How to Be a Writer: [Researched by] Parinita Shetty

Parinita Shetty is currently researching her second book. She is very busy.

Read everything you come across—books, newspapers, poorly spelled graffiti in the train, the back of cereal boxes, instructions for using elevators—everything. Then prepare to be attacked by ideas when you least expect it. For example, while reading an article about trekking in the Himalayas, you might start to wonder whether the Yeti is always cold and think about whether you should go offer him some soup. Then you might decide you aren’t brave enough to go looking for monsters and end up writing about two kids who go looking for them instead.

The third most important thing is deciding on a writing outfit. If, like me, you’re chained to an ancient desktop computer at home because you’re convinced that buying a laptop means that at some point you will drop it on your foot or someone else’s unsuspecting head, wear pyjamas.

Curse yourself for this laptop-induced phobia the next time a family member switches on the TV and you’re stuck in the same room. To protest their belief that watching fictional characters screech at each other is more important than you getting some writing done, switch off your computer (angrily) and stomp off into the bedroom (also angrily). Decide you will only come out when you’re offered an apology or some ice cream. This will fail to happen because one of the fictional characters becomes unexpectedly pregnant while another hurtles off a cliff to his apparent death.

The second most important thing is research. Ask a friend who has been to Europe to tell you about a few interesting places to visit. After he rattles off some names, get into an argument because Noel (or whatever your character’s name is) can’t go there for a variety of fictional reasons. Your friend will be thoroughly confused, then become convinced he is talking to a mental patient and log off Gchat.

When you finally come to a decision about a place for your character to visit that is suitable to your fictional needs, watch a film loosely set in that country or which vaguely deals with the topic you’re writing about or even one that has a character named Noel and chalk it down to research.

The most important thing has nothing to do with writing and will most likely only become important once you actually sit down to write. Examples include rearranging your bookshelf that you were perfectly happy with five minutes ago, offering to run errands for your mother (whether she needs the help or not), checking out a video of a dog running into things or deciding to watch an entire season of Gilmore Girls again.

When you finally realise there are no more important things left to do (a process that may take up to a few weeks), you sit down and write. And once you start, you find it difficult to stop, screaming people on TV notwithstanding. You ignore food, sleep, your phone and real life in general in your quest to get a few chapters done.

No matter how much you love your characters, you make awful things happen to them. You don’t let them succeed easily (or at all). You throw serial disasters their way. If your characters get what they want too quickly, your story will end up having way too much vanilla ice cream and not enough chocolate sauce.

Try to resist the urge to giggle at your own jokes as you write them. You’re supposed to be a grown-up.

Similarly, don’t provide sincere advice to your characters out loud, belittle their questionable life choices or yell “You’re such a psycho!” at them.

Once you finish writing a few chapters, feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment for actually getting some work done. Reward yourself by visiting a bookstore to buy the book at the top of your to-read list. Of course you’re not going to buy more than one book because that only happens to people with no willpower and you clearly have tremendous willpower. You wrote four entire chapters! Return home with five books you can’t afford.
Try to write a fifth chapter but realise you can’t concentrate because you have five brand new books along with a large pile of unread books which you had bought at a sale that sold them by the kilo. Promise yourself you’ll get to the chapter after you finish reading a chapter (just one!) from your new book.

Three books (and an issue of National Geographic Traveller) later, the cycle begins again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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