Writers don’t arrive, they travel | Sunday Observer

Writers don’t arrive, they travel

18 April, 2021

If you ask any young man or woman whether they like to be writers, you will get a definite “No” as the answer. If you ask them “Why?” they would say, “There’s no money in writing”. Therefore, if you want to earn big money, do not try to become a writer. However, there are all sorts of people - teachers, professors and eminent writers - who are willing to offer advice on how to become a writer. I personally feel that such advice may not be helpful if you are not serious about being a writer.

Writing gurus suggest numerous ways to work and improve what you write. The professionals have long years of experience in the craft of writing, but you cannot follow their instructions blindly. You have to experiment and find the right way of writing. There is no royal road to success in writing. However, I respect one advice the professionals give: “Get the habit”. If you want to be a writer, sit down and write something on any topic every morning. Those who do not do this remain amateurs throughout their lives. Even if you do not become a writer, the habit of writing regularly helps in becoming a competent amateur.

If you happen to read B.J. Chute’s “When the writer comes of age” you will agree with her views. Chute is a fiction writer who started by writing boys’ sport stories. Her target readership was young writers. She says there is no royal road to maturity for any human being. Coming of age is not a chronological matter but a lifetime process. When you start writing regularly, signposts will appear on your way giving you guidance. Nobody can become a writer overnight because the process of writing like that of growing up is one of accepting, testing and rejecting what you write by others. When I started writing as a teenager, there was no one to guide me. But I had an intimate curiosity, a seesaw process of vast enthusiasm hampered by discouraging failures.

Game of writing

As a beginner to the game of writing, there were days when anything seemed possible, and there were days when everything seemed hopeless. Trying to be a writer through a trial and error process is not a waste of time. It is a lifetime experience. As a beginner I might have written nonsense. The number of rejection slips confirmed it. But it was a fine growing ground which you can label as experience. Experience and discipline may be dull words, but you need both to become a writer.

No writer worth his salt will find his life at all permissive, either in the day-to-day process of living it or in the strict professional process of being a writer.

A budding writer should be able to daydream, waste his time writing and re-writing the same story, staring into space or leaning against a wall watching birds in flight. There will be times your mind will be empty and placid as a millpond. Self-discipline will require you to do your work to the best of your ability. There is no way to avoid drudgery because there is drudgery in household work, office work, in acting, singing, dancing or painting. Although you cannot have a permanent state of high-minded activity, you must not give up writing at any cost. Mental and physical discipline becomes easier through constant practice.

A beginner should read what professionals write because their knowledge can enlarge yours. As Pamela Frankau observed, “There must come a time when … all your mirrors turn into windows. When we were young, we were surrounded by mirrors and wherever we turned we saw ourselves. As we grew up, the mirrors dissolved and windows replaced them. Through the windows we see how other people behave and understand the complexity of life. Now we see that everything in life is not so simple. They are complex but wonderful. In the final analysis, we will never know the whole truth of anyone or anything, but we are, like Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, a part of all that we have met.

Read omnivorously

Although I had to do various dull jobs for a living, I consciously planned to be a writer. I pictured stories in newspapers and magazines with my byline on them. I wanted to write at least one book. Then I was forced to read omnivorously. I had a good teacher who laid a solid foundation in me for grammar with a basic knowledge of Latin. I think grammar is to a writer what anatomy is to a sculptor or the scales to a musician. Most children loathe grammar not knowing its intrinsic value. Once mastered grammar will support you like a solid rock.

If you wish to be a professional writer, you have to be a confirmed re-writer. Without re-writing you cannot achieve success as a writer. When I started writing I did not have even a manual typewriter. Everything had to be handwritten. It was a real drudgery, but I loved it.

If you can write grammatically, you will develop your own style of writing. There is no need to copy somebody else’s style. When you have an ear trained by reading, you will at once know when you go wrong. There are many books written on style. You can read them meaningfully to develop your own style.

Producing lions

Even if you continue to write for six or seven decades, you will not arrive as a writer. All writers only travel. How do you gauge the success of a writer? The only success worth having for a writer is to put on paper what he has wished to put on paper.

It is like the small child who was watching a sculptor working on a slab of marble. After many days of watching him, the child did not know what the sculptor was doing. One day the child saw a beautiful sculpture of a lion where the slab of marble stood. The child innocently asked the sculptor: “How did you know there was a lion in there?” Like the sculptor, all writers are producing lions. They are not going after money or fame.

Many readers complain that they cannot understand classics. They reflect ways of life alien to us. They make heavy demands on the reader to respond to their strangeness. However, they were modern at the time of writing. Therefore you have to make an attempt to read and understand them.

You have to train your mind to follow the involutions of an unfamiliar way of writing. As Baudelaire said, “The heavenly mechanics of the mind is the source of infinity of excitement”. You may enjoy reading 20th or 21st century prose and poetry. They are easy to digest. However, if you have read and understood William Shakespeare, Homer or Dante, your reading will illuminate, broaden and deepen every modern book you read.

When Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story”, can you give up reading him? Even Charles Dickens pulls us into the world of his Curiosity Shop when he wrote, “Although I am an old man, night is generally my time for working”. No modern writer should keep away from such classics.