I guess by now the whole world knows that J.K. Rowling was a single mother on benefits when she wrote the first Harry Potter book, the series that would later turn her into a billionaire. But did you know that in those early days she would bundle up her daughter into a stroller and settle down at a cafe, Nicolson’s in Edinburgh, to write all day long? Over endless cups of espresso and glasses of water – all that she could afford at the time – and with her daughter asleep beside her, she would write the words that would resound across the world in the years to come.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But if you are writing a book, or even an article or a blog, this approach may not work for you. How do I know? Because when I turn a bit stir-crazy sitting and writing at home, I have tried this whole working-out-of-a-cafe malarkey and take it from me, it does not work for anyone who is not called J.K. Rowling.
First off, this is India. So, there is the noise factor. There will be people bellowing away into their phones. There will be a couple breaking up or making up noisily at the next table. There will be children running around madly, playing some mysterious game of chase. So, it will be impossible to concentrate on the words you are writing given that you will not be able to tune out the word soup sloshing around you. And then, there is the fact that no self-respecting barista in India will allow you to linger all day long if all you order is espresso and water.
So, what is the best way to settle down and write, write, write?
Well, some would say, set off for some scenic location. Hire a place that has a room with a view and get started. But that would never work for me. I would just end up getting distracted by all that beauty. But there are some writing tips that have worked for me. And here are some of them, in the hope that they help some of you as well.
* Sensory deprivation. Choose a place that has no view. Where there are no books arranged seductively on shelves, tempting you to delve in. And no paintings to distract you with their power. Ideally, position your desk so that it faces a blank wall. You need your imagination to focus on the blank page in front of you to the exclusion of all else.
* No distractions. Make sure that there is no TV in the room. Turn off the Wi-Fi on your laptop. Disable social media apps on your phone when you work. Or better still, keep your phone in a different room. You can check in on your mail every hour or so. But that’s it.
* Don’t keep going back to reread and edit what you have already written. Once a chapter is written, print it out and put it in a folder. Only go back to it if you need to double check something as you are writing. Otherwise onwards and forward.
* Put your thoughts down on paper as they occur. Because often, when you pause to rephrase them in a more felicitous manner, you lose your chain of thought altogether. Just write it all down; you can always dress it up later.
* Inspiration can strike any time. Always keep a notebook handy so that you can scribble down your ideas as they pop up. If a notebook isn’t your style, then just jot down notes on your phone and mail them to yourself. Save them in a special folder, which you can consult at a moment’s notice.
* Don’t give in to writer’s block. There will be days when words simply don’t come. Don’t get up and walk away from the desk. Get your word count in even if you end up deleting it all the next day.
* Keep to a realistic word count limit per day. Many authors keep themselves down to 500 words, which seems rather paltry when you think about it. But as anyone who has wrestled with a book will tell you, it can be a struggle getting 1,000 words down every day. So, don’t get too ambitious because you will only get depressed when you don’t meet your unrealistic target. It’s better to aim low and hit your target than aim high and end up feeling like a failure.
* Set up a writing routine, depending on what time of the day you feel at your best. There are some writers who like to wake up at dawn when the rest of the world is asleep so that they can write in peace. There are others on the opposite side of the spectrum who stay up late when the rest of the family had retired and do their finest work then. And then, there are those who like to carve out chunks within the day when they can work undisturbed.
* Devise a ritual to separate your writing time from the rest of the day. Go to the gym, take the dog for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, leaf through a magazine or just watch a TV show. You can do anything so long as it is not connected to your book. Your brain needs that respite so that you can come back refreshed to your work.
* And most importantly, set aside some time for reading a book that is completely different from what you are writing. Reading a good author is not just inspirational, but aspirational as well.
From HT Brunch, March 5, 2017
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