Yesterday, my friend Ritwam Sen, as part of a comment thread on Facebook, asked me about my writing habits. Since I had been asked that question a few times before, in different contexts, I thought of writing a Facebook note. A few of you commented on that note wanting to know more. So here is a full blogpost on the subject, arranged listicle-style.
1. I write all the time. When I am out on a walk, sitting on my potty seat, driving to work, watching a cricket game right after my Fantasy Power Player gets out, utilizing any idle CPU cycles of my brain to think about my story.The biggest part of writing, I have found out, happens when you are not writing.
2. I practice active reading. That is when I am reading a book, I am just not only drinking in the story. I am also taking time to think about its structure, flow, and the way characters develop and speak. Why do some sections drag? Why do I like this part? How does the author transition between events? Understanding this allows me in turn to write better. Also, based on the genre I am writing in, I do some genre-specific reading before I put finger to keyboard. It gets my brain into the pace and mood of what I am to write. Kind of like net-practice before a game.
3. When I think of stories, I always start with the ending. Be it in sex or in books, a bad climax spoils everything that has gone before it. Once I have the ending in mind, I work backwards to create the skeleton of the plot. I usually dont write it down unless it is so complex that I might forget it later. For example, Sultan of Delhi (my next) is very complex, so I wrote down the entire map of crosses and double-crosses and twists so that I wont forget. I wrote down nothing for Yatrik or the Mine.
4. Once the skeleton is clear, it’s time to put some flesh on it. Individual sequences. And characters.They are kind of intertwined always, characters and sequences. Some sequences exist only to establish character, and some to move the plot along, and some to set the hook for what will happen next.
5. Writing for an Indian audience in English, I find many people don’t really care for a sequence unless the plot moves rapidly. They say “boring”.
6. Once I can visualize the sequence and its importance to the overall needs of the book, I start writing. I haven’t thought of the dialogue yet, mind you. Only how the sequence will start, where it will end, and why the sequence is important to the book. Then I start typing, and the descriptions and the interaction flow organically.
7. I dont write every day. I cannot. Sometimes the first time I get is at 11 at night on a weekday. Some days I just want to watch 90s Hindi film songs or fight with someone on Twitter. Writing on a day I dont want to write leads to garbage.
8. Some days I can barely write 200 words. Some days I write and count the words. WHAT ! I wrote 3000 words. Then I start going through my Twitter mentions to fight with someone.
9. I obsessively redraft. I am like the monkey on the pole. I write 1 new chapter and go back to re-draft 2 chapters.
10. Sometimes months pass before I resume writing. Just like that.
11. I get distracted. I have a mental database of about 8 book-ideas I want to execute. Sometimes one of these pushes their way forward. I need to really slap that idea back to be able to continue my current project. Sometimes the idea wins and I abandon my project. (This happened with Yatrik which pushed out the book I was then working on)
12. I like to give my book out to people I trust as I am writing it. Their feedback matters. Positive feedback is very reassuring.
13.I often feel frustrated. Not so much by the writing, but by other things that have to go along with it. Sales, marketing, availability. While it is fashionable to say “I write for myself” and ” I don’t care what happens to my book”, the thing is that unless you as an author care for sales, you will no longer be financially viable for any publisher. End of story.
14. I really care for reviews. Read every one. I request anyone who has ever read a book of mine to review it. Some place.
15. I feel bad reading reviews where I know the person is dissing my book because he/she does not like me for my opinions, rather than for my book.
16. Some bad reviews are valuable. I consciously try to improve myself every book I write.
17. I write for an audience. Nothing gives me as big a high as someone saying “I read your book”.
18. There are some people I, for no good reason for really, want approbation from for my writing. I realize I need to stop this.
19. My father and I fight over the phone sometimes because he thinks I step on too many influential toes because of my “frankness” and that affects my career as an author. I find it impossible to stop being me.
20. Some day I hope to be so big that I don’t have to come to office to work for a living. I am very aware that that day might never come. But then who would have thought Shakti Kapoor would get mobbed by such beautiful girls. If that can happen, maybe I too have a chance