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The third panel discussion at 2019 Women Writers’ Fest Mumbai edition was called “Post The Debut Book.” Authors Tashan Mehta, Amrita Mahale, Shubhangi Swarup and Jane Borges spoke to SheThePeople.TV Idea’s Editor Kiran Manral on how a writer should move on from that first book to write the next one.

The long journey of writing a debut book

It took Shubhangi Swarup seven years to finish her debut book Latitudes of Longing. On being asked if she ever faced a moment of self-doubt, she says, “I never had that moment where I felt like giving up. I was the most convinced by my own idea. I have this wonderful self-confidence, so if the other person thinks it is not going to work out, I move on and find someone else to work with.” She further added, “I never doubted my work, it was a journey which was always rewarding, and to think that difficulties or challenges are not part of the reward is a very pleasure versus pain stimulus argument. Like you don’t do something because you feel good, you do it because you want to and you are learning something.”

I never had that moment where I felt like giving up.- Shubhangi Swarup

Writing a genre not many writers venture

On writing speculative fiction, a rare genre to pick for an Indian author, Tashan Mehta said, “You write the way you write, whether you choose to or not, it just kind of comes out of you. I find that straight-laced reality doesn’t serve how I see the world. Even when I describe it or even when I talk about it, I see the abstract and I see the abstract personified, that is important to me. That naturally leaked into the writing. I will say that I didn’t know what genre I was writing when I wrote it. It just kind of became the book that it became. But speculative fiction, having now published under that genre, I find is my style.”

You write the way you write, whether you choose to or not, it just kind of comes out of you. – Tashan Mehta

Can you give your second book the same intensity as the first one?

Amrita Mahale revealed that she interviewed 25 to 30 people and went through press archives for her debut book Milk Teeth. She said, “Writing is a very solitary process. After I turned in my final draft I wanted to go back to my regular life, so I started a job. The book came out three-and-half months ago, and the past four-five months have been very interesting, having to look at data and artificial intelligence over the week and then do email interviews where I talk about class, and love and literature. It is like I am occupying two different worlds. In the middle of all this to think about writing a second novel is daunting. There is a second novel, though. I think I’ve managed to write about 600 to 700 words in the past six months.”

After I turned in my final draft I wanted to go back to my regular life, so I started a job. – Amrita Mahale

Unlearning things

Jane Borges said, “As a journalist, I don’t look at my copies more than once or twice as I don’t have the time to revisit them. The struggle with my second book was that, when I started writing the book, it felt like a romance novel, but four years later it feels like a historical novel because, every time I revisited the story, I realised that I was bringing in bits of history. That happened only when I revisited the story again and again, and I don’t know how many drafts I’ve actually written. Probably the beginning and the end of my book is the same, but it is a very different story.

Also, you need to keep your work away for a while, you need to let go of it. It is very hard to let go because a sentence that you found interesting and beautiful last week, you’ll find it problematic the following week. So you need to know where to stop and when to stop.”

You need to know where to stop and when to stop. – Jane Borges

Letting go of that first publication

It is not easy to sit down to write your second book, riding on the success or expectations which your first book builds up. On this Mehta said, “I face two things, one is the delay, how long it has taken you to write your book and how long it took to be published. By the time my book was out, I was no longer that writer and I was no longer that person. Things change when you write, and that keeps you moving forward. So I was being praised or criticised for a book that was no longer me and no longer my writing style.

Then there is also this aspect of being put into a box, because your voice keeps evolving, it keeps changing all the time. It changes with your ideas. So the voice for my second book is not the same voice for my third book, and it is a process. So basically, it is just sitting down and recognising that, no matter what the outside world says. In the end, it is you and that blank page which is staring back at you. And that blank page is brutally honest.”

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