Bangladeshi born novelist Arif Anwar entered the international literary scene with his first novel "The Storm" in 2018. The acclaimed novel has made him one of the most prominent English language writers of Bangladeshi origin.
In an interview with The Business Standard, the writer and academic talked about his views on writing as a profession.
TBS: For many Bangladeshis, English is a second language. Do you think there are limitations to writing and becoming successful in English literature for a Bangladeshi writer?
Arif Anwar: To be frank, it is not easy to make it as a writer, irrespective of whether you are writing in your second language or first.
I was born in Chattogram and lived in Dhaka for the first twenty years of my life. I grew up with a heavy dose of literature. I consider myself lucky, my parents allowed me to read any book I could get my hands on.
From Sunil Gangopaddhay to Stephen King, my formative years were shaped by both Bangla and English books. It is tough to publish a book in English language for Bangladeshis, but is that not true for those who write in Bangla as well? Writing in general is a very tough field to succeed in.
TBS: How do you conceive plots for a fictional piece? Do you have a ritual you can share with aspiring writers?
Arif Anwar: I don't know where I get ideas for a plot. Possibly no writer knows where they get their ideas from.
I do not think there is a specific rulebook for a writing ritual. Everyone has their own way of writing.
In my case, I do not have a set hour. I try to stick to a specific word count a day, say 500 words, and until I reach my daily goal, I do not call it a day.
Nobody really has to stick to a rulebook set by other writers. Every writer needs to find his own way of putting words on paper.
TBS: Could you suggest a list of books for new writers- which can help them better understand the writing process?
Arif Anwar: Well, I can suggest a few books that cover different aspects of writing. For better grasp at vocabulary, it is "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King.
For psychology, it is "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott and "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.
"Letters to the Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke is also a book I recommend that can help one understand the spiritual side of the craft.
TBS: How do you think Bangladeshi writers can approach international publishers? What avenues can get them published?
Arif Anwar: Well, my answer is simple. Want to get published internationally? Write a good book. Anyone can be easily reached using the internet. An average literary agent gets as much as 3,000 draft novels each year from different parts of the world. From which, they might pick three or four books to represent. Quality always gets recognised.
If your book can appeal to a large audience, you will get published widely.
Nowadays, translating books into English is also a good way to be recognised in the international literary scene.
TBS: How can new writers cope with the economic insecurities around this profession?
Arif Anwar: To be honest, writing is never about earning money. You should not go into writing as a way to make a living, because it is unlikely you will earn enough to do so. Rather go into it for the love of the work, the craft, and expect that you may have to do other work on the side to support yourself.
Those who have passion for writing, will continue writing anyway.
I understand there are economic insecurities around this profession. While many dream to work full time as a writer, only a few succeed in doing so.
In fact, there are only a handful of writers who have earned a fortune only by writing.
TBS: Speaking of inspiration, which writer inspired you to start writing?
Arif Anwar: It is not right to pick a single writer. I have been inspired by many. I am awestruck by J R R Tolkien for his incredible capacity to create a world of his own.
I love Jhumpa Lahiri for her mastery in weaving stories. Stephen King and Margaret Atwood are also among my favourites.
TBS: Your debut novel 'The Storm' was published in 2018. When can the readers expect your next book?
Arif Anwar: As quickly as possible. I hope in 2023.