The Five Values (and the Ten Principles) of Writing as Enjoyment
It is the dream of everyone to write a book. When you are young, you have great visions of becoming an author. You feel that you can make a living writing a book, rather than by doing a regular day-job. But, as you get older, your romantic notions of writing a book to be seen as an intellectual start fading. If you have not written a book by the time you are 35, it is highly unlikely that you will write a book for the next 20 years. You have too many mundane things to worry about. As a householder it is difficult to write a book. This is what I feel. Don’t ask me for evidence of this.
Now, once you cross 55 and start thinking about retiring from your regular-day job, your writing urges start coming back. But now, you have more lofty ideals. Rather than being seen as an intellectual, you want to ‘give back to the world’. You want to put your experiences on paper so that, hopefully, others can benefit from them.
I have now written and published three books. The fourth one is doing the round of the publishers looking for a home. My first book was published when I was 62. So I fall into the second category. Having written four books, I have come to some conclusions about writing. This ‘manifesto’ is the manifestation of those conclusions.
I will enunciate five values and a set of principles that can form a guide for anyone, of the first or second category, to start writing a book. I call this method of writing – following these values – as ‘writing as enjoyment’. These values may seem contrary to all the management principles you have learned so far, contrary to all the advice you will find on writing books, but so what?
I want to hurry here to add that all these values and principles are only for unknown writers like you and me. They are not for writers of the ilk of John Grisham or Amish Tripathi – writers whose books become bestsellers while even in the womb. And they are not for those, who though they are first time writers,have otherwise made a name for themselves and whose first book will sell automatically. A person like, say, Nandan Nilekani.
So, here goes:
In my experience as a writer, I have come to believe in the following values and principles as paramount in ‘writing as enjoyment’.
Note: I have presented the values as ‘something over something-else’. You find that what is on the right-hand side is what is traditionally and normally presented as important for writing a book. I am not saying that there is no value in what is on the right-hand side. What I am saying is that there is more value in what is on the left-hand side. The ten principles outlined, if followed, by you as a writer, will help you live the values mentioned.
- Writing the book over publishing the book
- Enjoying the writing over enjoying the end product
- Starting the writing over planning for the writing
- Writing for yourself over writing for others
- Living to write over writing to live
- Do not be constrained by what you think others want you to write
- Approach publishers only after completing the writing of the book.
- Write, write, write; do not worry about the result.
- Write, read, re-write, re-read, correct, re-write, re-correct…
- You can start your jogging regimen even in your old shoes.
- Don’t be a word counter.
- Do not let others manipulate your idea.
- Don’t worry about the audience.
- Do not expect to make a lot of money writing.
- Write, because you have a message for the world.
Explanation of each value and principle
The first value is: Writing the book over publishing the book
What this value means is this. When you write a book, do not write it with the aim of publishing it. Of course, you may ask, then why the hell am I writing it? Not for keeping it among your hidden files hoping that your great-grand-child will one day find it and publish it. But, if you focus on the publishing aspect of the book, you will be constrained by what publishers look for in a book – market value and sales potential. You don’t want that to happen. You want to let your free spirit flow into the book. You can worry about market needs and sales potential later. So, the first principle that goes with this value is this: Do not be constrained by what you think others want you to write. You are writing for yourself. Not for others.
If you are lucky, a publisher may accept your book and give you an advance, even though you have not even written a quarter of the book. Maybe the publisher likes the genre, maybe they like the plot, or they are just feeling generous. The problem here is that now you are committed to a date, a particular storyline, a particular position etc. The publisher may, and it is their right to, start dictating terms. You may even need to change the entire plot. My suggestion is this. Look for publishers only after completing the writing of your book. I know it is difficult to say ‘no’ if some publisher offers you a tidy sum and a promise to publish your work. Though the chances of such an offer are as low as th at of your going to Mars one day, if you do get such an offer it will be difficult to resist it. Then you will have a trade-off decision on your hands. So my next principle is this: Approach publishers only after completing the writing of the book.
The second value is: Enjoying the writing over enjoying the end product
Most writers and authors have grand visions of the end-product. A book that becomes a best seller and sells in the millions, the author a rich man etc. While writing my first book, I would constantly go into a dream, thinking of my book breaking all records. Remember only a small percentage of books become successful. So, the chances of your book breaking into the big club are very slim. But, don’t lose heart. You are in it for the writing, not the publishing. Enjoy writing the book. Enjoy the journey more than arriving at the destination. In fact, what you will find is that, while you were excited to no end while writing the book, once it is over and published, you suddenly feel a void, and no sense of achievement. As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Geeta, ‘your right is only to the work, not to the result’. If you concentrate on writing, rather than on what the end-product will look like, you may end up with a good book. So, the next principle of writing is: Write, write, write; do not worry about the result.
Does this principle mean that you type out letters randomly on the keyboard and hope that a book will form, as promised by the infinite monkey theorem? No, no. As your book develops, you enjoy reading and re-reading it as you write. While you write about a character here, you should make sure that you are not contradicting something said of him before. So, read, re-read, write, re-write, correct, re-correct as part of the writing process. Consistency, correctness, characterisation, setting, all these will and need to alter as you go along. You may get new ideas as you are writing, you may find new facts as you are writing. All these may need to be incorporated. Enjoy this as much as writing new chapters. So, my next principle is: Write, read, re-write, re-read, correct, re-write, re-correct…
The third value is: Starting the writing over planning for the writing
Towards the end of every year, around Christmas time, you will find thousands of people buying new running/exercise shoes. They have all made the resolution that they will start an exercise and jogging regimen come the new year. So they buy new shoes, new gizmos that measure how many steps they have jogged, new shorts etc. Then the new year arrives and they find one excuse or another to not jog or exercise. The new equipment? Sitting in a corner! The main thing is starting your exercise or jogging regimen, even with old shoes, even if it is the middle of the year; not planning for it. And remember it is more important to run your steps than counting how many you have run.
The same principle applies to writing. I know people who resolve to write a book, and buy books about writing, buy a new laptop, even buy a new chair. Forget all this. Start writing, even if it is on your old laptop. Everything else comes after this. So, the next principle is: You can start your jogging regimen even in your old shoes.
And don’t worry about the size of your book. When I was writing the first book, I used to brag about the number of words I had written so far and the fact that I would reach 90K words. It is more important to say what you want to say, not saying it in as many words as you can! In fact, don’t worry about the number of words, don’t count them till you have finished the book. As Kenny Rogers says in the Gambler, “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s is done”. And, many people tell you, ‘write at least 500 words a day’ or some such thing. Don’t worry about all that. Write what you can, when you can. So the next principle is: Don’t be a word counter.
The fourth value is: Writing for yourself over writing for others
You will hear people telling you, get feedback, get feedback early. I don’t believe in that. You are writing the book for yourself, not for others. If it makes others also happy, and therefore you make some money, see it as a by-product of the process by which you kept yourself happy – by writing for yourself. Of course, you do want some feedback on spelling, consistency etc. but not on your idea. Your idea is yours. You are committed to it. You believe in it. Don’t let anyone else say otherwise. You want to put your message across, not someone else’s. Sure enough publishers may not publish it. So what. These days you can self-publish. So, the next principle is: Do not let others manipulate your idea.
One of the important advice that is given to aspiring writers is ‘Research your audience’. Find out what readers want, find out how they have reacted to books of a similar ilk, is there a common area where what the readers want overlaps what you want to write about. All this advice is okay. But, again, it detracts from your idea and from what you want to say. Did Kafka or James Joyce research their audience and figure out what the audience wanted? Of course, I am not saying that you or I are at Kafka’s level, but the general principle holds. You write what you want to write, not what the audience wants to hear. So, the next principle is: Don’t worry about the audience.
The fifth value is: Living to write over writing to live
You are a writer because you like writing. You find great satisfaction in writing. You are living to write. But, if your motivation is making a lot of money, you are in the wrong business. As you may already know, only a small percentage of books become commercially successful. If you have a family to support, don’t think that you can do it by writing. Find yourself a regular job. Of course, there are many professional writers who make a living out of writing. Writers of TV serials, for example. Many of them regularly belt out the next part of a 7000 episode serial every day. But, it is like a day-job for them. Shakespeare wrote his dramas simply to make money. But since you cannot, and may not, want to be a serial writer, you may need to keep your job, unless you are retired, like me. But this does not need to stop you from writing. You can write in the evening to unwind. See writing as a relaxation after work. So, the next principle is: Do not expect to make a lot of money writing.
You are an important person. Do not underestimate yourself. You have many things to tell the world. You have many new ideas, many new concepts. Who but you, will bring this to the world?,You are born to spread your message. So, write about your ideas. Let the world know what your thoughts are. You are born to write. So write. The next principle therefore is: Write, because you have a message for the world.
Conclusion: I think great and successful writers have followed these values and principles when they wrote their books. A word of caution though. The converse need not be true. All who have followed these principles have not become great writers. There is always percentages at work here. You have to realise that when you sit down to write.