Zafar Anjum has been an author friend ever since we both got published in a Singapore-based anthology, and today I ask him questions about his writing life, his favorite writing ritual, and the books he’s read and written.
1. What do you love about writing? Is there anything about writing that annoys you? How do you get over it?
What I love about writing are the moments when you get into the rhythm. In those moments, one feels as if one is not writing but simply unburdening oneself.
Besides those moments, writing is a chore. You have to sit down and write. You have to get along with the sentences for as long as you can go on. I wouldn’t say this part annoys me but I take it as stoically as I can. It is part of the package, the quarrelsome part of the marriage.
I don’t have to do anything in particular to get over the bumpy part of the writing process. Sometimes I would just pick up a book, read a few paragraphs and start digging. Sometimes I would just go out for a walk, or maybe take a smoking break. That’s enough for me to get into the mood.
2. Tell us an interesting anecdote from your writing journey. Was there ever a point you wanted to give up on writing? Is there a moment you can remember when you felt you had arrived as a writer?
For someone like me, becoming a writer was an impossible dream. My father was the first graduate in his village, and nobody in my extended family had ever published anything, not even in Urdu, my mother tongue. The town where I grew up had hardly any literary culture and I had no literary ancestors. So I claimed Kafka and Chekhov as my ancestors as well as Manto and Krishan Chander who were iconic writers in Urdu.
After my first novel which I published twelve years ago (it was a bull in a china shop kind of a debut), I gave myself ten years—to read, to educate myself, and to make a place for myself as a writer. I had told myself that if I didn’t get any proper break at the end of ten years, I will cut and run, assuming that I didn’t have the requisite fire power to become a writer. I struggled on my second novel for years until I met my literary agent nearly two years ago. That was the tenth year and that’s when things began to change.
If I had failed after ten years, I would have given myself another forty years—but that would be to write an earth-shattering book.
3. What is your favorite writing ritual? Is there a favorite beverage/ snack/ music/ quirk that gets you writing?
Wake up before daybreak and write for about two hours. I am very happy when I am able to do that. A hot cup of tea is a great company. Cigarettes also used to play a prominent part in this ritual but I have started hating first hand smoke too.
4. What is the last book you loved reading? Why? Is there any book you felt like tossing out of the window? Why?
The last book I loved reading was One Man’s Chorus: The Uncollected Writings of Anthony Burgess. I loved it because one, I love essays and I enjoy reading people who have a sharp tongue and who don’t beat about the bush.
I feel like tossing out more than ninety percent of the books, mostly novels, that I lay my hands on. Either I don’t care about the subject or am not able to connect with the book. Mostly, perhaps it is the voice that fails to draw me in, the cloying language, the kind of linguistic fireworks that only writers like Joyce could pull off. That’s why I think not everyone should write a book. To such writers I want to say—spare the world your bullshit—that will be a greater service to humanity.
5. If you had the chance to speak directly to your ideal readers, what would you say to them?
I would tell them—didn’t you think that you finally found a writer who writes in the tradition of Kafka, Chekhov, Carver and Hemingway and how much you were loving him.
6. Tell us about the fiction/ non-fiction books you have published, and anything you have forthcoming.
My first published novel was Of Seminal Fluids, which thankfully is not available anymore. Recently, I have published two books—a work of non-fiction, The Resurgence of Satyam: The Global IT Giant, and a collection of short stories, The Singapore Decalogue: Episodes in the Life of a Foreign Talent. Amongst my forthcoming works, I have a screenplay to polish and produce, a documentary to edit and write a companion volume to it and a crime novel to rewrite.
Connect with Zafar: www.twitter.com/zafaranjum and www.facebook.com/zafar.anjum
journalist and writer Zafar Anjum currently works as the Asia Online
Editor at Fairfax Business Media (Asia), Singapore. He has been
published in India, the US, the UK, Singapore and other countries. His
most recent works include a work of non-fiction, The Resurgence of Satyam (Random House India, 2012), and a collection of short stories, The Singapore Decalogue: Episodes in the Life of a Foreign Talent (Red Wheelbarrow Books, Singapore, 2012). He also blogs, mentors budding writers and is editor of Kitaab.org, a literary website.
If you’re a writer visiting this post, what is your favorite Writing Ritual ? Any interesting writing anecdotes you’d like to share?