how to write fiction – advice from a genius polymath

august strindberg, a name that might not sound very familiar but has a fascination behind, was a polymath playwright, actor, novelist, poet, essayist, painter, swedish modernist who married and divorced thrice. infamous for his scandalous behaviour, he was charming as a young man, always attracted to ladies.

his literature is prolific and his paintings are full of expressions with vivid colors. his fiction breaks free the shackles of orthodoxy, as he is a revolt on paper and anger is his most precious emotion as he sets out to write. this is what he has to say to the budding writers, a message he had given to his first wife who had an inclination to writing:

“write everything you don’t say as you sit over your knitting. say everything you would like to say when you are angry but must keep quiet… instead of playing some dumb sonatas on the piano, take some pen and paper. (don’t write poetry, for god’s sake. there is no room in those short lines — least of all when you are rich in ideas and everything floods over.) to write for you is simply to remember. think of some small significant event in your life. first isolate it. see that it has a beginning and an end. one has to know where it is leading…! if you get “angry” your style acquires color, for anger is the strongest of all spiritual emotions. you say you lack education! god preserve us from writers who retail what they have read in the books. it is people’s secrets that we want to know… think of an injustice, get angry, bring forth invisible enemies, create adversaries… be “mad” — it isn’t everyone who can be that and not many of those lucky enough to be able to, have the courage… there was something called the sin against the holy ghost! i think they meant by that: resisting one’s calling. that was said to be the only unforgivable sin. remember that!”

so you see, strindberg inspires. he wants you to be “mad” and “angry”, as he himself was. he wants you to have the courage to set out for your calling, because resisting it is a sin to the holy ghost, and that too an unforgivable one. another ‘tip’ that he throws off at us is to isolate any significant incident from life and start writing on it when you clearly see a beginning and an end to it. it is the secrets that the people want to know. so explore the confidential.

strindberg has written some of the most wonderful plays of the modern era. the taste of realistic drama may be relished at his writings. deeply inspired by emile zola’s essay on naturalism, strindberg strove to create fiction as a mirror to the real life. his characters are picked up from his neighborhood, people he had observed for long, and his plots were based upon the local gossips.

strindberg was a creative genius, and his creativity reaches heights of magnificence in his paintings. leading the impressionistic movement in sweden, his paintings till date are considered the most original works of the 19th century. the father of the swedish literature, strindberg is an institution of creativity and artistic excellence. we, the feeble lot of the 21st century, must learn the nuances from this polymath, a prolific playwright, who wrote over 60 plays in his four-decade career. shakespeare could write 39.

click here to find a few books of this genius polymath that you’ll enjoy reading.


why intellectuals must raise questions

an inquisitive mind is one that is not dead. it is a sharp weapon that cuts through the vague cloud of oblivion. curiosity is life. a questioning spirit is one that takes to task the unclear and the ambiguous. to spectate without a skeptical knack is to endure a potato existence. a mind that is not curious is dead meat. for it to be alive, there has to be a constant inquisition that demands answers, that does not stop till truth is unfolded on its path. and that finally walks over the terrains of truth, and that does not stop at moments of doubt, and that rather strengthens in the dark wells of doubts, and that finally erupts out a victor. such inquisition and such an inquisitive mind alone is pure, such an inquisitive mind alone is chaste, such an inquisitive mind alone is fertile, such an inquisitive mind alone is profound, such an inquisitive mind alone is supreme.

Edward Said was a renowned professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. an arab-american who spoke out against american foreign policy and its support for israel, said was a tireless advocate of palestinian rights.

in 1993, he presented his bbc radio 4 reith lectures on “representations of the intellectual.” said was appealing here to intellectuals – and budding intellectuals – to reflect upon their craft and political engagement. expertise, he said, goes beyond competence, of being conscientious about what you do, and having the right skills to do it. rather, said stressed the importance of making choices. he asked what was for sale, whether the goals you set yourself with your expertise were conformist or critical, and, perhaps most importantly, in whose interests were you acting?

“the particular threat to the intellectual today,” said reckoned, “is an attitude i call professionalism.” professionalism “means thinking of your work as an intellectual as something you do for a living, with one eye on the clock, and another cocked at what is considered to be proper, professional behaviour – not rocking the boat, not straying outside the accepted paradigms or limits, making yourself marketable and above all presentable.”

all of which can, and indeed should, be countered by courageous intellectual amateurism. anybody can do it – even professionals. above all, it means a readiness to withstand comfortable and lucrative conformity, a desire “to be moved not by profit or reward but by love for and unquenchable interest in the larger picture, in making connections across lines and barriers, in refusing to be tied down to a specialty, in caring for ideas and values in spite of the restrictions of a profession.”

an intellectual ought to be someone who raises questions at the very heart of professionalised activity. it’s a sense of self-worth, said reckons, an affirmation of engaged activity that hinges on an audience. indeed, is that audience there to be satisfied, a client to be kept happy? or is it there to be challenged, provoked, mobilised into collective, democratic action?







why i stopped watching bollywood

growing up in delhi in the 90s, i used to be a huge bollywood fan, especially the yash raj films and king khan (yeah, don’t you lie, you too were).

as time went on and as i was exposed to better flicks through our age’s biggest invention — internet, i developed a varied cinematic taste, full of naturalism and realistic drama, especially by the likes of martin scorsese and quentin tarantino. there was no looking back. shahrukh and salman eventually became two of the several bollywood butts of my jokes.

in india, cinema is not a director’s territory; the producer dictates the rules here. there are a few exceptions though — mani ratnam in the 90s and anurag kashyap & dibakar banerjee in the 2000s have managed to create exceptional films, and with actors like nawazuddin siddiqui dominating the mainstream, there is some flicker of hope, but then rampant commercialization and mass audiences willing to spend on masala weekends have made it difficult for creativity to sustain for long.

it seems we have to wait for an indian version of a christopher nolan or a steven spielberg to take on the hindi film industry with creativity, innovation and excellence. here’s something samved iyer states about bollywood on quora:

“I hate Bollywood because most of the films it churns out are 3rd class and total crap. The same love story again and again with different locations and actors. And their acting is also totally stupid. AND SONGS ARE TOTALLY TERRIBLE!!!! Without a shred of meaning in them.

I miss the acting we used to see in the old films. Those beautiful songs still are remembered by many people. And the acting was superb. The dialogue delivery was so powerful that people used to get goosebumps on hearing them. The intensity on the face while delivering the dialogues, the unbeatable background music and the melodious songs are all a thing of the past.

And now you have the same crap story with different actors. What the hell? Does Karan Johar really think he did something great with that insane ADHM? I just knew it that it was going to be boring. I didn’t see it and I will never see it. Only Bollywood “worshippers” would go to any extent to praise that kind of crap.

Not just ADHM.

Ek dhoondho, hazaar milte hain. (Search for one, you’ll get thousands (of this kind of crap!!)

Sadly, most of the audience is still moronic enough to let 3rd class films make it to the 100+ crore club. That is why the lazy directors repeat the same shit again and again. Fault of both; audience and directors. Because the directors just loot people by same films and audience gladly allows itself to be looted in spite of knowing that it shall be the same crap

Fortunately, few intelligent people avoid this trap and so, they do hate Bollywood because of this.

A picture was circulated on G+ where an Indian Army soldier travelling in a train was conveniently ignored by people. No one offered him a seat and he had to sleep on the floor.

But I can guarantee that the same people will flock to a Bollywood celebrity in thousands just to get his or her damn autograph. Worshippers will even seek their blessings!!!!

I hate Bollywood for glorifying itself too much and regularly fooling the audience. But people also aren’t any less.

Frankly, the only actor I admire is Nana Patekar. Simple, down-to-earth man, downright patriot, doesn’t give himself excess importance, lives away from all that “Bollywood glamour”, regularly engages in charity by donating money to families of farmers. He was also seen with the BSF (Border Security Force) soldiers to encourage them.”


when creativity dies, start copying

there comes a point in every artist’s life when constipation takes charge, a creative constipation. words cease to flow. music denies composition. things fall apart.

how to cope up with such a dreadful situation? well, it’s quite easy. it’s called the art of copying. your creativity does not completely vanish from the scene here. it simply starts working on a sub-level. you now have to be creative in stealing.

for example, watch this video where the storytellers describe how you can make a tarantino film by creatively stealing from the vast world of already existing cinema:

didn’t i tell ya? it’s so freaking easy. go move thy ass now, and get hyperactive at stealing stuff in an artistic way.

here are a few excerpts on creativity from

“Stop worrying so much about where your inspiration is coming from and just create.”

“People think that authors are writing exactly what they know, but I think a lot of times, authors are writing what they’re trying to figure out.” -Austin Kleon

The biggest hurdle to creativity is when people think they have to be original. If you accept that nothing is completely original and all creative work builds on what came before, it frees you up to start embracing influence instead of running away from it.

The reality is, after thousands upon thousands of years of human history, the likelihood of truly creating something entirely new out of the space between thin air and genius is slim. We’re influenced by what’s come before, and we independently arrive at conclusions that have almost certainly crossed the minds of at least a few among the billions of others who have walked the planet.

The biggest problem faced by people who aspire to create is when our culture’s emphasis on originality paralyzes them before they can even begin. These people may even take drastic measures to avoid being influenced by existing work in an effort to create something purely from themselves. But few — if any — masterpieces arrive from the ether.

“You’ve got someone like [Quentin] Tarantino, who’s one of our greatest filmmakers, and pretty much all of his movies are just…each scene is like an homage to another movie, but then it makes this whole that’s just Tarantino, right?”

Most of your favorite artists are shameless thieves, and will freely admit it. In other words, they don’t get bogged down by the fear of not creating something entirely from themselves — they observe what’s come before, learn from these influences, and adapt the work to suit their needs.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to design a car. But where do you draw the line when it comes to being influenced by something that someone else has done and avoid ripping it off to the point of plagiarism?

“When it comes to making your own work, I really think it’s all about the transformation,” says Austin. “It’s all about…are you taking other people’s ideas and are you doing something new with them? Are you rearranging them in some way that adds value to them — that adds value in the wider culture?”

“So if you’re scraping someone’s article and reposting it on your blog without credit, that’s crappy stealing. But if you’re taking their article that they wrote and you’re adding your own two cents and then you’re adding a half dozen other voices that you’ve cobbled together into a new piece, then that is something new.”