Monday 6 April 2020

10 Golden Rules on "How to be a bad writer!"

In an exclusive to Wordweavers, Writer Manjula Padmanabhan gives us an insight on why one should consider the merits bad writing too. With tongue firmly in cheek, here are 10 golden rules she asserts will make it worth pursuing this novel ambition.

If you think you do not have a knack for it, then this is a goldmine for you!

(Manjula Padmanabhan is an eminent playwright, novelist, journalist and illustrator. She won the Onassis International Prize in 1997 for her play Harvest. Her latest work is a collection Short Stories titled Three Virgins and other stories.)

Most people who want to be writers take it for granted that they want to be GOOD writers. Not so! What many of them actually want is to be BAD writers. And why not? There are millions of them versus only a handful of genuinely talented authors in every generation. Many semi-literate wordsmiths manage to get published, win prizes and gain international fame in spite of their inadequacies. So it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Here, therefore, is a list of ten tips guaranteed to help the would-be author achieve the goal of producing unreadable, forgettable prose. If you find yourself nodding as you read it, you'll know what kind of writer you want to be – i.e., a bad one!

1) The top priority, when starting your career as a writer, is to decide which literary prize you plan to win. Forget about the Crossword, the Hindu, the Man-Booker, the Pulitzer. Aim directly for the Nobel. It is normal for top authors to prepare themselves for the challenge of writing their next novels by buying the clothes that they will wear to the ceremony. In the case of women authors, an extra week is allowed to fantasize about the jewelry they will need for the occasion.

2) Next, you must pick a literary style. At literary workshops, much emphasis is placed on "finding your own voice". Nonsense! The only correct and reliable way of becoming a successful author is to pay close attention to the leading trends in literature, then follow them slavishly while changing just enough details to avoid the charge of plagiarism.

3) Forget about the local Indian market: the only path to success as an author is to sell a book to a Foreign Publisher, by which I do not mean Singaporean or South African! Only a US or British publisher will do. Unfortunately, the only guaranteed path to being published in the West is to blackmail a literary agent into getting you a ten-figure advance in Euros, US dollars or UK sterling. If blackmail doesn't work, the next best approach is seduction. When that fails, your final option is to threaten to slit your wrists unless the agent takes you on. This has been known to work in the past, but with the recent slump in the book-publishing industry, it's become a bit risky.

4) Now to the subject of content. Many would-be writers wonder how and where to hunt for good, tasty stories. The worst advice they get is what all senior writers tell them: write about what you know. The reason they all repeat this lie is that they are raving lunatics who detest competition from younger and more talented authors such as yourself. The correct approach is to think of the most bizarre and outlandish topic, as far removed from your life as possible – bird-eating spiders, for instance, or lead mining in Brazil – then research it on the internet. Then weave a romance around it. Then throw in a reference to World War II or the Partition Riots. So long as your protagonists are rich, beautiful and young, the Nobel Committee will devour your novel like a hungry tapeworm.

5) Language, ah! What a troublesome subject this is. Fortunately for all of us, computer software has risen to the challenge of bad literature. Nowadays, even arthritic kangaroos can become authors, what with autocorrect and grammar-checking. Please ignore the advice of such eminent writers as George Orwell, who denounced the use of flowery language and faded clich├ęs! Go ahead and use pompous, multi-syllabic words such as "abdominous" and "coterminous" instead of plain old "fat" and "next to". Always use ten words to do the work of one. Whenever you want to make a point, be sure to repeat it several times. And capitalize the main words, so that your reader is in no doubt of What Is Important.

6) Another atrocious lie told by senior authors concerns adverbs. I mean, do you even know what such things are? And if you do, isn't that a good enough reason to flood your sentences with them? Adverbs are like the oil that a lazy cook drowns his food in, to mask the lack of flavour. So go ahead and use "cheerfully", "sadly", "darkly", "calmly" and all those other words ending in "-ly" that qualify verbs. They'll plump out the sagging pillows of your prose with meaningless fluff and inflate your single-paragraph anecdote into a thousand-page hot-air balloon.

7) Never rewrite. You heard me: never. Just disable the "DELETE" button on your computer and allow your fingers to fly. Because, let's face it: if you don't love every single full-stop and comma of your work, who else will? Be confident! Every time you sit down to compose your masterpiece, remind yourself that you are a genius and every single word you excrete onto the page is worth its weight in 24-carat gold.

8) Some day, when you have finally found a publisher but before you have become an international celebrity, you will be forced to work with a vicious serial-killer masquerading under the title of "editor". This worthless being is the scourge of literature, because she or he exists only to chop down the glittering tower of your prose until it resembles a stack of old newspapers. The correct response to editorial interference is to oppose it ferociously. Never agree to improve your grammar. Refuse to remove redundant chapters. Resist smoothing out your plots. Deny that any of your characters need development and insist that everything you write is perfect from the first moment of its existence. When the editor eventually rejects your manuscript altogether, send in a flock of trained pigeons to shit on her desk.

9) These days, it has become popular to write books at the rate of two a month or via SMS, Twitter and Facebook updates. All these trends are wonderful. Surely it is only a matter of time before the Nobel Committee wakes up and accepts the wave of the future? So yes, you must definitely churn out books while hanging upside down from the ceiling fan and texting with your SmartPhone. Maybe there's a great novel waiting to be composed on a digital calculator! Or entirely in Morse Code! Or in mirror-reverse Chinese alphabets! In today's adventurous world, it is up to you to explore these frontier-lands of prose.

10) And finally: ignore all advice. Yes, you heard me, IGNORE ALL ADVICE. And listen to your heart. Actually, this is the single tip that's equally true for good writers as for bad ones. There have been good writers who have followed all the above tips for bad writers and nevertheless written wonderful books. Ditto, in reverse – authors who have followed the advice of all the literary pundits have still managed to write tiresome, unreadable books. The hardest advice to internalize, when learning to be a writer, is that there's no ideal path to follow. No perfect approach. No single magic spell. For every rule created about literature, there's been an author, poet or playwright who has broken it and triumphed.

So be brave, be reckless, be headstrong! You have nothing to lose but the Nobel.

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