Sunday, October 15, 2006

Anita Desai's Advice to Writers

Some snippets I couldn't squash into the article because of the word limit, but feel are important to the writers amongst you:

Anita Desai was asked at the Ubud Readers and Writers festival what advice she would give to writers.

Actually it is a stupid question, because ask any successful writer for advice and they will tell you exactly the same thing. And you've heard it so many times before.

(Hey, it's not just me nagging you, wanna-be's!)

In her exact words though:
Read, read, read a lot. Read voraciously. Be discriminating about what you read, because if you read rubbish, you tend to write rubbish. Read with a critical sense. It is always important to be a tough critic of everything.
She also talked about her own writing process at Ubud. She says that she rarely knows how a book is going to evolve, and writing is a process of exploration where characters can take you in unexpected directions. ("I wish it wouldn't happen sometimes," she says.) When she wrote Baumgartner's Bombay, she says, she did not know who the murderer would be until she wrote the scene!

She revises a great deal - each book 3-4 times:
Until I recognise a theme and everything has fallen into place. I am always intersted in reducing, refining, distilling.
To be a writer, she says, you need to become senstitive to language:
...like a musician with an intuitive feel that this word has resonance but that one does not.
About writing practice she says:
You are not always working on a book or short story but you should be constantly scribbling and using words to keep that practice alive.
She also says that you can't teach writing, but creative writing courses are valuable because they give students space and time, which is essential.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Be discriminating about what you read, because if you read rubbish, you tend to write rubbish."

Er.. how does that work ? how do you know what is rubbish and what isn't ? How can writing (any writing) be rubbish ?

"She also says that you can't teach writing, but creative writing courses are valuable because they give students space and time, which is essential."

I thought space and time has always been free. What people need to teach is not creative writing but creativity. People need to teach imagination and beauty amd how to justify living like a pauper in an increasingly materialistic world. If you're poor you have to write for entertainment, simply because you can't afford anything else. Then maybe someone finds your writing when they come in to clear you poor sorry corpse, and then it becomes a classic. It's happened before.

I'm not saying you can't teach creative writing, all I'm saying is that to charge for space and time (rather than offer space and time and accepting what people offer for it) is a bit criminal. I mean, it's like charging for air.

"...like a musician with an intuitive feel that this word has resonance but that one does not."

Oh yes, that's the thing. It's about what works.. like music. Resonance is good, but then some people like death metal.

Anonymous said...

Actually creative writing courses are good because they help writers survive :)

"It is always important to be a tough critic of everything."

Sometimes you don't have to be. It's like food, when you taste it you will know whether it tastes good to you (or not.)

bibliobibuli said...

anonymous - once before i suggested to you that you get your own blog. i think you really should. you have so many opinions you shgould give them all a home.

lil ms d said...

i second that. much as i love reading people's comments, i think you're abusing the space sharon has given us, anonymous.

blogspot's free and quick to set up! :)

Anonymous said...

k.. I suppose I'll have to do that.

lil ms d said...

perhaps anonymous, you can still leave comments but allow others to participate in the discussions. you seem to have a lot to say (!) but this is not your personal sound off box! we can disagree with each other but aiyoh, monologues a bit susah lah.

if you can behave, i am sure sharon won't mind. just don't abuse her generousity!

bibliobibuli said...

i just feel a bit ... overwhelmed at times.

you did blog for a while last year, anon, and it was good. maybe you do need a space to write your thoughts.