It was a curt reply from the publisher — ‘Declined by Return of Post.’ Jane Austen’s early draft of Pride and Prejudice was thus rejected and lay on her table for the next 16 years before seeing the light of the world. My inbox too began receiving such responses from publishers and I drew consolation from this.
Writing always came naturally to me, it would fill me up with bliss, serenity and peace. I had become ‘writing’s most devoted handmaiden’ as I grew up. With each passing year I began casting an ambitious gaze around me and experienced this tremendous need to be published. I took solace in the fact that Ruskin Bond and Rudyard Kipling also faced such flak in life as they trod that ‘inky’ path to ‘writerdom’.
“ ... you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Rudyard Kipling got this response to a short story he had pitched to a now-defunct newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner.
My folder of rejection slips was called the ‘folder of encouragement’ and sadly enough I had stopped writing for myself ... I had gone astray trying to imbibe what each publisher threw at me or trying to learn the writing techniques of bestselling authors.
A few years later, I met an old acquaintance from school, a mediocre student who managed to somehow weave together cobwebs of inanity during our English classes. One always has this feeling of a deja vu on meeting somebody from school. So, we exchanged notes. She had indeed undergone an image makeover, dressed in a very FabIndian-arty style, kohl-lined eyes and speaking in manner laced with an unnatural borrowed accent ... I couldn’t really identify which country it belonged to.
“You know these books keep me so busy, working on one now,” she bantered. I wondered whether I had missed out on a title she might have written, on the bestsellers’ list. I was so excited that I enquired about the list of books that she had written. Well, the lady just needed a little goading on and there she invited me for a cup of coffee and a very “one-way” conversation, rather a monologue. “I already have a book on that epic for children, Ramayana and another one on Mahabharata, all published by foreign publishers, you know?” Her kohl-lined eyes squinted and her thin lips parted into a conspiratorial smile.
“Three books already in press. To get published all you need is some intelligent socialising, marketing and of course some mythological book in the home. Just do copy of story, change one or two words here and there and one book is ready. And nobody take you to court for plagaring!” Plagaring?
“Oh, you meant plagiarising?” I enquired.
“Yes, yes, that only. And these big publishers having excellent editors, they will do most of your work. Illustrators decorate the books so well.” She pursed her lips again as if she was going to set more author-goals for me, I squirmed under my skin, as I blurted an incoherent excuse to her and sprinted from there. (Ved Vyas and Valmiki must have been turning in their graves furiously!)
Phew! That was some sure-shot recipe to become a “successful” writer, now would I call her a “copy-writer”? This was when I sensed that clarion moment of truth and realisation dawned upon me that I needed to just write for the love of the written word. If you seriously want to pen down books and articles, take it upon yourself as a holy calling, do it with unconditional devotion, without judging oneself by rejection slips.
Well, a rather drastic revision was suggested to F. Scott Fitzgerald, by a publisher, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.” About — you guessed it — The Great Gatsby.
Thus, a very Kafkaesque attitude always holds good for all, budding writers and otherwise — “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp