Why do you want to write?

Image courtesy: Freepik

Hello again.

I meet many people, some young, others not-so-young, who tell me that they want to be a writer. A lot of them have never written anything in their lives. While that is not a disqualification, it helps to have some clarity about why one wants to be a writer.

If you read my last piece and did the exercise towards the end, you should have some initial thoughts on why you want to be a writer. You should also have figured out what timing works best for you and your writing spot.

In that case, let’s talk about writing for a while.

Writing is a form of communication. We can write for ourselves or we can write for others. One of the reasons people write is to communicate, get some sort of interest or action from the reader or the person they are communicating with.

When we are writing for ourselves, we are putting our thoughts down on paper. It helps us reflect and understand. Writing for ourselves is mostly private but one may want to share their writing with others.

When we write for others, our work may be reviewed and shared with the public.

There are a couple of good things about writing.

When you write, you exercise the mind. It’s not enough to exercise your body, you should do the same with your mind as well. Writing helps you do that.

Writing helps unclutter your mind. There is a lot of noise inside our heads. Often, the noise distracts us, makes us lose focus. When we write our thoughts down in a diary, journal or even a document in the laptop, it helps unclutter the mind.

Writing helps mine memories. I find this particularly useful when I’m writing. Of course, not all memories are pleasant but the happy ones are worth remembering, eh?

Writing down ideas often ends up generating more ideas. Whenever you get a brainwave, say an idea for a story, a blog post or even an article, write it down immediately. Storing things inside your head is a bad idea. You might end up forgetting them which would be a huge loss. When you write things down, you add to your inventory of creative ideas.

Writing is a great way to improve your communication skills. You have time to choose your words, polish your language and put together elegant sentences and phrases.

Are there any more reasons one should write? Do you want to write for yourself or do you want to write for an audience?

First things first. Form that habit.

Image courtesy: Freepik

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up

Jane Yolen

Of all the writing advice that I’ve read over the years, this is the one I like best. The one that makes complete sense to me. I think of writing as a habit – something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it. I started writing seriously when I was 21. I had a job as an apprentice journalist with a leading business daily. I had to write or edit something every single day, whether I liked it or not. There were days when I had to write articles at a moment’s notice and if I said anything about writer’s block, I would have been fired immediately! Over the years, I wrote and wrote and now, not a day goes by when I don’t write something.

If you are an aspiring writer, it would help if you treat writing as a habit and develop it over time. It’s a bit like exercise. If you want to be fit and healthy, lose a few pounds along the way, you must get into a fitness routine. Walk every day or do a bit of yoga. It’s the same with writing. Here are some things that I do that might help.

Set aside some time to write every day. Once you do that, guard that time ferociously. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is. There are writers who write at the crack of dawn while others write at night. The pandemic has turned me into an owl so I write at night, after all my chores are done. Choose a time that works best for you.

Once you have sorted out when you are going to write, make sure you spend a couple of minutes (to start with) every single day writing something. It can be a few lines of a draft for a story, a character sketch or even a poem. Whatever catches your fancy. The idea is to keep doing it till you get into the habit of sitting down either in front of the laptop or with a piece of paper and pen and write something. As Yolen says, exercise the muscle. Form the habit. It doesn’t matter if what you write doesn’t see the light of day. It doesn’t need to.

Choose a spot. It could be your desk, the bed or even a corner of the dining table. I have a desk but I usually write in bed. Once you have a spot, make sure you turn up every single day with your laptop or your diary. If there is something you are working on, continue with your project, else figure out what you want to write and get cracking.

Exercise: Why do you want to be a writer? Take a sheet of paper and write down three reasons.

In my next post, I’ll give you some ideas on how to get started. For the time being, choose your spot and time. Think about why you want to write.

See you next week!

The Name of the Game

If there is anything that puts me off about the process of writing, it is the part where I have to figure out what to name the characters in my short story or novel. Short of pulling names out of a hat, I do everything humanly possible to come up with interesting names. Names that reflect the personalities and quirks of my characters.

I think it is important for the main protagonists in your manuscript to have names. I’m talking about the characters that drive the narrative and contribute towards the progress of the plot. The reader should be able to connect with them from the first instance and a memorable name helps build that connection. Look at it this way, don’t you remember people you meet who have interesting, even unusual names? It is the same with the person reading your work.

I do not believe that all characters, especially the insignificant ones, need a name. Too many names can lead to unnecessary clutter and readers may get distracted. In a pacey crime novel for instance, a reader might get confused with too many names. In short stories, characters don’t necessarily need names. Ernest Hemingway didn’t believe in giving all his characters names. You must read A Clean Well-Lighted Place to understand what I mean. The latter is one of his finest short stories.

When I was writing Mr Eashwar’s Daughter, naming the characters was a huge challenge. Since my book was a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, I wanted the names to have some similarity to the characters in the original novel. So Anne Elliot became Anamika “Anna” Eashwar and Commander Frederick Wentworth was Farrokh “Freddy” Wadhera. But I didn’t name the characters on a whim. Farrokh’s parents were music enthusiasts and they named him after Freddy Mercury while the Eashwars were landed gentry and Eashwar was a title they adopted.

A few rules that I follow. You might find them helpful.

Do your research well: It is always a good idea to research the period you are writing about or even the region or country and then name your characters accordingly. Inaccuracies stick out like a sore thumb and readers’ can always tell.

Unusual & interesting: I like names that have an interesting ring to them, quirky names even. Or names that reflect the personality of the character I am writing about. Mrinalini from Dragon Aunty Returns! was a staid, prudish Bengali girl and I thought that name would be perfect for her. No offense to anyone I hope, living or dead.

Does it sound good? That’s the question you must always ask at the end of the day. Does the name have a pleasant or unpleasant ring to it? (depending on your character’s traits) Would you give your own child the same name? Your book is your baby, isn’t it? Give it the same importance then.

A word of advice: do not name your characters after your friends, relatives or lovers. It is never a good idea unless they ask you to do it or you get their permission in advance. Make sure you get it in writing so that they can’t take you to court later. Just kidding. Store the note safely somewhere though!

Click here to find out how authors named their famous characters.

The Heart of the Matter

A friend asked me on Twitter after reading my post on writing short fiction, how does one get the reader to experience an emotional connect with what you are writing? There are some stories in which the plot isn’t particularly new or extraordinary yet they manage to make the readers feel a myriad of emotions.

Now I can list out all the different techniques that you can use to write your stories so that your readers get hooked. The way you create your characters, using plot, descriptions and twists in the narrative to hold their interest. You will find most of that on the Internet if you look for it.

What about the emotional connect then? How do you write something that will move your readers? In the words of Ernest Hemingway: write hard and clear about what hurts.

As a writer, you need to feel emotion when writing to be able to convey that feeling successfully to your readers. If your writing leaves you cold, how can you expect your reader to be moved to tears by it?

It’s a dangerous proposition. Difficult even. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. But whoever said writing is an easy job? And the simpler your tales are, the more complex emotions they will tap. You need to be prepared to journey to the dark places inside your soul, play with your own feelings and life experiences so that you can tell your tales convincingly. You have to make people believe, giggle uncontrollably, shed a tear or perhaps feel terrible rage.

These journeys will not be easy and they will leave you emotionally drained. But it will be worth it. That part I can guarantee. My last short story, The Red Thread, about a young apprentice tailor who falls in love with disastrous consequences left me weeping after I had written it. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience but recent events and a trip down memory lane prompted me to write it. Do read and tell me what you felt. I’d be curious to know.

Have you ever read a story that moved you to tears or rage or intense contemplation? Have you wondered what it was about that story that made you feel this way? Write back, I’m waiting to hear from you.

Meanwhile, you can read some of my other short stories on the Juggernaut Books app here.