Thursday, October 27, 2011

Writing 'The Misfit' - The Inspiration and the Journey

And I think this is an apt time to start blogging about the next novel 'The Misfit', my first ever attempt at a novel that started in 1997. I started writing it inspired by a terrible novel that I had read that time which made no sense to me, written by Tabish Khair. Something about pyjamas or frogs or something like that. I searched for some meaning and found none and read through till the end wondering what could come up. But it ended without giving me any answers. Perhaps it was too esoteric or way too bad.

It however gave me a strong resolve to write, that if that could get published, then perhaps I could write too and get published. So my inspiration to write a novel came not from excellence, but by the floor (in my eyes, and no offence meant to Tabish Khair nor his considerable abilities), which gave me confidence that I could do better. Tabish Khair later went on to become a celebrated writer who writes in the same way and I still don't understand him, but it is to him, the Drona, that I owe my novel writing courage.

I started writing 'The Misfit' in June 1998 and was done in October 1998, writing it over weekends and late nights. I wrote in long hand, typed and printed it, and carried the first manuscript with me on a trip to Goa with the feeling of having written a masterpiece. It was heady stuff. Some known readers and their encouraging reactions later (they are a fine lot), I sent it off to the same publisher who had published Khair, thinking that perhaps they might buy it if they had published that other book. But they rejected me in two days. I took it on my chin, hard, but decided not to give up. I had given up too many things and learnt that it does not pay.

Some 300 publishers later, several agents and all that, a thousand revisions perhaps, 'The Misfit' lay in my computer as younger ideas like 'The Men Within' and 'If You Love Someone..' got published and took off. I did not learn, nor take the hint. I dusted the virtual cobwebs off the masterpiece and lugged it along shamelessly to Keerti, my editor, last year. 'Does it have a chance?' I asked. Keerti read it (I sympathise with her, she is too nice to say No) and said it had a chance. And then she drew her pencil and made so many suggestions and changes that it boggled my mind. Was this her way of saying that it has no chance? I am too dense for these and do not understand even a straight no so I worked on it.

For six months I looked at the changes she made in pencil and wondered if I was better off writing a new novel. For the nest three months I started actually leafing through them. And in the last three months I made some changes, with the experience of ten years behind me. Now somehow after many months of doubt, I feel that I have a story (I felt that in 1998 as well, I must warn you). But this time I have cleverly employed many expert writerly devices to make the story more readable - so it has more 'narrative energy' - one of those nice euphemisms that editors use before they reject your proposal. Rehashed and shining through like a new bride, 'The Misfit' now chugs to a close. And I think, have I done enough? Only time and editors will tell.

But this time I hope someone buys the story, because it is taking up all my time. i am obsessed with it as if it were my first love, or perhaps, my first child would be more appropriate. But I would be glad to have some closure to it. Illusions of it being the next literary masterpiece have now given way and I am now nodding sagely at the prospect of it sitting on the book shelf in some bookstore and perhaps enthusing the oddball reader who might want to read books about 'Misfits'. More on the Misfit later and I will report its progress as it shows a semblance of coming to life.

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