On Writing

Many people ask me what it is like to write a book. I had written a post in my blog, in August 2012. It still holds true.

Below is the piece.

Most runners speak of a ‘Runners high’– that endorphin rush you feel when you have been involved in strenuous activity, leading to a feeling of euphoria and happiness. Yesterday I hit a writers high. It was something I have never experienced before. I wrote 7256 words yesterday. That is the highest ever number of words I have written in a single day, in my entire writing career. I patted myself on the back. And when a friend pinged to ask how is the writing going, I said ‘Super, I hit a writer’s high today. This is the highest number of words I have written in a single day in my entire life.’‘Wow. Keep rocking!’ he typed back. But I don’t think he understood why it meant a great deal to me.

Writing a book, is a lot of work really. You have to think of a story (a completely original one which no one has done before, which by itself is a mammoth task), a plot, characters (they have to be likeable, believable, and people who you can relate to) , dialogue, what happens to them. You have to write coherently. But more than anything, you have to discipline yourself to sit at the computer all by yourself and type out word after word after word. Day after day after day.
It is a L.O.N.E.L.Y profession. You have to be involved with people and interested in them and understand them, empathise with them, yet be strangely detached to be able to write. There is no-one really to check your progress and nobody you are accountable to. So that makes it that much more harder. You can take a year, two years, even five years to finish a book. It is so entirely upto you and you alone.

You have to be involved with people and interested in them and understand them, empathise with them, yet  be strangely detached to be able to write.I have my own ways of pushing myself. Sometimes I compete with fellow authors who are working on a book. We ping each other at the end of the day and ask ‘WC?’ (which stands for word count. There is great joy in typing 2300 or 3200 or whatever be the number of words one has written. A sense of satisfaction of a day well spent. Sometimes I tell a friend (whom I am dying to meet) that I will go out with them only when I hit x number of words. Then they keep checking as to how many words I have written so that we can go out. I report my progress to my children and spouse and the house-help as well as my dog. They are the only ones who actually care about my word-count. 🙂 Or rather, they are the only ones who will listen to me. (oh and that friend too who I promise to go out with on hitting x words)

Most full length novels have a minimum of 60,000 words.
This is how it is classified :

  • 500-1,000 words – Flash story
  • 1,000-10,000 words – Short story
  • 10,000-40,000 – Novella
  • 40,000-60,000 – Novelette or “Novel Lite”
  • 60,000 and up – Novel

Yesterday I crossed 60K words of the book I am working on. (which was when I hit the writers high).
‘Oh, so does that mean the book will be out soon?’ asked the friend.
‘No! The real work starts now!’ I replied.

Most people do not know that once a manuscript is complete, and a publisher is chosen, it takes a minimum of 4-6 months for the book to be out. The manuscript goes through the first revision.The structural changes if any are suggested to the author. The author then incorporates the changes or convinces the editor about why the changes should not happen. Then begins proof reading. The first round is done and the manuscript comes back to the author. Generally it looks like a war-field with all the corrections in red looking like blood-wounds. I had winced when it first came. I kid you not. Then the corrections are made and sent back.Each coma, each full stop, each word, is examined over and over. Then the second round of proof readings happen. Then the third. Sometimes fourth and fifth. (I have proof read till the words begin blurring and I fall asleep in front of my laptop) We squabble about fonts. About an exclamation mark. About a word repeated.
Every single detail counts. Then the cover. And the book title. And the acknowledgements. And the chapter titles.

And how it should all appear in the final version

And finally it is a BIG moment when the book gets an okay and goes for printing. For my last book, upto the last moment, we were making changes. It is something like a rocket-blast off–the frantic holding of breath, till it takes off. The tension doesn’t end there. When you finally hold the book in your hand (the much coveted author’s copies) it is truly a moment that makes me weep. Every single time. No matter how many books you have written, it is still the same. Welcome to the writers world.

It is a lonely place, a crazy place, a place which makes you hurtle down into depth of despair when you can’t get those words out, but at the same time a place which makes you soar higher than even the heavens when things go right.