4 lessons from an unsuspecting mentor

I've finally finished reading Midnight's Children. What an epic, witty, tragic story! Rushdie is so gifted and while I don't admire everything about him or his philosophies, I am so astonished | bewildered | mesmerised by his creativity. I've been re-reading the introduction to the book, in which he outlines the origins of the characters and his family and friends' reactions to having been caricatured in the story. He highlights the political climate in India when he wrote the book and then reaction to its publication. He also talked a little about working in advertising at Ogilvy's while writing MC

These are just a few of the lessons I've gleaned from this short introduction, written retrospectively in 2005.

1. Writing is not the best get rich quick scheme going.

Rushdie had published a novel - Grimus - prior to Midnight's Children, but even after publication and after receiving an advance on the second novel, he could not give up his day job, well he did for a bit but he had to ask for it back! If you want to be a writer, you need to love writing for what it is, not for the potential ca-ching that you've been pinning your dreams and your financial future on. If you are truly talented and hard working, maybe (just maybe) you can be very successful!

2. Fear not.
Don't be afraid to offend people that are close to you with your thoughts, memories and expression. Personal history is a huge repository for joyful, bizarre, interesting and macabre inspiration. Use with wisdom, but don't stifle it.

3. It's not that common knowledge.

In the 80s Indian university students said to Rushdie: "I could have written that book, I knew all that stuff."

Use what is known to your locale - most people outside of your ethnic group, geographical setting, culture, heritage, etcetera, may just be completely fascinated by facts that are common knowledge to your people.

4. You don't need more free time/inspiration, you need a kick in the backside.
The following quote from the Introduction really inspired me:

On Friday nights I would come home to Kentish Town from the agency's offices near Waterloo Bridge, take a long hot bath, wash the week's commerce away, and emerge - or so I told myself - as a novelist. As I look back, I feel a touch of pride at my younger self's dedication to literature, which gave him the strength of mind to resist the blandishments of the enemies of promise. The sirens of ad-land sang sweetly and seductively, but I thought of Odysseus lashing himself to the mast of his ship and somehow stayed on course.
Still, advertising taught me discipline, forcing me to learn how to get on with whatever task needed getting on with, and ever since those days I have treated my writing simply as a job to be done, refusing myself all (well, most) of the luxuries of artistic temperament.

Just like the rest of us, he had to work a day job out of necessity. But because he loved writing, he MADE time for it. Don't cry and moan about how little time you have to write because of your "real" life, let the challenges you face sharpen you, teach you to be disciplined. (I say this to myself -  the biggest whiner of them all.) You need a strong (perhaps stubborn) mind to resist the blandishments of the enemies of promise. The enemies of promise are your job, your busy-ness, your distractions, the kids, the cat, the bag of giant triple choc cookies, sleep!. If you don't resist these you'll never prioritise your writing/creativity/happiness!

So, what's your day job? What is it teaching you about writing or expressing your creativity? How does it help your writing?

Ps. As I'm writing this on the train, the girl next to me is reading a copy of Midnight's Children! I love that.


  1. Fear not. It's not common knowledge that STORY is the backbone of every civilization thru the history of time.

  2. This is a great post! And I always need to be reminded of my writing importance. I've only recently realized (the past year) that this is what I want to do and I don't care if I never make any money, I'm going to do it. I currently have a menial office job. I love it because while I'm performing some mundane task, my creative juices marinate my brains (right and left). It is all about the work. Write is a verb!

  3. So people are still interested in Indian writers? Huzzah, there is hope for my writing yet! :P

    I'm yet to read Midnight's Children but thanks for this useful post ^_^

  4. Hi guys, thanks for reading.

    Thanks Hannah! It's so great that you're stoking the fire of your creativity inspite of the boredom you may have to face at work.

    Elena - I am quietly obsessesed with Indian writers! I'd love to read some of your work :)

    I've just started reading another Indian book, The White Tiger, the 2008 Booker winner. I think I relate because the characters and the expressions and the tragi-comedy of the people's lives remind me of my own crazy family in South Africa - see: What, a disappointment?

  5. I absolutely LOVED this post. I read it twice. These lessons really speak to me and any writer would benefit from reading them. Will have to Tweet this and share it with even more writers! Hope you don't mind :)

  6. Wow, thanks so much Julie!

  7. Thanks for following my blog!

    I just stopped in to visit your blog and I'm enjoying reading your posts!

    You must have known that today your post is the "kick in the pants" that I needed. Thanks!

    My day job is taking care of activities of daily living with lots of surprises thrown in(some good...some not so wonderful). These surprises add new content for many of my short stories.

    But most days I'm blessed with lots of time to write.

  8. I like lesson number three; I think a lot of people (including me) don't write about certain topics because they assume the audience already has the information or ideas. Sometimes, however, things that are common knowledge to you are not as widely known as you might think. I often mention some tidbit of information (that I assume is common knowledge) and receive feedback, such as "I didn't know that!" Share what you know; there's always someone out there who hasn't heard about it.

  9. OK, OK... I will kick myself. There! (ouch) Are you happy? Yes, I too am a whiner with not enough time...

  10. Excellent post.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. I gave you a fun blog award here if you'd like to check it out!

  11. I found your blog via Tracy and I'm nearly weeping with happiness. This one post (and Rushdie) speak truth to me as no one has in ages.

    Thank you for this. I look forward to discovering more of your blog.

  12. Hello new people. It's lovely to meet you all!

    Donna - it's great to see that your daily life gives you inspiration to write more, my daily life mostly just makes me sleepy!

    Lilu - cute name - nuff said :)

    Melissa - thanks. I also think writing about the things common to our heritage is often the easiest thing to do, it comes naturally and has a touch of nostalgia that I love.

    Lily - whiners unite!

    Tracy - Thanks for the award:)

    Terresa - Thank you thank you! What a lovely encouragement!