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?