Friday, February 9, 2024

Deadlines, Sudoku, Advice Columns, by Harini

 Is life/work balance, a myth? When you are pulled away from the middle of a manuscript by life having more important priorities for you, how do you mark the place where you are in your head and how do you find your way back into it quickly? A second question do you work on more than one project at a time? And is that confusing?

By Harini Nagendra

This question comes at the perfect time for me. Jan-Feb is the time of year that I work on producing a rough-rough first draft of the next book in The Bangalore Detectives Club series - I'm now working on book 4. 

While writing book 1, I was without a contract or deadlines, and had the luxury of time. I could take 14 years to complete the book, change the plot three times, and then rewrite it once more. Now, I'm on contract to write one book in the series each year, squeezing it between work, family and all the rest of it. This is the schedule that works for me - writing 10,000 words each week through Jan and Feb to complete that basic messy draft, then editing it into reasonable shape through March and April. 

Editing is easy - I have raw material to work on. Writing the first draft is the hard part. Especially when there are interruptions, which is most of the time. I write historical mysteries, set in 1920s Bangalore. Even minor interjections from the outside world can pull me right out of the book's colonial period and firmly back into the 21st century, especially if it's something like a cell phone ringing with an Amazon delivery, or needing to edit a powerpoint presentation for work - that kind of stuff makes it very difficult to get back into a world when computers had yet to be invented, and electricity had just made its appearance in Bangalore's bungalows! 

But I'm on a deadline, so I have to find my way back to the book. I love deadlines. I have a book due to the publisher in May, and that makes me anxious. Because I'm anxious, I know I have to get back into the book, so I... procrastinate. 

I have to find the right kind of procrastination, that helps me make my way back into the book. 

I've disabled all social media on my phone, as that's an easy source of procrastination, but it makes everything worse. A game of Sudoku works brilliantly, though. It gets my brain active and focused on something else, so I can calm down a bit and get into the writing zone. When Sudoku fails, there's always advice columns. People write in with the strangest problems, and reading the comments section usually gets my brain working... helping me see a way past the plot point where I'm stuck (plus I'm an advice column junkie. I admit it freely). 

Deadlines, Sudoku, Advice Columns. That's my magic formula.

Onto question two - yes, I often work on more than one project at a time. Alongside the Bangalore Detectives Club book, I'm usually writing nonfiction... a research manuscript, newspaper column, ecology book... these demand a very different style of writing, more technical and less imaginative or speculative. I need to stay on track with a linear narrative, simplifying complex issues for a wider audience. There is less leeway for digressions or literary turns of phrase, and because I must write to a tight word count, my sentences are short and snappy. 

For a long while, my non-fiction voice interfered with my fiction voice. I've learnt to deal with it by separating the times when I write them. I can write non-fiction after I've written a bit of fiction, but can't do it the other way around. So - I reserve my fiction writing for early mornings, late nights and weekends, and try and write my non-fiction during the workday. 

Is it confusing to work on these simultaneously? Often yes. But also, such fun! And in the end, that's why we all write, isn't it - because it is such a heady experience to get words out onto paper, and we can't imagine a life in which we couldn't write. 

Speaking of fun, I've really enjoyed reading what my other Criminal Minds friends have had to say on this topic, so please look up Brenda, Terry, Dietrich and James's terrific responses to this question!  


Catriona McPherson said...

Harini, I laughed out loud at "I have to find the right kind of procrastination"! Cx

Susan C Shea said...

I get sucked into reading, advice, columns, too. Reading enough of these suggests a mystery writer could have a long career based solely on murders that happen around wedding planning, and weddings themselves!

Brenda Chapman said...

Great, insightful post, Harini! Interesting to read how you balance different projects.

Harini Nagendra said...

Catriona - :-) yes, as I'm growing older I've decided to just embrace my procrastination and own it!

Harini Nagendra said...

Susan, yes, there's an idea for a brilliant series - several series in fact!

Harini Nagendra said...

Thanks Brenda. Juggling projects is a constant challenge for everyone, I guess, and certainly for me... lots of drops and misses, but practice helps!