How To Start w/ Shreya Shettigar

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

Anyone who's ever tried to create anything knows that the hardest part is just getting started. This week's guest, Shreya Shettigar (@StoriesByChaya), is here to help you dive in, and keep going, no matter what. Ready to transform your daily grind into a daily delight? Ready to turn your problem into your solution? That's aloud!

Highlight Reel:

1:30 - Versatility is the spice of life

6:30 - Project AAE

8:15 - 2020 and forced introspection

11:00 - Don't let the grind get you down

13:30 - Chaya's writing process

18:00 - How to start any creative process

29:40 - Keep moving forward

Adrienne MacIain 0:03

Hey everyone, welcome to the That's Aloud podcast. I'm your hostess Dr. Adrienne MacIain. And today we have Shreya Shettigar. Please introduce yourself.

Shreya Shettigar 0:12

Hello, very happy to be here, thank you. I'm Shreya. I also go by the pen name of Chaya. I am a recent graduate from the University of Chicago. I was also formerly acting CEO at Famous Founder, which was previously known as Suit Social Media. I work in digital marketing, as well as in storytelling. It's my dream to tell and sell stories which inspire people to be kinder, braver, and more loving. And so to that extent, I help market stories. I also write fiction. I'm currently working on my second YA fantasy novel, and I write a fantasy serialization for

Adrienne MacIain 0:53

Which is awesome, by the way, and you should definitely check it out. So, Shreya, kinder, braver, these are all such important things. So let's talk a little bit about what you think the story is that the world is not getting right now.

Shreya Shettigar 1:09

Mhmm. So would you want me to talk about, like, my own personal story that I don't think the world is hearing? Or a story just in general that I think the world needs to hear that I'm trying to write for the world?

Adrienne MacIain 1:20

Let's start with your story.

Shreya Shettigar 1:23

Okay, okay. My story. Actually, as I'm now actively looking for new opportunities of work, one of the things that I found very challenging in my own story and selling this is just is the idea of versatility, I think often gets conflated with being a jack of all trades, rather than a master of none. And as you might have gotten from my intro, I'm very interested in a variety of things. I mean, I entered university recruited to play varsity soccer, and then I ended up starring in university theatre productions instead of continuing with soccer, due to some surgeries. And so as you can see, I have a very wide range of interests. And in my mind, they're all interconnected. I think that, for my main life, school, business, and creative are very interrelated. And especially in the US. And in this time, you can't really reach a wide audience with any story unless you have good marketing behind it. So to that extent, I guess in terms of myself and my own story, just the idea that a variety of interests and experiences can often add into not someone who's generalized, but who specialized in a unique way.

Adrienne MacIain 2:31

Awesome. So I just wanted to--that expression, jack of all trades, master of none, people end it there, but it actually goes on from there. And I love that it's actually saying something different than you think it is. So it's jack of all trades, master of none, but better than master of only one [NOTE: the exact Shakespeare quote is: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”].

Shreya Shettigar 2:50

Oh, I did not know that. That's very interesting.

Adrienne MacIain 2:54

Yes. So it actually flips it around in the in the end there, but people don't know that. So I always like to bring that to people's attention, because I actually do think it's so important for us to all give all of our gifts.

Shreya Shettigar 3:08

Mm hmm. Definitely. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I had no idea.

Adrienne MacIain 3:12

Yeah, I think we often limit ourselves and think, well, this is my lane, and I have to stay in my lane. Like, no, you have to give all of your gifts. And they can be so wide ranging. So that's excellent. So what would you say is like if you were to give, go back to you know, your teenage self, and give yourself some great advice, what would you say?

Shreya Shettigar 3:33

Hmm. I would say, if you just like, live and enjoy things for fun, I mean, I've always been very, like head down hard work. And that's it. And that's how you get success. And so it was: grind out for tests, grind out for practice, stay behind at practice for soccer, and just work and work and work. And that's where I think a lot of like my teenage years went, whereas like my friends would be like, oh, we're going for like a spring break trip. And I'm like, oh, but I'm doing x, y and z. So I can't. And now as I'm also a writer, and I've kind of gotten over the technical hump of writing, you know, which is where you have to do the grinding and the learning of skills, the next step, I guess, for future growth as a writer is just to live life and to experience life. And so now I'm like, oh, maybe I should. And maybe I'm going to try now.

Adrienne MacIain 4:28

Yeah, that's so true. I think creative living is one of the most underrated important things to do with your life. Especially as a you know, as a writer, as someone who's expressing yourself. I think all of us really are creators and need to get diverse input, so that we can have more interesting output. But especially when you have dedicated your life to creating you know, expressive bits of fiction or whatever it is. It's so important.

Shreya Shettigar 5:03

Yeah, definitely, definitely.

Adrienne MacIain 5:06

So tell us a little bit more about your journey to there.

Shreya Shettigar 5:12

Okay, sure. So I guess we can start from the very beginning: I was born in Michigan, and I had played soccer my whole life, I had basically gotten to the highest level that I could at my age. And then my family moved. Before, we had lived in Seoul, Korea for a couple years, which was very fun. But I was a little too young to like, for that for that to like, really impact me. And then but at the end of high school, for my last two years of high school, we moved to India then as well. And right before moving out, I had gotten a verbal commitment from the University of Chicago to play soccer there. So I locked that down and then left to India and had a bunch of cool experiences there, I guess. I got to continue playing soccer, make friends from all over the world at the international school that I went to there and then also dabbled in some other sports, I played volleyball and basketball as well. And then came back here to play soccer in college and to go to university Chicago, and then ended up finding out one week before preseason that I needed surgery. And then--and kind of in dealing with that, and also when my family and moved to India, I had a lot more free time on my hands, because whereas soccer in the US was taking up 50 hours of time, my week, soccer in India was just not to that extent. And so, I had already started working on writing at that point in life. And I kind of put together this whole life's plan for myself, which I called Project AAE, which I thought would represent author, actress and entrepreneur. And so I started working towards those goals by the writing side of it. And then when the surgery happened when I entered college, I thought okay, maybe this is an opportunity to get involved in the acting side of things. So I went and dabbled in some theater. And then I found it, I needed another surgery. So soccer kind of got taken out the question. And at that time, I like fully merged into the, into the theater crowd the RSS and started actively participating there, and then continue to write and so basically, it kind of, even though it was a very jarring and sad thing to have lost soccer, it worked out in my favor because I was able to spend a lot of my college years focusing on the creative, the writing and the acting. And that's also when I started working at social media, which as you know, is a very was a very small company. And so when I entered it, I got to have a very entrepreneurial role. And I got to basically end up running it in a lot of ways. And so that experience was also extremely valuable. And so so it was through, I guess these various experiences that have kind of been growing on the creative side as well as the business minded sighs and of course, being at U Chicago, I learned a lot of classes and a lot from friends and my communities. And that's kind of where I'm at now.

Adrienne MacIain 8:01

Awesome. So let's talk a little bit about 2020. What was the greatest obstacle that you overcame? And what was the greatest gift of that year?

Shreya Shettigar 8:13

Sure. Um, let's see, I had a lot going on in 2020 and in keeping into 2021 at the end of the pandemic, or like where we're at right now and what's interesting is a lot of it was like coincidental with the pandemic. I'm very fortunate and grateful not to have had anyone close to me who was hurt by the Coronavirus, the closest scare that I've had was my oldest brother is a medical resident and so he was on active duty in the frontlines but knock on wood he's been safe, so on that front, I haven't had to deal with anything crazy. But this was also my final year of college and it was also I guess just the time to be like grinding out for like that last year of college so I would already be either spending last year out with my friends or I wouldn't be studying I guess and because the going out thing wasn't happening that that turned into a lot of time alone in a room and and for like a variety of other reasons. There's a lot of mental health up and downs and I guess just maybe the greatest obstacle is forced introspection. When you're stuck in four walls, there's not much else to look at, put it within yourself. And so, um, and so I guess that made me question a lot of what I wanted to do, where I was going. I came to a pretty cool realization, I guess, maybe something that came out of this, which is that a lot of my stress and anxiety surrounding my dreams comes from a place of confusing the idea of goals and my own dream and mission. So my dream and mission, something I mentioned earlier, which is to tell and sell stories which inspire people to be kinder, braver, and more loving. But I had been confusing that with my goals of: I want to publish a best selling novel and I want to act in a blockbuster film. And those are things which, while I'm trying my best to achieve those goals, just from pure luck have a very real chance of not working out and so that to me was very stressful because I'm like, that's all I want to do with my life, and that won't happen. And so now what do I do? I'm just gonna be miserable forever. But now because if I looked a little bit deeper, it wasn't actually that I wanted to like be a star-star, it's that I wanted to have a platform and the financial freedom to give back to these various communities, I wanted to write words that would make people smile and cry and at the end of the day, feel a little bit happier about life. And so I guess that was a pretty important realization that came out of that whole process. Yeah.

Adrienne MacIain 10:56

Yeah. Very important realization. I mean, that sounds almost like the gift as well, of 2020.

Shreya Shettigar 11:04

Yeah, yeah, I would say that that definitely bled into that, for sure.

Adrienne MacIain 11:09

Yeah, so you have this massive obstacle which is this kind of forced introspection, which ends up also kind of being the gift. I always say you know, the problem is the solution. And I find so often as the case that you know, we're looking in looking into like solve the problem and actually it is the problem itself that contains the solution.

Shreya Shettigar 11:29

Right. Exactly. Yeah, yeah, I think it just also encouraged me to take more time to to think and reflect on things like I mentioned I often have my head down working hard and I think when you're doing that for a long time, you fail on a couple of counts, one is to just celebrate your own small achievements and and enjoy those small pieces and also to just I guess enjoy life, and that goes back to what I had wanted to tell my younger self which is that sometimes it's good to like literally stop and smell roses.

Adrienne MacIain 12:01

Yeah, I think it's so important to re-examine your own goals and really see if they are in alignment with your values. You know, I definitely went through that same thing, I think every aspiring actress-writer does the same thing, where it's like I want to be famous, famous, famous, famous. And then I got a little taste of fame and figured out that it was not what it was cracked up to be at all, not actually what I was going for at all, what I really wanted was, you know, to be GOOD, like, to create actual worthy valuable stuff for people, but I think that also gets you on this track of like trying to get into other people's heads and thinking like: what do they want?? You know, and the bottom line is that you can only create stuff that you think is good, like you can only really create stuff that you like, and then hope that somebody else likes it too. You know?

Shreya Shettigar 12:56

Right. Definitely. Yeah, that is that is a, that is a good adage, but I think that's also, it's also a very fun and rewarding thing to be doing to being able to create things that you enjoy to consume. I think I always get the most excited about my writing when I'm editing and I find myself just like lost in the story again, and I'm like, wait, wait, I'm supposed to be editing this!

Adrienne MacIain 13:19

This is why I always hire an editor because it is so hard You know, you can't see it from the outside like you're in it. You really need somebody else to have that that outside perspective for sure.

Shreya Shettigar 13:29

Right definitely.

Adrienne MacIain 13:31

Well tell us more about your process, your writing process.

Shreya Shettigar 13:34

Okay, sure. Um, so my writing process has been something which I was struggling with a lot in the last few years because I was really I just, I mean I would describe it like I had just walked into a room and it was pitch black and I was feeling for a canvas and colors and I was trying to slap something on there. Because I really, I didn't have any of like the technical vocabulary, I had done like zero research on the process of writing, I just started reading a novel and then I had been editing that same novel for five years, just pounding at it. It was actually thanks to a couple classes that I've taken at university that I started to understand more structural and technical components of writing which basically helped me put down my first novel and realize that was the book I took to learn how to write books, and so with these newer projects I have a more secure process which is... I enjoy world building the most that's why I like reading in fantasy, and so I generally, I take that's usually my first step is to just flesh out the world and the characters and and I'll do a bunch of like fun exercises, like I'll take, like, you know those like BuzzFeed quizzes of like, which celebrity are you, or like whatever, and I'll like do those but, like, in character with like various main characters in my stories, and then I'll record all of that, and then I'll start to think about like the journey, like what is wrong with these characters right now? Where do they need to go? And then what is it about that world that can make that journey super unique in terms of plot? And then I really get into plotting, I'm super type-A so I love organization, and I'm about to become, to pretend like I'm sponsored by Milanote, even though I'm not, but Milanote is like the best plotting software I've ever used. Because it's just the way that you can like organize different ideas and connect them. And like the variety of tools that you can use on this software. It's just so fun. I like lose myself in plotting there. So then I plot out the story. And then I go through, and I churn out a draft, and I usually write first pass very quickly, because I'm really good at just writing crap. Sorry, I don't know how else to say that. But, um, but yeah, so I do that, and I just don't worry about it. And I like usually set like very strict deadlines for myself, even if the writing will suck, I'm gonna finish this many pages in this many words. And what I often find is actually even if I'm like, not in the mood to write, and I feel like my writing sucks, by like, the 400th word that I'm writing that day, the writing will be flowing again, like it's sometimes just getting over that initial hump. But so then I turn out that draft. And then I like to take some time away from the first draft, and then I go back, and then I have a couple editing rounds, I'll do a developmental, structural editing. This is mainly for the novel for civilizations, it's a bit different, because you're writing as time goes on. But yeah, so I'll do structural edits, which, for anyone who doesn't know, or are big-picture edits, removing and adding subplots, changing pointers, points of view, etc. And then I'll go in, and I'll do copy edits, line by line for prose, and then give it a proofread. And then I'll hand it off to a workshop of critique readers, so friends and peers who are writers themselves and can give me very technical feedback. And then from those edits, then I'll hand them off to beta readers. That's like friends and family who just like reading, and can be like, oh, this feels weird, or I feel like this happened too fast. And then I can figure out what the problem is. And then depending on what state the novel is in at that point, I might do the whole process again. And then I guess at the end of the day, give it one more proofread, and then send out queries. That's the long story.

Adrienne MacIain 17:19

I love it. So many great nuggets in there, so much good stuff. I feel like so many people just get intimidated by the process of starting. And I absolutely love that idea of just focusing on world building and character building first. Like, don't try to actually sit down and write something right away, just get immersed yourself in the world for a little bit. I think that's such great advice, not just for writers but for entrepreneurs. Think about your personas, you know, get inside the mind of the tribe that you're trying to solve problems for. You know, think about, as an actress, like, take quizzes as your character. That's such great advice, and really helps you empathize with the people that you're trying to collaborate with, work with, help out.

Shreya Shettigar 18:10

Right, absolutely, definitely agree. And I think that even jumping off of that, if it's someone's issue to just get started, then I think just figure out what you love the most about why you're trying to do it, and then start there. And then the more annoying part--so if you like really hate structure and plotting and things like that, then just save that for the end, or like save it for another point. To get started, do the things that you're very excited about. That might be world building, it might be character building, it might be just like reading samples in the same genre, whatever it is, as long as like you're doing anything towards the goal, then you're moving forward. And that's a great place to start.

Adrienne MacIain 18:46

I completely agree. Yeah, I also always say, you know, don't don't think of it as a book at first, just start writing and let it tell you what it is. Because maybe it isn't a book, maybe it's a serial piece, like you're doing. Maybe it's a podcast. Maybe it's just a short story. Like, you don't really know or maybe it's a play, you don't really know what it is until you start writing it. And then it'll tell you.

Shreya Shettigar 19:10

Right, definitely, definitely.

Adrienne MacIain 19:13

Yeah, that's great advice. So do you have any other kind of nuts and bolts advice for aspiring writers out there?

Shreya Shettigar 19:25

I recently read a book called Save the Cat []. And I fully forgot the author's name, even though he's very famous [Blake Snyder]. And it's actually a book for screenwriting, but specifically chapters like three to five I think, would be helpful for anyone who's doing any type of storytelling, whether that be filmmaking, novel Writing, nonfiction writing, even structuring any type of story, it's so helpful, because I think a lot of times, something that like really scares people, especially in the editing process is figuring out what's wrong with a story. It's like, this doesn't feel right. This doesn't feel like my favorite book. But like, why is writing so ephemeral? Why is writing so subjective? Like there's no such thing as the right answer. And I don't know how to fix that, well, like really like understanding and synthesizing structure and other technical terms in writing is something that I found to be the most helpful in those situations because suddenly you have a name and you have a crystallization and just a way to see problems and to diagnose them. And then when you're able to diagnose a problem, it's much easier to treat it. So that's something I found very helpful.

Adrienne MacIain 20:37

That's very true. One thing I always tell aspiring, you know, story writers, storytellers of any any type, is that when it comes down to it, storytelling is all about ramping up tension and relieving tension. And so your problem is 99.999% of the time going to be either you need to ramp up tension here, or you need to relieve some tension here. One or the other.

Shreya Shettigar 21:05

Yeah, definitely, definitely.

Adrienne MacIain 21:08

So I think we'll transition now I'm going to do a little exercise that I really like to do with folks who come on my podcast. So if you can just close your eyes for a moment, and take a nice deep breath. And as you breathe in, I just want you to picture colored light coming into your body. And then you can tell me what color the light was.

Shreya Shettigar 21:34


Adrienne MacIain 21:35

Nice, try it again, see if it's the same or different.

Shreya Shettigar 21:46

Still red.

Adrienne MacIain 21:47

Still red, nice. All right, got some good base chakra work going on here. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to wave a magic wand over here. And once I do that, everything that you deeply desire will come to pass here in this moment, and I want you to just tell me, what's the first thing you see? So, magic wand waved. What is the first thing you see in this perfect ideal world that now is?

Shreya Shettigar 22:19

I just got representation for writing from one of my favorite topics of a writing agent.

Adrienne MacIain 22:27

Fantastic. So I want you to celebrate that. How are you going to celebrate?

Shreya Shettigar 22:34

I probably cry a little, and then probably pop a bottle of champagne with my family and, and I guess, yeah, just eat some good food.

Adrienne MacIain 22:46

So I want you to see yourself there in this group, surrounded by your friends and your family. You can see in their eyes, just how proud they are of you, and how supportive they are of what you've accomplished here. And I want you to just soak that in for a moment. Just tell me what that feels like.

Shreya Shettigar 23:08

It's, it's wonderful. Beyond words.

Adrienne MacIain 23:13

And what can you hear in this space?

Shreya Shettigar 23:17

A lot of laughs and I love yous, and... Yeah.

Adrienne MacIain 23:28

Beautiful. Now I want you to look around, and you can see your books on the shelves. And people are asking if you can autograph copies for them. So you're doing that a little bit. And then somebody comes to you and sort of confesses to you that your writing had more of an impact on them than you ever knew. And I want you to again, just take a moment to kind of hear this conversation and tell me what it is.

Shreya Shettigar 24:05

Yeah, I think, um, I think that might just be the epitome of fulfillment for me.

Adrienne MacIain 24:17

Yeah. What can you smell in the space?

Shreya Shettigar 24:24

Banana Bread.

Adrienne MacIain 24:25

Yum. So someone's making you fresh baked banana bread. Knowing how much you love it. Just you feel really nurtured and taken care of here. And then I want you to go someplace else. This is kind of a secret spot. This is your sort of happy place that you'd like to go to describe it for me.

Shreya Shettigar 24:55

Hmm. I think that might just be in any small room, with my laptop just with a Word document open.

Adrienne MacIain 25:11

I want you to feel that flow, that ideas are just coming almost faster than you can type them in. Just you are on that moving sidewalk of inspiration and working hand in hand with inspiration to just create this thing. And you know, it's good. You can tell even as you're writing it, you're like, 'Oh, this is good. This is really, really good.' And then something even more unexpectedly wonderful occurs. What is it?

Shreya Shettigar 25:57

I get a call from an agent that the stories are being adapted via a well known network into a series, a TV series.

Adrienne MacIain 26:09

Awesome. I'm gonna push it even further, they want you to play one of the characters.

Shreya Shettigar 26:15

Yeah, that would be the dream.

Adrienne MacIain 26:20

Awesome. Yeah. And so now I want you to actually see yourself there on set. And people are treating you with just this incredible amount of respect. Because not only are you an actress here, you are the creator of this entire world. Someone comes up to you and asks you a question about something. Maybe something small. But it just feels so good to be consulted. All right, you can open your eyes. How was that?

Shreya Shettigar 27:18

That was a very lovely exercise. I think there's nothing like that kind of visualization to keep me motivated and inspired.

Adrienne MacIain 27:32

Yeah. So I really recommend that you do that, you know, regularly. I always like to make a little slideshow, I just go on to Animoto and I make a little you know, slideshow where I find some visuals that just remind me of that space. And then I put music behind it that really gives me that lift. I actually recorded my own power song, as I like to call it. So I put that behind it. And then I do little motions and stuff just to kind of bring the whole thing together. And I do that every morning. And it really just like sets me on the right path.

Shreya Shettigar 28:08

Yeah, that's amazing. What a great habit.

Adrienne MacIain 28:12

It's great. So one more question before we go. What do you do when you get stuck?

Shreya Shettigar 28:23

Yeah, I do, I have a couple different go-tos. I like to, as I mentioned, I really love sports, even though I can't play competitively contact sports anymore, I still like to get out and get active, even if it's just going for a run or even a walk, preferably in like nature. Yeah, sometimes it's just about pushing through it. Like I'll maybe try writing something else. Or I'll try reading some poetry or like, take a book from my bookshelf and then like, take a side character from and like write a fanfiction or something. I could do that. And then the last thing is probably just talk to people. I really love people. I think I'm as extroverted as you could possibly be. And so I just enjoy being with people. So that might just be like my roommate or someone else's around. I'll just grab them and like, let's just chat. What's going on your life right now?

Adrienne MacIain 29:22

Yeah, yeah, I just talk through stuff, that really... I'm an external processor too. So that's that's a big one for me. So what do you, what last thought do you want to leave the listeners with?

Shreya Shettigar 29:41

Maybe to just keep moving forward every day. I think that a lot of things felt like they came to a standstill, especially hindsight on 2020. And I guess sometimes like we've already kind of talked about the mountain of getting started on any new thing, whether that be writing a whole novel, or whatever it is that you that you want to do, that can feel quite crazy, but I guess the bottom line is just keep moving forward, and just keep stepping forward. Yeah.

Adrienne MacIain 30:18

Just take directionally correct steps. It doesn't have to be a huge leap. Just a step. That's right. Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks so much for joining us today. So where can the people at home find you and your writing and your acting and everything else that you put out there?

Shreya Shettigar 30:35

Yeah, sure. Thank you. I am on all social medias except Twitter, because Twitter kind of scares me. Maybe one day I'll get to it. But specifically Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, @StoriesByChaya, and that's Chaya. @StoriesByChaya on all those accounts, and I post there regularly for updates on my writing and acting and then if you visit, you're able to find new chapters released there, as well as a bunch of other really cool content, ranging from editorials to playlists, we have a really cool DJ on the team. Yeah, yeah, check it out.

Adrienne MacIain 31:18

Awesome. Thanks so much.

Shreya Shettigar 31:20

Yeah, thank you very much. This has been very lovely.

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