The Best Ever Writing Advice That I Can't Follow Anymore

Write posthumously, said Nadine Gordimer tersely.

Christopher Hitchens explains. “I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints—of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion—did not operate."



Gordimer's is the best writing advice that I have ever read. Incidentally, it is also one that I intuitively stumbled on by my own inquiry.
Two years ago, I was in the middle of writing my first novel. I was stuck, going nowhere, and taking forever to finish things. I would hardly write 1500 words in a week, and then spend two weeks editing them. I don't think I was writing even a chapter a month and this when I was "working" on my novel "full time".
The thing was: I did not want to just finish the manuscript. I did not want to just see it published. I did not want people to just read what I had written. The books that I have admired have also been things that have changed my life, so to speak. Reading them has been the most inspiring and uplifting experience. I could not possibly allow myself to compromise on what I wanted to give - everything - due to worldly constraints?
I had to write as if this were the last thing I was going to do on the planet Earth.*

Yet, this very commandment I am unable to follow anymore. The publication of my first novel has corrupted me. It has. I can't deny this for there is evidence.
For instance, I can't seem to neglect what I have seen of the publishing industry and how things operate - market and all. I can't seem to neglect what other authors are doing to promote their work. And also I can't seem to neglect that there are people out there who have read me. 
I can't seem to keep the world away when I am sitting at my desk.

When you are working on your first book, you only have your own struggles to overcome. You have to mind your own habits and indulgences - which is tough but which is so worth it. Once you are published, Jeffrey Eugenides says, "...everything’s about to change. You’re not writing for yourself anymore. Now you’re a published author or a playwright whose one-act has been produced—and suddenly everybody thinks you’re a professional. You did it before, wrote a book, a play, a collection of poetry, so you can do it again, right? And as you begin to worry about how to do that, that’s when your immune system is at its weakest and the pathogens can make their way in.
"Fashion will come at you from two directions, from outside and in. You might start noticing what’s getting attention in the press. You might begin to forget the person you are in order to write and sound like someone else. Alternately, you might be tempted to repeat yourself. To follow the fashion of your own previous work, to stop exploring, learning and trying new things, for risk of failure."

One reason, I observed, that makes writing posthumously so difficult once you are published is that the fact that your book is also a commodity sinks into you. You are at your publisher's office, having a nice chat with the editor, and storms in the marketing team that has no clue about your book but which nevertheless has a marketing plan for it. You realize, for them it is just another assignment. One of the thirty books they have to promote this month. At Amazon, for Amazon, your book is equal to dog food is equal to million other products. An entire world maybe hidden between the covers of a book but, from outside, it is just another book. Just another thing. And that's a fact you can't get past while writing.  
What also happens is, "Once you start conceiving of your book as a commodity, you start thinking about readers as potential buyers, as customers to be lured. This makes you try to anticipate their tastes and cater to them."

How then to write posthumously once published? 

I will figure it out. I need to. There is no alternative.
How to write my second book is also about how to write is also about to fill my days with something to do is about how to live.
Here's a guideline that I will have in mind:
"To die your whole life. Despite the morbidity, I can’t think of a better definition of the writing life. There’s something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly. This retreat has to be accomplished without severing the vital connection to the world, and to people, that feeds the imagination. It’s a difficult balance. And here is where these ruminations about writing touch on morality. The same constraints to writing well are also constraints to living fully. Not to be a slave to fashion or commerce, not to succumb to arid self-censorship, not to bow to popular opinion—what is all that but a description of the educated, enlightened life?"

*This may come across as bragging, but I AM proud of myself for maintaining that kind of attitude while writing Manan.

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