Most of us have heard the saying: Practice makes perfect. In the case of authors, writing does make us better. But what if we are practicing something wrong. Then we carry those bad habits from book to book. How do we improve our craft without relying on our editors to come and save the day?
Luckily there are several different ways.
We can read novels by other authors. This is my favorite option because I love to read. I have read 24 books so far this year. Reading helps us see how other authors structure their stories. Sometimes, I am too caught up in the narration to pause and observe the style. Which is not a bad thing.
You can also attend writer’s conferences or take courses. I have attended a local writer’s conference in the past and hope to take part in one next year when the world returns to normal.
In the meantime, I have been reading a few books on writing. While there is no magic wand, each book I have read has expanded my horizon. You can check out the writing books I have read here.
My most recent book is Characters & Viewpoints. This book is written in an easy-to-read style while imparting a lot of knowledge. I enjoyed the writing samples sprinkled throughout the book that conveyed information more readily. For my Land of Magadha series, I choose first-person POV because a few fantasies I had read used it. This book discussed all the different POV options and its merits. I might use third-person limited POV for my next series based on what I learned here. I recommend this book for aspiring writers and current writers.
This past week, I celebrated a book birthday. I published my debut novel Heir to Malla a year ago. Just two months into the pandemic and new life of masks and lockdowns, I shared the story I had been working on for over five years.
A year later, I have realized how many mistakes I made. I had no marketing plan, no newsletter, and no beta readers. I launched the book into the wild with no clue. Since then, I have joined writing groups on Facebook and learned many things from experienced authors.
I have found a beta reader or two among my avid readers. I will be releasing Prince in Shadow, an Heir to Malla prequel novella, exclusively to my Newsletter subscribers.
For my second book, War of the Three Kings, I have a simple marketing plan, mainly focused on building my newsletter subscription, sales promo for Heir to Malla, and one or two third-party newsletter promotions. I will share more details after the launch.
This journey is a marathon, and I am grateful to my readers for letting me share the stories in my head.
Readers want original content. They want something new, unique, and never before told story.
As writers, one might feel like there is nothing new under the sun. Fantasy and Science Fiction genres offer some room for novel ideas. A story set in a galaxy far, far away captures our imagination. Or a complex magical system piques our senses.
What shall a historical fiction author do? Conflict of the heart is what I like to explore. In this society, plenty of ways to put my characters in situations where they have to choose between love and duty, the eternal conflict.
I use distinct metaphors to set the stage for the period (a pumpkin flower that wilted on its stalk). My female characters dress in vivid color saris (ripe mango).
Like your favorite bowl of comfort food, familiarity is also soothing. A romance reader craves a happily ever after ending. My books offer hope amidst the chaos.
A good book touches the human heart, and if mine stirred yours, I have achieved my goal.
Like many adults, I read a fair share of non-fiction books. Topics range from self-help, philosophy, and history to gardening and cookbooks. Many adults stop reading fiction after the high school days of forced reading. With our busy lives, why read fiction?
Humans have told stories for millennia, and we started telling stories as soon as we had language. Oral storytelling is how many cultures passed on their ancient myths and legends. Fiction builds on this tradition.
Reading fiction builds empathy. Our imagination translates the words in a book. As a reader, we picture the world, taste the five-course meal, smell the forest floor and feel the character’s pain. We can read about distant lands and cultures and fall in love with a person who only exists on a page. Watching TV does not have the same impact on our minds.
Fiction allows you to escape reality and walk in someone else’s shoes.
Reading science fiction and fantasy is the equivalent of daydreaming. Many scientists began their journey as science fiction readers. Historical fiction allows us to experience the past through stories. A child who dislikes history with dry dates and places might love the same past when told as stories.
There is research to show that reading literary fiction improves the Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one’s own beliefs and desires. More broadly, their study shows that works of art enhance this critical skill.
Stories are a complex form of communication, and reading stories have a long-lasting effect on the human brain, per this Emory study. Reading fiction helps us better understand others and enhances our ability to keep an open mind, per this Harvard Business Review article.
Finally, reading fiction brings us joy. Overcoming adversity, triumphant underdogs, falling in love, and finding friendships all bring us enjoyment.
Curl up with a novel today and fall in love with a character. I recommend my historical fiction “Heir to Malla” or check out my book reviews for a great read.
Writing is a solitary journey. We authors think about our characters constantly. Meera and her world enter my reality while I am cooking—walking—in the shower—waiting at the stoplight. They become our friends and family. Then one day, we share our baby with the outside world, with our heart in our hands.
Then comes the reality all authors must face and dread—a negative review. Such reviews may turn our fight or flight response. Neither is beneficial for our writing journey. Writing a book review with constructive feedback is an art by itself. We should learn to treat these reviews as gifts and cherish these reviewers. This is not easy, and it is okay to call a friend and have a meltdown. Just keep it off social media.
As writers, we want to improve our craft. Constructive feedback gives us a valuable window into the mind of our readers. While we cannot make everyone happy, it is crucial to know what readers of our genre expect.
If a reviewer is malicious, please ignore and move on. Picking a fight is not worth your sanity. The good news is most reviewers are thoughtful.
So next time you get a negative review, bake bread and take your anger out on the dough. Then take a deep breath and understand it is not personal. Read the review and mine for the gold nuggets to take your writing to the next level.
Keep writing! I am cheering for you and looking for the next book to fall in love with.
I write medieval fiction. While my story is set in the fictional land of Magadha, it is loosely based on India around those times. As an author, I do have a choice on what aspects of the culture I reflect in my story. Some of these, like polygamy or women’s agency, is not aligned with modern sensibilities. What should a writer do? Write the story they want to share.
Royal dynasties in the Indian subcontinent commonly practiced polygamy. This practice appears in my books. Whether I approve of it today is not material to the tale. It is a plot device in the hands of an author. I imagine how it must have been for characters to be in this kind of relationship. And I put them in situations that will result in a conflict of their human hearts. I strive to do this without judging them based on my modern awareness.
My female characters inhabit a world where they do not have any agency on their own. They are dependent on their male family members for their authority. Their daily lives differed from mine today. I enjoy writing about the human heart in conflict, the struggle between love and duty, the strife between self and society. For that, I imagine how female characters with different attributes will survive in this world. I place them in harm’s way, tempt them, lead them down wrong paths. And some characters like Meera surprise me with their strength and steadiness.
Readers come to the book with their own life experiences, and once a book leaves my hands, I have to let the readers take it from there. To enjoy, experience, emphasize, fall in love, grieve as they choose.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on how you approach reading books that have practices that we condemn today.
I am an author of medieval fiction “Heir to Malla”, a story of a princess fighting her battles without wielding a sword or a wand.
When the world around us is unpredictable and chaotic, we all need an outlet to escape reality.
I can pick a book to read and get lost in its pages for hours. I can be following a Scotland Yard Inspector solve a murder mystery in gloomy grey London. I can be shapeshifting in a magical realm, chasing a dark lord bent on destructing the world.
I started writing five years ago, and quickly, Heir to Malla became more than a novel. Writing became a way for me to relax. The creative outlet allowed me to meditate about characters and plot, rather than worry about everyday struggles.
Writing my second book in the Land of Magadha series has kept me sane during this pandemic. I may not be able to travel anywhere in the real world, but my characters have been riding elephants and horses and sailing the seas.
These characters that have been with me for over five years feel very real to me, and I can forget about the virus for some time every day and write about Meera and Rish.
Imagining a dark corridor, hearing the sounds in a battlefield, or describing a palace feast let my mind savor these things. Instead of obsessing about things I cannot control, I can chart a course for my story.
What are you doing to keep your sanity in these times?
My first inspiration was my grandmother. As a young child, I spent several summers with her. Mealtimes were storytimes, and I remember prolonging it, so I can hear one more story. Her stories based on Indian mythology would bring characters to life. She had excellent delivery for comedy and would have my brother and I laughing at the funny stories.
As I grew older, I read practically anything I could get my hands on. My mother would buy used books for me to read. And I used all my allowance at the local lending library borrowing books for one rupee each. I have read Tamil novels by Kalki, like someone dying of thirst gulps water. Greedily.
I have read all Jane Austen novels. Who says romance is easy to write? To write a book that appeals to someone 200 years later is monumental. Her female characters are witty, headstrong, make mistakes, and very human.
I have read several Charles Dickens novels, and my favorite is A Tale of Two Cities.
Epic fantasies with complex plots, alternate universes, and a myriad of characters are a delight to read. I have read Lord of the rings, Mistborn series, A Song of Ice and Fire, among others. Magic, when weaved carefully into a tale, can be a powerful tool in the writer’s tool kit.
Science fiction opens our mind to possibilities, and Neal Stephenson books tackle some contemporary issues, and the Dune series takes you into space.
You can find more of the recent books I have read on Goodreads.