"Indian writing has come of age and so has Indian publishing. Writers don't have to take as big a risk as I did 60 years ago," says Padma Shri awardee Ruskin Bond, who was in the capital recently to deliver the prestigious Penguin Annual Lecture. "There was no market in India then for books and very little money," he recalls, "so I had to send my writings abroad. Today, publishers give good advances, royalties, and Indian authors are writing, publishing and making money here. There are so many openings now," he says, "book fairs, literary festivals, book launches and new platforms on the internet." The literary scene has transformed completely.
Arguably India's most beloved writer of stories -- a whole generation has grown up with Rusty who first appeared 60 years ago -- and other books that have found their way into school curricula, Bond spoke on the art of good writing and the joy of creating. Herewith some of his best tips:
Write every day
"There's a rigor, a discipline to writing as a craft. You must write regularly every morning and your conscience will be clear," says Bond. "I got into this habit as I had to make a living from my writing. I had other jobs but they never lasted long."
You must write regularly every morning and your conscience will be clear
Bond started by writing lists in Delhi when he was 8 years old. Soon he was keeping a diary that later became the basis of his first novel published at 17. He writes every morning, at least 500 -2000 words, "so you get it out of the way. Write about anything that comes to mind. I started recording thoughts, dreams...if nothing exciting is happening you can write about a dream, most of my romantic stories were dreams," he says.
Early morning writing is a habit Bond shares with India's other much loved nonagenarian writer, the late Khushwant Singh, who would also rise religiously at 5am every day to write.
Be a recluse
"Loneliness is something you don't look for, it's one of life's circumstances," says Bond who had a lonely childhood following his parents early divorce. "Solitude is something you seek as a writer." It means he hardly ever takes phone calls ("the monkeys got my cellphone") and says he doesn't own a laptop. Devoid of the electronic intrusions that plague us constantly, he confesses he has also shunned the company of people at various times. Instead, he chooses to spend his time having regular siestas that beget dreams and push his imagination into creativity.
Interestingly, Khushwant Singh also shunned company to help manage his time. He had a warning outside his front door: "Please don't ring the bell unless you are expected," and, in his later years, was notorious for throwing guests out of his house at 7.30pm even if they hadn't finished their drink. Writing is a lonely pursuit and long hours of solitude nourish creativity.
Find joy in writing
"Write about things as if you are looking at them for the last time and you will find the words to preserve them." Surrounded by trees, insects, birds and changing seasons in his beloved Mussoorie, Bond says the natural world started seeping "into my stories and taking part... the bird on the wing, the sunflower in sunshine, the fox who commands the night, all these little things are part of my writing. People say my writing style is simple, I'd say it's an art to convey complex ideas simply. Words are wonderful things and you must respect the language you write in. Don't be lazy with grammar and composition. When words ring true, you get your greatest satisfaction as a writer. If you don't find joy in that, give up writing."
Write about things as if you are looking at them for the last time and you will find the words to preserve them
Be an avid reader
"Reading is all important if you want to write. Start by reading the works of someone you want to emulate," says Bond. "Study their style... an experienced reader can tell a passage is by Charles Dickens or Jane Austin because you recognise their voice. Work on your own style and you will find your own voice -- it develops if you write regularly."
"There are different ways to read a book. Some you will read analytically for style, structure etc if you are thinking of writing something similar, others you will read for pure relaxation.
"Books are wonderful companions and you are always learning from them," he says, lamenting the impatience some people have nowadays for books. At different periods of his lonely life, Bond "has found it therapeutic to write." He still carries the scars of a difficult childhood, something he says he shares with other writers like the Brontë sisters.
"Reading tastes change with time. I started with fiction, now I'm partial to biographies. I can also spend days reading the Concise Oxford Dictionary." Most successful writers have eclectic tastes.
Be a multi-tasker
"Sometimes a manuscript needs to left alone for a while, so I write something else as a way to take the pressure off. I usually work on two or three pieces at the same time," says the author of some 150 novels, hundreds of short stories and thousands of articles, poems and essays in a career spanning 60 years.
Even if you despair, write in your despair. Above all, never give up.
It says something for the ease with which he practices his craft that Bond insists he "the laziest writer," whose typical day would consist of a "pre-lunch siesta, then a post lunch siesta before going to bed early in the night." This twilight world of ghosts and fantasies enriches his work and keeps him going at 80.
His parting advice comes from the heart: "Believe in your writing and never despair that you won't be published. Even if you despair, write in your despair. Above all, never give up."
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