Books

How to write

I get so much mail asking for tips on how to write that I decided to make a post of it.  Usually, each email sits in my inbox for days.  I can’t bear to delete them because I’ve been where the writer of the email was.  I can’t bear to reply to them because they are too vague, too general.  Hereafter, I plan to send a one-line email reply pointing to this post.

If you want to be a travel writer, realize that it is getting very hard because editors have their network of trusted writers and usually give assignments to them. You can pitch travel articles to newspapers that accept freelance work by doing the following.

1. Research the paper by reading past articles and figure out what kind of articles they like. For example, some publications have a historical bent; others like first person; some DONT like first person. Things like that.

2. Do a search and see if the piece you want to write has been written about in the last two years. For example, if you want to write about Bangalore and the magazine has published a piece recently on Mysore or Bangalore, it is unlikely that they will choose to publish yours so soon. You should pitch some one else.

3. Send a sample of how you plan to write the story. Write one paragraph that will give the editor an idea of your writing style.

4. Photographs help.

5. I don’t have personal connections where I can forward pieces. So please research the publications and you can usually find the email of the editor via Linkedin or the Net. And you should write to them personally.

If you want to be a novelist, read The Paris Review Interviews.  They are online.  Read fiction.  Find your voice.  Try to do a job that is not related to writing.  The guy that wrote The Kite Runner was a doctor.  It is hard (for me) to write a novel while writing full-time.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a newspaper man but then, he was Marquez.  The rest of us have to pray (and I mean this quite literally) for divine guidance, find your soul, find what you want to say and plod forward.

If you want to work for a magazine or newspaper, realize that it will be boring and demeaning in the beginning.  Write on the side. Learn to observe.  Learn to memorize and remember what you observe.  Develop an area of expertise; if possible, a few.  So that it informs what you write and gives it perspective.  Learn to write.

If you want to be a columnist, you must learn to write– seems self evident.  How to do this? Two ways.  One is through logic.  Try to craft an argument.  Be like a lawyer and take a point of view– prosecution or defense type thing.  Then craft an argument.  Develop a point of view.  Analyze and offer dissenting opinions and then demolish them.  I am not this type of columnist.  What I do is to look for quirks.  Observe people.  Figure out what would make for a good human-interest column.  Ask questions: this is key.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Try to look for gaps– especially when people feed you information.  Be hard on public figures.  Go easy on private citizens.  Protect your sources.  Cultivate interests, if possible a wide variety of interests.  Time the column to events if possible.

If you want to be a broadcast journalist– I was trained as one– learn to speak long cogent sentences on camera.  On the spot.  Use your camera-phone to practice.  Think on your feet.  Know that being an anchor is less fun than being a producer.  Look up behind the camera positions instead of assuming that broadcast means anchor.

I don’t know much about writing courses.  But one good way to enter the field is to write a blog and develop a following.  Point editors and potential employers to your blog.  Keep writing to magazines and newspapers.  In the early years, I got nothing but rejections.    Realize that it is normal.  Don’t take it personally– well, you will, but you have to figure out how to get over it.

And please, don’t send me follow up specific questions.  I won’t be able to ignore and delete them– well after explaining why in this blog post, I will.   

Good luck!

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