For eight long years, I had been giving in to my desire to tell stories, and the stories that I wrote were all confined to the bottom drawer of my desk. . . . I almost gave up hope.
I enjoy telling stories.
Here's a brand new story, but unlike my other stories, this one isn't fiction. It's based on a series of true events that transpired between the summer of 2013 and the winter of 2015.
It was the middle of a sweltering Indian summer afternoon, when I found myself tearing my hair off my sweaty scalp, trying to reason with the manuscripts that had until then lain forgotten in the bottom drawer of my desk. They wanted out. They hated being cooped up inside the hot and dark drawer that's barely five inches high, and remains shut all the time. "When are you sending us to literary agents?" They wanted to know. "Why did you bring us into this world if all you wanted was to make us serve a life-sentence in this dark dungeon?"
Their questions were valid, but I was helpless. For eight long years, I had been giving in to my desire to tell stories, and the stories that I wrote were all confined to the bottom drawer of my desk. Not because I was ashamed of having written them, but because I wasn't confident of my own W factor.
The manuscripts had every reason to be mad.
In 2004, I wrote a novella of about 35K words, a story of a pup who escaped death, found a loving family, and who has since taken to rule my heart and my life. I printed the story, put it in a threadbare file and pushed it into the bottom drawer of my desk.
Some years later, in 2010, a bird awoke the philosopher in me, and made me write her story of about 40K words - once again, technically a novella. I printed it out, read it aloud to my family, gave it to two gentlemen who had a rather voracious appetite for reading, and got pulled up for not trying to publish it. My heart sprouted tiny wings but only for a moment. The printout of this story then joined the story of the pup in bottom drawer of my desk.
The next year and the year after, I wrote nothing, except some random flash fiction on my blog. Then in 2012, a series of events in the neighborhood had me writing frantically for almost a month. At the end of the month, I had earned a backache and a collection of short-stories. I read the stories aloud to anyone polite enough to lend me their ear, burned them on a CD, and pushed them into the bottom drawer of my desk, right above the other two.
So by the summer of 2013, there were these three manuscripts sharing a tiny cell, laying one atop the other. With day temperatures hitting almost 115 F, I am not surprised that they revolted. It was clear that if I didn't act quickly, they might even sue me - and for a good reason too. If all I wanted to do was consign them to the dark and dusty bottom drawer of my desk for life, why did I bring them into the world?
Their questions and pleas made me ashamed of myself. If only I had the W factor, I wouldn't have done this to them. After all, they were born of my own grey cells!
Did I have the W factor or not? The factor that changes a doodler into a writer, not the kind that writes to pour her heart out but the kind that others want to read. I needed this information so that I could face my manuscripts again. And so I went looking for websites and books that could help me decide. I was plucking the writer's daisy - "Am I a writer? Am I not? Am I a writer…"
As I struggled through the chaos of writing websites that promised to tell you everything that was there to know about writing, my strength ebbed and I almost gave up hope. As a last-ditch effort, I sent a heart-rending appeal to an Italian friend, Barbara G. Tarn who is a self-published fantasy author and a fantastic human being. "Barb," I wrote, "Can you please direct me to a really good newsletter or a website on writing?"
And she sent me the link to David Farland's website. I typed the URL in the browser and then I didn't leave the site for the next two hours. I also subscribed to Mr. Farland's (then called) Kick in the Pants newsletter, because I thought that a kick in the pants was exactly what I would need, if I discovered that I did have the W factor in me.
That was the summer of 2013. From that day on, I would read each one of those newsletters, from start to finish. And then I read his book Million Dollar Outlines. The book gave me the answer that I was looking for.
I did have the W factor!
When I first saw it, I couldn't recognize it for what it was. It looked like it had been lying in dirt and moss for eons; it had salt-deposits and it looked nothing like the sparkly shiny W factors of best-selling writers; but it was definitely there, half embedded in the morass of a dark, unfrequented corner of my mind.
It wasn't easy to pry the W factor loose, but the book inspired me to try again and again, until it came unstuck. I held it in my hands and felt its roughness with my fingers. It could've been a dirty little rock lying on the road. Had you come across it somewhere, you wouldn't have looked at it twice. But when I looked upon it, I saw a promise. I saw a will to change. So I went back to Million Dollar Outlines and it taught me how to clean the debris off my W factor. It gave me the tools that I could use to make it shine. I worked hard, and the W factor looked better with each passing day.
Finding my W factor made me confident, because it told me that I knew how to tell stories, but I needed to learn how to paint pictures through words, and how to pull my readers inside my stories. A few months later, I opened the bottom drawer of my desk and made a promise to my stories. I told them that they'd be freed of their shackles soon enough - I just needed some more time; I just needed to make my W factor shine some more. Filled with hope, they listened, and made a promise in turn. They won't be bringing a lawsuit against me, but they needed to see progress.
The confidence that the book gave me was enough to write my first full-length novel - a thriller of 90K words. My novel has had but two readers so far. These readers have growled at me and snapped at my heels when I asked them leave the book for dinner or for TV. All that growling and snapping doubled my confidence. When the novel arrived in the drawer, the other manuscripts welcomed it in. They know that the novel won't stay put. I know that it won't, nor will the others.
I know it because I put myself to test. I sent my most recent short story, not into the drawer, but out in the arena - to compete with other writers trying to burnish their W factor, and to be judged by those with sparkly shiny diamond-studded W factors. Simply put, I wrote a science-fiction story and entered it into the fourth quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. My first science-fiction story; my first entry to any contest; and it won an Honorable Mention!
So you see, the W factor is strong in me. It isn't shining yet, but the newsletters will keep me on my track and Million Dollar Outlines will help me put a shine on it. I am now aiming at winning the WOTF so that I can visit the United States, attend the workshop, and meet Mr. Farland.
But this isn't all. The manuscripts in that…yes, the same bottom drawer of my desk are celebrating, because this year, I intend to send them out to agents. I hope that one of them will land me an agent, and in the course of time, a book deal.
None of this would've happened had it not been for Mr. Farland's newsletter and his book Million Dollar Outlines that helped me find my W factor.
A Note to Mr. Farland:
"Thank you for saving our lives!" - The manuscripts in the bottom drawer of Shafali's desk.
Connect with Shafali Anand
Shafali is a writer and an artist. The writer loves to tell stories and forgets the concept of time and space when she's spinning the fictional yarn; the artist paints covers for magazines and novels to feed the writer and her dog. The writer dreams of the day when she'll publish her first book; the artist titters, then snickers and says, "we shall see!" The writer and the artist both live in Delhi with Shafali's significantly more organized better half and their lady-dog whose life's mission is to make the two humans dance to her tunes.
Her blog http://shafali.wordpress.com is a mad mix of caricatures, portraits, cartoons, and flash fiction. Those who want to find an inexpensive way to get back at the agents who rejected their manuscripts would find her book Evolution of a Caricaturist - How to Draw Caricatures a useful text.
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