Monday, June 4, 2018

How to Tell My Story by Avantika

“I want to become a writer,” Sara declared about one-and-a-half years ago. This 49-year-old single mother was retrenched from her workplace of 25 years. Having been in the financial industry, she was in charge of the publication side of the organisation. Sara wanted to chronicle her experiences.

“Very good,”I replied.

I was about to offer some advice about what to do next when she said, “I will do this on my own and start in January.”

I wished her well, but remained curious about what would happen next. I’ve met people who utter such words and that’s it. They have no clue what to do next. Some find they have time. Some don’t know where to start. Some are sure that absolutely everyone is going to read their story. As I expected, by the end of the month, Sara was close to tears because she realised how large a task it was to write a book.

To help Sara, we started all over again. This time, I told her that she needed to keep in mind three things before writing the first word: the right mental attitude, presentation and cultivating good writing habits.

The right mental attitude
“I’ve written every day for ten hours and I’m so tired, Aneeta,” she said. “The last time I wrote like this, I was in university doing my thesis.”

That word ‘thesis’ is a big tell. Think about it. A thesis may be somewhere in the region of 45,000 words. Similarly, a book-length project can also be of the same number of words or more. If writing a thesis can take up to two years to complete, why hurry the writing process now?

Look at writing your story as though you’re on an adventure. There are times it’ll be exciting; there are times you’ll face unexpected threats; and, there are times you’ll be frustrated to the point of tears. Overall, though, there is a sense of wonder. Keep at it, however, and I guarantee that, at the end of the adventure, you will learn more about yourself than you know.

Present your manuscript in the proper way
Assuming that you’d like to publish your story, you must present it in the proper way. Yes, you may like to write by hand. Or, you type in a particular font. However, when you submit your completed manuscript to a publisher, they will have their own styles and guidelines. Generally, the accepted rule is that a manuscript must be written in Times New Roman (12 point) font and double-spaced. If you’ve hand-written the whole book, you will have to either type it yourself or hire someone to do so. Even if you’re self-publishing your work, in this digital age, you will eventually have to convert it to a font that a typesetter can use to print your book.

Write when it feels right
Remember how Sara wrote ten hours a day? That seems a long time to work non-stop. I suggested that she develop certain writing habits and one of them was to develop a routine. Mine is to write in the morning when it is absolutely quiet. So, when I’m working on a book project, I usually work uninterrupted from 5.30 to 8.30 am. By the time I stop, it’s about the right time for breakfast and morning coffee while reading the papers.

Sara took on board all that I said and got into the spirit of writing her story. Two weeks later, though, she had completed writing a grand total of 143 words.

“I can’t work out what to write. I start to write. Then, after a few pages, I can see that it’s all messed up. I go back and start re-writing.”

“What’s your story about?”

“About me. But I cannot decide where to start. At the beginning? Bluff the story a bit or a lot? Or start when it all got bad.”

Essentially, Sara’s problem was this: she could not decide precisely what she wanted to work on – fiction, non-fiction, an autobiography or a memoir. This is what we will discuss in the next piece.

Join the Conversation 
For now, let us know what preparations you make before starting a writing project in the comments below.

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Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time
Sara surprised me by going further than I expected. First of all, she decided that she wrote better at night when everyone was asleep and there was peace and quiet in the house. Anticipating the huge amount of paperwork she would generate in this process, she decided to find a way to organise her notes. While some people can do this on a computer, she decided to use a ring binder to file printed copies of her notes, synopses, character profiles, drafts, and other information. She also learnt that she was not capable of doing more than three hours of solid work per night. After a few nights, her family became used to her disappearing after dinner and respected her choice to work on her book.


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Aneeta Sundararaj tells the stories of a diverse group of people from cardiologists and Ayurveda practitioners to independent financial advisors. ‘Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time’ is included in a collection of stories that she is working on. Subscribe to the free newsletter on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’ (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).


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