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Driven to words

If you have a fresh perspective, a good story to tell and the tenacity of a pitbull, you could make it as a fiction writer, says Pranab Ghosh.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:42 IST
Pranab Ghosh

A writer creates, informs and entertains. S/he even transforms. “The process of writing is a rollercoaster ride. It’s painful but it gives you the joy of creating something, which will reach out to many, many people, across groups, generations, nations,” says Minakshi Thakur, editor, Harper Collins, a passionate reader who hates to reject manuscripts. She’s also someone who has turned her hobby into a profession.

“Publishing has grown in India in a big way and will keep growing in the years to come, especially because so many multinational (publishing) giants have set up offices in India. It naturally benefits people who are thinking of taking up writing as a career. There is a lot of experimentation happening with Indian writing in English and writing in the bhashas. Lot of new faces, young voices and viewpoints are emerging. New genres are evolving, new lines of thoughts being taken up. For someone writing a first book, there are a lot more publishing opportunities and more money -- in terms of an advance and royalty -- than a decade ago,” says Thankur.

Poetry is also published, though very few titles in numbers and print run. Also there is graphic fiction and non-fiction. Good non-fiction – biographies, memoirs, case studies – never goes out of fashion. Another interesting trend these days is Indian language publishing and translation between the languages and from the languages into English. Translation as a profession could therefore be explored.

Well-known writer and author of The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple couldn’t agree more. “It was difficult to make a career in writing (in India) even 10 years ago. But now it is economically viable. However, you need to be lucky, and get a good start,” he points out.

What does one need to become a writer? “First and foremost, an interest in storytelling. An ability to spin a yarn. You don’t need any specific background but a felicity with words and phrases,” says Nandita Bhardwaj, an independent publishing professional. And how exactly do you prepare yourself for a career in writing? “Definitely read a lot, be aware of and notice things that are happening around in the world and give importance to details,” says Milee Ashwarya, editor, Random House Publishers India. And what would you write on? Would it be technical writing, fiction or pure poetry? Says Monica Saigal, acquisition editor, Vikas Publishing House, “There are different genres… but the choice as to which one to pick depends on the personal choice and creative capacity of every individual.”

What's it about?
Writing is all about expression. To be able to creatively put forth the inner feelings and thoughts is what is important. A good writer is one who can carry his readers along with him wherever he goes. There are different genres. There’s the literary novel. Mass market fiction - chick lit, lad lit, campus novels that have picked up in a big way in India. Short story as a form has also resurrected itself in Indian publishing. Pulp fiction is something one could try out. Some of the greatest action thrillers, detective fiction, murder mysteries and fantasy novels still wait to be written in India

Clock Work
5 am: Get up; do yoga
7 am: Read newspapers, books, letters
10 am: Editing/writing work at office begins
4 pm: Meetings with fellow authors/writers
6 pm: Write notes
8 pm: Reaches home; reads magazines
At times reads/writes through the night

The Payoff
A writer can be employed in various creative roles in production houses (serial scripts, film scripts), ad agencies, publishing houses, media organisations, etc.
As a beginner one can earn around Rs20,000 a month
Between Rs50,000 to Rs1 lakh as one gains experience (it’s the mid-level)
For a well-established author who has a finger on the pulse of his readers, the sky is the limit

. Deep insight
. A creative mind
. Power to reason
. Knowledge of grammar
. Power to express in words
. Ability to master the art of depicting real life in a simulated world
. Self discipline to stay true to your craft

How do i get there?
Minimum eligibility: 10 + 2, to pursue a course in creative writing.
The minimum duration of the programme is one year, stretchable to a maximum of four years (IGNOU offers such courses)
Desirable qualifications include: A bachelor’s degree from a reputable college/ university in any stream.
“Humanities is usually the most popular choice amongst writers, as it helps one delve deeper into literature, philosophy, history, society, etc. but science and commerce backgrounds too come in good stead for writers who choose to write on these subjects,” says Milee Ashwarya of Random House. You may, as well, take online help to hone your skills

Institutes & urls
. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Maidan Garhi, New Delhi;
. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, KG Marg, New Delhi
. Centre for Research in Art of Film and Television (CRAFT, for short-term course on script writing), New Delhi
. The British Council located in all the major metro cities India;
. Xavier’s Institute of Communication, Mumbai
Central Institute of Indian Languages, Karnataka
. Online courses:
Iowa, Idaho, Columbia and New York University are some of the well-known centres for writing

Pros & cons


Great creative fulfilment


Ability and channels to communicate with your readers


A liberating career; freedom to write on anything


Freedom to create imaginary people, reconstruct history, retell crises, wars, tragedies etc


Cheering up people, readers


Lot of struggle required


Will not be able to write on everything


You will not be able to write all the time; Hence you would need something to fall back on


Readers and critics may not like you


Less pay at the initial stage of your career

The reading habit has grown

A young publisher lays out the potential for budding authors

Is reading books on the rise or on the decline a) across the globe b) in India?
Yes, I do think the reading habit has grown across the globe in the recent years, esp. post-international awards, and the Internet. People may have switched to different genres and avenues. For instance, in India, more youngsters are reading -- and they’re reading more pulp.

Also, perhaps people are reading more online (e-books are gaining popularity esp. in the West), but they’re reading.

As a publisher, what do you look at while judging a manuscript? What makes a deal happen?
A good story -- interest, appeal, writing style, etc. A lot of factors go into actual deal-making. Both the author and the publisher have to be happy with what matters to them most. That usually includes royalty, pace, schedules, quality, rapport and several other things.

What questions must budding writers ask themselves before committing themselves to the profession of a writer?
Serious writers should ask themselves:
. Do I have fresh, new ideas that I can develop into great stories?
. Do I have the knowledge and skills, i.e., a good command on language and grammar?
. Do I have enough patience? Can I do eight drafts of my novel over a period of two years if required?
. Do I have enough to sustain myself if I take to full-time writing?
. Am I hardworking enough? Can I put in the effort/research my novel needs?
As Mohsin Hamid (Pakistani author of Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist) puts it, ‘writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint’.

What are the royalty structures that Indians writing in English can expect?
Anything from 4.5% to 10% (usually), but it may vary.

How do you see the publishing industry evolving in the next ten years?
As I mentioned, it’s very difficult to say anything right now. However, if all goes well, we could come up with some brilliant writing across genres, and create a much ‘wider’ writing culture in India.

Divya Dubey, founder, Gyaana Books interviewed by Pankaj Mullick