Sunday, January 20, 2013

So you want to write a bestseller?

The Economic Times ran a story yesterday on ‘How Amish Tripathi’s success is prompting MBA grads to become novelists'.

The article – and many others like it – imply that MBAs have a higher chance of success in the writing profession than non-MBAs.

In support of this theory the article quotes this fact: Of the top 10 books in the shortlist for The Economist Crossword Book Award in October 2012, seven had been penned by MBAs, six of whom were IIM alumni.

I think the more important fact which readers will miss is the part where Amish mentions he comes from a ‘typical middle class family;’. The top-selling authors in India today would all use that phrase to describe themselves.

It’s typical middle class - writing for typical middle class - that’s selling.

The other qualities that I believe make for success are:
1) being pigheaded (believing in your story and way of writing when no one else will)
2) being ahead of your time (what you’ve written has not been seen before or done before)
3) being I-don’t-give-a-damn (I started doing this for fun, not to make serious money or a big career).

These are the qualities you should look for in yourself when you ask – can I make a career in writing. If you are any old boring MBA writing a book that sounds very much like Chetan or Amish or Ravinder or mine, it is not going to work.

If you are confident, crazy and committed to writing – you have a shot.

You will need to collect life-experiences and opinions and attitudes but it need not be at a bschool.

Most importantly, you need to train yourself to connect with a source higher than yourself. Because the best artists of all kinds freely acknowledge – they are but instruments through whom the words, the songs, the art and ideas flow.

Robert Louis Stevenson (‘Treasure Island’) conceived of entire novels through dreams.

Elizabeth Gilbert (‘Eat, Pray, Love’) gives a brilliant TED talk in which she argues that creativity is divinely inspired. I love the part about ‘genius’ being like Dobby, the house elf.

Amish Tripathi says that writing his books is like a ‘joyful ride’.

The book itself would just keep coming. The only thing I had to do was to listen to music, which (matched) the mood of the moment that I am writing in. So if I were writing a war scene I would listen to the music of Eklavya (starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan). And somehow that used to help the flow. When I would write a love scene I'd listen to the music of Don (starring Shah Rukh Khan).

That's all I had to do: play music and somehow the story would just start flowing. And there wasn't any logic to it. Sometimes I would write chapter 25, the next day I would write chapter five. The next day something of book three would come. I learned not to question it and would write just what came to me. I first wrote summaries of the three books and then I started expanding them into the books.

I don’t mean to say that if you switch on your favourite music a bestseller will flow out of you. But at some point, it can.

The tension with being a creative professional is that you have to work very hard in order to hardly work at all.

If you can understand that, you can be a writer. And your books will sell.

What you need is not an MBA but to discover the true power – of your mind.

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