writing routine is the biggest factor that keeps you on track, though you don’t need to beat yourself up for some missed days. Other crucial factors were

  • A supportive family – My mother who is even more passionate to see me write my way to success was the crucial pillar of support. The growing baby posed no mean challenge, but with her multi tasking skills assuming their best form, she gave me the much needed breaks to write and also participated in the critiquing process for most of the drafts. My father’s support was no less. I could not have done it without them.
  • Following an outlining process – Plotting and outlining gives me a level of confidence. A feeling that the battle is half won. I spend a good couple of days thinking about the whole plot. It also helps me pin point the blind spots and invest more of story-dreaming time on those areas. Plotting also helps in setting the agenda for each writing session. You can read more about my outlining process here
  • Understanding that momentum is everything – Given that the large chunk of my writing was about the first draft, it was important to take advantage of the momentum and get the draft done ASAP than about honing each scene or chapter. The self critic within me needed to be sent for a long vacation. I could not work with her if I had to complete the draft within the submission date. The last 25-30K words of the draft were done in a span of ten days and momentum was everything before I could afford the luxury of listening to the critic within me. Save the inner critic for the self edit phases.
  • Pomodoro Sessions – For the uninitiated, this is a productivity session where a professional engages in a single task without breaks or task switches for 25 minutes followed by a mandatory break of 5 minutes. Two Pomodoro sessions a day worked a great deal in keeping the momentum.
  • Support groups – I am a part of two groups, one a closed Whatsapp group of ten women writers. We would share our daily word count, cheer each other, share any writing related problems, back each other up with any quick fixes and much more. We had grouped together around last year and have travelled through many manuscripts together cumulatively. Pomodoro idea was suggested to me by Preethi Venugopala from this group.  The second group is a Facebook group called Writer Mom life. The members are all mothers who are writers. I met many who were facing more challenging phases of their lives and my own challenge seemed negligible. Emotional support groups go a long way in keeping you on track. They consist of members who exactly know what each other passes through and offer empathy. Something that a friend or a family member cannot provide even if they wanted to.
  • Reading relevant books – I utilised my feeding time in reading books on Focus, productivity, business and craft of writing. It is easy to dismiss these as old wine in new bottles. But while chasing deadlines and goals, packaging the known ‘wine’ comes in handy, be it in retaining motivation or in putting things in perspective.

That sums it up, my journey in writing through this exciting phase. How do you manage to keep up your productivity through tough phases? Would be delighted to read your stories in comments.