American author Annie Dillard had once said, “At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.” Sitting in front of a new word document and creating something from scratch — giving form and shape to something which otherwise existed only in your mind ¬— could very well be an act of defiance. You are working against external factors: a burgeoning social media feed, the cacophony of vehicles bellowing their horns while whooshing past your apartment, the music in the coffee shop is not suiting your sensibilities and hence you cannot concentrate, you cannot write.
What does it take for an author to put on the blinders and work steadfastly towards this uncertain utopia, putting words to paper – universal theme and arc et all – until it is a coherent, tangible product ready to disseminate some of your deep, fundamental truths to the rest of the world?
Writer Vineetha Mokkil admits that it takes a superhuman amount of patience, and a deep commitment to one’s work (whether it is a story or novel or poem) to see it through from the initial spark or idea all the way to print.
Writer Vineetha Mokkil who is currently at a three-month writing residency in Taos, New Mexico, in the United States, admits that it takes a superhuman amount of patience, and a deep commitment to one’s work (whether it is a story or novel or poem) to see it through from the initial spark or idea all the way to print. And there is always a frustrating gap between the “idea and the thing” i.e, the gap between the story you want to tell and the one you actually put down on paper. But she articulates it quite simply – You can’t keep a story bottled up inside you – you will implode.
“Your need to tell a good story, no matter what hurdles you have to overcome to do it. Once you start work on a story or a novel, you can’t let go of it. There are times when you question your sanity, but deep down you know that in the end, it will be worth all the trouble. ‘To not see a piece of work through’ is really not an option.”
Delhi-based author Devapriya Roy feels that broadly there are two kinds of writers – “Those who plot everything out in their head, down to the last detail, filling up notebooks with backgrounds and family trees and what have you, before they start writing the book. And those who begin with a moment, an image, an absence, a character glimpsed at an interesting cross-section, and then take it from there. They write to find out what happens next. They are as much at sea about the future as anybody else.”
“The novel or the ideas book is always on slow simmer – and that’s why there is no holiday from a book once it’s being written!”
Speaking from her own experience she says that once a writer has dived into the narrative, however slowly the book might get written one part of the writer is plugged to this energy source all the time. “The novel or the ideas book is always on slow simmer – and that’s why there is no holiday from a book once it’s being written!”
Writer Debashri Banerjee also concedes that when she is immersed in the writing process, be it a loud television, the presence of too many people or even if she is stuck in traffic – she remains unfazed, constantly thinking about her story and characters. She adds, “I never cease to visualize my story and characters. It is important to see your characters floating in front of you and behaving the way you have penned them down.”
Vineetha informs that things do get a lot easier once you have a supportive editor who will guide you through your most conflicting hours to make sure that the manuscript goes to print in its best possible shape. Radhika Marwah, the Associate Commissioning Editor of Penguin Random House India, elaborates on the process:
“The extent of editing depends on how good the first draft is, though it’s important that you only sharpen the writing and don’t drown out the writer’s original voice.”
“I work very closely with my authors—right from brainstorming ideas to structuring and editing. The extent of editing depends on how good the first draft is, though it’s important that you only sharpen the writing and don’t drown out the writer’s original voice. Every author needs different kinds of support—some prefer sending in the draft once complete while others prefer feedback chapter by chapter.”
A good editor also holds the reigns when the author is overcome with an incessant urge to chuck the existing manuscript and start all over. Devapriya speaks about being anxious even at the editing stage, “Writers hate everything they’ve written sooner or later, usually sooner…That’s why you need a firm editor to shoo her away from the book if she gets hysterical about wanting to do it all over again! Nuts and bolts need tightening, of course, and consistency issues need a close examination – but doing away with half the building just before the handover is certainly bad news.”