By Kiran Manral
Ever since I published my first book, one constant in my inbox has been the constant barrage of emails from young aspiring writers on how to be an author. My constant unchanging response to this is the polite, and the very honest, “I truly have no idea.”
Being an author is something that I am yet to wrap my head around. I have, to my name, five books that show up under my name on e-commerce sites but I would rather call myself a writer than an author. That would be my primary job definition. The author bit of it is something that happened along the way of finding myself as a writer. I’m still on that journey, I have to still find myself.
It is also, as T S Eliot said, about “And for a hundred visions and revisions.” Or as Papa Hemingway put it less politely, the first draft of anything is shit.
How does one become an author, they ask me. I have no honest formula that I can share. All I know and all I can say that it would begin by loving to write. And loving to read.
What is about being an author? Is it the glamorous, lit-festing, posing for the cameras, waving to the admiring throngs image most people think an author’s life comprises? Far from it. Of course, some authors with devoted fan followings might have this as part of their life, but for the most part, authors lead singularly anonymous lives, except from when they are extracted periodically from the formaldehyde of routine and put on parade for the lit fest jamboree.
In fact, I think I would go back as far as to state unequivocally that I am a reader who also writes. Because there has been years, nay, decades of unstinting, reading before the first book escaped from my desktop into the permanency of print and paper.
authors lead singularly anonymous lives, except from when they are extracted periodically from the formaldehyde of routine and put on parade for the lit fest jamboree
But then I would rather be a writer. And here’s what being a writer entails. And it isn’t always pretty.
To begin with, it requires unflinching courage. When you write you need to dig deep down into yourself, mine yourself for your truest emotions and transpose them to your characters in order to make them real and believable. This requires a fair amount of not just confronting your own demons, but also dancing with them. This can be a scary process, also demons when unleashed are rather reluctant to go back into the box.
There’s a quote from Gustave Flaubert that perhaps exemplifies this the best. “Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.” For a writer, this is the bare boned truth. The truth about the writing life is that it is primarily about discipline, immense amounts of self discipline in order to sit oneself down, day after day, digging time out from the work that needs to be done in order for bread and butter to be earned, to write what one must. And those are again, operative words. “To write what one must.” Because there is no gun to one’s head to get writing, except the one we keep resting on the writing desks ourselves, with the safety catch off, because we must write. The only compulsion to write is in our heads. Why else would we put ourselves out there, open to scathing criticism unless we had to.
a silent communion with the screen
A writer’s life is about solitary work—about a silent communion with the screen in front of one for hours because one is so absorbed in the life being created and lived out in a parallel universe one has created that living out one’s reality is always a bit of a downer.
A writer’s life is also about routine. I know that every single day come rain or shine, unless I am trussed up in an emergency ward with a saline drip stuck into my arm, I will be at my desk. And writing. The body knows the routine, and so does the mind. And that is what it is, unforgiving, exacting routine.
It is also, as T S Eliot said, about “And for a hundred visions and revisions.” Or as Papa Hemingway put it less politely, the first draft of anything is shit. It is the going back, tinkering with the manuscript one thousand times and then wondering whether you should have done a thousand and one-th relook at it, before sending it off. It is reading voraciously, a million times more than you could ever write because everything you read will distil itself into some essence that with infuse your writing with that something indescribable that elevates it beyond mere storytelling. And it is this elevation into something magical that will create that communion between reader and writer, which will make your characters three dimensional, whole living breathing creatures who jump off the page, living a life of their own that cannot be contained in a mere book.
A writer’s life is also, paradoxically, a chiaroscuro of shutting oneself in and opening oneself out. Going out and experiencing all that life has to offer, the good, bad and the ugly, will only enrich your work and then shutting yourself in for months to create your work will give you the isolation and the void you need that is essential for the process of creation.
A writer’s life is about hours upon hours of sitting at a desk, and a conscious effort invested in keeping one’s body fit, because writing takes up more energy than one could imagine. And to be able to sit for hours on end to keep typing on without being impinged by aches and pains, especially of the back, and not to mention the curse of sedentary lifestyle induced ailments, one needs to invest in ensuring one is reasonably fit in order to write.
And finally, a writer’s life is its own reward. In which other profession could you create a character based on someone who has been terrible to you in real life and have them done in the most gruesome manner and yet stay on the safe side of the law?
Kiran’s books on Amazon