How Writers Write · Musings

Writing Lessons From November

Mind and Heart

Even though my NaNoWriMo failed almost before it had begun, I learned a good deal of things, both practical and heart-related, when writing in November.

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Get Those Pages Down! …and Read.

I learned to keep going, even if you fall short of your goal. Make another, smaller goal, and write for that. I kept on working on my book, even though I didn’t edit or draft 50,000 words. I just kept telling myself, ‘just one page today, just one page today’. That way when I ended up with 3 pages, it felt good. I ended up with 3 pages more often than not.

I learned that you need to take breaks, to think, to not think, to absorb yourself in another writer’s style and story. I read an excellent trilogy during November, by Marie Rutkotski: The Winner’s Curse, The Winner’s Crime, and The Winner’s Curse. There are so many reasons this trilogy was amazing. Rutkotski piles questions upon questions; I stayed up late reading, even on nights I needed to get up early the next day. She twined politics with romance and adventure. She built up her world in layers, not revealing very much, but making it increasingly more interesting, making the world itself a question: how does this world’s rules dictate what her characters do? How do this character’s gods dictate his actions, and how does this one’s lack of gods dictate hers? I really, really recommend Rutkotski’s trilogy. I just finished it today! It’s the best YA I’ve read in a while.

Read the authors you love. Read them every year; even, read the same book again. I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon after having not touched it for a couple years. New nuances of Bradley’s writing and characters snuck into my consciousness. I still love this masterpiece of Arthurian fiction.

 

beautiful journalist looks typewriter

Just Keep Writing, Just Keep Writing…

I also learned that sometimes you just have to write, even when you don’t want to. Otherwise, it becomes SO hard to get back into it. This is the disease I’ve been suffering from. Sometimes, I really didn’t want to write but I made myself do it. One paragraph at a time. Just one paragraph is a victory at times like this, but that’s okay.

Write a scene over and over and OVER if you must! I wrote the start of my chapter 3 so many times. Now it finally feels good. I’m finally halfway through it, and I know the rest of the chapter – I’m already gleeful for chapter 4.

Please Share!

What were some things you learned from your NaNo experience? Are you entering into any December contests? Do you feel taxed when trying to write and plan for the holidays? I would love to hear updates from you.

Until next time,

Chaitanya

 

 

Artist's Way Book Journey · How Writers Write · Musings

The Artist’s Way, Week 1, Ch. 0: The 10 Principles Creative People Should Live By

After so long, I am so excited – scared! nervous! ack! – to finally be starting my Artist’s Way journey. Again. With you! It is both nerve-wracking and wonderful. When I started this book last spring/summer with a group of friends, it was a group adventure. We were all in it together, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was just glad to be doing a group activity, and curious about the book’s tagline: “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”, and it’s second tagline, or hook, as you could call it, which runs across the cover: “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self”.

My First Attempt

During my first attempt at said course, I met with my friends once a week. During our week, we brought ourselves on “artist’s dates”, meant to rejuvenate our non-judgmental inner artist and child, and journalled – or attempted to, or procrastinated! – daily, writing our 3 “morning pages”.

I really liked the experience. I am usually one of the more creative people in my group of friends, especially with words, so it felt very comforting to be in a group where people were trying to be more creative. Usually groups I’m in are related to work, or in the past, school. Creativity was never in very high demand. So here I saw, all of a sudden, in a group where being a creative weirdling was an advantage. Yay! My heart sang.

 

My Experience with Morning Pages

The group activities we did were always full of laughter. For me, one of the most freeing things I did alone was the morning pages experience. Sometimes I was busy or reluctant and did not do them, I’ll admit. But! When I did, wow! The feeling surprised me. I felt so relieved. I unburdened my worries and anxieties onto three little pages, and then was able to go about my day. It was amazing how writing down the negative thoughts helped me to not think of them during the day or evening. I was even safe from the demons before bed! It was such a relief.

On the days I didn’t do the morning pages, I really felt the difference. I found myself more cranky, more worried, and likely to experience heart palpitations or anxiety attacks (which I do suffer from, sometimes). I knew it was because I had forgotten my morning pages. This made me more determined.

Increased Self-Esteem!

Besides this, I also found that Julia Cameron’s book did help me gain some self-esteem. I felt more determined to finish my current work-in-progress fantasy book. I wrote more eagerly, more often, and the quality of my work improved. It was so exhilarating. After months of struggle, scenes flowed into my mind. After months of working creatively and feeling alone in my endeavors, I had a group of friends who were also trying to re-ignite their creative sparks. After so long of back-and-forths, I could finally sit down at a determined convenient time each day and write. And I didn’t throw out everything I wrote, either. I kept it. It was good stuff! It has now led me into a third draft of the first 7 chapters of my book.

Starting Over

Unfortunately, I stopped the momentum when I moved from California to Florida, which was a big move. And I didn’t resume my journey, and made excuses, one of them being that my group did not continue without me – they, too, got swamped by life.

But now I am starting it again, and it’s because of you guys! I noticed extra interest in all the posts where I mentioned Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and seeing your heart respond, I remembered how mine had responded, too. So now I start my journey over, and instead of my physical group with me, I have all of you to witness my progress (or lack thereof – we’ll see!).

Today is Day 0, because so far I have read the book’s Introduction and Foreward. In it, Cameron gives a magical list of absolute gem advice, which she calls the Basic Principles. They are as follows, and I will let you think on them and judge them, take them up, or leave them by the wayside – whatever you wish:

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s Basic Principles Creative People Should Live By

  1. “Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.

  2. “There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life – including ourselves.

  3. “When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creatior’s creativity within us and our lives.

  4. “We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.

  5. “Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.

  6. “The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.

  7. “When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction.

  8. “As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.

  9. “It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.

  10. “Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move towards our dreams, we move toward our divinity.”

 

Now wait, WAIT! Before the word “God” or the idea of our creativity being given to us has you deciding to leave – please just wait. Know that I, too, take Cameron’s word with skepticism. Hear me out.

Thoughts on Writing + Spirituality

When I read these the first time – and even now, to be honest – I wasn’t sure how to feel about them. Part of me said, “Wait a second. God wants me to use my creativity. But what if I don’t want to write about God? What if I write about murderers, or something dark, why would God want me to write about that?” Similar thoughts in that train circled through my head, and I determined that Cameron was taking the Higher Power (or God, or whatever you may want to call Him or Her, or maybe you don’t believe in any thing at all) too seriously and linked Him too much with what was, really, a selfish sort of thing we do for ourselves.

So then came a dilemma for me, in a way. Because I am a person of faith, who believes in serving God, but I am also creative. How to balance that out? Well, it’s another, long sortof story, but let’s just say…I’ve accepted my identity as a writer, who isn’t likely to stop writing, who is also trying to become a good servant of God. And that’s okay. It’s where I’m at.

And I also believe that we can use our creativity to write about spiritual experiences. I’m not sure if I do believe, as Cameron implies, that the act of writing is inherently spiritual. But! Though this may deter you from wanting to read my Artist’s Way journey further, don’t fear – I DO read on, I DO find tremendous creative benefit from reading her book, and who is to know what happens when I get past chapter 6? That was the furthest I got with my group before. Suffice to say, I have seen and experienced the benefits of Cameron’s work, regardless of her personal philosophy, or in spite of, or because of – it doesn’t matter. What matters is, it works.

What’s Coming Next…

Want to see if I’m right? Well then, keep an eye peeled! (What does that even mean? Who would want to PEEL their own eye? Maybe a study of weird phrases is worth a separate post some day, hmmm….haha!) I will be posting an Artist’s Way post every week now, steadily. My day is Thursday. And I may squeeze in another post or two on other topics, as they come to me, or I land a couple special guest post ideas I’ve been meditating on.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Cameron’s Basic Principles!

See you next week,

Chaitanya

10-Day Blog Makeover · Announcements · Musings

My Blog Mission – Makeover Day 1

mission-statement

The first assignment I got today as part of the 10 Day Blog Makeover, by Daniela Uslan, was this:

Write your blog mission statement.

Uslan goes on to say that the mission of your blog is the fuel for your blog. It’s what everything in your blog should center around – even your headings!

Fortunately, she doesn’t just leave it at that, and gives a simple formula around which to form a mission statement around.

I am happy to say I figured out my mission statement pretty quickly. I think this shows that this blog DOES have focus. Writing is a very broad category to write under, but I do have a certain mood pervading all of my posts. I had to think about what it was exactly, for a while, and then how to word it succinctly, but…I came up with something. It is a rough, and I may change it later…but honestly? I don’t think I will. I think this is it. I think I got the GOLD!

writing-company-mission-statement

This Blog’s Mission Statement:

I, C.S. Kinnaird, blog about writing in order to help writers find a balance between writing with their hearts and writing with their minds. I do this because I want to know how creativity works psychologically and how we can put our heart’s struggles and triumphs into every piece we write.

What do you think? Does it make sense? I hope it made it clear and not too abstract. I want writers to read that statement and feel excited about what this blog has to offer. Do you?

In case it isn’t clear, I guess I’ll explain myself a little bit.

There are a lot of websites out there that tell us how to write. They give us “the five best techniques for writing your villain”, or, “10 steps to finishing a first draft”. I see them all over Pinterest, and I see a lot of technical articles on big writing websites. All of these articles are helpful, and some of them are super fantastic.

But once you’ve read all those and digested them and learned how to implement them in your daily writing work…it’s still just you, and only you, who can write those pages. It’s you who has to search inside and figure out what you want to write, and why, and how. Some people are just beginning writing, and that can be a very floundering time. Other writers are published authors and have done tons of books, and yet even they have struggles. Sometimes they get stuck, too. A lot, actually.

And sometimes the “stuck” moment isn’t due to your missing out on some technical point on a list. It’s because you’re, say, not sure what your story is about anymore, or you lost track of a character’s motivation. You have to go back to the ideas and feelings that first made you start writing that story. You have to go back to you, to just sitting inside of yourself and thinking of things that hold meaning for you. And then you go back out, bit by bit, to transport that meaning and feeling inside of you onto your pages.

thinkingwriter

And when you’re done, if you’ve done that work of looking inside and putting what’s inside on paper, then you have a good book. This is what I believe, based on my experiences as a writer and a reader. You have to write with your heart, not just your mind.

It can be hard to find that balance between heart and mind, in writing. That is why this blog is here!

As for the second part of my mission statement, I’ve referred to the part about heart triumphs and struggles – going inside and grabbing what means something to us and putting it on paper – but what about the psychology of creativity? What do I mean by that?

This was the part where I got stumped, mid-way in making my mission statement. What did I mean by “how creativity works psychologically”? At first I wasn’t even sure.

After some thinking, my conclusion was: Look at Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. She makes her workbook function as a study in how we writers think, where we fail, where we need encouragement, etc. This seeing ourselves helps us to then go out and create. Cameron does this in her books and it really, really helps us a writers to step away a bit and look at ourselves (really, it’s more like stepping in). Cameron calls us out on all of out bullshit and leads us to a solution to our creativity issues – not just by following her formulas, but by being free. Ultimately the work is up to us.

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In a nutshell, by saying the psychology of creativity, I mean how our minds work as creative people and in practicing our craft, and what we can do to manipulate our emotions of doubt, fear, etc. to help us in our work. There is room in “writing by mind” for the technical articles, too; I read them and enjoy them, and include that advice in this blog, too. But by psychology of creativity, I refer to the need to study our trains of thought and catch what’s useful and what isn’t.

Thank you all for reading! Tomorrow, you may see more posts or changes on this blog for the second day of the blog makeover challenge!

Until then,

Chaitanya

 

My Writing

Snip, Snip, Snip…

Sebastian from Maugre_3.24.09
Sebastian – old drawing

On request of my friend btlowry, fellow WordPress writer and blogger, I’m posting another snippet of my own fiction! Lord knows I’ve been way too mysterious about, so I’m going to try to share more of it up here this year.

How does 2016 feel so far? So far for me, it’s strange and exciting.

Here’s a snippet from a book of mine I worked on today. It’s a second draft. In a nutshell, the story is about two broken anti-heroes who regain their self-worth and hope by saving each other’s lives – literally and emotionally. It’s set in an alternate-universe future where technology has been lost, a steampunk-esque Victorian world with air ships, snuffboxes, and coaches instead of cars. The underlying plot involves a government that pays mercenaries to hunt and exterminate witches, since magical peoples disturb the “Natural Order” of life, “how things should be”.

Sebastian’s Point of View

There were only a few hundred feet left till I reached the ship. Five, maybe six. I could make it. I would make it.

I pulled the plaid sailor’s hat harder over my head. It could barely contain my wild black curls. I wished I had chosen a different hat to steal from a different sleeping fat town guard. A nobleman I was obviously not; neither was I a convincing sea rat, either. Shit.

Don’t panic, Sebastian. You just did a quick Time Jump in order to escape a living hell. Everything from here on out can only get better. Right?

I was at the docks now. The disgusting smell left over from the fish markets made me want to vomit. It was so strong and sour that just breathing in through my nose left a bitter taste in my mouth. But it also made me happy. I was outside, smelling dead fish. The ocean was singing its night song of lapping waves all around me. My boots were on solid wood, not cold laboratory tiles.

There was a skinny smoking man sitting on a chair ahead of me. I would have to get past him to get to the ship, and to my freedom.

I would just walk past him without saying anything. I was just another scruffy sailor, with an unshaven face and ragged clothing. Who had lost a proper hair tie.

“Ey you! Wot you doin’ round ‘ere so late? This ship’s sailin’ come the mornin’.”

I pulled the hat down again. Wouldn’t want my weird eyes giving me away. “’M just comin’ back from a drink, youssee. I’m leavin’ wi’ the ship.”

Skinny stood up and looked me up and down. “Oh, zat right? Then why’d the other’n fellows come back from the bar earlier?”

I coughed and hacked to the side for a minute, and held my stomach like I was feeling woozy, and stumbled for a moment. I smiled. “Do I look like a favorite? They hate on me day ‘n night.”

Skinny laughed at my pain. “Oho, they do, do they. Why dontcha stick ‘round here, then?”

I glanced back at the town of Memord. “Nothin’ to stick ‘round fer.”

That brought another laugh. “Alright. I see it now. You goin’ to have a fine time in Hale then, eh?”

Hale. That’s where this ship was going? I nodded, and walked down the docks to the ship. Hale. That was where everything had started. I felt a dark dread knot my stomach at just the thought of it.

But anything was better than hell.

I forced my aching body to crawl, slowly, down a hanging rope until I found a slightly open window hatch. I crawled in, and hid myself in a dark corner. Crates of tobacco, refrigerated fish, and other sundries were my company. I held back the urge to vomit and lay down.

I could make it. I would make it. Just keep going.

Where? Another part of me asked. Where will you go? There is nowhere to go. They’ll recognize your face. They’ll know you’re the one who killed Gideon Rhett. They’ll send all the witch hunters after you again. Maybe even Lady Batcher herself. She’s always wanted you dead.

Shut up, the first voice said. Sophie said you would find shelter. Besides, it’s been six years. You were just a boy, then. They won’t know you now.

I took the hat off and curled up. The ocean waves lapping at the sides of the ship lulled me into the best sleep I’d had in years.

I could make it. I would make it. I just had to stay alive.

 

Thanks for reading!

Chaitanya

Writing Resources

Planning Your Book with NowNovel

I know I said I would post by Friday, but gosh darnit, I just plum forgot! So here I am posting on…Sunday! Haha.

I’m going to be honest here, guys. Right now, I’m having a happy moment with my novel revisions, and so I’m posting a really short thing right now! But I think I will post more later on today, after some writing.

I’d like to share the website NowNovel, because right now I am doing their FREE writing motivation course. It’s mostly for a rough draft, which I’m not doing, but answering the initial questions spurred me to write today, and I got some really good ideas that I’m excited about!

That’s all for today. What’s got you excited in your writing lately?

– Chaitanya

Just For Fun · My Writing

The Crazy, Starving, Disorganized Writer

This is me right now. Crazy, starving and disorganized.

From Sharon’s Super Secret Eden Blog

I’ll have a moment where I’m totally in the writing, sweetly diving in, getting all these great ideas…zoning out, like the lady in the above picture…

And then I’m like this the next day:

 

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Not a word left in me. Dry. Sad. Going crazy because I can’t write a single page. There are reasons, I tell myself, for being dried up, such as:

  • I’m moving to Florida in 2 weeks
  • I have to get rid of a bunch of belongings to move. This is both terrifying and glorious!
  • I’ve been living up on top of a mountain for 4 months. It’s beautiful, yes, but…seeing the same thing every day? And it’s stinking hot California, to boot? I might need some new scenery right about now.
  • Life. Just…life. People. Arguments. That droning TV sound in the background. Other people’s drama. Car problems. You name it!

Anyway, I’m also this writer:

from Nerd Wallet

Because. You know. Sometimes revising just SUCKS.

And then, of course, we can’t forget the stereotype: starving writer/artist/creative free person singing “la la la” in the corner:

From Romilade’s blog

Anyway, the point of all this is…I have not been able to update this blog, and it makes me really sad. Other points of this blog post should be some inspiring interview or quote where we all come together as writers, sigh and hold hands, and say to ourselves:

“You are amazing. You can do anything. Listen to your soul. I can earn money writing. I can be organized. I am the smartest, best writer on the planet.”

Haha! Right? New age yahoo!

But. Just not feeling that right now. Just missing my writing time and hating moving. I know I should adjust my writing schedule, put in my daily even though life is hectic right now. But instead I’m just being lazy, and it comes and goes in spurts, and I can’t wait to be in my new home in Florida with a nicer, bigger writing desk and all my things organized.

(on that note, have any of you seen Poppin? *DROOL*! I want all of those little colorful doo-dads for my desk!)

I guess this post is just going to be one of those sad little “Just life” posts. I wanted it to be inspiring, but now it’s lunch time so…the leaving bell rings.

Ah! Here we go. Here is a quote that will enliven me, you, and anyone else who’s having a disorganized, crazy, starving writer time:

All things must pass.

– George Harrison album

 

All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.

– Gandalf the Grey

 

Hope that leaves you with a feeling akin to eating a chocolate chip cookie! “Yummm!” and, “I want more!”

Since I’m going to try and keep posting regardless of the craziness, I won’t say “see you when I’m in Florida,” which might be more realistic. But who cares for realism, right? I’m a writer!

See you in a week,

Chaitanya

How Writers Write · Musings

The Melding of the Minds, Part 1 – Two Writers Talk About Writing Your Gender-Opposite

I have been struggling to get this post out, and am sorry to say it is coming about two weeks later than I wanted it to. Life has gotten in the way, as it does sometimes. I decided as a sort of compromise that I might make this post into 2 parts, since it is a potential hot topic, with lots of people talking about it, and my own thoughts expanding and increasing.

This topic that has recently wheedled its way into my brain is:

How do women write from the point of view of male characters? How do men write from the point of view of female characters?

This is an interesting topic that was mentioned as part of a post on women being properly represented – in literature, in movies, etc. – in Julia Munroe Martin’s post over at Writer Unboxed. Julia focus was more on gender bias in the literary world. My thoughts are more towards the pure exploration of the topic, rather than analyzing it from a gender bias perspective. Of course, the gender bias must be considered when exploring the topic, because as Julia’s post shows, more men are writing books and being written about (whether fictional or not).

Strong female character Claire Randall, who gets pulled back in time from 1945 post-WWII Scotland to 1745, where her husband’s ancestor is a murderous British officer, and she finds herself falling in love with another man – Great book series and TV series, I recommend it!

Obviously, each gender has been writing about and from the perspective of the other gender for a long, long time – imagination lets you do that. But, there are certain books that have rich characters which we find deeply interesting, or particularly admire. Sometimes we are surprised when we see, say, a rugged hero written by a woman, or a very snappy, clever female character who stands up for herself written by a man. It may be 2014, but sexism is still prevalent in our world – even to the point where the feminists who are trying to defend against sexism are being stereotyped and dismissed.

Let’s take a look at certain characters which have been particularly memorable and were written by the opposite gender. Here’s a short list; please feel free to expand it in the comments:

  • Anna Karenina, of Anna Karenina Tolstoy fame
  • Lolita, of Lolita Nobokov fame
  • Harry Potter by Joanne Kathleen Rowling
  • Victor Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Various female characters in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones – but their perspectives battle with many other characters’ perspective, many who are male
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Steig Larsen comes to mind, but she is described through the view of a prominent male character
  • Theseus in Mary Renault’s The King Must Die and its sequels – I put this on the list even though I know many people don’t like his arrogance and womanizing, but I feel it fits for the society of the time period he is in.
Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina in the 2012 film adaptation

So the question here is…how can we get into the opposite gender’s head? We live with them. We see them every day. We can interview them, study them, and read about them just as we would do for researching for a fiction book, school essay, academic thesis, etc. We certainly love them and may feel we know some of them deeply. But how do we capture that feeling, where the reader doesn’t remember that we are a woman or man writing our gender-opposite? How do we get it so right that the character sticks in people’s heads?

Ali Hasanali over on Hobbes Lives (love the name! It makes me think of the philosopher Hobbes and also the comic book stuffed tiger character from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes) has a lengthy, thorough post on the difficulty of men writing female characters. In it, Ali does a fantastic study of what makes a character dynamic, multi-dimensional, and believable, and how male writers of female characters can make their characters shine.

Ali really adds to the discussion. What I like most about his post is how he highlights the significance and difficulty of writing convincing internal dialogue for one’s gender-opposite, and also his examples of convincing female characters written by men. Ali brings to highlight the big exclamation mark about writing one’s gender-opposite:

How do I get into their head, if I’ve never been there? I can observe, take notes, pretend, etc., but when it gets down to it…

1) Depending on where you live or are from, society gives certain roles to each gender.

2) Then there’s just anatomical differences.

3) Our brains are just wired differently.

It is this last point that really is the clincher. Our brains are wired differently, yet we see that people have indeed written some fantastic stories with dynamic characters that are their gender-opposites.

Fan art of Ged from Ursula K. Leguin’s Earthsea series

Ali makes the point-of-view gender question seem like quite the operation. On the flip side, Mett Ivie Harrison makes light of the matter, saying that when it all comes down to it, characters are just people too, before you even classify their gender, and the bigger a deal you make of it all, the harder it becomes to do.

You can read her article here.

Now that you’ve thought about it a bit, please share…what do you think of writing characters in the point-of-view of your gender opposite?

In Part 2, we’ll explore more on exactly how writers do this, what their methods are, and I want to share a bit on my personal experiences on writing my gender-opposite.

Writers, readers, stumble-uponers – please share!

Until Part 2!

– Chaitanya

How Writers Write · Musings

What IS writing? What Does It Mean? &, Writing What You Know

What does writing mean?

For some, it is just scribbling something on a piece of paper. For others, it’s a struggle to try and express what they want to put down in words. I have heard it said a lot, “I don’t know how to write”, or, “I don’t write well.”

This always boggled me. First of all, I did not like to hear people say they can’t do something, because that is a negative way of thinking. Secondly, I hear the lack of self-love and self-esteem and acceptance of self-failure in that statement. It shakes me inside, because I can relate to it. I lack self-love and self-esteem, sometimes.

So when I hear people say, “I can’t write”, I always encourage them, “Yes, you can. You could if you really wanted to.”

Yet there is more to it than that. Can every person really write something if they want to? The obvious answer is, yes. But would that writing be good writing?

What makes writing jump off a page? What is it that makes us sit back after finishing a book and say, “Gosh, that was good!”

Is the author’s use of syntax? Their great big vocabulary? That is what seems to be the thought of people who say, “I can’t write.” Because after they say that, I noticed, they go on to talk about how bad they were in English in high school, or how they “can hardly spell.”

This doesn’t seem right to me, not just because of the inner negativity in the statement. It seems wrong to me because writing isn’t about technicalities, when you get down to it. Writing is about expressing yourself. It is about baring your heart.

I have been writing for a long time, but this challenge of what is writing and what does it really mean to write? has never meant so much or been so difficult for me as now, when I am revising a novel.

I just finished reading Ralph Keyes’ book, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear. It was a super excellent book, and I took notes on it.

What I took away from Keyes’ book is that the best writing is alive and leaps from the page into the hearts of its readers. Why does it do this? How? It does this because the writer put not only their knowledge of their language, their technical skills and clever word arrangements, but also their heart, their self.

Keyes proposed that writers who face fear and even use fear to boost their writing, are good writers. Writers are good when their books speak to people, and their books will not speak to people if they are not speaking in their books something of themselves.

The phrase goes, “Write what you know.” Many seem to take this literally and think, “What? How can I write what I know? I’m in the most boring part of the world, with nothing to do, and no one interesting to talk to. There is nothing to see here. I have nothing to say, if I write about what I know.”

Wrong! Writing what you know makes your writing come alive! Think about it on a deeper spectrum, dig inside of yourself. What scares you, beyond movie monsters and death? What makes your heart tremble in gladness? What makes you cry even when you want to stop the tears from showing?

These are the things that we write about. These are the things we know. Each of us has a different, unique experience as a human being, but each of us, in turn, can relate to something from someone else’s life. The person in Taiwan visiting for business might know about your fears of getting disease in a foreign country and dying, like your grandmother did long ago, your grandmother whose last words were that she did not regret how travel enriched her life. Write about that. You may have no job and have trouble paying the bills. Your ceiling is leaking and you live next to a cement park in a grumpy, lousy city. Write about that. Perhaps your life is simple and you just work, come home, eat pasta, and go out to work again the next day. Write about that. You don’t have to have gone anywhere special. You don’t have to be a stunt double or a race car driver. You don’t have to take vacations in the Bahamas.

Write about what moves you, what drives you, what scares you, and someone, somewhere is bound to relate to it. Your words will make an impact. Your writing will effect someone. Maybe it won’t make you famous, but does that really matter? Is that what we are really looking for in life? No. We want love and affection. We want attention, relationship, expression and acceptance. I know it sounds cheesy, but in all those quotes circling around the Internet, we acknowledge the truth: the things we really want, cannot be bought by money, bribed for, or found by spending two weeks alone in a hammock on the beach (sorry, sister – I know you loved your time in Mexico!).

The real deal is inside of us, reaching out to the heart inside someone else. When we write what we know, when we share what is meaningful to us – whether it is positive or not – we can effect people, and our writing can come alive in amazing flashy colors.

I think this is what writing means to writers, and this is why we keep on doing it: It is living, and sharing that living with others. It is sharing life with more people than we could ever reach in-person, by phone, or email. It is wonderful, and vigorous, breathless, and heart-rending. We can’t stop, even though it makes us cry. Ernest Hemingway said that writing is sitting down and just bleeding. Ralph Keyes affirms this concept in his book, and I agree.

The best writing is what was wrenched from deep inside of us, and now lies on the page for others to experience. I say experience, and not know, because the readers already know it. If the writing speaks to them, it is because they already know the truths that the writer is revealing. Maybe the writer helps them to realize it. Maybe they experience a revelation. But the point is, the reader’s heart is moved in some way, because the writer put their all, their self, into that book.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long, but thank you for visiting! Please add any comments. If what I said made no sense, it was because it just rambled and flowed out of me. I may have bypassed logic in all the excitement.

Thanks for stopping by!

– Chaitanya

 

 

Musings · My Writing

Why I Write

Writing is a bit like sweeping your porch. You sweep the leaves away, but every autumn they come again. No matter how many ideas I have, take note of, or even turn into a poem, a short story, or a novel, there are always more.

I think that’s one reason I love to be a writer. The writer’s world is brimming over with life and beauty, because there are endless opportunities in all those ideas. Each idea is an opportunity for the writer to start a conversation with the reader, by giving a message (or messages) via his or her book. I think that these messages help people to connect, communicate, and improve their quality of life, sometimes. At least, they help people learn, or think, or laugh. This is one of the benefits of writing (and reading). It is a way of sharing.

Every fiction writer loves the moments when s/he is so swept up in his or her writing that s/he doesn’t even know writing is happening. It simply pours out. Those moments feel great for the writer and the reader, for it is those poignant moments that really resound in the work, whether it is a poem, a short story, or a book.

To conclude – writing is what I do, and I could not imagine myself doing anything else. Even when it’s very difficult, my passion for it always supersedes the difficulty. Even though I love doing other things, writing is what I love to do best.

Thank you for letting me share with you a little bit about why I write!

Chaitanya

Musings

When Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

Writers and readers of fantasy and science fiction can give many reasons why they keep coming back to these kinds of books.

It’s exciting. It makes you think. It introduces extraordinary ideas, characters, and places that you could never encounter in the real world. It’s ‘an escape.’

…Is it, really? For it has been said, “Nothing is original”, “write what you know”, and other time-tested phrases. Can anything that is fantastical really be called fantastical, when “every story has already been told” (Anna Quindlen) and we’re all frantically trying to write what we know (and wonder how this can be made interesting)?

Of course, as experienced writers will tell you, “write what you know” is a matter of debate. The inner meanings of this well-known phrase have been taken apart in creative writing classes, writing workshops and groups, and by authors everywhere practically since the thing made its first circle around.

Writer’s Zoe Heller and Mohsin Hamid discussed this very debate in question in a March New York Times report earlier this year. I personally like how Heller quickly makes the distinction that to write what you know does not mean that you have to literally write what you know. No one wants to know the exact details of your life – when you wake up, when you picked your nose, what argument you had with your brother yesterday afternoon…

Oh, wait. Isn’t that what reality TV is all about? What about the film The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey as an ordinary man who discovers that his whole life is being filmed as a TV show to entertain the masses? Those are instances of the ordinary, day-to-day life being put literally, detail by detail, into a story – and they’re even interesting!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that writing is not as limited as we think. It is not limited by a little idea that the ordinary is boring, as my child self used to think, or that we can only write about something or someone that we have directly experienced. That is appealing though; some people focus on what is called ‘creative nonfiction’ just because of how fun and interesting they find it to write about their direct experiences.

I have not done much creative nonfiction, myself. Creative NF people out there, any comments? Is it easy? It seems like it would be. Then again, perhaps it is even more difficult to write than creative fiction. After all, as Ralph Keyes points out in his excellent book The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear, one of the reasons writing can induce crippling fear is because it forces you to reveal your very self, your core, those things which frighten, gladden, sadden and repulse you…and this is what makes the writing good. So imagine if, instead of being able to escape reality a little bit by writing fiction, which makes it less obvious what part or character is close to your heart…instead, you’re writing in the creative nonfiction category, and everyone knows that what you’re writing is very real.

The ordinary can become extraordinary in every single story, in my opinion. This is one reason writers love to people-watch and observe life. Anything, and I mean anything, can become an idea for a story. That story could earn you a thousand bucks in a contest. Or it might become a big bestseller! Look at Stephen King. His collection of the first short stories he ever published, Night Shift (I’m reading it right now. At day time!), features gigantic rats, a haunted cathedral, and a man-eating giant launderer machine. Imagine how he thought of those things. Perhaps his neighbor had a rat infestation. Maybe he had trouble with his washing machine. Perhaps his mind wandered off at church…

See? Anything can foster an idea. J.K. Rowling is another example of how something from our ordinary world can become the stepping-stone for an extraordinary story. She was delayed getting on the train home to London when a boy wizard just popped into her head. She did not know his name. She knew was what he was a wizard, and he did not know it yet. Tada! World bestselling book that makes her richer than the Queen of England!

The conclusion is that real life is not boring and does not turn fun, interesting, engaging stories into train wrecks. It just depends where you look, and what you do with it. Just wait for the ordinary events and people you experience in life start to tumble around in your mind, like the clothes in your mother’s dryer…and see what happens!

I think Mohsin Hamid says what I’ve tried to express perfectly: the idea that being a writer just means, being human! He says:

A human self is made up of stories. These stories are rooted partly in experience, and partly in fantasy. The power of fiction lies in its capacity to gaze upon this odd circumstance of our existence, to allow us to play with the conundrum that we are making ourselves up as we go along.”

Apologies if this all came out as nonsensical ramblings. I wrote this late at night with strange opera music in the background, and all the Stephen King reading has made me jittery and nervous! The slightest click in the house makes me jump.

To all writers out there – happy writing!
To all readers – happy reading!

If you are a blogger/writer and found my post interesting (and made sense of it), please stick a link to it in one of your posts! Thank you.

Chaitanya