Networking for writers. The company to keep. #Writerslife

Any writer would emphatically agree that writing is a solitary journey. But socialising with those on the same path is always a pleasure. Or is it? Well, at the risk of sounding super clicked, the answer is “It depends.”

But it does pay to be a part of a network that adds value to it’s members. That happens only if a considerable no of writer members believe in symbiotic connections over parasitical ones. From my experience of three years of author life, here are the networks that worked for me. When I say worked for me, I mean the ones which pulled me out of the snags I faced.

  1. Local meetups where there are at least 30% of writers who are published.
  2. Closely knit peer support groups who almost unconditionally support each other (The kind where you can ask any question and not feel stupid, celebrate each other’s progress, cheer each other, most importantly, give each other a push on the social media and other platforms). I am a part of one such a group called MyNoWriMo and we are practically ‘brothers at arms’, oops, ‘sisters in pens’. The key to successful groups like these is the mutual reciprocity.
  3. Facebook groups with a specific aim or positioning run by dedicated moderators. (“Writer mom’s” “5AMWriterclub”, FWBA etc). One such group, “Writer Mom Life” had a “Write every day” challenge running and it helped me sprint through the crucial part of my first draft. Often, these groups help members overcome specific challenges.
  4. Local charters of professional global networks. – Usually global networks have certain goals and the local charters have passionate leaders who want to make their charter shine through. ( I found the London charter of ALLi quite focussed. We would meet each month and share what we did each month, our discoveries, brainwaves, blocks and snags included).
  5. Culture/Ideology focused groups – I belong to this network called Indic Author network where most of us write stuff echoing the pathos and ethos of Indic civilisation. We have had invaluable sessions, socialised over various courses, have been gifted master courses and what not! The wavelength match too helps. And I got lucky with a celebrity endorsement too!
Now for the networks to avoid (On second thoughts, you may linger for entertainment and have some break time laughs)
  1. Rant groups – Sorry I could not find a better word here. But I refer to the umpteen number of these groups claiming to represent the underrepresented writers. I made the huge mistake of attending one gathering of a network supposedly supporting writers of color. For all the tall claims of inclusiveness, only one community was dominating. Adding to that, the programmes were full of ranting and had nothing of craft or business. Waste of a day.
  2. Large online writers groups with no specific aim. I am a part of one such group where every other day, there is a rant against Indie authors and best selling authors by literary snobs who have a lot of time to post rants but little or no time to share a good piece of advice. If you have a thick skin, these groups have some good entertainment value.
  3. Vanity groups – They charge you money just to let you in. And it is no mean amount. Lots of unrealistic promises are made and you end up losing money, time and motivation. While the above two have some value, this one is to be avoided at ALL costs.

What kind of networks have helped you, motivated you and keep you company in this solitary pilgrimage? Share in the comments

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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 :

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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 :

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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.

 

 

 

Why your Beta Reader is more crucial than your writing coach

The year was 2013. I had wrapped up an early draft of my debut novel and had forwarded the samples to a couple of publishers and agents. The wait of six to nine weeks was followed by reminder emails from my side when replies flew in promptly with regrets and rejections. A couple of rejection mailers flew in so quickly after my reminder that I was tempted to believe they were auto generated. It was then that I came across this author and writing coach who also worked as a literary agent. Having attended one of his writing workshops in the past, I had hoped that this person would empathize with my endeavors and help me take the manuscript forward.

To his credit, this mentor cum agent had pointed out valid loopholes and gaps that a first-time author would not have been aware of. But the problem with this gentleman was that he pushed his solutions along with the problems he identified. And those brought new problems. Without my knowledge, in my enthusiasm to see my name in print, I started rewriting under his mentoring. Thirty percent down this second draft, I began to lose steam and the connect which I had previously enjoyed with the characters. The writing slowed down.

It was then that this stranger from one of the social networks chanced to see samples of my earlier draft and took pains to congratulate me and ask me about the progress of the full novel. This was the exact push that rekindled my interest and I shared the developments with him. Mahesh (his name) turned out to be a person who shared my interests about various subjects including history, literature and legends. After going through my journey and the latest half draft, he asked me a plain question, “Why are you turning into a scribe to your agent? Why are you letting him change the crux of your characters? As juvenile as it looked your earlier draft was far more original and endearing than this new one.”

It was then that the truth about the ownership of characters hit me. Despite my newbie attempts, my characters carried an air of independence and originality in my earlier draft. The agent’s way of looking at the story was somehow strengthening the stereotypes that publishers believed would sell. Not his mistake as the gentleman had a paid mandate from me. But Mahesh’s inputs made me think and rethink about the whole thing from an independent perspective. His was an honest reader feel.

I decided to not stick to publisher stereotypes and assert my writing the way I wanted. Now it does feel that I am making a villain out of my writing coach. He wasn’t and I did take stock of the problems he pointed out and examined them in an objective way. I rejected the solutions he wanted to impress upon me. I was also lucky to have had a few author friends who backed me up saying while I need to agree with those writing loopholes, I needed to find my own ways to fill the gaps rather than take someone else’s directions.

The process took time, given my demanding job as an investment professional and the long writers block that arose out of structural dead lock in the storyline. Contemplating, deconstructing books of similar genre, deeper reading into scriptures (Mine is a Puranic fiction) and a move and I should mention my mother’s backing which was the strongest, everything helped me re-work the basic storyline. Two years down the line I could arrive at a draft that finally satisfied me from within before I Self Published it on Kindle Platform (Honestly, I was not left with much courage to tap the doors of traditional publishing houses after all what I went through two years before). There are more beta readers who supported me through the last leg of the journey.

The experience taught me the value of Beta readers. While I serendipitously met my first beta readers, it is advisable that each author develops a network of beta readers who support the writing with constructive criticism while respecting the writer’s independent thoughts. The criticism they give needs to respect and empathize with the writer’s endeavors.

 

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Original Picture credit : lecatts.wordpress.com

To support it with an analogy. You are a mother who just delivered your newborn. The last thing you want to hear from anyone at this stage is about the possible flaws that your child has. It can make you fly into a rage. Hearing insensitive criticism on a freshly written piece or a blog post evokes almost similar emotions from a writer. But it is also necessary that this writing piece goes out to the world as perfect as a human can make it.

 

A Beta reader (There are alpha readers and beta readers for those wanting to go technically deeper. But here, I chose to use the term Beta reader as a common term for both) is free from biases that might generally exist in the publishing world. Their reading experience makes them aware of the variety of thought and originality of each writer and they value it. Any author reading this post of mine will agree that writing is a lonely journey and the company of these nurturing entities will brighten it up when we need it.

Indian publishing ecosystem is yet to acknowledge the value of beta readers. It would be great for the ecosystem if it got together and created a hobby-career stream for them. Mine gave me invaluable opinions, those which mattered more than the paid advice I got from professionals. Currently, an Indian writer needs to develop his or her own network of beta readers either from friends and family, social networks or from the many budding blogging/writing clubs. My mother, husband, and a few friends are usually my first beta readers. Today, my network is on the rise. The investment of time and effort were worth it and to a newbie, a conscious effort is warranted. The beta readers are indeed more crucial than writing coaches. I can’t emphasize it more because my Beta reader saved me from becoming a scribe to my writing coach!