If you are looking for a “different” take on what writing mean and a writer’s journey, this article is gold!

An Indian author and filmmaker, Siddhartha Gigoo’s short story “The Umbrella Man” won the Commonwealth Short Story prize. Most of his stories revolve around the beautiful valleys of Kashmir, his birthplace. On Friday, 23rd March, on our Facebook Live session, he shared with us a few valuable tips on writing.

When we asked him why he shifted from poetry to prose, he told us that poetry in many ways is storytelling. Many a time, a story is discovered while writing a poem and we have to pen it down. He also emphasized on the fact that writing, unlike classical music and dance, doesn’t require any formal training.  Having trained in classical music many years ago, he said that it required a lot of training under a guru who could teach the nuances of music. Whereas, in writing the only training required is: reading, listening, imagining, and dreaming – to look outside the frame in the 360 view of things, like an owl.  Ironically, the most profound and interesting incidents take place in the most ordinary instances with the most ordinary people. Placing ourselves at the centre of people’s lives and being with them, yet being detached helps us find a story worth writing.

Our next question was whether the story or character comes first, to which Siddhartha said that an image or sound, either dreamt, imagined or experienced in real life is enough to stir the imagination and conjure up a story.  We have a blank canvas on which we create and recreate just as we would do with a painting. The main mechanics of writing are hard work, toil and perseverance. A writer should be able to shut the doors to the outside world and keep them wide open too. He being a part time writer understands the importance of finding a balance between the outside world and his passion.

Even though it is a lonesome exercise, it is worthwhile.

He went on to tell us the four stages one has to go through in writing:

  • Sadhana (devotion)
  • Samarpan (surrender)
  • Sanyas (retirement)
  • Samadhi (enlightenment)

Where devotion turns serious until the place you inhabit becomes your ashram.

You lose a part of yourself and a new person is reborn every time. It becomes a strange condition from which there is no escape. He quoted his friend Sushant, “A writer must embark on a journey that never ends to a place that doesn’t exist,” and elaborated on the enticing prospect of this statement. Writing is like a journey where we don’t know how to connect the dots and don’t know where we will land, but the journey itself is beautiful, and not knowing is exciting. He drew a comparison with music by sharing an incident with us about when he met Ustad Bismillah Khan in Banaras and asked him if he knew where the raga would take him, to which he replied that he didn’t.

Likewise is the journey of writing. Knowing how a story would end and if it has ended is also quite unlikely. To highlight this point, he told us how the great writer Victor Hugo was found writing a novel that was already published because he felt it was unfinished. That is what most great writers think about their works.

When asked how he prefers his endings, Siddhartha said he prefers open ended stories because he feels there is no way to close a story.  There isn’t any closure, just as it is with life. He talked about the art of storytelling which has remained the same over the years. The main job of a storyteller is to cast a spell on the listeners and send them to a new world, far too magical to abandon. A good storyteller makes them believe in the existence of such worlds and plants in them the seed of longing, a longing to come back for more. The writer’s job is just to begin the story. The reader concludes it and creates in his heart and mind his own story.

We moved on to the next question and discussed the challenges he faced when he transitioned from poetry to prose to novel writing, which he said was not very easy. According to him, writing short stories was the hardest because you have a stopwatch ticking and the first 30 seconds would decide if the reader is in or not. In novel writing the main challenge is shifting visions from telescopic to microscopic, dealing with time, space and movement. Siddhartha then shared with us how he explored the world of film making when he wanted to visualize his short stories. To him, film making and writing complement each other. When writing is done in solitude, film making is done collaboratively and you have to deal with a lot more than just your own doppelgangers. However, modern writing isn’t possible without cinema and vice versa.

A novel can take a month, a year or even a lifetime to complete, but people are always in a hurry to finish their writing which is a wrong way of looking at things. Patience is the key. Writing should be done for the sake of writing. If it is done for the sake of publishing, it is just a job. He went on to say that publishing is important too but we live in an era of social media, where we can get instant exposure.

Some of our community members had questions about the ideal length and content of a story and the importance of structure. Siddhartha vehemently denied the need for the five elements of a novel- structure, plot, theme, character setting and point of view. These could be the death of an author. Our grandparents (one of the most fabulous storytellers) could get our undivided attention without bothering about these elements, then why can’t we? Though he said that there is no specific guideline for the length of a story, it is better to keep it short and crisp as people don’t have time to read long stories.  Apart from that, how you decide to narrate your story is entirely up to you!

Overall, writers shouldn’t be afraid of anything except laziness on this solitary endeavour. As a writer, if you believe and make your readers believe, you have succeeded.

To see the entire discussion, click here.

The Process of Writing Facebook Live with Siddhartha Gigoo was one of our sessions at Blogchatter Writing Festival. We have many more different author-sessions planned ahead under this. You can screenshot the below schedule: