If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Becoming a famous writer

Catharsis (noun, uncountable, countable) (plural catharses): the process of releasing strong feelings, for example through plays or other artistic activities, as a way of providing relief from anger, suffering, etc.

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, © OUP, 2010

Thanks to my colleague Smita, I had the privilege of addressing a group of students in a creative writing class yesterday. It was a session on blogging, but ultimately, it turned out to be an interaction between eight aspiring authors and another. I told them I was just like them, I too am a writer in search of readers and publishers. In course of the discussion, the inevitable question cropped up: how does one become a “famous” writer?

Arundhati Roy
I said I didn’t know as I am lightyears away from becoming anything like that. I didn’t tell them, but I also believe becoming a famous author depends largely on luck, just as in any other field of creative work, from music to bank robbery. For example, The God of Small Things was rejected by three or more publishers before it was accepted by India Ink. Had Arundhati Roy been rejected by some more, maybe, we would never have had read a modern masterpiece. And I am absolutely certain that lots of equally fine manuscripts are lying in eternal sleep in cold dark drawers in various corners of the world, in countless pyramids of anonymity.

I also told them the story of an author who had taken a vow at the age of 23 that he wouldn’t earn a penny through anything other than writing. In the process, he didn’t take up a job and suffered tremendously. There are apocryphal tales that he even collected empty beer bottles in the streets of Paris at night to eke out a living. But ultimately, he managed to support himself financially when he turned 46, after his second novel came out. Who was he?

Well, the author was Gabriel García Márquez and the novel was One Hundred Years of Solitude.

I know, a Márquez is born perhaps once in a century, and it’s stupid to compare us ordinary mortals with the likes of Márquez. However, even ordinary practitioners of the craft can become writers only if we have a streak of Márquez in us. Yes, you will never become a writer if you don’t have a tremendous, overpowering urge to write, unless it is impossible for you to live without writing. It must become a kind of physical compulsion, like hunger.

And finally, let’s turn our attention to becoming famous. When I started writing seriously at the age of fifty, I wanted to become famous, to become another Rushdie or Amitav Ghosh. If anyone told you that they began writing without aspiring to be famous, they were lying. Yes, it is impossible to think of becoming a writer without the concomitant lures of glitz and glamour. And there is nothing wrong about it, it’s just one of the weaknesses that make human beings so endearing.  

In the last fourteen years, I haven’t lost my faith. I still believe I can become a decent writer. But the lure of money and stardom faded quickly as I discovered a fascinating truth: Writing is its own reward. The pleasure that you get when you think you have written a wonderful piece is unique, it is different from everything else, incomparable. Yet, it can be as fine as drinking the best of wines, as exhilarating as having sex.

And equally importantly, it helps you to come to terms with yourself. I’ll end this article with a real life story to tell you how wonderful writing can be.

Of the few hats that I wear, one is working as a content writer for a friend who runs a small firm that supplies its products to a large company, let’s say called ABC. ABC tries to squeeze every drop of blood from its suppliers, but being small, my friend doesn’t have a choice. Recently, at a vendors’ meeting called by ABC, I accompanied my friend to a sumptuous lunch. But I had no appetite for food after I heard the honcho of the company and his two sidekicks address the vendors.

Ah! What arrogance and what deep disdain for lesser mortals. We had to sit through a two-hour harangue that described how incompetent the participants were and how they could become better human beings. The speakers seriously didn’t believe there was any shortcoming on their part, that they could improve anything. Somehow, they had acquired an abiding faith that they had already reached the nirvana of corporate governance … there was nothing for them to do other than sermonizing the poor idiots sitting in front.  

I also noticed that arrogance is inversely proportional to the individual’s position in the hierarchy. If the big boss was plain stupid and arrogant, the second was sarcastic. The third was just despicable.

Since that meeting I was feeling a bit low. I was feeling bad for my friend, but more importantly, I was wondering why “successful people” could be so crass, so self-opinionated, so arrogant. Does it happen in all companies, or is it a malady specific to organisations?

I know without an iota of doubt that the answer is no, although it is largely true, because profit, that is, greed is the driving force behind capitalism. But returning to my original premises, I feel relaxed now. The depression is gone. Over the last hour or so, I have been coming to terms with myself while writing this.

Dear Young Writers, keep writing, writing can also be catharsis.

Gabriel García Márquez

Kolkata / Thursday, 21 January 2016

1 comment:

  1. I wish the aspiring/budding writers good luck in their endeavors. Surely, true love for the mighty pen will yield fulfillment in due course of time.
    The little inspirational stories (e.g. Marquez's) light a fire in me each time i read one. Please keep them flowing.
    There is an uncanny resemblance between the 'meeting' experience that you've written about and a meeting that I had to go to the other day.I wonder if it is mere coincidence or the world just conspired to throw us into similar situations at almost the same time. Are the powers that be trying to tell us something?
    Well, catharsis, i agree, is empowering. So also is the process - the burning rage, the sulking and finally, the breaking free - each step has its own powers and brings revelations in their wake.
    Here's to a beautiful power called 'language'!


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