~ Dishari Ghosh
'Writing is an art', wherein words can weave magical worlds, lovable characters, heart-tugging stories, and inspiring tales, all born from the mind of an author. A book or a screen in front of you is where realities and fables converge, an escape from the mundane, a conjuring of an alternate. As an author, you have the power to delve into any nook and corner of this universe and beyond, because words have no limits and they give you and your imagination the power to roam free in any direction and timeline you would prefer.
Whether you are just at the starting point or you have already embarked on your literary journey, get those laptops or notepads ready and come join us to discover your creative potential with some tips and tricks for aspiring authors like yourself. Curate them as per your needs and resources which are at your disposal.
1. Don't just hoard books - read them!
Reading is a sure-shot way of improving your writing if you do it correctly. When you are mindlessly turning those pages eager to know what will happen next, stop yourself and study deeper. Notice the sentence construction, the usage of words, the sequence in which one line comes after another, and even where the paragraphs or chapters break, to begin with a new one. Ponder over whether you would have used the same words, the same sequence for things happening; rewrite and edit passages you find interesting or shabby or if you are up for a challenge, the one you liked the most - to give that a different shape and structure, push the boundaries of your versatility and style.
Observe how dialogues are incorporated, how, where and why the details of a character's personality are revealed, where a background history is casually mentioned, and a vivid description of the landscape or setting is added. Carefully document your insights, thoughts and comments; annotate, scribble, and make a mess and you would be learning a lot of useful pointers for your writing.
Decoding and delayering already published works will expose you to various aspects. There are writing styles that you, as a reader, preferred and would like to incorporate in your work, these comments and annotations will help you get there as you work on your piece. Different writing techniques work for different genres, timelines, and stories - reading from an author's perspective will highlight these nuances that, as readers, we tend to overlook. And, without plagiarising someone else's ideas and work, reading more can spark creative thoughts within you, somewhere something might click for your piece - be it for an article, a short story, a poem or a novel.
2. Commit to Writing Regularly
'Practice makes a man (or really, woman/any person) perfect' is something we have all heard at least once in our lives. It is solely because it is true. Just like any other skill or habit that you try to pick up, writing too is a skill which demands continuous attention and determination. Now, no one is saying that you should only keep on writing while forgetting everything else, but do form a habit to write often. If you can take out two hours of your day every day to dedicate with a focused mind to your writing, do so. If it is just half an hour or four hours, do that. Just write as much and as often as you can.
As you keep writing and working on your book, do keep monitoring what you are writing. Don't write just to reach a target of n number of words in x amount of time, that will do you no good. Writing constantly can only prove efficient if you are improving along the way, learning what works, and deleting something that you do not like. Try to not be discouraged on those days when no matter what you write, it somehow does not deliver; edit and write again. You would notice over time such days have either become less frequent or less challenging because you have developed a sense of conviction in yourself and your writing - there will be a new beginning tomorrow and there are always chances to improve.
3. Become a Student, Again - Attend Writing Classes & Workshops
The path to becoming a professional writer is long, but it has some interesting stops on the way. One of them is attending writing and literary classes and workshops. In the past few years, there are several of these offered online, so you do not even have to step out of your comfort zone! But, if you are up for it, do make an effort and attend something on-ground. Learning new skills can be enhanced and prove to be quite enjoyable in a collaborative environment, interacting enthusiastically with not just those taking the session/s but also with peers, who are sailing in the same boat as yourself.
In these classes and workshops, much like your school or college classes, there is a lot to learn and you can develop or polish your skills. Under the guidance of professionals, you can expect to receive constructive feedback and tips on where to improve. With extensive discussions comes ideas of all sorts for your next work, make sure to keep a journal handy to note all these. You might not even need it right away, but there might come a time when this journal will solve your most annoying block.
Such classes and workshops usually entail hands-on practice and sometimes, even working on projects you would not take otherwise. Don't shy away from those and work diligently on these; it will aid you in your writing, with the variety provided. Store all the resources provided, there is no limit to what might one day help in some way. Most of all, such classes and workshops provide you with a great networking opportunity, within the writing and even publishing community. Use this space to make those connections, and learn from any which source possible.
4. Become a Member of Book Clubs & Writing Clubs
Having family and friends who support your career (or hobby) is great, but being a part of a community, which is right in the middle of the field is a helpful move. Being a member of book and writing clubs will be beneficial in the longer run. Writing, as part of a community, holds you accountable to show up for your work, with dedicated timelines and schedules. A structure will help you stay committed to this journey you have embarked on, creating a constant momentum over time.
Many clubs collaborate with established authors who often share aspects which worked for them, guide you in places where you might need help and even recommend your novels to their agents or publishers, if they see potential. Establishing such contacts from the industry can prove to be quite helpful.
The biggest plus point of being a part of such clubs is having others review your work - with brutal honesty. Of course, don't overshare on the first day, but over time, as bonds develop, you can help those in need and seek their insight into your work. Feedback like this can improve your novel, especially during the drafting process where the potential is the most. Additionally, opportunities for co-authoring a book with a fellow member might open too, if some interesting idea stems from conversations.
5. Creating Captivating Characters
What resonates with readers are the characters who ultimately narrate the story. Give importance to fleshing out the crucial characters of your novel; spend time with them, imagine them in various scenarios, and delve deep into their minds.
Just like any other human, characters are also multi-faceted, making them as human as possible. There will be several relationships in their life; use these associations to shape situations, give advice, rely on, fight with, share a coffee with, get stuck with - you get the gist. What is the profession of your character/s - what are they like at work, what are their ambitions and inhibitions, are they seeking opportunities or totally in awe of their career - details like these, if required, can be used to define your story further. Focus on their habits, interests, hobbies, stress management techniques, culture, and religion – such specifics are crucial in making your characters traverse the path from inanimate to animate.
Now place these characters in different locations, different timelines, perhaps even in an alternate universe – there is no limit to where and how your story can be set. Describe, not just in long and dragged ways, but relevant, engaging ways how the setting is. A café with books lining the wall, farmland with goats running around, a home with way too many plants, a school which runs on solar energy - settings have the potential to take your story on different paths, with newer avenues opening up, varied meanings or relevancy getting attached. Deliberate and construct different worlds in which your story can fit, and then finalise on the one with which you can start your work.
6. Delivering Dialogues
Conversations are a fantastic approach to moving on with your story, giving it realistic edges. As much as words around those dialogues matter, make your dialogues crisp and to the point; many tend to skim over extra descriptions and dive straight into the dialogues.
Write down possible conversations between the characters, only some things need to be said; reading between the lines is still fashionable and appreciated. Readers dislike stating the obvious, jumping into situations too directly - build it up. Engage your characters in witty banter, have them cut off each other's sentences (excitedly or angrily, much like real life), avoid lengthy monologues or divide it into multiple paragraphs, add those disgruntled murmurs - enhance your narrative by using dialogues, rather than using it grudgingly.
Have distinct voices and speech for your characters - words they use often, pronounced uniquely, tone of their dialogues. Dialogues are an interesting way to slip in information about the character's personality, culture, and language - unravel them slowly and when required.
7. Don't Be Afraid to Begin Again
None of your favourite novels, or any novel for that matter, had been perfect in the first draft. Making edits and rewriting is as much a part of the process as putting your creativity to use, in the first place.
After writing the first draft of the novel, make sure to read again, add phrases, contexts, and details that will enhance your narrative, and delete any that feel tedious or are not serving the bigger purpose. Double-check the flow of the story, does the ending of one paragraph or one chapter link with the next? Are there loopholes that you somehow missed while writing initially, or are more clarifications and tying up of loose ends needed?
Keep revisiting back and forth, put words under the microscope, but take a wide-angle look, as well - different perspectives will help you refine the final feel of the book. Take feedback and critique into account, whenever necessary; neither be too dismissive nor too embracing. Try to filter out what is truly required for your work to fall into place, some might not be valid immediately (or ever), and some might be exactly what you needed to take it to the next level.
While writing a novel can be a big undertaking, it need not be a dull or nerve-wracking experience. There is a story itching to get out, give it the correct time and patience. Keep reminding yourself why you took up writing in the first place, what fascinates you, and what keeps you interested. Between all of this, do not forget to take breaks when required; creativity can only flow seamlessly if it is not clogged by other unnecessary things. End your work with impactful last lines, which would live with your readers long after the story ends. After taking so many painstaking efforts, don’t expect your first novel to be a bestseller – just celebrate and revel in the fact that you accomplished such a marvellous feat!