How about writing a book? If not a book, then a story? Or even a poem? Express yourself in some way. And words are the best way in which to express yourself.
But if writing sounds like hard work, why not read a book? Or several books. Reading books is the easiest thing in the world, once you have gotten into the habit. And once you have discovered authors that you really like, you will want to read more books by them. I know a 14-year old girl who has read all the books by Agatha Christie which feature her favourite detective Hercule Poirot. I had a competition with her, naming all the Poirot books we’d read and she beat me hollow.
If you don’t care for crime fiction, try the classics. There is no adventure story as thrilling as Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson, or as colourful as Kin by Rudyard Kipling; no love story as passionate as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights; no fantasy to match Gulliver’s Travels or The Wind in the Willows; no book of humour as funny as Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, or almost any book P.G. Wodehouse.
When I was a boy, writing wasn’t very fashionable. In fact, I was the only one in my school who wanted to be a writer. Even my mother threw up her arms in horror and exclaimed, “A writer! But how will you earn a living? Why don’t you join the Army?”
It’s just as well I did not join the Army. There would have been one more Beetle Bailey in its ranks.
Sixty years ago, it wasn’t easy making a living as a writer. There weren’t many publishers around at least not in India. You had to sell your stories and articles to magazines, or newspapers and they did not pay very much. Today, books of all kinds are being published at a tremendous rate, and a member of young India authors are finding fame and fortune right here, without having to publish abroad!
Writing has suddenly become a glamorous occupation. Writers are interviewed on television, and in the print media. There are book fairs, literary festivals, book launches. Writers are seen and heard all over the place. Sometimes, I feel that there is too much of it. Too much talking means less writing.
Every week I meet one or two youngsters who want to write, or have already written something. I can understand their urge to express themselves and I never discourage them; but I do tell them that the urge to be famous, should not be their only motivation. They should write out of a love for writing, and a love for literature.
I didn’t think there has been a great writer anywhere who was not, as a youngster fond of books and reading. Good readers become good writers. The more we read, the more we learn about a writer’s skills – how to tell a story effectively; how to structure a novel; how to create interesting; how to describe a place, its background; how to write dialogue.
These are not things that can be picked up in a few lessons. They are acquired after authors of different styles and techniques, and naturally it takes time to read books. Read your favourite authors, read what you enjoy the most – Harry Potter, Tolkien, Roald Dahl, or the latest best-seller – and then try reading books on travel, history, biography, exploration, adventure.
I grew up reading novels and short stories, and as a result I became a writer of fiction. But recently when I read a biography of Louis Pastor, I found myself wishing that I’d read more about the pioneers of medical sciences, and paid tribute to them through my writing. Or great explorers.Or great soldiers.Or great musicians. Well, it’s never too late. If you can write at eight, you can write at eighty! There is no dearth of subject matter.
My advice to budding writers?
Keep a notebook. Put down your thoughts, your observation, other people’s thoughts, interesting incidents, all that’s happening around you. Before long, you will have plenty to write about.
And don’t forget the language you use. Writing is about the use of words, and stringing them together to make something interesting sentences. That’s the hard part!
More in my next letter….