Don’t tell your boss, ‘Get lost, I’m gonna be a writer’: Author Amish Tripathi
Remember that post on social media that come up every week, asking you to get on a plane and never come back, or that film that would have you quit your job to ‘follow your dream’? Well, if writing is your dream, on World Book Day today, Amish Tripathi — author of the fastest-selling book series in India’s publishing industry — has an advice: Don’t quit your job.
“Don’t tell your boss, ‘Get lost, I am gonna be a writer’. I wouldn’t recommend that,” he chuckles. “You have to pay your bills at the end of the month, man — unless you have a rich father who has left a lot of inherited wealth for you... You should be practical,” says Tripathi, who worked in the financial services industry for a decade and a half before the first book in his Shiva trilogy, The Immortals of Meluha, came out in 2010.
“I resigned only after The Secret of the Nagas (his sophomore work), after my royalty cheque became more than my salary cheque,” shares Tripathi, whose Shiva trilogy entered record books in Indian publishing in 2013 when it surpassed the 2.5 million copies mark.
Tripathi agrees that though he started work on his first book on an emotional impulse, he stuck with the job in favour of pragmatism, which is the principle he prescribes. “To lead a good life, you need a balance between your head and your heart. Use your heart to decide the destination, but use your head to plot the journey. If you want to be a writer, don’t kill that dream. Pursue it. Just don’t jump without thinking,” he says. “There’s no harm in having a job. Write your book along with your job. Yes, you’ll have to work hard, for 14-15 hours a day, you’ll have very little free time, but that’s cool, ya. If you have dreams, there’s no substitute to hard work.”
Right — hard work. Six successful books, multiple awards and titles (he made the Forbes 100 Celebrities list in 2017) later, Tripathi reads harder and works harder than ever. Dubbed India’s first literary pop star by the filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, he has described the cell phone as the biggest destroyer of productivity, and finds too much visibility bothersome. “I can’t say I’m very comfortable with it... I’m not very active, not just on social media, but even TV and the like, except at my book launch times. I don’t understand why you have to be visible all the time, unless it’s your job. If you’re a TV anchor, then you’ll have to be visible all the time.”
But then, haven’t authors in the modern day — the likes of William Dalrymple, Chetan Bhagat, Devdutt Pattnaik, closer home — acquired celebrity status, a lot of which is manifested through their active public lives and social media presences, as opposed to the earlier stereotype of the detached, reclusive, anti-establishment figure that literature fans often hold in high esteem? “Look, everyone makes their own choices. It is my choice that I’d much rather spend my time reading and writing. I don’t go to that many TV panel discussions, except at my book launch times, when it’s my job,” he answers, and goes on to add, “Look, you only have 24 hours in a day. It’s your choice where you want to spend them. And nothing wrong with someone else’s choice... peaceful coexistence is the word,” he says, laughing.
To aspiring authors, Tripathi — known for coupling rich philosophical insight with a straightforward, reader-friendly style — recommends spending good time on reading. “You must be a good reader. My rough rule is, for every page that you write, you must read at least a hundred pages. That has to be the ratio. That’s the only way each page you write will have depth,” he says.
Depth and engagement with the reader is what will save the written Word, the construct called literature, he says when you talk about competition in the form of flash fiction, films and web series — getting more cerebral by the day, and also much more accessible and undemanding. “I wouldn’t put movies in the same group, but I might include web series. One of the things about literature is the depth of storytelling. Readers give it much more time than they do to a movie. But in the case of a web series, a reader gives it about a week, which is about the same time that they spend on a book. When a reader gives you the gift of time, that’s the time you can build a character, you can build philosophy,” he shares.
“My second series is on my interpretation of the Ramayana — the Ram Chandra series. This is a story that most people know, largely from the ’80s television serial. How do you make it different? By reading the more ancient versions of the Ramayana, which are different from the TV series,” says Tripathi of the ongoing series, the third book in which, Raavan: Orphan of Aryavarta, is expected to be out soon.
The author is part of an illustrious group of best-selling Indian authors, including masses’ favourite Chetan Bhagat and historian Ramchandra Guha, that hail from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management. Does he agree that the day is close when one would have to enrol in an IIM instead of a creative writing course to become a writer? Breaking into a hearty laugh, and fortuitously dropping another reason why a financial independence is imperative even as one pursues their writing dream, he answers, “I assure you IIM graduates aren’t necessarily more creative. Creativity is a blessing that can be available to anyone. They are on average, with well paying jobs, able to invest in marketing themselves. You need to invest in marketing. That’s how it works.”
Author tweets @Prannay13