Can An Old Indian Engineer Write Fiction?

Jan 16 00:37 2005 Michael LaRocca Print This Article

CAN AN OLD INDIAN ENGINEER WRITE ... 2004, Michael ... author emailed me three ... to her decision tobecome a writer. Let me answer them one by one."1. I'm seventy now

Copyright 2004,Guest Posting Michael LaRocca

An author emailed me three "disadvantages" to her decision to
become a writer. Let me answer them one by one.

"1. I'm seventy now and retired."

You are seventy years old. Do NOT list this as a drawback. I'm
almost 30 years younger than you but I'm gonna harp on you like
your grandmother. NEVER call your age a drawback. I started
writing when I was 17. I was terrible. Do you know why? I think
you do. I don't even have to quote the old cliche. "First you
live it, then you write it." Everybody says that. There's a
reason they say it.

By that, I don't mean to literally write about your life. I don't
even do that when I'm writing autobiography. I mean that you
can't write about real people in real life until you've seen them
and it for yourself. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but it
takes more than that to write convincingly. You know that. Why
are you even asking a kid like me?

"2. Being an engineer, I lack a literary background."

There are several ways to tackle this one, depending on what it
means. If "literary background" means reading, that's a problem.
I assumed it didn't mean that. If it means some sort of schooling
in the art of writing, I wrote a lengthy article about that
recently. (School sux.)

If it refers to some deep-seated fear that you lack the magical
mystical gift that makes us writers, that's BS. You know I swear
by the power of rewriting, and I think the logical mind of an
engineer may be better suited for it.

We're not beatnik poets who don't know what their own words mean
but just say, "Feel the heaviness, man." Writing isn't a sprint.
It's a marathon. You have to write and rewrite and polish your
gem more times than any non-writer will ever realize.

The words DO matter. You have to say what you mean, as opposed to
making the reader guess, and I can think of many good things to
say about approaching the task with a left-brained sensibility.
Bring all the right-brain you can, of course. Just don't forget
that's only part of the process.

"3. English is my second language, and I live in India, so
naturally the feel and nuances of the language are absent."

Before I answer this one, I have to push aside some personal
prejudices. Namely, my love of what Indians do with English. Read
their authors. Eat at their restaurants. Drink deep. Then go home
and decompress for a few days. They'll pop your fuses.

Writing in a second language. I accept that as a valid drawback.
I've been saying for many years that I admire anyone who writes
in a second language. I've spent over 30 years trying to write in
my first language, and I may never "master" this. Can anyone
except Shakespeare claim to master it? Without lying, I mean. But
how much of this is "language" and how much is "writing?" I don't
know, and we can't ask Shakespeare.

(Well, we can, but I don't believe he'll answer. If you do, that's
definitely beyond the scope of this article.)

As an editor, I've worked with a wide variety of second-language
authors. Turkish, German, Dutch, ethnic Chinese from all over the
globe. They do things with English that I would never think to
do. Often, they make me wonder I didn't think to do them.

Let me turn this around. Who decided only Americans, Aussies and
Brits could decide how English is written? Why is every list of
"100 greatest authors" populated with only dead white guys? I
mean, I know some live white guys who write pretty well. One day
Canada or New Zealand might even produce an English speaker.

Okay, I'll be serious. Briefly. I realize that many of my
sentiments absolutely will not get you published in the Western
mainstream. But you need to ask yourself how important that is to

I've spent much of 2004 writing "Madness And Bombast" columns for
my newsletter that are 100% unpublishable by any mainstream
standards. I've enjoyed writing every word. It beats swimming
with the salmon. Over 1500 subscribers have read those words. Why
did you they that? Is it because they know the mainstream isn't
the only stream?

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About Article Author

Michael LaRocca
Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca's website at was
chosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites For
Writers in 2001 and 2002. He published four novels in 2002 and
has two more scheduled for publication in 2004. He also works as
an editor for an e-publisher. He teaches English at a university
in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China, and publishes the free
weekly newsletter Mad About Books.

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