Andaleeb Wajid lives in Bangalore, and has published thirteen novels over the past eight years. By any reasonable standard, her output is astounding. In 2017, her YA novel, When She Went Away, was shortlisted for The Hindu Young-World Goodbook Award. Her books are an eclectic blend of young adult, romance and horror. In 2018, she will publish another five books with publishers like Penguin Random House, Speaking Tiger, and Juggernaut. Wajid spoke to Scroll.in about how she makes time for her writing, how long she usually works on a book, her notebook where she collects ideas, how she learned to streamline the process of writing books, and a lot more. Excerpts from the interview:
You’ve had thirteen books published in the past eight years. Did you always know you would be so prolific?
Honestly, no. I was ecstatic and over the moon when I finished writing my first book – that in itself was a big deal for me. I couldn’t imagine that I would start writing so much and so often. My first book Kite Strings was unplanned, too long and took me two years to write because I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no clue about the writing process, and I was writing the book whenever I felt I was in the mood for it. But when it was published, I started wondering about what came next. Would it take me another two years to write the second book?
But a sort of dam had broken, and all these books just started coming out of me. I wrote my second book in three or four months, after which I took a break for a few months. It was all very disorganised and chaotic, and I still hadn’t found my niche. It took me a long time to understand that my books weren’t going to neatly fit into any niche or genre, that they were more a crossover of young adult, romance, and relationships. Although recently, I’ve also been trying my hand at horror.
In the early days of my writing, ideas would pop in randomly, and I would take one, focus on it, start writing and wander around figuring out the plot. The chaos and disorder in my head calmed down once I realised that writing books was what I was meant to do and that it’s not going to go away. Nor will my writing abilities disappear because I’ve finished writing a particular book. Once it was clear in my head that writing a book was not a flash in the pan, and that it was going to be my career, I started being more organised about it.
Sometimes, it still feels surreal when I go to Amazon and enter my name in the search box and it shows all these books!
What does an average writing day look like for you?
When I’m writing a book, which is almost all the time, I try and get my writing done first thing in the morning at my big but rather messy desk. Most of my writing is done after my sons have left for school and college, and the day seems like it’s completely mine and full of promise. I don’t write extensively at a stretch. I take small breaks for breakfast or tea, and then come back to tackle the story. I try to work for at least two hours on my book every day, and I write only on my laptop although I make extensive notes in a notebook before I begin writing. My aim is to finish a chapter a day. The length of the chapter varies. The chapters are typically between 1,200 to 1,500 words long, and sometimes longer if the story is contemporary fiction with a lot of dialogue thrown in.
Sometimes, I’m excited about something new that has occurred to me and I might want to write more than a chapter during the day, and I’m okay with that but it throws the rest of my plans out of gear. The remainder of the day is spent doing other things – social media, Netflix, reading – but the book I’m currently writing is constantly playing in my head. There are constant interruptions throughout the day but they’re welcome because I feel refreshed when I get back to the screen. When the boys get back home, we watch some of their favourite superhero TV shows together although I have to constantly berate at least one of them to study and finish their homework.
Before, my writing schedule was haphazard, and I would write at all times irrespective of the time of day. Now, I try not to do any serious writing when they’re at home because it’s too distracting and I’m often not happy with whatever I’ve written when the external chatter is louder than the internal chatter. Same goes for weekends and vacations, which is why I hate them (weekends and vacations, not my boys).
What’s been your busiest writing period?
The past two to three years have been really busy. I’ve written around seven books in that time – a few of which will be published this year . At the end of 2013, I had finished my tenth novel and I thought that I needed to take a break, relax, and get some of these books published before I started writing more. So, I promised myself I wouldn’t write anything for the whole of 2014 and I stuck to it, despite getting worried about what I would write once 2015 rolled around.
I was at Kamila Shamsie’s book launch that year when she mentioned what her aunt Attia Hossain used to say about writing, that writing is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. That terrified me, but I stuck to my plan of not writing that year. I had also taken on a job at a software organisation where I was the head of marketing and I thought that writing and the job wouldn’t gel and I needed some time to stay away from it to do justice to the job (which I quit in early 2016). Sometimes, I think that maybe that one-year hiatus recharged my batteries and helped me become even more prolific once I got back to writing. But it’s not something I’m willing to do again. I can’t imagine myself deliberately not writing anything now.
What helps keep the balance in those times?
I’m happy to just write. My body often tells me when to take it slow and not push it, and I try my best to listen to it, but it’s not always easy. It gets physically tiring sometimes, and there’s shoulder pain and I’m always scared I’ll get carpal tunnel. There was a time in 2016 when I had so much pain in my hands and I’d googled the symptoms and was convinced I had rheumatoid arthritis. I got a test done as well and thankfully it was negative. Ever since then, I’ve spaced out my writing and the moment my fingers start making typos, I know I’m done for the day. This does affect my routine so I try to take my mind off it, and watch some Netflix or catch up on reading, and try not to feel too bad about losing a writing day.
Is there ever a time when you experience a dearth of ideas?
I’m afraid to jinx myself by saying no, but I maintain a notebook where I keep all my ideas and I often check it to see which of them can become a book next. So far, there hasn’t been any dearth of ideas! Earlier, I used to note down ideas or thoughts as they came on my phone in the Google Keep app and colour them so I could spot the ideas in a hurry. But it was too random and unorganised. The notebook is a new addition and I use it to jot down ideas on separate pages and it’s just for reference, a starting point.
When I’ve decided to write a book, I take out another notebook (preferably new as it gives me a reason to stock up on stationery) and I start making extensive notes in it. I do this now before I begin every book –it was something I started with my fourth book, More than Just Biryani. I write everything down in a stream of consciousness way, and I ask myself questions about the characters or the events and how I will tie them together. When I start writing, I sometimes refer to these notes as a blueprint to keep me on track. Sometimes I update the notebook if the story has undergone too many changes as I wrote it, but it’s more like informing a friend – “I decided to let so and so die because it made more sense, etc.”
I know that some ideas will take a lot of work, but that’s also exciting for me. I try to balance the easy ideas with the difficult ones and try to do one each, so that I’m sufficiently challenged.
Does promoting several books in the span of a few months ever get too much?
I’m going to find out this year, I’m sure. It’s definitely not wise having so many books out together but it’s not a choice I made. Because of varying publishing schedules (they’re all being published by different publishers), they’ve all been slotted for this year. January began with an ebook on the Juggernaut platform called Night at the Warehouse. Soon after, in March, I have a contemporary novel out with Penguin called Twenty-Nine Going on Thirty. There’s a book with Talking Cub (Speaking Tiger’s children’s imprint) called The Legend of the Wolf that’s slotted for May probably. Amaryllis is publishing a slower old age kind of romance in April called The Sum of All My Parts. The book I’m currently writing should hopefully be published towards the end of this year with Penguin if all goes well.
Do writing projects overlap from time to time?
I try my best to avoid doing that, but sometimes a story is really intent on being written and I have to let it have its way. It’s actually happening right now – I’m finishing up a novel which is due in March and my head is begging me to start writing this completely different book. I gave in a few days ago and set up the notes and all the due process for the new book. I’ve been trying to divide time equally between the books although the new one is more fun and exciting at the moment. I’m able to do this now because I’m nearly at the end of the earlier book – I wouldn’t be able to simultaneously write two books that are developing at the same pace. I write quite fast usually and I try to finish one book before jumping on to the next.
You have five books coming out in 2018. Do you already have a sense of what 2019 will look like for your writing?
Not really. I’m already worried that I won’t have anything for 2019 and my brain is whirring to see what I can prepare for next year and who would be interested in publishing me next!