Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Talk on Creative Writing at NIFT

I got a call from Priyanka who teaches Fashion Communication at NIFT, Hyderabad, inviting me for  a guest lecture on Creative Writing for the 3rd year students. It was a 2-hour lecture - 130 pm to 330 pm. As always with post-noon sessions, the toughest part was to keep them awake.

Some of the points that we discussed:
We began at the beginning which is always a good idea - what does being creative mean really? To create as far as I am concerned is bringing forth a new idea - one that disrupts, an idea or view point that is our own, one that we take full responsibility for, an idea that propels a creative process. Creating needs courage and clarity.

Be bold and back yourself on your ideas. Write in an active voice. Don't worry about offending people.

75% of the time spent on creating goes into conceptualizing the idea, goes into getting the idea right in the head, and on paper. Then the writing process is only 25%.

My writing journey 
When I first decided to quit my job and write, I wanted to test myself if I was passionate enough about the process. I wrote an article a day for 4 months - roughly spent 10-12 hours a day on each. Once I realized I enjoyed the process of writing for such long hours I dived into it. If it is a passion do it, don't simply talk about it.

I shared how my first book 'The Misfit' never got published, nor the second, nor the third. The fourth got published. I shared how I wrote 'The Men Within' and 'If You Love Someone'. The structure of '50 Not Out' and how 'This Way is Easier Dad' came about and what it taught me about listening and observing. Overall, I shared the process of getting published and what it takes to write, get rejected and write again.

Insights - Mine
Creative writing is not some fancy 'creative' inspiration that flashes into our mind. It is organization of thought (first and foremost), good structure, a command over the craft and letting the story be the hero.

Start with a clear idea - a two line 'hook' about what the story is about. The hook should have enough energy to unravel a full-length story within it.

The premise of the story - the core of the novel - everything must contribute towards proving the premise. 

From the two line hook, develop a three para outline, with the three main acts - or the beginning (set up), middle (confrontation) and end of the story (resolution). This could come in about a page, outlining the way the story progresses. Then write a longer synopsis with more detail about how the story progresses, where the characters come in and do what.

I normally break the story up into its main sections - maybe three or five sections. It makes it easier for me.

The characters must be interesting. You must know them well. To know them well it makes sense to write their back stories with some amount of detail. Each layer you descend into their lives (where do they live, how much money do they have, guiding beliefs and practices, politics at home, hierarchy etc), a new layer opens up which adds to their personality. They become full-fledged, well-rounded characters.

Make fictional characters bigger - extraordinary.

Research well to write about things you have not experienced or know nothing about. It makes the writing authentic. One may not use most of the research material but it adds to the overall depth and credibility of the story and will not appear flat and two dimensional.

Dialogue must be natural and not forced.

Indirect dialogue more unique and interesting. Ask yourself the following questions about your dialogue - is it in conflict? is it trite? can it be said indirectly? is it as colorful and clever as it can be? 

After writing the first draft, I check for flow, scope for adding drama, comedy - doing it one draft ata a time. Look to add energy wherever it is falling off.

The story is supreme at all times. Do not get carried away by characters you like, lines you like etc. Always maintain that integrity of the story. Do not try to impress. Ask yourself - is this helping to move the story forward in the most efficient way or is it dragging it down or digressing?

Adopt a suitable style, tone, point of view and setting.

Find out who can tell the story best.

"Show and Tell" - Good writing allows the reader to form her own conclusions about a character or a situation by showing the character or situation through their actions. Not by telling the reader what the author concluded about the character or the scene.  Instead of saying 'she was a very good manager who turned around the company in six months' which is 'telling', devise ways to 'show'. Develop scenes and situations that show how she is efficient and let the reader make his mind up about her.

I don't believe in a writer's block. Keep at it. Some days it flows, some days it doesn't. You can always come back and rewrite that part.

Once the book is done keep it aside for 6 months so you maintain an objective distance from it. Then edit and rewrite.

The more you write the better you get. Start writing journals, blogs, look for publication in magazines, papers, websites.

Feedback is essential to grow. So start putting your writing out there, seek feedback and work on areas that need work. It takes time to develop skill. Blogs are an easy way to do that.

Read and read as much as you can. Read the great masters. Short stories are a great way to start.

Create a discipline of writing and write every day. If you embark on a book - the first draft should be done in 90 days. The key to becoming a writer is to write - one word at a time. 2000-3000 words a day. (In 30 days your book is done!)

Use simple words. Do not write long sentences. Never use words the meaning you are not sure of. Avoid using adjectives (except those of colour, size and number) and use as few adverbs as possible.
- V.S. Naipaul

Write for yourself first and then worry about the audience. Use active voice. Avoid adverbs especially after 'he said' and 'she said'. Don't obsess over perfect grammar. Read, read, read. Don't worry about making others happy. Keep off all distractions when you write. Stick to your own style - no rules. Write one word at a time.
- Stephen King

Write to the point and simple. Remove unnecessary words. Don't change tense in between sentences. Don't repeat words. Proofread your writing. Reread your article. Read it aloud.

Lead with the main idea. Use specific nouns and verbs. Cut clutter. Put keywords and ideas at the beginning or end of a sentence.

Avoid using filler words. Avoid using excessive use of 'that'. Use metaphors to convey ideas. No infinitives and gerunds. Use specific examples.

In Conclusion
To get over the inertia of writing and publishing I asked the students to get back to writing blogs which are a good way to write informally - and to send me a blog post of what happened in the session. The students promised that they would. When they do I will share it on the blog

I enjoyed the session immensely. Many thanks are owed to Priyanka, Mohan, NIFT and the students.

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