Writing is fun only when I am in the process of writing, creating a world, conjuring some kind of magic. It is such a liberating feeling when the ink flows unhindered, words come tumbling over welcoming white pages. But at all the other times, my life as a writer is a life of absolute miserly. The periods are fraught with self-doubt, gasping in a sea of insurmountable emotions, searching for one write word, one perfect phrase. Some evenings are filled of such blankness of mind, I worry if I will ever write another word, let alone construct another story. The build-up to a story and the settling down after the release of a book- such miserable moments, and a haunting question, the Damocles sword- Will I ever write anything worth anything ever again?
It must be so very hard for anyone who is a full time writer. But even for someone like me who is not a full-time writer- one question keeps coming back- Will I be read? To quote Julian Barnes from Flaubert’s Parrot, my companion on commute to the office these days- “Is there a perfect reader somewhere, a perfect reader?” as he comments on a critic of Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, who questioned how Flaubert mentioned the color of Madam Bovary’s eyes- different color at different places. Writing is something which begins innocently as a little vice and eventually captures all your waking hours. One always wonders and is filled with self-doubt about the quality and content of one’s own writing all the time. My own stories are like my kids and I cannot not love them, but at times, I do pause and wonder, am I spoiling them out of false love, which they might be totally undeserving. I read further in Flaubert’sParrot, Barnes writes- “My reading might be pointless in terms of the history of literary criticism, but it is not pointless in terms of pleasure.” I close the kindle and contemplate- Will someone read one of the stories of The RudeTenderness of Our Hearts, close the book on his or her lap, and whisper to his or her own soul something such from behind her closed eyes? where art thou, my perfect reader.
This weekend there was a good half page write-up in the newspaper about the struggle of Rana Ayyub, a vehemently anti-government, angry journalist, and her self-published book. The story spoke about how her father invested money in her venture and how she was left alone to fend for herself, with no help to promote her book. But then, this was a half-page article in a national daily. She is a prominent journalist, got airtime on TV channels as well owing to her strong network of fellow well-wishers (read celebrity opinion-makers on the television) who continued to come on public spaces, recommending her book, lamenting how the poor lady was fending off all by herself. Nothing better than a poor celebrity. It is even inconceivable for those champagne-soaked sighs lamenting over the imagined plights of the well-connected journalist to even contemplate for a moment the difficulty of an ordinary writer, who might have just written because he could not contain the words anymore. It is horrible, it is unforgiving and it is humiliating. One cannot ignore easily the snide smiles of the people, looking at you, doubting your professional commitment as a bread-earner of the family, your proven caliber in your day job notwithstanding, as if you are some sort of moron, or a lazy escapist. One only hopes and waits for the perfect reader. For someone like me, it is even difficult. I am a hell of an introvert when it comes to talk about my writing, in person. There are young people writing nowadays, what we call chick-lits. They are young, good looking, well-connected writers, who knows the ropes of the game and do know how to do it. While I write old-fashioned stories, true on emotions and true on the power of written words. I cannot betray words, though they oftentimes make my stories heavy to read. But then those few who do read them enjoy the beauty of words placed there on those pages with immense affection and respect.
Promotions of books is so exasperating for me. You tell people about your book and you just hope they would just read what you written through so much of pain and difficulty, pushed in a metro, panting to catch breath as you settle down in the aircraft, staying awake on the weekend. Some read it, some don’t. Saddest is when people will want to get the complimentary copy, which is no trouble when your next day’s bread is not going to come from the royalty of your writing, but when you give the book and find that it lies unread. It is crushing when someone tells you that they could not find time to read the book- across days, weeks and months. It is sad an humiliating. You want to ask them, “Why? Tell me why?Why can't you read the damn book and grant me the satisfaction of having been read?” but one is constrained by manners and norms of society. You do not want to sound pushy, and you are thrown in the dark maze of self-doubt over your capability and adequacy as a writer. You, at such moments, want never to tell people that you have written, ever; pledge to yourself, never to, in fact, in some weaker moment, write another word again. You want to be a Salinger and hide in anonymity and want to destroy all your work like a Kafka. You curse yourself for thinking these lines and for the blasphemous act of comparing yourself with such great legends. Time passes, you read The Great Gatsby and you realize that by your age, Fitzgerald had already put in his best work for the world to cherish after him and moved on to another. I think of book release, but I can never bring myself to do it- not on my own. There is an air of surrender. In Flaubert’s Parrot, Barnes write about a writer who found Flaubert’s letters, who he is certain to slip into anonymity, without having accomplished anything of literary value. I read it yesterday, “His air of failure had nothing desperate about it; rather it seemed to stem from an unresented realization that he was not cut out for success and his duty was therefore to ensure only that he failed in correct and acceptable manner.” Why does it feel if he was writing about me? Will I give up writing at all, will no other true word will bless my pen?
But then I read by evening W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up which cheers me up again. He writes, “We do not write because we want to. We write because we must…We must go on though Rome burns. Others may despise us because we do not lend a hand with a bucket of water; We cannot help it; we do not know how to handle a bucket. Besides conflagration thrills us and charges our mind with phrases.” When I read it, I know I will pick up the pen again and write again and push myself through the whole cycle of self-inflicted humiliation. I write because I must. I do not have a choice. I have things in my mind which are to be told. I must write.