Today at Behind the book we have Sudhām, the author of Eighteen- The End of Innocence.
Before he left his job as the National Marketing Head of India’s largest FM Radio Network-92.7 BIG FM, Sudhām worked for over thirteen years with brands such as Nokia, Lenovo, and TVS-E.
Know more about Sudhām by visiting www.sudham.in. Follow him on Twitter @sudhaam and on facebook.com/sudhaam. Sudhām can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't all of us have a friend or a friend of a friend who at every party you meet has a "What I really want to do....." tale to tell. Well yours truly used to be that guy. The good part; I always said I wanted to be a novelist. Trouble was getting started!
Now that I have, I can only tell you what has worked for me. You can call that a disclaimer of sorts but here are my writing mantras.
1. THE FACE IN THE MIRROR
The first thing is to take a look at the face in the mirror and have a conversation with yourself. They say that you invariably end up with the honest truth if you ask why five times. So ask yourself if you really want to be a writer, then ask yourself why you want to be one followed by a few more whys. If you find yourself answering them convincingly (to yourself) then you can be assured it's not a fleeting urge and it really is something that you are passionate about. It also will bring to fore any doubts you may have with regard to your intent, ability or both. Remember the point is to be honest.
I found myself delaying that conversation for a long time. I wish I hadn't though since it was this hard look inside that really made me understand how important writing was to my being. It was (and still is) my outlet, my warm blanket. Writing makes me happy. When somebody reads what I have written it makes me happier. If my writing manages to evoke a reaction it makes it special and makes it memorable when someone talks about it to a third person. I guess any journey that starts at happy is bound to get better!
2. PRACTICE MAKES IMPROVEMENT
I heard somewhere that all of us have a book inside us, hardly anyone though has a second one! The crux of the matter is not just having a story to tell, it is having the ability to tell it! That's where practice comes in. If one wants to be a storyteller one needs to practice the art of storytelling. I remember this sequence in the movie The Patriot where the protagonist played by Mel Gibson tells his sons "Aim Small, Miss Small". A concept I found very useful. Start small. An anecdote shared with a group of friends or a blog post or an article in an in-house magazine pick your place to start. If you have already then do more of it! You shall find yourself adding a new twist even to the same tale if you narrate it more than once. If you have already got down to writing stuff then write more in the same space/genre. Challenge yourself by setting some targets you want to achieve and when you get there be more demanding of yourself.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers talks about the 10000 hour rule. In terms of 8 hour man-days that's 3 1/2 years of practice! Natural talent or being born with it are "Nice to Have" but not "Sufficient" conditions for success. Practice and more importantly falling in love with practice itself is what separates good from average and over time the best from the good. So if you really do love the written word, especially yours then there is only one person who can do the writing - You!
Yes, writing this piece is my practice.
3. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
Whether you are writing a short story or a novel or a scholarly article or a blog post or a poem beginning with the end in mind helps. Creativity is imagining something in a certain form when no raw material exists! As nebulous as that definition maybe it has made my journey simpler. Let me now attempt an explanation.
When I say begin with the end in mind it can be taken both literally and figuratively (choose your ratio). The vision of the finished product (I use that term for anything that you may want to write about) is important to have. The point we want to make, the stance we want to take, the emotion we want to evoke all of them and this is merely an indicative list; are buckets we can look at for our vision of the finished work. In a manner of speaking it is the destination pin on the map when we set out on a journey. We have the option of several different routes but knowing where we want to reach is surely a load off the drivers mind! Contrary to the popular saying it is about the destination! Indeed going with the flow is important and so is taking unexpected turns. That said it cannot be open ended.
4. A ROUTINE VERSUS A REGIME
Whilst having a vision of what you want to create is important one should not allow oneself to be pressured by it. Milestones are important and so is pacing oneself especially when you are wanting to write longer pieces. Lots of people throughout my journey kept telling me to adopt what I feel is a very regimental approach to writing. Suggesting I sit down to write every day at a certain time or for a certain amount of time every day. Works for some but not for all. Did not work for me. I tried, but I found the quality of what I wrote wasn't up to the standards that I expected from myself.
What I did do as a routine was make and take time to think about what I wanted to write. I made my "thinking time" all activities I did alone. On my drive to work, the days when I did go for a walk, even the time on the pot! I virtually forced myself to think about my writing. Today it happens at a sub-conscious level. What it achieves for me is both a way forward on what I am already writing or contemplating writing about and thoughts on what I could potentially write about. When these thoughts coagulate I get down to writing.
5. LIFE IS A MUSE
So...you have already had that chat with yourself and practiced religiously and have a vision of what you want to create and a routine set up. Still the words refuse to flow, then what do you do??
It is tough to find inspiration on a daily basis. Happens to the best of us and given that the person writing this piece is nowhere close to being the best (at least the best he can be!) it happens a few times too often. Where do you go finding your muse?
What I am about to tell you next might be the simplest yet the sanest advice you possibly could get. Perhaps even the most interesting one!
I believe the lives we and those around us live are extremely rich in stories one can tell. When I am unable to proceed with my story, I take a break. I instead start with people I see around me, total strangers that I randomly pick. Anyone who catches my eye or fancy. On a metro ride or on a visit to the mall. I give them a name and basis what I observe, build personality traits eventually building up to a back story that led them to be there at that exact place and time. Silly? Maybe. Works for me though. Think of it as a mental jog that warms up your creative muscles.
Well, I have shared with you my journey. I hope that what you have just read in some small way makes yours better. Like every journey there's a first step that needs to be taken. When are you having a chat with the face in the mirror?