write to win

How to write a rom-com in a recession

A novelist explains how the economy and the advice of friends affected what she wrote.

I didn’t start out to write a comedy, though I’ve a flair for it being Punjabi, the most rumbustious of the entire lot. My first novel, The Recession Groom was meant to be a melancholy story, chronicling the fall of top investment banking firms on Wall Street and its effects on the life of my protagonist, a top-shot banker or techie-turned-junkie, lost in love and life.

However, I’d not even started when I got a creative nudge from a dear friend: “Look, I’ll read your novel only if you write a comedy otherwise…” and the sentence was left for me to complete. For days I racked my brains, tossing around several ideas about how to infuse comedy into a recession. In my frustration, I told my mother what I was going to write about, asking for help, and she in turn passed the buck onto our extended family settled in parts overseas.

Soon enough, five of my relatives raised their hands for playing the part of the protagonist, one even going on to explain how he became a manic-depressive after losing his job, ruining his chances of finding a perfect partner. The more I interacted with people, the more I realised how much evocative material I had around me. The panic was unnecessary.

I was mid-way through my magnum opus when my mother advised me to “forget writing-whiting, and pursue a PhD”. Why this sudden change, I wondered. Now, bent as she was to find out if I was the next JK Rowling in the making, my mother had shown my horoscope to our double-divorced family pundit who had clicked his tongue and announced, “the girl doesn’t stand a bright chance writing books. Ask her to pursue higher education instead.”

Was I destined to be out for a duck then? This was a different challenge. More eager to prove the pundit wrong, I worked day and night in my tiny London bedsit, finishing my first draft in three months. There it was, my masterpiece, and I was sure going to sell it and prove the naysayers wrong.

Taking inspiration from Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, I printed out an abundance cheque, filled my name alongside an amount in six figures that I wished to receive from the Bank of the Universe, and put it on my vision board before setting out to email my proposal to publishers and literary agents across the globe.

A couple of “global” rejections made me take a fresh look at the cheque and reduce the amount to something more reasonable.

Nothing still! Unbeknownst to me, publishing houses the world over were trying to consolidate in the wake of the recession and had stopped taking bets on new authors like myself. I couldn’t get it. So was my fledgling career going to be sacrificed to the insatiable greed of some stupid American bankers who couldn’t differentiate between prime and subprime buyers of home loans?

I had almost conceded defeat and was looking up options to get a PhD when I decided to give my manuscript one last chance, this time deciding to get professional help. That’s when I got my second creative nudge and realised I’d probably written my book as a hardcore business story (thanks to years spent working as a business journalist), infusing it with bits of comedy that sounded as forced as two keys in one lock (imagine Sucheta Dalal writing a Jug Suraiya column!), and in a language that could at best be an example of literary showboating (my desperate attempt to be the new Arundhati Roy or Amit Chaudhuri, you see).  As if that wasn’t enough, my peers at a writing forum advised me to add more romance to the story.

A romantic comedy on recession, but how was I to do that?

All my romantic instincts had dwindled after my five year stint in London; away from my family, a single woman, working as a management lecturer in a college, and leading a life as dull as a snail in a golf course with enough grub but little romp (a Bridget Jones in the making!) That besides, I’d grown up on a crop of motivational stuff, documentaries and self-help books. How was I to write a romance?

As I toiled (and roiled) on my manuscript once again, I remembered something that Mother Teresa had once said: “I know god won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much.” It took me about two and a half years to redraft the whole story, ensuring, first, that I’d infused enough comedy to comply with the wishes of my dear friend; and second, that the recession was relegated to the background and the protagonist’s life and his romances took precedence (to comply with the wishes of everyone else); and third, that I didn’t try to sound like my literary heroes/sheroes and more like myself.

The Recession Groom is out now and I’ve got an excellent response from my readers, though many still complain about the bit about romance. A reviewer recently pointed out how the protagonist needed to do much more than getting his hand under the skirt of his beloved while my muse just sneered in response.

Whoever said “fiction is written from your soul” failed to realise the power of creative nudgers, advicemongers, soothsayers and well-wishers in creating good fiction. My conclusion: it is not just talent that you need to be a writer (and the rest of the mumbo jumbo about motivation, perseverance, hard work, skill, and god knows what), but also these histrionics and the people behind the scenes that help you enrich your stories and create memorable characters.

Vani has worked as a business journalist and is the author of The Recession Groom. She is currently writing a sequel to the novel.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

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Getting the best from collaborations

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Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

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  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.