Rakesh Satyal is an Editor at HarperCollins, and his debut novel, BLUE BOY, just went on sale. Chuck Palahniuk said BLUE BOY “shows us a world too funny and sad and sweet to be based on anything but the truth.” Rakesh also happens to be a sensational singer and a hilarious speaker, as the guests at my wedding can attest.
As I am an editor and a writer concurrently, I am often asked one oh-so-popular question: “Do you ever sleep?” The answer is a resounding “Yes,” and on many weekends, the answer is “Yes – several times in a day, and usually with Lime Tostito crumbs from incessant snacking still on my lips and many hours’ worth of (re)watching an America’s Next Top Model marathon in my head.”
But just as I know how to make time for leisure and rest, I make sure I know when my time for work will be, too. The concept of my spending a great deal of time working, period – let alone this much time thinking of literary matters as I work – can cause quite a bit of confusion and incredulity in others, but I assure you that carving out a writing schedule that fits your otherwise busy life is not so daunting as it might seem at first. What you must always remember is the larger purpose of your work, the meaningfulness of your voice, and the characters who convey that voice.
Most writing instructors, and many established authors, extol the benefits of a morning regimen-cum-biological clock approach: you get up, go straight to your computer (or other writing instruments), write a thousand words, and call it a day, with perhaps some revision of those thousand words later in the evening. Unfortunately, not only the mutant pace of my workdays but the ensuing rollercoaster reaction of my body can preclude this sort of schedule from taking root.
Sure, there are weeks when I set the goal of following this biological schedule and pull it off, but the next week, a slew of work events may come up and render me fumbling for keyboard and words alike. What I have come to realize about myself as a writer is that I respond much better to thinking of the scope of a particular scene that I am writing and then envisioning the corresponding manpower that I will need to bring it to life. And then I look for loopholes in my schedule that I can refashion as writing time.
I wrote Blue Boy mainly on the weekends; I would go to a coffee shop that had deep-seated armchairs and reliable outlets, and I would plug in my laptop and set up shop for the afternoon. When I sat down, I had a clear picture of which scene I wanted to write (or resume), and I knew that I wanted to complete a particular emotional arc before I stopped. The rhythm of the main character’s mental pattern was very important to me, and I felt, as I often feel as a reader, that I could not stop living in that scene until it had come to a particularly satisfying emotional point, be it a resolution or a splendidly complicated moment of confusion. I could appreciate the emotional payoff of this stopping point all the more because, beforehand, I had taken into account the time I had to address the work at hand.
Writing is a difficult process, to be sure, and it demands from us determination, a dedication to a larger artistic goal, and, perhaps most of all, the a priori arrangement that our lives, on the whole, will make room for it. To that last end, especially, I am always thinking in the back of my mind, at any given point, when my next available moment for a time to sit down and write may be. I mean “available” not just physically but mentally.
For example, as I expect to expend a great deal of energy promoting Blue Boy during the next month, I have put aside my writing until the first week of June; I know that the headspace I have for writing will be taken up necessarily with concerns pertaining to the book. But I have a firm resolution to pick up where I left off. Once I resume writing, I will go back to plotting my weeks carefully: I will look at my calendar at the beginning of each week and figure out when I might shoehorn in a chance to write.
This process may not adhere to the strictures of a biological clock, but it is my responsibility to make the most creatively of the time that I have left after I do my editorial work professionally. Each of us as writers has a different set of circumstances that defines our emotional and physical wherewithal as artists, but we owe it to our stories and their characters to plot our own time as much as we do theirs.
And believe me – the sense of accomplishment once we’ve done so is astounding, not least because we can subsequently, and deservedly, hoist our salsa-laden chip mouthward and click Tyra’s model antics back on with the press of a button….
Rakesh Satyal says
hello, everyone! apologies for being MIA as you all submitted these great responses. Thanks to all of you for all of your kind well-wishing and enthusiasm; it means a great deal to me, and I hope that I am paying it forward by giving whatever helpful advice I can!
I am going to try to address the various straggling questions in order of your posts, so here goes!
reader — Blue Boy is a book for the adult market, but there is certainly YA crossover appeal, although I should mention that there are one or two scenes of more explicit sexual language in it.
Anonymous – genre fiction can very much be art; don’t second-guess yourself! A “different set of circumstances” can certainly apply to writing genre fiction since there are particular rules and tinges to genre writing that you must take into account as an author. embrace the artfulness of THAT and go with it!
Mira – you ask a VERY good question. Yes, I most certainly went the traditional route and got an agent and submitted to publishers like any other author. I did this because the process of getting an agent is very necessary; it is not just a formality but a sound business transaction and social calibrator, as an agent deals with the finer points of negotiations and communication with literary types that can be outside our frames of reference or propriety as authors. It was in many ways MORE important for me to adhere to protocol since I work in the industry.
To the editor point, I could take up pages and pages with explanation of my editorial work, but suffice it to say that my job is to act as liaison among agents, the publishing house, and an audience and to find new talent by way of those agents, fall in love it, and publish it to the best of my ability!
Thanks, again, to all of your for being so perceptive and welcoming and enthusiastic! Now I know why even more why I respect Nathan so much!
Thanks for answering! I think it’s wonderful that you went an ethical route with this. I think it’s a example that many who are involved in publishing really do love books and love to write.
I wish you the very best with your book. There’s your job – editor – but I’m sure that writing for you is more personal and meaningful, like it is for many of us.
Also, now that I know you are evidentally a powerful person in the publishing field, who can make writing careers, as well as a fellow author trying to have his work been seen and appreciated, I would like to apologize to you.
I’m sure you did a very good job at Nathan’s wedding. I’m sorry I hinted that I might have done a better job. I’m sure your singing was very nice, even if it wasn’t as hilarious as mine would be.
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
I have a (possibly) “yes or no” question for the author:
Do you consider BLUE BOY to be magic realism? Or to contain elements of magic realism. Or you wouldn’t really describe it as magic realism at all…
I went and read about BLUE BOY at amazon.com – and that’s what I’m wondering. Sounds like a great book, whatever the case.
Jen C says
Kristin Laughtin said…
Thank you for presenting time management issues in a practical and realistic way, especially when you have another job to balance. It’s been peeving me lately to see more comments in general on what you “have” to do to be a (real) writer: write for five hours every night to the exclusion of everything else, sacrifice kittens, etc. I find it quite ridiculous, as there’s an inherent assumption that one method will or should work for everyone.
I couldn’t agree more. I always find my own way of doing things, which is often the opposite of how other people operate. The phrase “whatever works for you, man” comes to mind…
Rakesh, this was a wonderful post, thank you for writing it!
On a side note, today is May 1st (well, here in Australia it is, anyway), which means that Support a Debut Writer Month has started. This means, you must immediately rush out and buy a book by a debut writer. Or, two if you’re so inclined…
Richard Lewis says
From Amazon’s look inside (at a writer’s group we’ve been talking about opening scenes and paragraphs):
First two paragraphs
“I’m surprised my mother still doesn’t know.”
Surely she must notice her cosmetics diminishing every day. Surely she has noticed that the ends of her lipsticks are rounded, their pointy tips dulled by frequent application to my tiny but full mouth….but here she is again, cooking obliviously in the kitchen, adding fire-colored tumeric to the boiling basmati rice and humming in her husky alto.”
The rest of the first page goes on to establish the narrator is a school boy, who also takes ballet classes, and who lives in Cincinnati.
I’m intrigued…I love cross-cultural fiction.
True Renaissance man. It’s great to read of someone who makes time to do different things, and do them well. I’ve done my part to spread the word about Blue Boy. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rakesh.
Fabulous post. It made me realize a lot about my own writing schedule, and the fact that I am mentally writing even when I’m not physically writing. I’m heading for that deep armchair at the coffee shop right now!!!
sex scenes at starbucks says
I think leaving off when you know where you will start next helps.
But “Blue Boy”. Man oh man my Granny had a picture of Blue Boy in her bedroom and we always had to cover his face with a magazine or towel.
Thank you for sharing Rakesh Satyal- I’m so lucky that I don’t really have to worry about this issue. I write when ever the need hits and often hours out of the day. At least when my kids are playing together and there aren’t chores around the house calling to me.
I go for a 45 minute walk every night and then I come home and write and it works wonders for me. That 45 minutes before I begin writing allows me to run chapters through my head and plot what I am going to write that day as well as hopefully helping me get in shape.
The days I just try and sit and write without having taken a walk first never go that well.
I think every writer has to find what works for them and they try and recreate that scenario every day.
Rakesh Satyal mentions sitting in a coffee shop for hours on end writing, I could never do that. It would drive me mad all that noise and distraction and I would get nothing done whatsoever.
You have to find what works for you and do it every day, heck of waking up early and getting an hour in first thing in the morning works then do it. I like to write at 6pm though every night.
Thanks Rakesh for sharing your dual talents. Great suggestions.
It reminds me, I have been hearing confusing information about whether an editor/agent could or should also be an author.
Apparently some publishing houses say the skills needed for each job are different, and editors/agents in their houses are NOT supposed to also be authors.
Some writers I know say they could never trust an editor/agent who was not also an author.
Just wondering what others thought.
Blue Boy sounds fascinating. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for your insight, too.
Btw, Nathan, have you ever posted to analyze why writers are so obsessed with reality TV? I get easily fascinated by incredibly dumb shows… the Hills, Girls Next Door, ANTM, what have you… and I suspect that it is something about my desire to spy on other human beings that makes me want to write and create worlds. (Do writers also read advice columns? Or is that just me?)
I write in the morning when I can but lately that’s been Difficult
Brian South says
I can certainly appreciate the need for mental availability when one attempts to write. So often life demands a window on my computer screen.
I find that I need the regularity of a set schedule. I come home from work and write for at least an hour. My mind is (slowly) learning that when it’s writing time, all the other distractions must be put away.
But afterward, the catharsis is amazing. When I’ve had a productive writing session, I can truly enjoy my evening.
It’s a shame writing so often gets to thrive only on the fringes of Everything Else — which is why it’s so important to know where the perimeter of life’s lace doily lies.
I’m glad to hear that someone else experiences (and advocates) a degree of slack between the need to set a biological clock and the fickle relativity of thinky-breedy time (without which, as Marie Devers notes right at the start, the blank page is so often a record of unrealised inspiration).
I’ve tried all manner of slavish working regimes, and have even knitted a costume a la feng shui de fashion, specifically geared up to enhance my productivity, but I’ve always found these to err unecessarily on the side of perspiration.
What givens are there when you’re wrestling with an unknown beast? Some of my best stuff has been written out live, whole and gutted in twenty minutes, while on other occasions, eight word sentences have taken months of work to fix.
Matching the writing time to the nature of the stuff you’re writing is indeed the key.
Marie Force says
To that last end, especially, I am always thinking in the back of my mind, at any given point, when my next available moment for a time to sit down and write may be. I mean “available” not just physically but mentally.
I can relate to this. With a full-time day job of my own and two kids, the writing has to be fit in around a million other things. Being physically available is only half the battle. The mental availability tends to be the bigger struggle. Congrats on your book!
Wow. April is over and I’ve been spending my time mostly at Robert Brewer’s poetic asides blog for the National Poetry Month challenge.
But I really missed you, Nathan, and the community on your blog so just wanted to say, now that April is over, it’s good to be back. There is always content here that manages to inspire me.
And yes, I did just de-lurk myself. Oh the folly of liking blogs too much to stay quiet.
The Bookaholic says
This is really interesting to read and very helpful too. For writing as well as for most things, what is good for the goose, may not work for the gander…so find your own rhythm and swing your pen in resonance to it. Happy writing!
Mira said: I’m sorry I hinted that I might have done a better job. [bolding is mine]
OMG Mira…I think you are improving comedically by leaps and bounds each and every day!
ryan field says
This was a very enjoyable post. And now I’m going to have to order the book, too.
P.C. Thanks 🙂
I don’t know though. With comedy, sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss. When you miss, you have to shrug your shoulders and move on.
One of the most challenging things about writing comedy, is when you go back to re-read it, you can no longer tell if it’s funny. It’s so weird that it works that way.
One of these days, I may take a class – on how to evaluate your own comedy writing.
Matilda McCloud says
Thank you, Rakesh, for your comments. I especially liked what you wrote about completing a “particular emotional arc” for each scene. I look forward to reading BLUE BOY.
Re: reality TV. I prefer The Amazing Race because it leads to discussions every Sunday night with my husband about who will do the bungee jumping, who will ride the camel etc. when we are selected to go on the show (ha)
Kristin Tubb says
Thank you, Rakesh! You have just described my writing schedule to a T. I have two young kids, and i write whenever I can get snatches of time. But I’m constantly thinking about the next scene, so my “writing time” is not just limited to when I’m sitting at the keyboard. I think the worst piece of writing advice ever is, “you must write every day.” I *can’t* write every day. This schedule works fine for me. Thanks for sharing!
Steve Stubbs says
Good luck with your book. If you are getting kudos from major writers like Palahniuk I suspect it will do well. Rowling started writing in coffee houses.
what a relief to know someone else could only find weekend time and snatched time here and there during the week…plus wrote a successful novel. That is all the time I usually have and I approach it pretty much like you do. Hope I succeed!
Chuck Dilmore says
Thank you for this!