By Nishant Kaushik
Every time I am asked for tips on writing, I am instantly reminded of the time I had asked someone else for such advice. Mainly because it sure as hell did not work for me.
Circa 1998. I had read a few books in the Enid Blyton series (and maybe a few meaningful excerpts from some Sidney Sheldon novels that would interest a typical teenager), and I had begun calling myself a voracious book gobbler. It was around then that I was introduced to this slightly older boy who had a few of his short stories published in a community magazine. Fascinated, I asked him for writing tips, and what I got sounded reasonably profound, and hence reasonably correct:
“Find pain within you.”
It pains me to recount how long I waited for pain. I pursued love, I watched Hello Brother, I attended Chemistry tuition. Nothing seemed to help, and therefore I shelved my halfhearted intention to take to writing. A few years later, in the workshop of my engineering college, amidst the cacophony of students hammering away at metal, I found my inspiration to write.
I could not find pain, though. I hence realized early in the day that advice on writing is not a one-size-fits-all concept. The writer of short stories was motivated by pain, I was motivated by the need to do anything as long as I didn’t have to sit in a workshop, and there are several who are motivated by the sheer joy of telling people stories. Today, when I am asked for tips on writing, the most honest advice I can give is:
“The best writing tip is to not seek tips from other writers.”
Find your space:
The experience of writing is too sacred to let it be overly influenced by the guidance of someone who hasn’t breathed the same story as you. Sure, there must be some safe rules to play by when you set out to write for the first time. But the most important of them all is to be able to think freely, unchained by doctrines laid down by some handbook. Thinking freely gives you room to mull over an idea, to nurture it, and to own it.
Are you there yet?
Then it may be a good idea to now talk about those other safe rules.
Done is better than perfect:
The DIRFT (Do It Write The First Time) principle is unlikely to work with prose or poetry. And why would you want it to, because the struggle makes the journey special. A common mistake I have heard a lot of people make is getting intimidated by the struggle to write that perfect first paragraph, solving the “organic versus structured plot line” conundrum, and those weak moments when they spend hours looking up How To Rid Myself Of Creative Blocks on the internet.
The easiest way to get started is to get started. It is perfectly normal to not know what precise shape your final story is going to take. It is acceptable that you take ages to write your first word even if you know the entire story already. It is routine to write almost an entire book like a breeze and to struggle with the end. Don’t get thwarted by the what-ifs; instead, focus on what you can produce today. There is a reason that manuscript is suffixed with a “version 0.1”, so do not cower under the prospect of significant rework later on.
Keep post-its handy:
Note Murphy’s law: the best ideas will occur to you when you do not have your laptop handy. You could be on a train, at work, at a party you have no one to talk to. Ideas can give you the slip rather easily. Register them on a piece of paper wherever you are, so that you don’t have to regret having forgotten them once you are back home.
Read a lot:
For no other reason, except that the more you read, the better you get with semantics and vocabulary. This can be a little tricky though, I will admit. You may run a risk of reading too much of a certain author and then inadvertently let his or her style of prose influence yours. This could take away from your distinct style, and no artist would like people to scoff at his or her lack of originality when the influence might not even be intentional. A possible solution to steer clear of such a risk is to bring about diversity in your reading habits. Pick up acclaimed novels by different authors. Popular playback singer K.K. had once rightly said at a concert I attended: “The best way to get better at singing is to listen to world music. Absorb and understand what makes various artists tick, then blend their technical genius with your distinct style, and the results will be rewarding.”
Totally works in the field of writing too.
Fine line between trolls and critics:
I have heard people say they write only for themselves. Very well. But if that is the case, I expect such work to be written on a piece of paper that stays safely vaulted in the drawer of some study. The moment your work is out in a public domain – a published novel, newspaper column, a blog, or a film – you are subject to public opinion and feedback on your work. Whenever you are miffed about someone deriding your work, remember there are people who have praised it too.
The bouquets always come with the brickbats. Respect the brickbats, because they help you learn what part of your work can be bettered. This, of course, as long as you can learn to differentiate hollow criticism from meaningful, genuine feedback. The world is full of people who will take a dig at your work because being mean is often funnier, wittier and classier than being patronizing (especially on the social media). Read reviews, and identify the feedback that matters. It will usually have a tone of “I did not like this book because” rather than “Piece of trash, don’t read”. The best critics are likely to maintain a tone of basic respect even for something they haven’t enjoyed reading.
With all said and done, be proud of the fact that you have picked up that pen to write. The final verdict may be at the mercy of your readers, but the story and its beauty will always be yours.
Nishant Kaushik is the author of many bestselling novels including My Father Is A Hero, A Romance With Chaos and Chaos Down Under. You can write to him at email@example.com, and his Twitter handle is @nofreecopies. You can order his books below: