Writing A Novel Is Like A Marathon, Not A Sprint: Mainak Dhar

…..and he has won quite a few marathons!

With a self-made-promise to write a book every year and a disciple to match that Mainak Dhar – Managing Director & Head of Asia Personal Health Care at Procter & Gamble and a bestselling author with 13 books under his belt is a tangy mix to handle, just like his books. He not just meets his targets but exceeds them by a considerable margin with excellent quality output too. Zombiestan, his latest is a well narrated, intelligently plotted, fiction yet seemingly possible tale and I loved it for being a thrilling thriller. He gets inKonversation at the Pensieve and we talk dead & undead. Read on:

Congratulations on a fabulously written Zombiestan Mainak. A zombie story minus the outright and unwanted reek was a pleasure ride. We had another Amazon release Alice in Deadland from you last year – what is with the zombie fascination?
Thanks a lot and glad you enjoyed Zombiestan. I’ve always enjoyed post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction because I find it fascinating to explore what happens when the usual norms and rules that govern us break down. So when I took a step into the genre with Zombiestan, I wanted to push the limits and use zombies as more than just simplistic, supernatural monsters but almost a metaphor for how our worst evils and horrors are sometimes our own creations. In both Zombiestan and Alice in Deadland, the zombies are the direct result of our own actions and hatred for each other.

With two books in the same genre, in continuation, are you planning a franchise?
Zombiestan is a standalone book, but Alice in Deadland is turning out to be quite a franchise. I have a sequel – Through The Killing Glass – and a prequel  – Off With Their Heads – that are also available on Amazon.

You had said some time back that you plan to write one book per year. That’s a tough one especially with your day job. How is the plan going? How do you manage?
I’m actually well ahead of that commitment and am perhaps averaging two books a year. All of us have the same 24 hours a day, so it comes down to two things- planning and discipline. I carve out 30-45 minutes every day when I write. It may not sound like much but I average about 750-1000 words a day. If I do that every day, you can get the draft of a novel in five to six months. Sounds easy, but it’s the discipline of sitting yourself down and doing it every single day. No different, I guess, from pursuing any other passion like running or a sport. The more you do it, and the more consistently you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

You have written in varied genres from Economics to Self Help to Sci-fiction to Zombie fiction and a lot more in between. Which is your favourite one as a reader?
Every book is a like a child- unique in it’s own way and to be loved it it’s own way. So as a writer, it’s very hard to play favourites!

You had a writer at home – your father – but you must have had your own journey, inspiration and muse as a writer. Share with us what made a writer out of a cubicle dweller?
As long as I can remember, I loved writing and always had an overactive imagination (I went through two years of school with an imaginary friend who sat next to me, and I would write test papers for him in addition to myself!). The spark came when in Class 7, I read an interview by Stephen King where he said that the moment someone paid you even a cent for your writing, you were a professional author. I took some poems I had, stapled them together with solutions to the next term’s Maths textbook and sold them to my classmates for 50 cents a copy (we were living in Canada at that time). My first ‘royalty’ was $12.50 and I came home and announced to my mother that I had become a professional author. There’s been no looking back.

A full time job, full time husband, full time father and a-book-a-year policy, do you get time to pursue any other hobbies?
When you love all the things you do, you don’t miss having ‘hobbies’. But there are two things I enjoy doing for myself. I run every morning- which other than the fitness, gives me time to think through things. You won’t believe how many plot twists are created in those one-hour runs; secondly, occasionally I turn on my PS3 and blast away on Medal of Honor or Battlefield online.

We are seeing a sudden surge in the Indian writing scene of late especially comprising of people in their day, full time jobs. What do you think drives anybody after a 12-hour slogging shift to sit and write a story? Do you see a common factor anywhere?
The common factor obviously is the love of writing. I think the fact that we’re seeing a lot of young writers publish in addition to their day jobs comes down to two things. Traditionally, in our education system, people end up getting the ‘usual’ degrees and jobs, and perhaps after a while they start wondering what their true passions are and start looking for ways to live them. Secondly, the reality of the economics is that most new writers will not make a full time living on their writing alone, so you see a lot of people juggling day jobs and dipping their feet in the waters of writing.

You have a good number of bestsellers under your belt now, planning to turn a full time writer anytime soon?
No plans yet. I actually enjoy the stimulation of doing many things at once, and the various parts of my life end up complementing each other. My corporate job teaches me the discipline and planning needed to not just write one book, but plan out a writing career. On the flip side, being a novelist means I keep my mind open to fresh ideas and think out of the box, which helps in my day job.

I am sure continuing with your one-book-per-year policy you must be well onto your next work already. What is coming up next from your laptop?
Right now am working on the next book in the Alice in Deadland series.

Your words of wisdom to newbie writers.
I won’t presume to have wisdom to dispense, but take this as nothing more than experience gained in the trenches of writing:

1. If you really want to be a writer (as opposed to thinking and talking about it- as many people do), the most important trait you need is the doggedness to keep going. My first novel, The Funda of Mix-ology, which ended up being a national bestseller, had more than 50 rejection slips before it got published. Visualize success, and don’t underestimate the power of it. I used to put mock covers with a blurb of ‘bestseller’ next to my bed when I was working on novels, so that when I woke up, the first thing I saw was that positive message.

2. Writing a novel is like a marathon, not a sprint. So yes, you need the inspiration and creativity to come up with an idea, but perhaps more importantly, you need the discipline to keep at it every day. There is no such thing as Writer’s Block. If you have a day job, would you walk into office and tell your boss that you have ‘Manager’s Block’ and can’t work? So, don’t make excuses and rationalize lack of ideas or energy- sit your backside down and write. That’s what you need, to be a writer with a long term career.

3. As with anything else, you’ll be better at it if you love what you’re doing and have passion for it. So don’t write what people say will ‘sell’ (I think we’ve had quite enough ‘campus’ novels in India), write about things that you are genuinely passionate about and create your own unique voice.

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