Happy New Year, and best wishes for a completely fabulous 2014! I have a good feeling about 2014 and what it’ll bring for all of us. The nicest part of a new year for me is the feeling of freshness and new beginnings it brings with it. I’ve always been a New Year resolutions junkie – in my teens, I’d open a fresh page of my diary and write down a list of resolutions that ranged from the simple (study harder) to the unattainable (stop slouching!!!!) to the frankly bizarre (spend one day each week without speaking a single word except to teachers/ parents). As I grew older, the New Year’s resolutions showed an alarming tendency to stay the same year after year, and I graduated to the next level – a list of Things to Do Before I Turn Thirty. I unfortunately don’t have the actual list with me anymore, but I remember most of what was on it. Do an MBA from an A-list B-school. Get a good job. Marry a good-looking man with a fantastic sense of humour and a high tolerance for eccentricity. Buy a house. Have two kids, one boy, one girl (what can I say, I was born old-fashioned!). And last but not least – Write a Book.
Being a dogged and determined kind of person (except for occasional bouts of intense laziness), I had most of the stuff on the list ticked off by the time I was thirty. Baby No 2 came along a year later, and I was finally free to concentrate on the last outstanding item – becoming a published author. I submitted a couple of short stories to magazines, and they got published, one of them even winning a prize. Greatly encouraged I started sending out book proposals to publishers, and found out pretty quickly that people weren’t really lining up to publish stories by unknown authors. Luckily, around then, Mills & Boon India ran a short story competition for aspiring romance writers, and a story of mine made it to the top three.
Two years and four books later, I finally feel like a real author. And as my fourth book (The One She Was Warned About) hits the stands, I also feel like I’ve come a full circle, as this year I’m one of the judges for the romance section of the Mills and Boon (Harlequin) Passions writing contest this year.
When I was asked to come up with a list of New Year resolutions for new authors, I first had to think a bit. Then I went back to my own list of resolutions and came up with five resolutions that seem to cover it all:
- Keep writing: This might seem a bit…umm…obvious, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Writing involves a fair bit of discipline, and unless you have a deadline to meet, it’s difficult to sit down and write an ‘x’ number of words every day. Or ‘y’ words. Or even any words at all. Other things get in the way. Work. Friends. Kids. Life. And before you know it, you’re wondering whether it makes sense to keep writing. It does. Even if you’ve not been published yet, keep going, and it’ll happen someday!
- Ask for feedback: If you can, enroll in a creative writing course, but make sure its run by someone who knows what they’re doing. Even if you can’t, show your writing to family and friends – it’s also okay to reach out to people in the publishing field (authors, editors and so on) and ask for their feedback. Some of the most valuable pieces of feedback I’ve received have been from friends who are romance novel junkies. They’d read far more romance novels than I had, and could tell me exactly where I was going wrong. Small things sometimes, like getting side-tracked by a sub-plot or bigger ones like making one lead character stronger than the other.
- Get the basics right: At the risk of sounding like a school teacher – pay attention to the details! Grammar is important, and so are punctuation and spelling. An otherwise engrossing story can be completely ruined by sloppy writing.
- Keep your writing balanced: First books tend to be autobiographical, and that’s natural and perfectly okay. But especially when you’re writing popular fiction, you need to be careful that the book stays balanced and doesn’t lose sight of its main aim – that of entertaining the reader. The easiest way of making sure you get this right is to leave a manuscript alone for a while after you’ve completed it. Come back to it after a bit, and you’ll be able to see it from a more impartial perspective.
- And most importantly – have fun with your writing! Experiment a little. Try writing a couple of stories in a genre you know nothing about. Join author groups, try your hand at blogging – go a little wild with new plots and sub-plots and make sure you thoroughly enjoy the whole being-an-author experience J