Everyone loves to hear this question. And everyone expects some magic mantra to be given away, and I’m reminded of what Sharma ji, our neighbor years back thought writing was all about. Or imagine some Verma ji, if you aren’t comfortable with Sharma ji. Sharma ji had five kids at home and all were born an year apart and each of them yearned to go online and explore all that the internet had to offer. But for this they first had to have a computer. But their father could see nothing beyond saving money for the future. ‘I’m saving for you. This money is going to make sure that you have lavish weddings,’ he said. But the kids thought otherwise.
These five kids hatched a great plan. They convinced their father that a computer would make sure that he increased his earnings. ‘How?’ asked Sharma ji, ‘how can a mere computer help me earn more? I think it is better that I take up more tuitions.’ Sharma ji taught history in a college and couldn’t see why one must invest over a lakh of rupees in a machine that he didn’t know anything about. This was in the late nineties when desktops had started proliferating and terms like desktop publishing had caught the fancy of many looking for gainful employment.
‘The computer writes books,’ said the eldest kid, ‘and books sell. Books earn a lot of money.’ Sharma ji allowed this revolutionary thought to stay in his mind for a few days until he started dreaming of having become a millionaire who has sold a zillion text-books. And this was when he brought home a computer.
But the computer did not write his books for him. He was disheartened when he realized that the book had to be first planned in the mind, lots of research had to be done, and then it also had to be typed out. ‘This is just a type-writer with a screen,’ he said, ‘and anyway, I don’t know anything about typing on this monstrous screen.’ So the computer was shifted to another room where the kids did whatever they wanted to… and learned a lot, but that is a different story.
Writing doesn’t happen magically. Even the latest laptop today or the best software isn’t going to write a story or a book for you, if that is what you expect from technology. You will still need to forget all other things that are waiting to be done and sit in front of a desktop or a laptop or use a tablet or even a smartphone to give words to thoughts and ideas. And this is just the start.
The frustration of people who think writing is an easy job and assuming an entire book can be completed in a single sitting, is understandable. This is almost like a friend who thought buying Scrivener, a writing-aid software, would be enough and that his book would write all by itself. A similar fallacy exists with photo-enthusiasts who assume that Photoshop or Lightroom or one of the myriad photo-apps will convert their mundane clicks into award winning pictures. There are even those who wonder why apps and software like Rebelle, ArtRage, Procreate, or Mischief aren’t helping them draw or sketch masterpieces worth being auctioned for a million dollars. Just as wannabe artists need to realise that buying a Wacom tablet, an iPad Pro, or a Surface Pro4 isn’t going to mysteriously produce great artworks, even wannabe writers need to understand that the first step to writing is to simply sit and write.
Now that I am talking about investments that are not going to do anything if left to themselves, let me also mention blogs. There are tens of people I meet who think blogging is as simple as registering on a portal and creating a blog. Well, this step is easy but then a blog needs to have content. The blog isn’t going to create readable and creative content all by itself. ‘How do I fill my blog,’ asked someone who had created a blog but didn’t know what to do with it. I gave him this plan:
Search for an idea
Research the idea
Plan the layout
Weed out weak areas
Strengthen the strong points
Call for the right words
Time to search for another idea
Repeat this daily… maybe more than once in a day
This wannabe blogger said, ‘I know all this already. I thought you’ll give me some ideas that are ready to be written.’
‘How can I give you an idea that you are comfortable writing about?’
Believe me every piece of writing belongs to you. It is your idea, your layout, your words, and your sentences. These writing ideas can appear even as one is reading a newspaper article or watching a debate on TV. You could be talking to a friend or silently watching the night-sky. Or you might be drowsy and about to fall asleep. You could be in an airplane or struggling with constipation. You could be in a meeting or having lunch at a dhaba. Ideas generally do not wait for you to be holding a pen, ready to jot them down. They appear and then they disappear fast. All a writer can do is to try and catch as many as possible and make a note of them somewhere. I carried a scratch-pad once but now I have OneNote on my smartphone. If this seems difficult, just have one unsent email in your drafts folder where you keeping jotting down ideas. Simple.
The rest of the process after successfully capturing an idea isn’t as simple. Researching an idea can be fairly stressful because sometimes you may need to drop an idea forever. Deciding on the layout needs a bit of logical thinking that must meander through a lot of subjective likes and dislikes and it is easy to get bogged down by options. Identifying the weak and the strong points is a rather clinical activity and does interfere with the romantic notions of writers dealing with mesmerizing sentences floating down fancy aisles. And then finding the right words is a messy business. Words are dangerous and a lot of them can convince you to employ them permanently and consistently… but they can wreck a strong idea beyond recognition. Beware of words… they are like witches out of a haunted forest and can irreconcilably change the course of an idea that you have finalized. But then it is entirely up to you… digressions and diversions are perfectly fine because no idea has just one path. And who knows, these maverick words could be leading you to a brand new idea not yet discovered by humanity!
One vital clue to writing is that you need to read a lot. I have always believed that ideas are like plants that need a substrate. Reading is what soil is to plants. So reading more can generally awaken writing instincts if they are dozing. And funnily, the more a person writes, the more inclined he will be to reading.
22 May 2017