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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.




Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Recent entries

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National Highway 420 (and the EV of Aggressive Batting)

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05 October, 2007

VS Naipaul’s Advice To Writers

My post a few minutes ago about the misuse of the word populist reminded me of a list of suggestions VS Naipaul drew up many years ago for beginning writers at Tehelka. I first read that list in my friend Amitava Kumar‘s introduction to a fine collection of essays edited by him, The Humour and the Pity: Essays on V.S. Naipaul. Here it is, reproduced in full:

VS Naipaul’s Rules for Beginners

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

I think this is fantastic advice, even if I myself don’t follow all of it. (I write long sentences sometimes, but I tell myself that I’m no longer a beginner, so it’s allowed!) No. 2, especially, should be internalized by all of us, so that there is an end to long, meandering blog posts that go on and on and on…

Posted by Amit Varma in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts

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