There’s A Rea­son You’re Stuck

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - COVER STORY -

For one writer, get­ting rid of per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies opened up a new way of do­ing things

agent or pub­lisher I wasn’t ready. I was a mess.

When I had worked on my first book, I had read­ily shown bits and pieces to ev­ery­one – for en­cour­age­ment, to force my­self to write. With this one, I’d thought: I won’t share it till it’s per­fect.

But my stan­dards were im­pos­si­ble – I wanted each sen­tence to glit­ter ma­jes­ti­cally. This meant hoard­ing all the good sen­tences I’d ever writ­ten, like gold. When I felt weak, I would go back and copy-paste them into the file, swim around in them like Scrooge McDuck in his vault.

It was ob­vi­ous what needed to hap­pen. But it was only when I reached a low point – when I ac­tu­ally had a panic at­tack, my heart pump­ing un­con­trol­lably – that I sought help.

Af­ter years of dither­ing, I showed the frag­ments to my agent. She looked at them care­fully in her New York of­fice and told me what I had sus­pected: they did not add up to a book. There were good ideas about ter­ror­ism in there, but I was fo­cus­ing too much on the ideas and

the sen­tences, not on the story.

That one con­ver­sa­tion was tonic. I threw away every­thing and be­gan writ­ing from scratch. My fear now was: will it take an­other five years? Will I be one of those au­thors who comes out from un­der his book com­pletely aged and ru­ined? Here an­other con­ver­sa­tion, with a non-lit­er­ary friend, was help­ful. When I told her the book would take at least two more years, she said, “That long?”

“That’s how long books take.” “Why not two months?”

That re­sponse shook me. I re­alised how much lit­er­ary non­sense I had im­bibed and I be­gan work­ing on the book, with an out­line, ev­ery day, with the goal of fin­ish­ing it within months. I would hand­write in the morn­ings in my cot­tage in Austin, type up the work in the af­ter­noons, hand­write again when the postlunch cof­fee had surged through my sys­tem and then get back to work first thing in the morn­ing. In the five months I wrote the fi­nal draft of The As­so­ci­a­tion of Small Bombs, I never fell out of the oo . to me: plau­si­ble and pow­er­ful. And I never went back to the old sen­tences – never al­lowed my­self to look. The turn to hand­writ­ing, which doesn’t al­low facile tin­ker­ing, was part of get­ting rid of my per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies.

At the end of it – at the end of six trou­bled years – I had a novel. The novel had the taut­ness and speed of some­thing writ­ten with ur­gency but the depth of the five years of think­ing that had pre­ceded it. Like ev­ery novel, it taught me a new way of do­ing things and I am grate­ful for it. I just wish I hadn’t had to suf­fer so much in the process.

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