Category Archives: Blog

Vidya’s blog

Writing a Novel – Day 10

I wrote this post on Friday, but when I came out of my self-imposed Internet blockade, I was confronted with the tragedy in Connecticut and could not bring myself to post it. Most of Friday was spent in trying to channel my outrage and anger at the senseless killing of children into some meaningful action. I think if lay people like you and me cannot get rid of our apathy about the hijacking of the topic of gun control in this country, no change will happen.

Dec 14 2012

Gaurav Rastogi (published author himself!) points me to this great article about the writing habits of famous authors. One thing you learn from it is that every writer has their own recipe for getting it done, though I have to say Hemmingway had style when it came to his method, quite like his output.

“Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.”

Maya Angelou’s confession that she often writes nine pages and cuts out six is consoling.

Yesterday I got a fair ways into Chapter 6, but today I think I’m going to be going back and redoing most of it today, mostly because my characters got from point A to point B (literally) too quickly. Metaphorically, this has been always a problem for me; I can recall my 9th grade English teacher saying, “Vidya, your précis is too short, it leaves out too much.” At a writing class at Stanford, I got the same feedback – I was hurrying my characters’ lives along, not explaining enough.

So today is all rewriting, again. It is not fun; I want to know what happens to these characters, and it is frustrating to have to wait. I have to say I have so much more respect for people who complete novels, even those of the trashy kind. Even a bad novel has to have all the moving parts work and all the logic worked out. It is bloody hard work, so at this point you can imagine how awed I feel by the likes of Rowling and Tolkein, who construct complete worlds that are populated by multiple characters with unique traits, worlds that operate by a different yet cohesive set of rules. No wonder it took Rowling seven years to write the first book.

More next week.

Please leave comments here instead of FB so I can keep a record. Thanks!

Writing a Novel – Day 9

Dec 13 2012

The world seems have to survived the mini-apocalyptic trifecta of 12s and I seemed to have survived my writer’s block from yesterday. After I was unable to make progress on the novel, I lay on the bed next to the desk and the dog obligingly curled up next to me. Forced to focus on the book, I finally came up with a plan for today by the time my writing period ran out.

What I am beginning to realize is that I am not going to be able to proceed in the neat, chronological, logical order that I had planned in my notes. Today is going to be devoted to revising some of the earlier chapters so my story can move forward. This is disappointing, because I had my heart set on beginning Chapter 6, but the reason Chapter 6 was not flowing out yesterday was because of some inconsistencies in the previous chapters, and I have to fix that if I want the story to make sense.

Random aside: The angle of light on my keyboard reveals that there are some keys that haven’t been getting much use. Just for that, someday I am going to name a character in one of my books Qxzj (pronounced Coczee!).

More tomorrow.

If you have some tips to share or experiences of your own, please leave them here in the comments instead of FB so I can keep a record.

Writing a Novel – Day 8

Dec 12 2012

Has it happened to anyone else that you start writing one kind of book and it turns out to be something else? The core idea of my book was very clear in my mind before I began. I even bought a couple of non-fiction books, based on the idea, that I thought would be very helpful to me as research material. But now that the story has got going, I see that I am barely using the core idea. Will some part of it emerge in future chapters? Perhaps. But it is also very likely that the story will end up being very different from the one I envisaged before beginning the project. And the reason for that is that the core idea was not logical in the environment I placed my characters in and I just could not reconcile the two.

I think there may be another book in there, for another time.

Meanwhile, I am not getting anywhere with the writing today. I think I might have the first attack of writer’s block, after chugging away productively for a week. The biggest problem is that I haven’t really thought through what happens in the next chapter, so don’t know what to put down. Is it going to be a chapter on background? Is the present story going to move along? Is it okay to spend my writing hours thinking instead? Throw in an interrupted morning because of the teenager’s block schedule at school, and you have the recipe for unproductivity.

Sigh!

Writing a Novel – Day 7

Dec 11, 2012

My writer friend wondered if writing this blog was taking me away from working on the book. I’ve come to realize that each day’s post acts as a warm-up exercise for the book. I am writing, but I don’t need to worry about structure or content too much, and this prepares me for the harder work of creating the novel. And whether I have progressed in the novel or not, I have put down some words in my allotted work time. This, I have come to realize, is important to me.

Today was a particularly difficult day to get going. First there were words with the teenager because he wouldn’t get up in time for school, then there were a couple of necessary phone calls to make and receive. If it wasn’t for the ease of writing the blog, I would find it hard to get into the mindset of working on the novel, especially since the next few chapters are completely unknown.

Finished Chapter 4 yesterday and hit a milestone of 5000 words (that took a paragraph in Chapter 5 to get to). Regardless of the quality of the words, this feels like a real achievement to me. I still can’t get over the feeling that this will end up as a pretty sub-par first book, but having seen plenty of those in the Kindle free section, I am okay with that for now!

More tomorrow.

If you have some tips to share or experiences of your own, please leave them here in the comments instead of FB so I can keep a record.

Writing a Novel – Day 6

Dec 10 2012

Back after a two-day break. Family members, who are now aware of the strict writing discipline I am trying to enforce weekday mornings, asked if I was going to continue the program through the weekend. I indignantly replied that I deserved a break, but then I came across this from a writer via Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish.

The No. 1 question I get at readings is: “How many hours a day do you write?” I used to stumble on this question. I don’t write every day, but when I first started going on book tours I was afraid I’d be revealed as a true fraud if I admitted that. Sometimes I write for 20 minutes. Other times I don’t stop writing for six hours, falling over at the end like an emotional, wrung-out mess, simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. Sometimes I go months without putting a word on the page.

One night, however, I was asked that question and the right answer just popped out, unknown to me before it found solidity on the air: “I write every waking minute,” I said. I meant, of course, that I am always writing in my head.

This, of course, freaked the insecure writer in me out! I certainly don’t write like that, though there are moments during the day when I do get inspired by something I read or see. And, as I mentioned before, walks with the dog do wonders in recharging the imagination. But I approach writing as a job that I do for a few hours each day, not as a raison d’etre. Perhaps every writer approaches their task in a different way. What’s yours?

Back to the book.

The problem with having been an editor for a while is that I am always looking to construct perfect sentences and have the logic and chronology of the story all figured out before I put pen to paper(or cursor to computer). My sense is that this is probably not the way I should be doing it, because it really slows me down.

For instance, one of my characters needs to have been very ill with a modern disease that requires intensive treatment in a hospital. What is this disease going to be? Why can’t it be fixed in a private clinic? The Freedom software that I’ve installed prevents me from doing the research right away, so I will have to use a place holder illness and simply move the plot along. I’m finding that difficult to do, though common sense tells me that it is not a big deal to rewrite if the real illness I use later turns out to have different complications. Or I could even create a disease out of whole cloth. But the urge to get it right the first time is very strong!

Another issue that bugged me was that I realized each of the first three paragraphs of my fourth chapter began with the word “When.” This is an absolute no-no for the editor brain, though I know that this can be easily changed during a redraft. I tried to let it go, but it nagged me so much that I ended up fixing it before I moved on, though there were plot ideas that were fizzing in my brain, waiting to be released.

Today’s target: Finish Chapter 4. When I began writing this chapter, it was only supposed to be a little background to where the heroine came from, but a new character forced himself in and demanded to be fleshed out. I remember an interview given by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni where she said that when she begins writing she feels a god-like spirit channeling through her, putting words on the page. (I’m paraphrasing here, sorry Chitra). I am beginning to understand what she means, though my muse appears to be far less benign!

More tomorrow.

If you have some tips to share or experiences of your own, please leave them here in the comments instead of FB so I can keep a record.

Writing a Novel – Day 5

Dec 7 2012

Quiet day yesterday as I worked on editing the chapters already done and completed chapter 3. In my new-found confidence about the state of the book, I gave in to my daughter’s desire to read what I’ve written so far. Luckily she was interrupted before she had finished the first chapter and I’ve quickly withdrawn the book so I can put some more thought into whether I want an opinion from her at this point in time. It is not the sort of book she naturally gravitates to, so her disinterest might be very demotivating.

Today’s plan is to get a start on the fourth chapter. I have some more ideas to beef up the first 3 chapters, but I’ve decided to put them on hold for now, because there is no end to the tweaking that can be done and I don’t want to be consumed by a fetish for improvement that prevents me from doing a first run of the book.

It’s also going to be a truncated work day because the house made a loud demand for attention yesterday by breaking the garage door and I need to get that repaired so skunks and raccoons don’t make a home inside during the cold weather. Plus, there’s a handyman around repairing the gutters and woodwork damaged by the recent rains.

Question for writers out there –
Do you name your chapters? Or are they just numbers?

More next week.

If you have some tips to share or experiences of your own, please leave them here in the comments instead of FB so I can keep a record.

Writing a Novel – Day 4

Dec 6 2012

I discovered the marvelously talented Anne Patchett a bit late. State of Wonder, her book about a researcher who ventures into the Amazon to look for a lost colleague, landed on my desk at India Currents because the heroine is half-Indian; weird reason, since there are just a few pages dealing with Marina Singh’s visits to India, but a jackpot for me. SoW is un-put-down-able, even when Patchett pauses for long stretches in the narrative to muse on her characters’ motivations and inner lives. As soon as I finished it, I grabbed The Magician’s Assistant, her first (I think). TMA is much shorter, but even here the atmospherics are well crafted and ably support a rather sketchy plot.

Right now I am reading Bel Canto, her most famous book.  It was awarded both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction(thank you Wikipedia) and it is both an aspiring writer’s dream and nightmare. No one can write detail like Patchett, and even in this story of a hostage situation in a South American country, Patchett takes the time to meticulously craft each character’s back story. This slows down the proceedings quite a bit, and in some ways I am glad I read SoW first, or I could have given up on this amazing writer, to my detriment.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is Ann Patchett is a terrific role model for writers who want to give their books depth. Reading her books is like taking a class in character and situation development, but it also makes you revisit your writing and shake your head at how fast your story has moved without enough explanation for the reader.

Yesterday I spent some of my time editing the first two chapters for clarity and got started on my third. Today I plan to add the explanatory passages that add heft to the narrative without (hopefully) slowing it down. And I can always pare later if the whole thing gets too long-winded.

More later.

If you have some tips to share or experiences of your own, please leave them here in the comments instead of FB so I can keep a record.