Friday, February 18, 2011

Mahtab Narsimhan: Writing is as Essential as Breathing

Feel like there's not enough time in your busy life to be creative? How do authors or illustrators continue to create while tackling everything else in their lives? About once a month as I'll ask a writer or illustrator how they do it. 'Cause I want to know. (I need all the help I can get in this department.)

Creating through the Clamour, Instalment 5

The Creator 
name:  Mahtab Narsimhan
resides: Toronto, Canada (aka the centre of the universe :>)
creates: MG and currently working on a YA novel

The Creations
The Third Eye (Dundurn Press, 2007) which won the 2009 Silver Birch Fiction Award in Ontario
The Silver Anklet (Dundurn Press, 2009)
Her Mother's Ashes (TSAR Publications, 2009) Anthology to which she contributed
Piece by Piece (Penguin Canada, 2010)  Anthology to which she contributed
The Deadly Conch (Dundurn Press, Jan 2011)
The Tiffin (Dancing Cat Books, September 2011)

The Clamour
A day job: Gotta eat/pay rent. But on the flip side it also gives me a rest from the intense mental activity of creating something out of thin air. Not a bad thing at all.

Household Chores: Real bore but has to be done. I hate a messy place. Sometimes I’ve solved quite a few problems in my plot/character motivation while vacuuming or cooking, so again, not a bad thing at all!

Kids: One with two legs and one with four. And a third one whom I married. All boys and they all need looking after.

How did you get started in this field?
I started out with recording incidents of life back home (Bombay, India) after my father passed away in 2003. That somehow got me thinking that I would try my hand at writing since I had always been an avid reader. I’ve never looked back since and this is my favourite of the four career paths I’ve taken!

Someday I'll have to ask you about the other three! What are you working on these days?
Just finished the second round of substantive edits on THE TIFFIN. At the moment I’m writing a dystopian YA which will be a trilogy. Finished the first draft of book 1. I’m taking a break so that I can get back to it with fresh eyes in a few weeks. It’s a lot easier to see mistakes when you put it away for a while.

What's the hardest aspect for you in terms of being creative? Finding the time? the space? the focus? something else?
Finding the time. There is always so much to do that if I don’t carve out some time in the day, I’ll never be able to write. And so, every morning from about 6:00 am to 8:00 am is the time I devote to writing. This includes Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. And yes, even my birthday.

Now that it’s become a routine, it’s easier to focus and get my quota out for the day (approx. 1500 words a day) before I allow myself to stop.

Wow, that's discipline! Do any of your distractions end up feeding your creativity?
All I can say is that when you are looking at a problem slant, sometimes the answer comes to you.  When I tend not to focus on my writing and instead distract myself with other work, it helps.

How do you minimize your distractions while you're working? Any tips for others? 
Have a set time, a set place and a goal. The rest will follow. An interesting fact I discovered is that most habits, good or bad, take about two weeks to form.

I have followed this routine of mine, i.e. writing early in the morning in my basement office and giving myself a daily quota, for the last six years. It’s a deeply ingrained habit and has allowed me to complete the first draft of a novel in about four to six months. It works! In fact, now, if I have not finished my “homework” on a daily basis, I feel terribly guilty and even cranky.

Are there times when you just can't focus on your writing and if so how do you cope with them?
As time goes by I have learned to trust myself and the creative process. If I cannot write or think of the next thing that needs to happen in a plot, I’ll put it aside and work on something else. I know that I will still be thinking of the problem subconsciously and by forcing the issue I’ll only get frustrated. And sure enough after a couple of days' break, I come up with a solution and am eager to get back to the manuscript. The first few times this happened I felt panicked, wondering if I would ever write again. Now I know I will.

Any tips on how to get things done faster/more efficiently? 
I know this is the age of multi-tasking and I am as guilty as the person sitting next to me on the bus. However there are some things that need complete focus and for me, it’s writing. I try not to think of or do anything else when I am writing. I cannot even have another person in the room when I am writing. This is why I write best early in the morning when all the boys are all snoring.

I tend not to think about unpleasant tasks too much. I grit my teeth and jump right into it. And before I know it, it’s over and done. Most efficient if you don’t dwell on it too much.

What book, song, painting, movie, etc has touched you or has great meaning for you recently?
I love fantasy fiction. It’s what has always fascinated me. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series remain my favourites to this day and once in a while when I have the time, I’ll read through them again.

I loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions by Richard Bach. Also love The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents? a hobby or interest?
Reading is my only other hobby. If I’m not writing, I’m reading. My secret ambition at one point in my life was to be a librarian. I mistakenly assumed that all I would have to do is check books in and out and read the rest of the day. This revelation never fails to make all the teacher-librarians I know, laugh.

Why do you keep creating in the face of all this distraction and effort?
Writing and creating is as essential to me as breathing. I couldn’t stop either even if I tried.

Looking forward to reading more of your work, Mahtab! Thanks for spending some of your time here.


Mahtab said...

Hi Lizann,

Thanks for inviting me! Loved your questions.



Deborah Kerbel said...

Wonderful interview! Wish I was as well organized as you, Mahtab...

Lizann Flatt said...

Thanks, and I agree with Deb re being organized. Something for me to aspire to.