“Keep It Simple, Silly”: A Life’s Worth of Writing Advice


“Keep It Simple, Silly”: A Life’s Worth of Writing Advice

Writing a book is pretty easy; the tough part is trying to sound intellectual after it has been published. Most authors get delirious thinking of the glamourous launch party, matching their outfit with their book jacket; they don’t realise that they will have to face some very tricky questions. So if you’re planning on writing a book (who isn’t?) be prepared with some smart, snappy answers. Like I was, after my first book was out.

“How do you feel after writing your book?” 

“I feel like Leanna Shuttleworth!” 

Leanna who? Okay, you may be excused for not knowing that Leanna Shuttleworth isn’t an author, but the youngest British woman to have climbed Mount Everest. While it’s true that 3145 people climbed Mount Everest before her, that didn’t stop Leanna from feeling heroic (like I did) after completing what seemed like a mountain of work. However, no one has ever asked me what I thought was an important question. Instead, many ask a strange one,

“How long did it take for you to write the book?” 

“Oh, about 4 kilometres long…” 

I swear that’s how long my handwritten manuscript would be if I laid out each page end-to-end.

“Is this book autobiographical?” the nosy ones ask because authors often write in the first person.

“Yes!” I proudly say.

I hope it adds to the credibility, empathy, and the authentic “voice” we seek for our novels. Great. But what if your mother ends up reading that interview? What about that totally steamy scene you described between the protagonist and her hot boss on a business trip, from pages 62 to 65? I need to ask E. L. James how she tackled this embarrassing question, after she put out that shady, Grey novel – and I shall get back to you.

I hope it adds to the credibility, empathy, and the authentic “voice” we seek for our novels.

“What’s your next book?” 

This is a scary question; especially when reading habits are dying everywhere, and the only way to make any money from writing is by writing ransom notes. So, I’ve decided that my next book is going to sell like hell, on the sheer strength of its clever title: How I Conquered the British Vampire. I have no clue what it’s about yet, but I’m sure millions of crazed teenage girls will rush to buy it. Vampire fiction is always a rage.

“How did you start writing?” 

They hope that we’ll share some intellectual insights, and get learnings from our early struggles.

“With a pen.” 

I simply can’t think of anything profound.

When I look back, my first book happened because of a bunch of old writing pads I’d filled for years during my job at an advertising agency, noting down banal utterings at endless client meetings. Here’s one, by our MNC shampoo client, “I’d like to see some never-before, fresh ideas that have been tried and tested many times.” Or this classic one, for the new banana chips business pitch, “I am loving both the alternative campaigns! So make a combination of both, no? You decide. Now my balls are in your court.” So I merely put down these bits of nonsense along with many crazy incidents at my workplace. Before I knew it, I had an entire book, The Oops and Downs of Advertising. I thought my life’s work was done, but my happiness was short-lived.

“Oh she’s just a one-book wonder,” I suspected people were saying and sniggering. But how come no one thought Neil Armstrong was a one-moon wonder? The pressure got to me, and I started my second book, a romance novel. I panicked midway not knowing how to end it. “Don’t worry, your characters will tell you what to do. The book will write itself!” they said. Relieved, I prayed to the god of writing, and fell asleep hoping that my characters would talk to me in my dreams. When I woke up, not a word had been written; my lazy characters didn’t tell me a thing either. I had to plot and plod and finish the book all by myself. So my advice to myself is: In the future, keep it simple. I just finished the first draft of a pictorial Alphabet Book for Babies. After all, 26 letters don’t take too long to write.

In my family, a reading habit was inculcated in the children quite early on. We all contributed to Enid Blyton’s retirement fund by faithfully buying every single chronicle of the Famous Five. I’m not so sure of the current generation. I mean, look what happened to a pal of mine who gave her nephew a book for Christmas. The lad spent hours trying to find out where the batteries fit.

We all contributed to Enid Blyton’s retirement fund by faithfully buying every single chronicle of the Famous Five.

I think I’ve wandered off the main topic like many authors do around page 75. So let’s get back to the subject of being an author, not a reader. Well, here’s something that former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Benjamin Disreali, once said about what turned him into an author, “Whenever I want to read a good novel, I write one.”

I wonder if all Benjamins are so delightfully arrogant — as this trait also appeared in another Benjamin, Mr. Franklin. Not content with flying kites in the storm and discovering electricity, Franklin published books too. But many wannabe authors got responses from him like this one, “Many thanks for your book. I shall waste no time reading it.” Well the two Benjamins have passed on, so if you’re still brave enough to write your book, and even face questions, go right ahead and follow the footsteps of any great writer you admire.

Or following Leanna Shuttleworth’s footsteps up that famous mountain may just be the easier thing to do!