Reading with a pencil

Skill Development

Ponderings by Punya with plenty of input from Madhuri; “Let the original inspiration that led you to write your book carry you through the inevitable labour pains of producing it.”

reading book with pencil

The happy and the sad state of self-publishing

The good news is: We are doing it! We are telling our stories!

And aren’t we lucky that at this point in time we no longer have to succumb to the snotty remarks of a publisher! “Unless you are famous, no publisher will be interested in your memoir,” is what Subhuti told me years and years ago. He was right. But I still kept on writing, because I had to. Then… do-it-yourself self-publishing was invented (as opposed to the so-called ‘vanity press’, private companies which have printed a stack of books for would-be writers, for a fee, ever since books began). It’s only seven or eight years since CreateSpace (now KDP) allowed print-on-demand books to exceed something like 250 pages (which mine was). Lights turned green!

And who would have thought that our little selves could share our wonderful stories about our lives with our Master – if not with a wide world as far-reaching as via a conventional publisher, at least reaching friends of friends and the younger generation of sannyasins?

I used the expression ‘little selves’ in the sense of… if you look carefully, most sannyasin authors are not professional writers (except for a few you can count on one hand). Most of us are musicians, painters, therapists, dentists, acupuncturists, lawyers, secretaries, salesmen, businessmen, or teachers…

AND – very often – English is not even our first language. How all the more commendable is it that so many have made the effort to capture and express the unexpressible through words for the world to absorb? A testimony of what Osho was/IS. The effort is enormous. Hours of struggle with sentences, memories, reliving some events you might have wanted to forget for good. But still here we are with our many stories!

The sad state is…

I knew I was not alone (in reading books with a pencil) when I asked Madhuri if she could review a newly published book by a sannyasin. Her immediate question was: “Is it self-published? Are there many boo-boos?” And after a short pause, “Because it’s not very enjoyable. I get distracted by the typos, awkward expressions, wrong punctuation. I can’t relax and take in what is being told. What makes it worse is that I end up marking the corrections and spending time on a job I have not even been asked (nor invited!) to do.

“Because if editing and proofreading have been done well, the reader will not even notice that they have been done. If not, the reader will be tripped up and annoyed, again and again.

“You know the Thank Yous at the beginning or end of any professionally-published book? In length they are anywhere from a few paragraphs to two or even more pages. All kinds of people are thanked, because it takes a village – or at least a team – to make a book. Editors (always multiple), proofreaders, readers, family members who were helpful, people who provided a place for the writer to stay while writing (writing being solitary, production anything but). Agents, marketers, layout designers, cover designers, friends, librarians, researchers – the list goes on. A writer friend told me that professional writers tend to have a team of 12-15 people.

“But luckily, you can find people to help you! You can even hire a ghostwriter if you like and can find the money! Someone to hang in with you through the process, interviewing you so that you need not even worry about the grammar! Though I’d still advise a lot of eyes seeing it before you go to print…”

The above comment is not here to discourage you from putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard! It’s just a hint that later on you will have to face some post-production woes. But here first a few secrets generously shared by Madhuri:

How to start

“The writing itself does not have to be tidy and organized. Just capture the memory that arises in the moment; go with what inspires you right now, and jot down each and everything that pops up. When I am focusing on a book, I tend to devote between one and two hours a day to writing about each of these random notes I’ve scribbled down in a notebook at various times. More memories will pop up as I’m writing. The important thing is to devote a certain amount of time per day (it does not have to be long) and allow the time-frame you are covering to be completely random. For example, I would write down a memory from Poona 1, another from Poona 2, something from the Ranch, and so on – not worrying at all right then about the organizing of all these memories. The human memory works in this random way, and we are just riding it on the path of least resistance. This will give you a sense of freedom and ease. Enjoy it! This is incredibly important – it allows the process to be joyful and fun. And this is good!

“And don’t hold back! If something seems too weird or too personal or too mean or too anything, that is often a signal that you have ventured into very alive territory. Let it expand! Write it down! You can always take things out later if you like.

“Once you have written down (or typed into your computer) everything you can remember, it’s time for the next steps – and for this you go into a different part of your brain. You take off your writing hat and put on your organizing one. And remember that once you have typed up all these memories and put them into the chronology you want, you don’t really have to worry a lot about the rest, because you are going to get help for it! Yes, you (and the helpers) will later fret plenty about this or that detail, but the helpers will be holding your hand. And having friends you can share with during this phase is good too (though the initial writing is best shielded from view –Talking about it at that stage tends to let the air out of the tyres).

“Another great secret is: one day at a time. Just today, only today. Just do the piece you are doing today: writing for 90 minutes, or typing up your notes, or building your doc on your laptop according to the chronology, or getting it all printed to give to a friend to read and comment on… Each day has its own job, and you don’t need to carry the rest of the jobs too. If you try to carry the whole book every day you will feel suffocated and defeated! Just today, only today… Just focus on what the task of the day is. And don’t try to do too much. This is a very helpful mantra for this sort of project (and for life!)”

The post-production to-do list

I hope this will not come across as too daunting, but just for the article’s sake let’s put down the most important points.

From my experience of writing my own book and then helping others with theirs, this is what I would recommend: once you have a first draft of your manuscript, you need an editor with a sabre-toothed tiger’s attitude to uncompromisingly rip out all those bits that are surplus or do not fit. She can even make you re-write a chapter or two. As we are talking about books written by sannyasins, it’s recommended to ask someone who is unfamiliar with our locations and practices to see if they can follow the story without too many questions. Another couple of eyes are needed to notice awkward expressions (or definite language and grammar errors – in particular if the author is a non-English-native speaker – and offer solutions. (Madhuri adds here: “Even college-educated native English speakers are not at all immune to making multiple boo-boos! It’s just the way it is!”)

Other aspects also need to be checked, like historical accuracy, maybe through photos (e.g. before 1981 Buddha Hall was not marbled and had a mandap, then a temporary roof; the large tent with the mosquito netting came in only after 1987), geographical accuracy, spelling of people’s names and locations, expressions in Hindi, the list goes on…

A final walk-through is essential, by someone who can read the manuscript in a flow, no longer busy with the nitty-gritty of individual paragraphs, to detect repetions or inconsistencies. And one, more of a tight-arsed character, will do your spellcheck and see the subtleties of curled quotation marks, hyphenations, ellipses, rogue double-spacings…

“And it’s a great idea – one of the best editing tools, in fact – to read your book aloud. If you can find a listener, great! If not, read it to yourself, or the cat. You’ll notice all kinds of things – errors, repetitions – and if your own tongue gets tangled, that’s a place where a reader will stumble over the words as well. If a sentence is too long, you (and the reader) will gasp for air. (You can mark these problem places as you go, and fix them on the doc later.) But very importantly, you’ll be able to feel the flow, or not, of each sentence, paragraph and page. There needs to be a flow like a mountain stream… ” adds Madhuri.

For aren’t we basically storytellers? Sitting around a campfire?

“Once you have a proper manuscript, it’s good to look at it like a headful of long hair that needs combing, to get the tangles out. And combing… and combing… Fifteen combings is not too many! By this time you’re probably sick to death of the thing, but less care than this won’t do. And, like other sorts of labour pains, it will all be well worth it when you see the final product.”

Once the text is in place you need a good book designer. Madhuri grumbles, “Unfortunately too often in self-published books the interior design is either lacking or amateurish, so that there are abandoned half sentences (wonderfully called ‘widows’ and ‘orphans’), huge gaps in the text or weird spacings, or just plain boring flat no-design, so that a page looks like it came out of a home printer.”

All this work? Are you kidding me? you will ask.

“Yes, that’s what it takes. It is nobody’s fault. It’s just the nature of the beast,” writes Madhuri.

Another consideration which Madhuri and I brought up in our conversation is: “Osho’s books were impeccably produced. He cared a lot about the look of them, and the accuracy of the English. Editors, proofreaders, designers, printers, and tech people laboured over them with love and devotion, and were transformed as they worked. (And he spoke in beautiful sentences, so that editing was not so very difficult!) In their hundreds, those books are beautiful, and faultlessly smooth to read.”

So why should we not try to do justice to that perfection by creating first-rate works of our own?

To complete the list of a self-published writer’s tasks I need to add a short paragraph on marketing, sales and distribution. A traditional publisher would organize and pay for all that, often even including a book tour. But in your case you will need to do the marketing by yourself, or find someone whose talent that is, to do it for you. Most probably your book will not be sold via bookshops as their margin would not be interesting enough; you are therefore reliant on selling the book online. You can also approach a few meditation centres that carry a book store. Find a couple of people to review it and have these reviews published in magazines, make a short introductory video and put it on social media, give video interviews, organize a book launch, book signing parties, place adverts, make a specific Facebook page, and very importantly, create a page on your website dedicated to that book with all the links to where it can be purchased. And if you have contacts at any festivals, of various sorts, you can ask for a slot to introduce your book, talk about Osho, and make some sales.

Thank you!

“Let the original inspiration that led you to write the book carry you through the inevitable labour pains of producing it. And yes, please, all of you, DO write your book! What a wonderful contribution! And in any case if you have to write it you have to write it! It just is like that!” exhorts Madhuri.

“And – living in the moment aside – we will not be in this life forever. It is so good that our books can live on for further generations of seekers. That is something that we can contribute, of lasting value.”

And from me: Thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has taken the time to sit down and try to express the inexpressible. Each story is so different and worth reading!

Link to a list of books written by sannyasins:


Madhuri is a healer, artist, poet and author of several books, The Teenage Poems being her latest one.


Punya is the founder of Osho News, author of many interviews and of her memoir On the Edge.

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