For the second time, I’m happy to welcome back to these pages my colleague Sudesna (Sue) Ghosh. Based in India, Sue is an author, cat mom and advocate for mental health and animals.
Anxiety sucks. It’s been my friend/enemy for some years now. As much as I’d like to say that my anxiety doesn’t define me, I have to admit that adulthood has taught me how anxiety can affect every aspect of my daily life. For example, I realize now at 30+ how I have stuck to structured routines since my college days. That means, having a to-do list that helps me ease my mind each time something is crossed off the list. That also means, following a daily routine to the minute and hating anything or anyone who tries to change things.
As I was writing Mita’s Dilemma last month, I learned more about myself and the way that I like to work. I learned that I prefer writing shorter stories than many other authors because of my tendency to get anxious about unfinished tasks. So, imagine lying in bed, overthinking about the next day’s to-do list, and then imagine further, a long novel-length manuscript that may take months to finish. In other words, I don’t want to spend months of sleepless nights, hating myself and being anxious about finishing a long book. Short stories and novellas work for me because I can finish the first draft in two weeks and feel relieved.
The same anxiety influences my writing process whether it is a short story or a novella of 15000 words or a novella of 40000 words. Last year, I realised that the blank page made me rather anxious – of course, the blank page makes most author’s anxious I hear. So, I started writing my first chapters by hand to get into the flow. Writing by hand meant spending extra time typing the words out later, but it removed the anxiety of having the word count stare back at me every moment that I looked down at the bottom of the screen.
Similarly, I stopped breaking down my outlines scene by scene instead of chapter by chapter. Looking at an entire chapter ahead of you can be daunting while breaking it all into smaller chunks helped me feel calmer as I approached each writing session.
Recent discussions on Twitter have also made it clear that I cannot imagine writing my stories in any random order. For instance, some authors I know, write Chapter 10 before they write Chapter 1. The thought of going out of order (read: structure) makes me anxious. My writing process is also from the first scene to the last. Always.
Writing stories make me happy. Mental health is important. There’s a lot of writing advice floating around and I’m glad that the last couple of years have shown me the process that works for me.