Monday, January 28, 2013

Good Indian Girl: A Long-Winded Post on How I Became a Writer

My dad always wanted me to become a doctor. I kind of ruined it all by fainting at the sight of a whale heart on a school field trip. At least, I've been told it was because of the whale heart—I actually have no memory of seeing it. All I remember is waking up on the floor, my classmates staring down at me.

So there went my medical career. My dad was pretty disappointed. But like all good Indian girls, I grew up undeniably practical. As if by osmosis, I understood from birth that writers and artists starve on the streets. I really didn't want to starve or live on the street...so I ended up getting a computer science degree.

There was something about writing code that really appealed to me. From my very first CS class, it just clicked. It was so logical and rational...all the things that good Indian girls like. But I felt like a part of me was under-utilized. I tried to be creative in the workplace but my bosses really only needed a code monkey. They had other people, people with MBAs, who could be visionary. Sigh.

Then in 2006, I attended my first writers' conference, a regional RWA con. My sister, a fellow programmer who wrote novels on the side, convinced me to go.

“If you're ever going to write,” she said, “This is where you start.”

The funny thing is that I never told her I secretly wanted to write. Perhaps she intuited it from our many childhood hours spent together at the library, gushing over our favorite books. Perhaps she'd seen the signs for a while. Overflowing bookshelves. Midnight Harry Potter parties. It was probably obvious.

At the conference, agents Kristin Nelson and Jenny Bent hosted an extremely illuminating pitch workshop. They laid out what seemed like a step-by-step guide to getting published. Write the novel. Revise the novel. Send the query letter. Get an agent.

“Aha!” said my logical, rational, practical brain. The marketability coefficient of the high-concept factor divided by the query word count multiplied by a uniqueness indicator == success!

Okay, so there wasn't exactly a formula for success, but I learned that writers weren't just pulled randomly out of a hat. I started obsessively following publishing blogs so I could better understand the nuances of the industry.

More importantly, I started writing. On nights and weekends, and here and there between jobs. I started several novels, and managed to complete and query one. Spending many, many hours on an interest that might never lead to anything...totally practical right?

At some point, I realized I actually needed to take a bigger leap. I had a bright new shiny idea that I'd been working on, and I really wanted to focus my full attention on it. But rents in San Francisco are high, my friend. Very high. How could I afford to leave my job?

Turns out, my outdoor nut of a husband had been hankering to move to the Pacific Northwest for a while. I loved San Francisco: the food, the architecture, the walkability. I would absolutely, positively never move!

Unless...

I could ditch the software industry to write full time.

We made it work. Last year, I completed SKY MAHAL, my YA cyberpunk novel set in near future India.

This good Indian girl has officially left the logical and rational behind.



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