Of all the things I accomplished in 2014, finishing my book was the most satisfying. I had been putting it off since 2000. No joke. I used every excuse in the world, and was prepared to push it into another year. But a funny thing happened on my flight to Hamburg, Germany two years ago. I sat next to an author who told me about how gratifying it was to see his book online, and occasionally on bookstore shelves when he travels. I shared his passion for connecting with the world, continent after continent.
As I rode the subway from the Hamburg Airport to the hotel, I kept asking myself, why do you need to write a book Sean? And I kept answering my own question:
“To empower people, to spark conversation, to inspire the next generation of book enthusiasts, to foster greater cultural understanding, and to provide the kind of value that cuts across generations, gender, ethnicity, race and region.”
So during my four days there, I outlined my entire book, and made a promise to complete it. If it took staying up late, and then getting up early in the morning to finish a chapter, I would do it. I adopted writer Walter Moseley’s routine of spending at least one hour a day jotting down some thoughts (even when I didn’t want to), just to keep those creative juices flowing.
I credit my publisher Saba Tekle with pushing me over the finish line when it appeared that I might procrastinate. As she will tell you, my method was completely unorthodox. I have asked over 100 writers about their methods, and I have received over 100 different responses. But that’s the beauty of creativity: it has no schedule, and, no restrictions except the ones we place on it. So I was curious about writer Monica Bhide and how she manages to consistently produce quality books, despite a busy schedule.
Monica Bhide (piuctured here)is an engineer turned writer who lives in Washington, D.C. Through the publication of six books, including three cookbooks and a best-selling collection of short stories, she has built a dynamic and diverse audience. In addition to the buzz around her website MonicaBhide.com, you have likely seen her work in Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Saveur, The Washington Post, Health, The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, AARP-The magazine, and Parents, just name a few.
The Chicago Tribune named Bhide one of the seven food writers to watch in 2012. And in April 2012, Mashable picked her as one of the top ten food writers on Twitter. In between international travel, she shared with me how she operates.
How do you conceptualize your book ideas?
I have been writing both fiction and non-fiction so I will give you a specific answer for each. For non-fiction, it is a lot easier since I write cookbooks! Cookbooks are specific and target a particular audience or teach a particular technique or focus on a particular ingredient. Let’s say I want to write a book about a simple ingredients, say onions — it is not that hard to conceptualize. It will focus on the varieties, the history, usage in different parts of the world and then, of course, recipes.
Fiction, at least for me, is different. I don’t do plot lines, outlines etc. My fiction starts, generally, with a question — “What if”, what if a mother was responsible for the death of her child, what if a kind man fell in love with an addict, what if someone married a narcissist, what if… I write the what if first and then let the characters in the plot tell me their story. I am working on my next book right now and it is again about — what if what we perceive as reality is a total illusion and yet what if what we perceive as an illusion is total reality.
Once you’ve fully conceptualized it, how do you construct the content? Daily? Weekly?
Daily, without fail. I try to write between 800–1000 words every single day. I have a ritual set up for the mornings — I meditate and then follow that up by reading something inspirational or positive and then I write. I find myself really anxious when I don’t write. I try to move the story forward every single day. When I am writing cookbooks, I try to create and test new recipes every day. Oh, and having a deadline always helps!
Do you write for you, or for your fan base? I ask because some writers allow fans to play a big role in shaping the flow of their books.
I think the first draft of my books is for me. It is where I am trying to find the story. I am trying to figure out what the characters are doing, what their motivation is, where they are going. The next few drafts and the final is totally for the reader.
As for cookbooks, my mentor Chef Sanjeev Kapoor once told me that a good teacher doesn’t teach what they know, they teach what their students need to learn, and I try to apply this when I am writing cookbooks — what does a reader need to learn to make this dish really well.
How do you handle writer’s block?
Tough one! I used to handle it by sulking! Let me tell you — it doesn’t work! So now I try to do a few things: 1. If a scene isn’t working or a character is driving me nuts, I just leave and go for a walk, clean the kitchen, cook something up! You can tell when I have writers block — those are the days when my house is sparkling; (2) If I still cannot figure out why I am not able to work on the book, I just leave it. I have left manuscripts alone for as long as a year. I go work on something else. Usually, when I come back, the answer is there and the block is gone; and (3) I learned this from the amazing author Michael Ruhlman — I write everyday, every single day. That helps as it creates a ritual and your brain doesn’t know that it should be blocked. It just knows that you need to write every single day.
Has the digital book revolution changed writing at all for you, or, affected the way you approach the process?
Yes. I used to write a lot on paper and now I write everything on the computer. That said, when I am stuck or trying to figure out a plot or a scene, I find myself going back to paper and pen. Also, I keep a gratitude journal in which I write everyday by hand. I find that when I do that, I think a lot more and slow down.
What is the best advice you can give to someone who is thinking about writing a book?
Don’t think — just write.
Sean Gardner is a board member and V.P. of Social Media with the World Communication Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is also a global keynote speaker, business creative and digital producer who lives in the Seattle area. He currently conducts workshops and social media training for small business, nonprofits, celebrities and multinational corporations. You can Link,Instagram, Tweet, Friend, Pin and circle him on Google Plus.
Also…you can purchase Sean’s international best-seller, The Road to Social Media Success, which the Huffington Post praised and recommended to marketers in 2015. It has some of his interviews with longtime industry experts, and has some of his own observations on a range of topics.
Inspire, inform and elevate social media. Always!