I co-wrote my first script when I was in the ninth standard. A satire on the popular Star Trek series, it was written over the period of a week during class hours. It may have been childish and downright cartoony but I still keep that book with me even today. The desire to one day see my name in print was non-existent as I grew up and settled into the medical field—writing scripts in notebooks (no DELETE buttons, mind you) was just a way of letting out some excess creative thoughts that existed between my ears. But the desire to keep on writing was there, resulting in pen pals receiving timely pages of my life every month for years and eventually the creation of a blog.
It was here that I first had to face real reviews of my stories from a faceless public—a true test of whether my words were worth commenting on. Unlike friends who would smile graciously to keep me cheerful, these anonymous faces online were under no such obligation. They would let me know what they liked about the story and what my weaknesses as a writer were. It was their positive responses that goaded me to keep on writing. It was their thumbs down that let me know my twists in the tale had failed miserably.
And it was those comments—positive and negative alike—which goaded me on. Writing within the blog reined in my tendencies for long scripts and made me focus more on shorter tales. Within the tiny confines of a few thousand words, I needed to build a world and make the reader empathize with the protagonists within that fictional realm. I needed them to look for a twist in the tale and still not see it coming so that they nodded appreciatively when the last line had been delivered.
Eighteen years after I wrote that satire in a classroom where I was supposed to be learning algebra and geography, a story of mine did make it to print in 2011 in the Chicken Soup series. Ironically, it was not fiction but a true story based on events I witnessed as a doctor. I still have the first copy of the book that I received and the cheque that accompanied it. In the three years that have passed since that day, I have been lucky enough to win a few national anthology contests, find my name in print and attend book launches at stores.
There have also been rejection letters galore during this period too, mind you, informing me that I missed out on the possibility of publication because I got my tenses wrong. I didn’t feel bad—if anything, I felt scared. What if my story and the grammar it was coated in was so bad that the publishers sent it to my high school English teacher? Would I wake up one morning and find her catching my ears and forcing me to come back to school to read my Wren and Martin grammar books again alongside smirking third standard students?
Along with a desire to improve myself as each year passes by, there is also a need to evolve and step out of my comfort zone. Stephen King comes to mind when I think of the evolution of an author. If the author’s name was erased from the books, would you have ever believed that Carrie and The Shining were written by the same mind that gave us The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption? Following a near death experience in real life, his own fictional stories took on a more natural approach, eschewing vampires and scary clowns in favour of more intimate personal fears that haunt us all.
That’s something I look to do every time I try to build a new world within a page—be a better writer than I was previously. Ever the eccentric Aquarian, I never stick to one theme and flit across all genres—real life, humor, romance, action and adventure, psychological thriller, crime, real life, medical and even historical fiction with some erotica to boot!
It isn’t a desire to get published in all available genres that keeps me going. It is the desire to write. It is a desire to tell a tale that I feel people would like to hear.
In Eric Segal’s novel ‘Doctors’, there is a very astute comment right at the very beginning on how we have still only found the cure for twenty-six diseases. In the twenty-six years since that novel has released, I wonder how many more we may have added onto that list though I doubt if it would be too many. That doesn’t stop mankind from trying though.
I feel that the same applies to writing. When all is said and done, there are a very finite number of storylines available at our disposal within each genre (The remarkable similarities between Disney’s Pocahontas and James Cameron’s Avatar come to mind as a defining example). How we choose to form and narrate that story is where the true gift lies.
My advice to those who have a story to tell? Read. Write. Listen. Evolve. Repeat.
READ as many books as you can. Enjoy the beauty of lyrical prose and taut storylines, immaculate plots and beguiling metaphors. From the reader whose mind is opened to new worlds, the WRITER will emerge. Your stories may be inspired or original, sensitive or silly. You will never know if you alone are the judge. So allow others to read your work and then sit back and LISTEN. Listen to their comments and their opinions. Neither should you get disheartened by bad reviews nor should you allow yourself to float too high on cloud nine when the first positive review arrives. Instead see how you can improve. EVOLVE and become better than the writer who wrote that previous story. Then REPEAT it all once more!
You will surely get published. If this formula could work for a nerdy doctor sitting inside one or the other operation theatre for most of his adult life, it will surely work for you too.