Ever wondered how writers spend their days? How do they shut the world out to immerse in their own imaginary universe and weave magic with their words? What do they do differently or by force of habit that makes them consummate storytellers? When do their creative juices flow? What efficient routines do they follow that help them tide over distractions, keep them brimming with ideas and create good work?
In the first of this series #AuthorSpeak, bestselling author, Preeti Shenoy, reveals the secrets of her daily regimen to SheThePeople.TV’s book editor Archana Pai Kulkarni.
When he is writing a novel, Haruki Murakami wakes at 4 am. And works for five to six hours straight. Toni Morrison saw writing before dawn as a necessity. What time do you wake up? What do you think is the most fruitful time for your writing? Why?
I am usually woken up by my dog, around 5.30 am and sometimes as early as 4.30 am. I can write anytime really. I don’t think there’s anything like a ‘fruitful’ time. The reason is, when a story takes hold of me, it doesn’t let me go till I have written it. I become obsessed with writing out the story. The characters don’t shut up inside my head.
How disciplined are you as a writer? Is it the same time every day at the desk?
When I am working on a novel, I am extremely focussed and disciplined. I am relentlessly at it, till I finish the book. There are days when I have worked for 16 hours at a stretch with short breaks in between. I never look at the clock when I write. I lose track of time.
I never look at the clock when I write. I lose track of time.
A hungry writer could be a distracted writer. Fuelling the body is vital. Does breakfast figure in your scheme of prepping to write? If so, what’s on the menu usually? Light or heavy breakfast? Favourite beverage?
Really? When I write (just like when I paint) I forget to even eat! There are times when I have had lunch at 3.00 pm or have forgotten to eat, because I was writing.
I do eat a balanced diet. I always have breakfast—but it’s not a ‘preparation to write’. I eat because it is a healthy habit. I make sure to take adequate protein. My favourite beverage is black coffee. (I get freshly ground pure premium coffee). Breakfast is neither light nor heavy. Mostly it is South Indian. I am extremely conscious about fitness and I cycle or walk daily.
Do you keep a diary/journal? Notebook or digital? When do you write in it? What would we get to see in your notebooks?
Yes, I have several handmade notebooks. Perhaps more than 40/50. Whenever I see a nice notebook that I like, I pick it up. I have notebooks from all around the world. When I start a new novel, I start a new handmade notebook. I write out the ideas, the possibilities and everything that occurs to me. I plan all of it in my notebooks. Much later, long after the book is out, I can always go back to the notebook and look at how the arc of the story took shape.
When I start a new novel, I start a new handmade notebook. I write out the ideas, the possibilities and everything that occurs to me. I plan all of it in my notebooks.
Where do you get your ideas? In the madness of this frantic workaholic era, how do you manage to smell the roses and look at the world?
A lot of people ask me this. I have made a video about this, where I explain my thinking process. I am also an illustrator and many a time I have sketched live from a location. That helps me slow down and really observe things. I am not affected by the frantic fast world, because I am my own boss. I report only to myself, and that is great.
I am my own boss. I report only to myself, and that is great.
What have you filled your personal sanctuary with that indulges your creative spirit and fuels your creative process? How much time do you spend there?
I spend most of my time here. Each of the objects in this ‘writing cave’ (which is my room) tells a story, and has a deep emotional connect for me. I have an antique desk that has travelled with me all around the world. I also need my dog beside me when I write. She is a large Doberman and she sticks to me like a shadow. I use her as an armrest.
How do you organise your days and weeks, especially the daily running of the household? How do you carve out time, to say, plan the daily menu or the grocery shopping, the routine stuff that is mandatory? What kind of support systems do you have?
I do all the cooking myself. I am constantly using a virtual assistant to remind me to switch off the gas stove (as I forget to switch it off when I am writing). I eat very healthy. Hence there isn’t really too much time that I spend cooking. I use apps where you can order stuff, and it gets delivered in 90 minutes. So I don’t see any need for planning the grocery shopping. I don’t have any support systems other than my house help who is sweet. She comes in for a couple of hours and does the cleaning, washing vessels and all of that. I used to live in the UK, where one has to do all of it. Hence managing a home when you have hired help is not hard at all. I don’t know why people consider it a huge task.
I used to live in the UK, where one has to do all of it. Hence managing a home when you have hired help is not hard at all. I don’t know why people consider it a huge task.
What kinds of activities stimulate your creative expression? Do you doodle, sketch, or light a candle? Tell us about your pre-writing rituals.
I don’t have any! I just sit at my laptop and write. I also meditate daily.
When do you read? How many hours do you spend reading every day? What are you reading now? What books do you have by your bedside?
I read a LOT. This year my goal is to read 100 books. We’re in mid-February and I am on my fifteenth book. I don’t keep a track of the number of hours I read. But I do read until the lines blur and I fall asleep.
Six-and eight-hour days looking at the computer screen can give you burning eyes and what is referred to as the writer’s butt. Is exercise a part of your routine? What is your antidote for tired eyes and a tired mind?
I am big on fitness. I have a Doberman who needs at least three walks a day. The longest walk is in the morning. I walk her for at least an hour or 45 minutes. Throughout the day, I take her for shorter walks. That helps me a lot in rejuvenating myself. When I work too much my dog shuts the laptop with her snout and yanks my T-shirt till I walk her!
Throughout the day, I take her for shorter walks. That helps me a lot in rejuvenating myself.
How much time do you spend networking and cultivating social media, which comes with the territory of being a writer? Considering that it can be a huge distraction and take you away from the actual business of writing, how do you strike the balance?
I don’t keep a track of time. Again, I use apps where you can schedule stuff, and it sends it out at a chosen time. Technology is a big boon really. When I write, I switch off the Internet. That takes care of the distraction.
The first several weeks of writing a new novel can be particularly difficult. How do you tide over the struggle? When do you do your research?
It depends on what I am researching. I use the Internet extensively. I also read up a lot on the subject. I meet people. I talk to people. I spend time developing my characters. I think if you are struggling to write a novel, it is because the story is not yet ready to be told. Once your research, your idea and your characters are well etched, the book will almost write itself. It is the thinking part that is hard. If you find it difficult to write, then it is because you haven’t spent enough time thinking. I start a novel only when I am fully ready. Hence I haven’t faced the struggle. I LOVE to write, and get immersed in the world I create.
Once your research, your idea and your characters are well etched, the book will almost write itself.
Pencil, ballpoint or computer? Have you ever dictated a story to a machine?
The initial idea is with an ink pen in a notebook. Never a ballpoint. Then I use the laptop when I start writing. No, I have ever dictated to a machine. I prefer my fingers to do the talking.
How do you deal with stressors? What personal barriers to success do you need to overcome? What are your creative strengths? What are your creative stumbling blocks? How do you deal with the latter?
Yoga, meditation and exercise. Honestly, I have never thought about my ‘creative strengths’ or ‘creative stumbling blocks.’ I focus on my characters, my story, the setting, the research and the technique itself. Just focus on what matters.
I focus on my characters, my story, the setting, the research and the technique itself.
Writing is a solitary act, which often takes you away from family and friends. How much time do you get to spend with your family every day?
While writing indeed is a solitary act, I don’t think it has to take away from family time. When my kids were living with me (both have left home for college now, and both study abroad) I used to write from 8.30am-3.30 pm. That was my ‘alone time.’ The moment they came home, I would be available for them, and I really had a great time raising them, reading to them, playing with them and doing a million other things with them. We’re a very close-knit family. As regards my friends, my close friends are not in the same town. They are spread across continents. But thanks to technology, we’re connected.
Is travel exciting to you or a chore? What happens to your creative energy when you travel?
It is extremely exciting. I love travelling to new places. I sketch live on location, and hence it is a different kind of creativity that comes into play when I travel.
On what note do you end your day?
Always on a note of gratitude. I am fortunate to be living my dream. I am so grateful for the love my readers shower on me, the gifts they bring me at my book launches and litfests, and the mails they write me. I am deeply grateful for this success.
I am deeply grateful for this success.
What vital piece of advice would you give aspiring writers on making the most of their day?
Please don’t quit your day jobs. Read a LOT. Write every single day.