A Writer’s World #12 Why writers must stand by their books

No writer is ever fully pleased with her book. This could be a first time writer or a much-published one. What they all share in common is the little niggling thoughts and doubts about their books. They worry that the book is long, they sigh that chunks of it deserve to be rewritten, they wish they had another opportunity to edit the book.

This is a natural reaction. After all, from the time that the book was accepted for publication to the time when it was finally published, many things have changed. The world and politics, but most importantly, the writer has changed. However, analysing your own book and deciding that it could be improved upon is one thing. But what happens when a reviewer writes a bad review of your book?

The most important thing to remember is that not every book you write is going to be appreciated. Some people will love it and others will hate it. Those who love it might not shout out their love from the rooftops. But you can be certain that those who dislike it will make it a point to review it and discuss it, with particular focus on the weakness they have noticed.

At such times, the writer’s role is clear. She must stand by her book. When the world is finding faults with your writing, what your book needs is for you to stand by it. To be proud of it and proud of yourself. Because you have done an incredibly brave thing – you have dared to put down your thoughts on paper and you have had the courage to send them out into the world, alone and helpless, to find homes. And something that brave deserves all the support you can give it. Besides, if you, its creator back away from supporting it, then who will?

So, stand by your book and show it some author love. Love thy book.

Your book needs it but you need it much more than that!

A Writer’s World #11 Why you must talk about your books

Most writers are shy people. They shrink away from public functions, they frantically back away from any attempt to honour them and they detest being in the spotlight. I feel this way too and would rather skulk in the shadows than feel a hundred eyes on me.

And yet, I have realised that some of these interactions are good for the writer. Any public occasion that allows the writer to talk about her book should be seriously considered. And this is not because it will benefit the readers or inspire countless others to pick up a copy of her book and read it. I think every writer should talk about her books because they benefit the most important person involved- her.

As creators of these books, we live with them from the moment of their birth. We know the exact minute when the idea was born in our heads, we can rattle of all the changes we have incorporated into the narrative, all the challenges we have faced in writing the books. But, when you set out to publish a book you set out on a really long journey. It is exhilarating, it is wonderfully stimulating and if done right, it is eventually rewarding. By the time we are at the end of the journey and the book has been published, several of these important details have grown fuzzy or even been forgotten.

Talking about your book allows you to remember these. And these are details that help you remember how you plotted the story, how you overcame a sag in the middle, the research that went into writing. Talking about the book also helps you recall the larger thought, the message (for want of a better word) in the story.

On the few occasions when I was asked questions about my writing and my books, I ended up looking closely at something that familiarity has caused me to take for granted. I examined the way ideas came to me and it made me pause and appreciate the sheer magic of the process. In discussing the way my characters were born and why they behave the way they do, I felt a sudden rush of affection, understanding and appreciation for them. Essentially, talking about my books and the writing process introduced me to my work and process. And this filled me with a huge appreciation of what I was doing, how I was doing it and also how fortunate I was to be doing it. It made me stop taking my work for granted, so my books surprised and delighted me.

In a world where very few occasions allow you to do that for yourself, I think these should be embraced.

And that’s why I think writers should talk about their books!

A Writer’s World #10 When Life Happens…

When I began writing my blog, I was filled with enthusiasm. There were so many things I wanted to write about, my journey as a writer that I wanted to chronicle and other writers that I longed to reach out to. And I did manage to write on several of these topics. Then, there was a longish break in my writing. What happened was nothing unusual. It’s something that happens to all of us, something that comes in the way of fulfilling dreams and doing all the things you had planned to do.

Life. It happened.

How often have you met people who say they have always wanted to write but… I can guess what comes after the ‘but’. Illness, a child’s education, the need to hold on to a job, taking care of family members – the reasons are many but together they can all be clubbed under the overarching umbrella of  – Life. Happening.

Life happens to all of us. It rudely interrupts our beautifully laid plans, it ruthlessly grabs our time and demands our attention and it proceeds to lay waste all our creative energies. What do we do when that happens? I know many writers who wait for the right time. Once the child is off to college, they say, they will focus on their writing. Once an ailing parent is back home, it will be time to write. And yes, this is an admirable and even practical approach to writing and life happening.

But we need to remember that life seldom follows the rules we lay for it. It is wilful and demanding and capable of taking you to places you never imagined going. So, how does a writer deal with life happening?

You just keep thinking and when possible, writing. I understand that every writer needs silence and the space to think and write. But I also feel that writers need life happening around them in order to write.  We cannot all be The Lady of Shalott, isolated on an island while life flows around us, relying on the reflections we see in a mirror to create our magic. Any writing that is inspired by reflections is bound to be pale and underwhelming. Allow yourself, instead, to be inspired by the chaos life unleashes around you.

Early in my writing career most of my time was spent with my son. I chose to embrace all the small things that I had to do for him. The result – stories about school and fears and friends and homework. I wrote a lot of short stories in the time when my son had not yet started school. This was primarily because I wanted to spend time with him. But what could I do of the burning need to write? Short stories provided me the perfect compromise- I was able to use my experiences effectively and do it in a more economical time frame. This not only allowed me to mine the rich resources handed to me by my son every day, it also allowed me to continue writing.

And yes, when he finally started school I did write. I wrote journalism and short stories, I wrote novels and chapter books. I wrote them through illness and the demands of school, I wrote through personal lows and the increasingly difficult conversations about what he wanted to study at college.

That’s how, while life happened around me, I wrote.

A Writer’s World #8 Fifty books and counting…do numbers matter?

A while back my 50th book was published. Of course, the world knew nothing of this but it was a pretty special moment for me.

My first book was a picture book and it was published 15 years ago. I had made up the story to entertain my small son. The joy on his face when I narrated the story to him had been reward enough. And then, I had sent it to a publishing house on a whim. When it was accepted and published, it was a pretty special moment for me. My name on a book was something I had dreamt of, but never really imagined happening. Every book that came after this was a bonus, because my dream had been small and manageable – I had only wanted to have one book published. After the fifth or sixth book I stopped counting. Not because I was tired or had grown so certain of my publishing career but because of something more important.

Publishing my books took a back seat to my desire to write. Of course, I did want the world to read my books but when I was writing and working on polishing my story, that was all that mattered. I dreamt, not of seeing the book in print with my name on it, but of writing a story that would create magic with its combination of believable characters, an interesting plot and a unique setting. And so I glued myself to my chair and thought up worlds and stories, characters and twists. There were years when nothing I wrote was accepted, there were years when I had a sudden rash of releases. There were rejections and long waits for editors to get back to me. There were huge moments of self-doubt, long periods when it seemed futile to write another word.

And then, a new idea would grip me and hold me in its thrall. It would occupy my every waking moment, allowing me no time at all to think of anything else. And that’s how I wrote and wrote and wrote. Why I persevered and sent out sample chapters to editors, and waited patiently to hear from them.

And so, when my 50th book was published it was a pretty special moment for me for several reasons. From dreaming of publishing one book I had come to having my 50th book out. I had risen from the depths of despair where it had seemed logical to never write again and written more. And with every story I plotted, every word I wrote, my voice had become stronger and surer.

It was incredible that something as abstract and insubstantial as an idea, something born in the humble corners of my brain, could have resulted in so many publications. It seemed even more incredible that people were reading the stories I wrote, that I was being paid to do what I would have done for free, that I was recognised for the worlds I had created and peopled.

And then, when I looked at the number of books I had published, 50 acquired sudden significance. It was proof that words can create magic, that they can influence people and create an identity for you that has nothing to do with all the roles you play in your life.

And for that, yes, numbers are important. Every single book you notch up is yet another validation of yourself, and the magic of your words and your stories.

 

Becoming a Better Writer

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Whatever gets published makes you famous. 

But what doesn’t get published makes you a better writer.

 

This is not a well- meaning bit of sop for all those looking for comfort when they face rejection. It makes sense, a whole lot of it. Think of it, when you write a story, you write it in isolation, wondering all the while if your readers will like it as much as you do. A tiny part of your brain tells you that perhaps you are a little bit prejudiced in favour of your story but you push the thought roughly aside. And then you send the story to the publisher of your choice. When they write to say they are sorry but it does not fit their publishing list, you are devastated. How on earth could it have been rejected, you rage. It was so beautiful a story, with such lovely characters.

But when your anger subsides and you are at that stage where you look at the world through yellow coloured lenses, that’s the time to act. Read the story again. Read it as if you were a stranger, unacquainted with the characters, fresh to the setting and unaware of all the plot ploys you’ve put in. Laugh at the jokes, ponder the sad bits, and cheer for the characters you like. And when you read the last line of the story you will know exactly what makes your story weak, which of the characters are let down by stiff dialogues and which twist is so obvious that anyone could see it from the very first page.

And now, you are ready to rewrite the story. If you do things honestly and ruthlessly, cutting unnecessary bits out, pushing your favourite character into the dark of cupboards where they languish, then your revised story will be new. It will sparkle with believable voices and wit, with humour and laughter.

And when this story gets published, it will make you famous.

But only after it has made you a better writer.