My friends, I find it difficult to answer your question: how does a story take shape?

A very famous American literary figure was asked by his admirers: “How is it that you have been able to write so many novels?” The writer, whose works had an excellent market and who earned more than a dollar for every word he wrote, replied, “I go and sit before my typewriter and curse myself soundly.”

I have heard of people who carry out the creation of a literary work as if it is an office job, working for a specific number of hours every day. I am envious of them. For the moment, let us ignore the statement, “more than a dollar for every word”. We need to do this to maintain the mental well-being of our writers. Still, if we are to be honest, there is on the one hand a greed for money and on the other, the pressure exerted by newspaper persons – it starts with their appeals and ends with threats.

Every day, I go home promising myself firmly that I will not rest until I write a story. Unclear and sometimes very clear themes could be drifting through my mind at this time. I sit down, a sheet of beautiful white paper in front of me and the Parker pen that was once a character in a story of mine, in my hand. I look as if I am just about to write a story. I curse myself not once but a hundred times. I write “A Short Story” on one corner of the sheet, scrawl my name below three or four times both in English and Malayalam, think some more, curse myself again. All the pressures, all the greed, become futile – nothing comes to mind.

Not that there is no story within me. Sometimes, I write reams. But as I spin out sentences, the thought strikes me that I am deceiving myself. In the end, filled with resentment directed at no one in particular, I get up and creep under the mosquito net, where sleep enters without being cursed. And so ends my endeavour to write. At other times, I have rejoiced in writing effortlessly, and without having begun with an aim to do so. When is one really able to write a story? And how does one manage to write it?

It is impossible to explain. Sometimes, it is when you curl up in your chair, letting idleness take over your senses, that the idea for a story darts unexpectedly into your mind. You may lie in bed, thinking about all kinds of things and remember innumerable incidents you have seen or heard. Moments when you wept soundlessly or smiled painfully rise in your heart and glide towards you. Sometimes, the people around you are transformed, and the characters you create have taken their place. And your mind moves into a state of turbulence.

Once this happens, a story that had never occurred to you before takes shape in your mind. I think most of my stories came about in this way. Their characters, utterances, their surroundings, movements, the expressions – all take shape before you gradually. At this point in time, you begin to think about form, about concentration. By the time you have built up your ideas, bound them together, unbound them, made comparisons and taken decisions, the story will be clear, its form complete – the beginning, the end, even the title. Once you reach this point, you can assure yourself that a story has been born. And you can then transfer it to paper whenever you please.

There is the possibility that you may depict absolutely unplanned events in a story you had already written out fully in your mind. And you will be convinced later that the deviations that suddenly appeared in it are appropriate. I think that in a story in which almost every detail has been carefully thought out before, sections that find their way into it, thanks to these sudden impulses, have a particular charm of their own. The germ of a story, an idea that occurs to you quite by chance like a vague gleam of light: the intellectual and imaginative activities that nurture its growth do not obey the rules of convenience or necessity.

There are no general rules to follow when writing a story. Perhaps a general law can be formulated: that it is essential you enter the womb of a story. While I am busy with other things, I take comfort in telling myself that I will write a great deal when the vacation starts. But what inevitably happens is that I painfully watch the vacation I had intended to spend in splendid literary activity pass by in futile daydreaming. In short, none of my best-laid plans for writing were ever executed.