Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Key Learnings from my personal journey
My eyes open on their own. The room is dark; there is no natural light outside to pierce through the thick black curtains. I glance sideways at my progeny, content in her peaceful siesta. The mobile at my side reveals the time as 5:20 AM. My body clock has synced itself with the new routine.
I tiptoe from my bed and enter my study.
It is time for me to enter a new world- a world where I wield the power to create and destroy at will. It is time for me to write.
The periphery of dawn is the time for me to wake up the writer in myself. Before the world consumes me with its demand, I steal this time of the day to be with my creative self. I go to my study, switch on my laptop, open a new MS-Word file and start putting fingers to the keyboard. The first sentence of the day is the most difficult one; the rest follows.
Reflections of a Writer
Today as I sit at my usual place, I reflect on my journey. Four months ago, I was a different person. I have paused my flourishing 14+ years of corporate leadership career to see if I can transform my passion into pursuit. Even though there is a long road to travel and I am not sure what the destination is, I am enjoying the journey.
Like me, there may be many who are passionate to write and yet stuck at the beginning. Others may have begun but feel daunted by the long journey. A few months back, I also stumbled and fumbled at my journey’s outset. Now writing keeps me busy, satisfied and stimulated. This post is my endeavour to share my learnings with fellow aspiring writers.
Five steps to the beginning
The beginning is the most important and, often, the most challenging part of any new innings.
The practices that I have explained below have enabled me to hone my writing skills and instil discipline in my methods.
1. Read and write something every day. This one may seem obvious, and yet it is profound. If I were asked my opinion about the single most crucial thing to become a successful writer, this would be it. As one of my mentors likes saying, “Reading is breathing in, and writing is breathing out.” Writing is an expression of your ideas, and you cannot get ideas without facts and opinions to ponder, admire or dissect. In the same vein, it takes years of practice to become an overnight success. Like gold shines when heated; similarly, your writing will become more and more polished with practice.
You can start small, like reading the daily newspapers and maintaining a journal for your thoughts. If digital is your preference, then there are a plethora of reading apps, online notes and e-journals available to meet your requirement. Taking out as little as an hour of daily time for personal reading and writing will mark the difference between an ‘aspiring’ and ‘published’ writer for you.
2. Observe the world around, and take notes. Readers will like your story when they identify with the characters. For creating an impact, the characters will need to be authentic within a fictional setting. If you are a non-fiction writer, you will often need to provide real-life examples to demonstrate the substance behind your point. Inspiration comes from reality; imagination is adding your creativity to a set of circumstances.
Everyone and everything has a story to them.
When you come across any news item involving people, think about what backstory they may have. Observe your surroundings closely to draw inspiration from them. Start with observing one new person daily- their body movement, manners, way of speaking, language, accent, idiosyncrasies, anything and everything. And note everything in an ‘observation diary’, which you can refer to later. Apps like Google Keep or Evernote come in handy for real-time note-taking of observations, ideas and musings.
3. Take courses. You will need the support of a structure to organise your ideas and aspirations. There are many self-paced, online, virtual and physical courses available- both in India and abroad- that will help you improve your writing skills. Also, if you are good with ideas but need help with grammar, it would be good to invest in a grammar course. More than the theories of the writing craft, the company of like-minded people will encourage, energise and enrich you. Fellow participants of the course will be your first support group, which will be of great help when you want reviews of and cheerleaders for your writing.
Based on your preferences and imperatives, you may choose to take a course on the overall aspect of writing, or you may specialise in a specific set of elements such as narrative, plot, character or format. Some of the writing courses that I have taken include the Stanford Continuing Studies ‘Creative Writing’ Program, Stanford Continuing Studies ‘Writing your Debut Novel’ Program, Henry Harvin's ‘Certified Creative Writing Specialist’ Course and Henry Harvin's ‘Certified Digital Content Writer’ Course. Coursera is also a good source of curated writing courses from some of the world’s best institutes.
4. Follow writing blogs and websites. Take advantage of the knowledge and wisdom of those who came before you and have laid the groundwork. Keep an eye on the website and blogs of your favourite authors, some well-known publishing houses, and, most importantly, writers who will help you with resources and tips to expand your repertoire. You will discover that you do have company in your journey.
Some of my best ideas have come while reading works of other writers. I discovered that there is more to publishing than books, thanks to a blog. The daily newsletter that comes to my Inbox is a source of inspiration when I am stuck or low. I follow my favourite authors’- Jeffrey Archer, Chetan Bhagat and Durjoy Datta- websites and social media accounts. Blogs and Newsletters of The Write Practice by Joe Bunting and Himalayan Writing Retreat by Chetan Mahajan are my go-to resource pools. I am sure that my go-to list will grow as I evolve as a writer.
5. Don’t bother about editing while writing your first draft. This was an eye-opener for me at Stanford and changed my writing trajectory. The first draft is called a draft for a reason. It is a canvas for you to express your raw idea without getting caught in the nitty-gritty of language and punctuation.
Don’t worry about your p’s, q’s, grammar, and composition during your first draft. Keep your editing scissors away. Put that pen to paper or your fingers to keyboard, and get your idea out there.
Do not start editing till the story, novel, concept, or chapter is complete. Let it be a free flow of your expression. You will get many chances to edit it later; it is essential to have the story first.
The Last Word
I am not a writing expert, and I don’t claim to be a successful writer by any means. But I can confidently say that from an aspiring writer six months back, I have now become a published writer and an author with 20+ stories and a short fiction E-book to my credit, with two more books in the pipeline. All this is in addition to multiple blogs, business articles, and thought leadership publications. The tips above are learnings from my own journey, and I hope it contributes to your growth as a writer.
Do you deploy any strategies or techniques for your writing that you would like to share with other aspiring writers? Share your thoughts in the chat box. Writing can be lonely; the writing community needs to come in together to support one another.