Thursday, February 22, 2018

Sheritha Singh: How my MBA helped me improve my fiction writing

Today's guest post is from ROSA member Sheritha Singh. Thank you, Sheritha!

The start of my professional writing career coincided with the first year of my Masters studies. Having written fiction for the better part of my life I honestly thought writing a dissertation would be a breeze. I was wrong. I'd just secured my first writing contract with indie publisher Breathless Press and within a few months I had four books lined up for release. Amidst edits for my young adult, new adult, paranormal and contemporary adult romance I asked myself if signing the contract with Breathless Press was a wise decision while struggling to grasp the basic concepts of academic writing. The two styles of writing are worlds apart and sometimes switching between the two was disastrous. Eventually I contemplated giving up either my MBA or writing career. Both, however, were equally precious to me. Amidst my internal struggle, my supervisor informed me that my research proposal was far from ready as my writing was academically poor and that I would not proceed to the next level of my studies. My first reaction was to give up pursuing the MBA. I actually emailed my supervisor informing her that I would not be coming back. She encouraged me to take a two week break from all writing and think about what I really wanted.

Two weeks later I decided that I wanted my MBA and I wanted a writing career. After deep introspection I realized that completing my MBA was exactly what I needed to improve my fiction writing. The writing style may be worlds apart but the technique of describing a research problem bore a striking resemblance to describing a fictional world. I have taken the lessons I've learned from the last five years of writing my dissertation has taught me a few important lessons, a few of which are listed below.

1) Write daily - even when inspiration hasn't struck. It's important to keep the writing rhythm flowing as each dissertation chapter has a deadline. It doesn't matter if I'm not using the stuff that I write. There are times when I delete thousands of words. There are other times when I use every word. Just like research, some aspects of fiction can simply be written better. Writing every day has also helped me to maintain my writing speed and prevent procrastination. In fact it has helped me focus on writing and I'm now able to set tighter deadlines for my fiction writing after having met academic deadlines for the last 3 years.

2) ‎ Research! Research! Research! Factual errors in a paper seriously affects the credibility of the paper. Similarly, a book that isn't well researched in terms of world and character building can easily be picked up by readers. A necessary part of research for writing fiction is reading. Reading helps writers build credible worlds and relatable characters. Readers are incredibly smart. They are also quick to leave a negative review if something does not match up to their expectations. The trick with research is to apply only the knowledge that is needed and to avoid an info dump. The knowledge that is used has to be relevant.

3) Be prepared to sacrifice words all the time. Editing and deleting words reduces the word count but it is a necessary part of rewriting. There are always better words that can be used. The process of active editing also reduces the chances of plagiarizing someone else's work. In most cases I've found that there is always a better method to write something.

4) Researchers are constantly pressurized to take a fresh spin on topics that have already been researched. Similarly writers are constantly pressurized to create fresh new stories for an ever demanding and critical market. Almost every theme, plot or storyline has been used and it is next to impossible to find one that’s waiting to be written into a best-selling book. Avoiding clichés, overused tropes and exhausted stereotypes can be difficult but it is possible to create a plausible fresh story by simply thinking out of the box. Despite being published I must admit that I was somewhat clueless when it came to clichés and tropes. I had to learn fast. Fortunately researching academic articles between a full-time day job and demanding family life has honed my reading skills.

5) I spent so much time studying that I learned to value the time I spent doing other things I really love and I made that time matter. I've learned to value my time and when it comes to writing I always save what I've written and go back and read it. It doesn't have to be perfect. For me it captures a memory of something I've enjoyed doing.

6) Although this may be hard to believe, academic researchers must adopt a specific writing style and also have a special flair with words. Academic articles and dissertations must be written in a flowing rhythm that is both concise and accurate. One aspect that took me forever to master was the style of broadly discussing a topic and then narrowing it down to the aspect under research. In retrospect the art of narrowing down a broad topic helped me create three dimensional worlds with a past, present and future for my characters. It helped me express what my characters felt through using the five senses. The trick though is to show the reader which aspect of the scene is the most important to the character through the characters sensual experience.

7) Researchers use many different techniques and methods to test the research hypothesis. Some methods of testing work better than others. The latter has taught me to experiment with different genres of writing. Although I have always written across the young adult, new adult and adult contemporary genres, I have recently begun experimenting with flash fiction and poetry. My current favourite poetry form is the haiku. Learning about the different forms has been fun. I've also signed up for an annual poetry marathon which sounds like fun (I will write about that after the event).

8) Enter competitions. My research has been funded. The competition for funding amongst applicants is incredibly intense. And just like writing completions I've always given writing contests my best shot. It’s a wonderful way to network, gain new fans and meet other writers. I've challenged myself to enter competitions that require entries in genres I haven't written before. Since writing is a creative journey, I believe that dabbling in other genres strengthens my writing.

I’m happy to conclude that writing my dissertation helped me tighten my writing and perfect my writing consistency.

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