On Writing

As publishers, we are often besieged by hopefuls who ask a simple question: ‘How does one learn to write?’

We are tempted to reply just as simply: ‘Dunno. That’s why we’re in publishing.’Jokes aside, and completely off the cuff, there are three golden rules for writers, set out by one of the greatest of them all:

  • Read
  • Read
  • Read

To this we humbly add:

  • Write
  • Write
  • Write

After you’ve read everything you can lay your hands on—novels, travel tales, biographies, histories of communities, shampoo labels and other scriptures—do you feel you have gotten into other people’s heads?

If so, it’s time to write so people can get into yours.

So you’re writing. And rewriting. Discarding. Then, in despair, you turn to the highest forms of literature—say, The Grapes of Wrath, or, if you prefer, Asterix in Corsica—for comfort and encouragement.

What happens then? ‘Nah!’ you tell yourself, pushing away from your desk in an agony of self-loathing. ‘I’ll never learn to write like that.’

The point is, you don’t want to write like Steinbeck, or Goscinny and Uderzo. You want to write like you.

So, go on. Bare all. Dare all. Don’t cringe at the 273rd rejection slip from publishers (many famous names didn’t, see?).

Someone out there loves you—and will find you.

If not, it’s a good idea to take up stenography. So, having talked down to you all this while from our lofty perches, making you feel like the worm you are (we meant bookworm, of course), here’s a pick-me-up. Tell yourself, like Doris Lessing did:

‘And it does no harm to repeat, as often as you can, ‘Without me

 the literary industry would not  exist; the publishers, the agents,

 the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers

 the department of literature, the professors, the theses, the book

 of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages—all this vast and proliferating

 edifice is because of  this small, patronised, put down, and underpaid person.’

Was that good for you, too?

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8 thoughts on “On Writing

  1. One writes, because one has to. If it gets recognized and published, one is happy.

    And then, one keeps writing with more vigour. On issues that touch ones sensitivity. When there are no takers . . .

    Well, the fingers will fly, as long as the feelings simmer . . .

    Kurunthogai has come down to us, twenty centuries after it was penned on palm leaves. Chaucer’s name is spoken about in the vaulted halls of old universities. Virgil and Homer too.

    Tagore’s lyrics are celebrated today, hundred and fifty years after.

    And we keep writing. For the deep pleasure of it.

  2. This was a good read, and it contained those three golden rules I have ignored for a few years. I have read almost nothing besides non-fiction. I heard it often: “you haven’t read xyz???” I was embarrassed and felt small-and-sad that I hadn’t, till then, even heard of, let alone read, the book of the century. And then one day my small-and-sad self was otherwise occupied (I had probably just weighed my large-and-happy self) and I said, irritably, “I don’t read, I write.”

    So there.

  3. Encouraging read. Today I got my first rejection slip and I am feeling much better after reading this piece. After reading, reading and reading even shampoo labels, at all waking hours , I took the plunge to pen my first novel and after reading this piece I am beginning to believe that it will pay off. Thanks for this.

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