Writing Tips from Sara Banerji
Start with infinity. Go to the place where ideas come from. The
only barrier between the writer and writing about anything, anywhere,
any time, is the limits of a writer’s brain. There are an
infinite number of characters to amaze and amuse the reader and
infinite stories to be told. To find them the writer needs to allow
the imagination to explore to the ultimate limits of her/his mind’s
Allow ideas to mature in the mind before putting them down, before
making them concrete. Sometimes I go around for a year, only thinking
about the coming book, before starting on it.
There are two practical ways of triggering ideas. Sometimes a writer
hears a piece of news or story, or there is some event which seems
to just fit, which excites, which the writer knows is it. Out of
all the infinite things you could write about, this is the one.
You now need a plot. Any difficulty here is solved by the fact that
there are not very many of these, it is said only seven in fact,
so feel free to use a plot that is already in existence. After all,
Shakespeare did that.
Then you need to decide which characters should people the plot.
Here again time is needed for the character or characters to develop
in the mind. You need to go around for quite a long time, making
this person or people become real. You need to know everything about
them, from what they were like as babies, to what they will become
when old. You need to know what they would put in their supermarket
trolley to what they would say to the person they love.
Now a setting is needed. By now it is possible that it will have
emerged automatically from the plot and the characters but even
so it is necessary to know everything there is to know about the
place or places in which your story is set.
When you actually begin to write, it is important to be kind to
your poor self. It is hard work, writing a work of fiction and the
first draft is the most arduous and troubling so don’t give
yourself too ferocious a task. I suggest write for about an hour
at a time and do at the most three such episodes in the whole day.
More than that and you tire and the writing becomes dull.
Push on. Don’t keep looking back at what you have done. Don’t
anticipate how much there is ahead. Live for the moment. Every writing
session just shove on to the next bit.
It is a good thing to have a plan to start with, though do not be
ruled by it. Characters grow and evolve, and your story must allow
for that. Keep very careful track of the chronology. I keep a long
thin chart with birth dates, weddings, deaths etc. Each time you
make a tiny change, a huge reverberation goes right through the
book so it is important to keep track.
Most writers need to do several drafts before the work
is ready for showing. Don’t be daunted by having to go right
back to the start when your first draft is complete. I promise that
the next time round and subsequent ones will be easier and quicker.
When you consider the work complete and perfect, put it away for
a few weeks, or even months, then read it again. You need to be
able to read it as though for the first time to see what you have
truly created. Only when you think it is absolutely perfect, show
it to anyone else. Beware of friends and relations who might either
be unhelpfully kind or destructively unkind. When you are given
editorial advice, either by friends or professionals, listen, don’t
argue, and do or do not do what is suggested as you think right.
I think it is always best to have an agent, though they are difficult
to find. Search the Artists and Writers Year book, or Writers handbook,
to find one that handles work like yours. When you find one, ring
up and ask if they are taking more authors. Then only send a brief,
interesting letter describing yourself and your writing history,
a description of your book on a single side, and at most three chapters
of the work. The Ms must be on A4 paper, double spaced, indented
paras, sufficient margin, cleanly presented, properly spelled and
unclipped or stapled. Be neither boastful nor cringing in your letter
and presentation. Publishers do not take agentless work seriously
and also agents do a lot more for you than merely sell the one book.
For one thing, you have a friend and supporter to encourage you
through what is usually a hard and often disappointing struggle
to be published. Do not be put off by rejection. If several rejection
letters merely state that they are not interested, examine the work.
There is something wrong with it. If you get rejections with comment,
there is real hope. If you get acceptance, all the struggle and
the disappointments are forgotten in a moment. But just one last
thing. There is great pleasure to be had from writing even if you
do not plan to be published.