Playing with words

Wednesday, 4 June 2014 - 6:25am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Author Jerry Pinto on how to become a writer...

What tips would you like to give to first time writers?
I think I would ask: why do you want to write? If you are thinking about big money and big advances, think again. Those happen to only a very few people. If you are thinking about fame, ditto. If you want to write because you enjoy working with language, because telling stories excites you, because you want to use words in a way that is new and exciting that's a good beginning. And then you will discover that writing is as much an art as it is a craft. Like any mason working with bricks, you put down the words one at a time. And then you discover that the words are not behaving themselves; they're doing their own thing, making their own shapes, creating their own sounds. Sometimes these are even better than you anticipated; but more often than not, you have to throw them all out and start again. That is craft: the shaping and reshaping of words until they come close to the elusive beginnings inside your head.

With which should we start? Short stories or novels or poetry?
Each form has its demands and challenges. Each form requires hard work and rigor. So I wouldn't say: you should do this or start with that. Instead, I would say: what do you feel like doing today? What do you feel like writing? How do you feel like shaping that idea? Would it work as a poem? Or a piece of prose? Do you want to tell it as it happened? In other words, do you want to make it non-fiction? Or do you think it would work if you could take the beginning of something and then begin to ask yourself a series of what-if questions? In other words, do you want to make it fiction? The good thing about writing is that you're in charge and you're the one making the decisions. Later, you will have to figure out where to publish and how to publish but that's not where you start.

Which according to you is the form the first-timers should attempt?
The form that tempts you.

Which is your favourite genre?
I don't have a favourite. There are days on which the only thing I feel like doing is writing a diary, intense navel-gazing and I allow myself that as a luxury. There are other days when deadlines loom and I must do a certain kind of writing: a journalistic piece or a column or a review and then that becomes easy. Now it has been decided for me. But most other days, I like to think of myself as going up to a huge wall, a façade, in which there are many windows. I see something moving behind one of the windows and I throw it open and I discover what's lurking there and what shape it will take. Sometimes it's fiction and sometimes it's non-fiction. Sometimes it's a poem and sometimes it's the urge to translate. It's a luxury I have awarded myself: that I will get up every morning and discover what my favourite form is.

What are you reading right now?
I don't read a single book at any given time, never have. So I'm reading Marguerite Yourcenar's Coup de Grace and Vishram Bedekar's Ranaangan and Pratinidhi Kavitaayein by Kunwar Narayan and Calypso by Ed McBain and The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam and awaiting my next comic or graphic novel from Leaping Windows, that magnificent lending library that even delivers your choices to your home

What is the relationship between being a voracious reader and being a good writer?
I think most writers are readers. There are some who aren't I am told just as there are some filmmakers who don't watch cinema but they puzzle me.

Should a first novel essentially be autobiographical?
No. It often happens that way but 'should' is not a word I like.

—Pinto will have a session for Mumbai Local at Dr BhauDaji Lad Museum on June 8 at 5pm

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