Oranges and the Indian Railway System; How to Write the Perfect Book

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I always find it hard to stay on track. It’s not a problem, except when it is. One moment I’m writing about how I don’t know what to write, the next moment I’m talking about purple flavoured talking tangerines that warp through the fabric of space-time and land up in a multiverse full of figs that grow upside down. So this time I shall try to stay put on the topic I’m choosing to talk about, which is, not being able to write about anything because you have too little things to do.

If anyone’s burdened with things to do or write, it becomes really easy, according to me. “Okay, I’ve got to write a five thousand word essay about the significance of the shoelace.” It’s all very easy; you start with a paragraph about how you need shoes and write some stuff that’s vaguely relevant to strings and shoes, and end with a small line that leaves an impact on the reader that your essay is, indeed, about the significance of shoe-laces, and not on the understatement of string-theory in quantum mechanics or the inflation rate with respect to the price of liquorice. See, it’s simple. But it gets hard when you have nothing to do. You’ve finished all your assignments, you have no more work to do, no more places to go to. So you sit down and try to do something, in my case, write.

I think writers from time immemorial have faced a similar dilemma. That’s why it’s so hard to write a novel. Not because you feel distant from your characters or concepts as time goes by, but because you learn so many new things over the course of writing it. Writing is creation, and like all creation, it needs knowledge. But once you’ve run out of the last bit, the only thing to do is research. And research leads to distraction. It might have been easier for Jules Verne to read up about the Indian Railway System through a vague book in a library than it is today, solely because of the fact that everything on Wikipedia leads to other things, and had Jules used the internet, we wouldn’t have had Around the World in Eighty Days. Mostly because he learned the art of time travel and would be living among us.

The problem, I think, is with writers, and not with writing. Writing is easy. Writers, like authors, poets, novelists, columnists and people who make a living by writing college students’ essays for them, all share something in common. That thing is a will to learn or observe. There was never a good writer who has never observed. It’s not going to be easy to look at an orange and write where it came from and what it went through on its journey to your field of vision, but given time, a good writer will always be able to make stuff up along the way and end up with an entertaining story. It’s not easy to have a long project like a novel, because you learn so many things and try to pen them down. And in that process you get lost in a cycle of procrastination and creation that ends up with subsequent smaller bits and not a good, perfect one. Which is why I respect writers who have written the perfect book.

The perfect book, to me, is more than just engaging or fulfilling. The perfect book is one that I read and feel, “Okay, this is wonderful. I want to do this.” The thing I want to do could be anything, but one of the things that a writer has to subconsciously instil into their work is the portrayal of the joys of learning, observing; adventuring.

See? I’ve strayed off from where I began, go read the topic again.

Good. Which brings me back to my first point, it’s hard to write about things when you have nothing to do. After writing this short piece, I feel, it’s not. If you have even a mild knack with your words and the willingness to do things occasionally, congratulations. You’re almost there. Now all you need to be is a genius, and you’re done. You can write your own perfect book!

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Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words. This is his personal blog where he writes on topics ranging from leadership skills to the consistency of jam.

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