write to win

Seven books to read before you start writing your own

A first-time author shares her reading list as she was preparing to write her novel.

“I never read a novel till I was 18,” Sunjeev Sahota, author of The Year of The Runaways was quoted as saying. (His book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2016). The fact that he grew up in a non-literary household and never read novels in school may resonate with many of us.

After all, not everybody has heard of The Brothers Karamazov; few of us have ever written anything beyond a leave application or a company memo. And yet, the urge to write a book is strong in many of us, for we all have stories to tell.

In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King recommends a “strenuous reading and writing programme of about four to six hours a day” for all aspiring writers. Fair enough – but with a full-time job and family commitments, one might end up feeling overwrought, unless one cuts down on sleep and a social life. Writing (or reading), in that case, will become a painful process and not the creative medium of expression it is meant to be.

But the importance of reading books cannot be overstated. To quote King once again: “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” So, if you are a late bloomer and think you want to read works to inspire you and to educate you before you start writing your own here is a suggestive list of seven books to help you get started:

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is a coming-of-age story that depicts the frailties of human beings as seen through the eyes of an orphaned English girl. While all the novels written by the Bronte sisters (Emily, Anne and Charlotte) are legendary, this one in particular has grown in its appeal in recent years.

That’s thanks to the prose, which is evocative and subversive, and the way it addresses themes like love, relationships, gender stereotypes, religion and social classes with deep compassion and tenderness. The novel shows us an old-fashioned away of telling a story, and that’s often the best starting point: you have to know the rules before you can break them.

For a first-time author who wants to master the art of storytelling and create unforgettable characters, this novel is a must read.

The Great Indian Novel, Shashi Tharoor
Published in 1989, this audacious work of fiction recreates the political events of India in the past two hundred years using characters from the Mahabharata, from where it also derives its name. It’s an outrageous work of imagination coupled with control, for Tharoor finds parallels in both events and people without significantly distorting either the myth or history.

The writer’s piquant wit shines through in his crackling narration; his witty innuendos, rumbustious parody, and crafty one-liners leave the readers in splits. There may be other Indian novels of greater literary merit, but a first-time writer can understand here the power of creative imagination and use of literary tropes.

The Colour Purple, Alice Walker
This is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about the life of an African American girl who lives in Southern USA. Ever since its publication in 1982, it has been on the list of much-debated novels for its depiction of racism, poverty and class struggle. Walker suggests that these elements often manifest themselves as domestic violence, incest, rape and depravation. The story follows the epistolary style, with the protagonist writing letters to god.

The first line of the novel is one of its most memorable: “You better not never tell nobody but god.” What Walker teaches is the need to let go of purple prose or, indeed, any conscious display of virtuosity when writing. King’s adage – “Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation” – is evident here in unpretentious prose and a sincere voice. Well worth emulating for the first-time writer.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Presenting an alternate version of British history, this novel is based on the premise that there was once a time when magic was practised in England, though it disappeared afterwards. The story tracks two “practical” magicians, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, who bring magic back to nineteenth century England.

Clarke’s writing is original and refreshing; her sweeping prose transports readers to a land of fables. To ensure that readers have no questions unanswered, Clarke has explained every single detail of the characters and their backstories in her footnotes, a good two hundred of them! That in itself is a lesson for first-time authors who are always in a hurry to submit their half-baked first draft to the publishers, seldom considering the reader and how they would like it.

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Why this holy grail of books that keep on keeping on? As everyone – even those who don’t read – knows, the novel follows a young boy who travels away from home in pursuit of a hidden treasure that he has seen only in a recurring dream. Despite a narrative that is straightforward and language that is far from literary, the book has won huge global appeal, selling more than 65 million copies in eighty languages worldwide.

What it teaches first-time authors is that a story need not have a complicated plot, multiple characters, rich prose and diverse settings; all it needs is a great idea and someone to convey it as honestly as possible.

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
A gripping novel about how Harvard don Robert Langdon, an expert on symbols, solves complex puzzles, riddles and anagrams to crack the murder mystery of Jacques Sauniere, head of the Priory of Sion. Despite the pedestrian prose, the book is hugely popular at least in part because it challenges the orthodox narrative of Christianity. And therein lies a lesson for first-timers: attack entrenched beliefs to draw attention.

On Writing: A memoir of the craft, Stephen King
This isn’t fiction – and it had better not be! First-time writers can read this book as an excellent resource, with practical tips and advice. This book is divided into two parts. The first describes King’s personal journey as an author of several bestselling novels. And the second talks about everything that is “writing” – including ideas, plot, characters, grammar, style and narration.

If you’re still left wondering how bestsellers are created, this is what King has to say: “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.”

Vani has just completed the sequel to her rom com novel, The Recession Groom.

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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.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

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:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • 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.