CHEST-THUMPING AND THE TERROR OF COMPLETION

Egad! I’ve written a book!

The past year and a half was a time of ruthless revision – polishing and compiling my work into a manuscript that I hope, in the near future, publishers everywhere will start a ferocious bidding war to acquire (ha!). It was a rough and rewarding period of self-imposed cast-iron deadlines; 3 am bursts of brilliance; innumerable hours of non-brilliance; exultant furor poeticus bhangras and sullen, broody-hen writing famine.

I emerged from the obsessive tinkering, bloody and victorious, with a tidy pile of paper with my name on it and found myself simultaneously…

Thumping my chest in fulsome pride a la gorilla in dominance mode.
Adopting the fetal position as the terror of completion finally hit me.

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After having been elbow-deep in dismembering and putting together my work for nigh 76 weeks, I took a well-deserved break during which my Frankenstein of a manuscript developed a Poe-esque tell-tale heart: Send it out. Send it out. Send it out. Naturally, I was petrified.

I procrastinated long and hard. I hemmed and hawed. I made excuses. It is hard releasing a project you have worked on for years. The investment of time and heart in a dream gives rise to all kinds of Hydra-headed insecurities and vulnerabilities. It took a lot of stern self-talk and finger-wagging at myself but gradually, I unclenched my death-grip on the manuscript and started researching publishing agencies. As open reading periods for publishers neared, I sweated over my cover letter. I created a colour-coded submission-tracking system worthy of the nuclear arsenal of a developing country. I bolstered my ebbing courage by reading about the publishing experiences of famous authors…

Earlier this month, I sent out the manuscript for the first time.

It’s like sending your firstborn off to college. You’re hopeful and excited for them, and hope they don’t do anything to screw it up and publicly embarrass you.

More on my publishing adventures next week. Until then, wish you good writing!

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THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS OF 2014

Exactly one year, one month and a day ago, I wrote my first Scribe’s Madness post. What started as a virgin attempt at blogging turned into a labour of love. The past year brought me closer to realizing my writing goals and connecting with wonderful writers from different countries and across genres. I am thankful to the people who follow the blog, send in their comments, offer ideas, share their struggles and successes and keep in touch over email. I couldn’t do this without you!

2014 Lessons Learnt

2014 Lessons Learnt


On to the lessons learnt. Here they are…*drumroll*

1 – Draft a Writing Strategy
I cannot stress this enough. By far, the most productive thing I did for my writing in 2014 was draft a comprehensive strategy for it. I set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound = SMART), I put in place processes and schedules, I monitored my performance, in short, I approached it like I was drafting a strategy for a multinational. The result: writing output doubled and writer profile raised by having an actionable plan.

2 – Improve Your Capacity
We would all like to believe that natural talent will carry us through and it does factor into a writer’s success but most of it is the hard slog of continually improving upon your ability. It doesn’t just have to be writing ability either but could be enhancing your capacity to build a writer platform or learn about the publishing industry. Even seasoned writers stay sharp by teaching classes, attending conferences, networking. Invest in yourself.

3 – If You Don’t Read, You Write Crap
This is one of those lessons that seem obvious but interestingly, can get sidelined. So many writers I met over the past year complained that they did not have time to read or weren’t reading at all in favour of writing and then tortured themselves over the quality of their writing. I think it’s fairly easy to tell the writing of someone who is a voracious reader from the writing of someone who isn’t. The expression, the depth, the structure, layering, techniques tell the tale.

4 – Audacity Gets You Started, Tenacity Sees You Through
Persistence was the hardest lesson of all to learn in 2014. It’s not enough to have the courage to begin, you must follow through if you hope to get anywhere. You must get the bit between your teeth and like the Juggernaut, barrel your way through writer’s block, low motivation, rejection slips and other writing perils. If you can stick with your writing even when you feel all is lost, you will come out the other end, battle-hardened and victorious.

5 – Live!
Not exist. LIVE. Feel each moment deeply. Really LOOK at the world around you. I think this was the most valuable lesson for me. Good writing comes from nurturing your inner life and bringing a fresh eye to your surroundings. The richer, broader, more varied your experiences, the more it enriches and informs your writing. Expose yourself to new adventures. Step out of your comfort zone.

Here’s to a new year of writing. Until next time!

Posted in Poetry, Reading, Scribe's Madness, Tips, Writing, Writing Process, Writing Strategy | Leave a comment

WRITING WHEN I’M NOT WRITING

Lately, a strange thing has been happening and it has happened enough times for me to take notice. I’m getting my best writing done when I’m at my busiest. A sizzling new verse, begging to be turned into a poem, will pop into my head right before a project deadline. I’ll finally resolve a knotty sentence when I am rushing to get my son to his tennis lesson. I’ll figure out where my poem – which heretofore has resisted moving in any direction – will end, while I’m hopping with one leg in my jeans and my ride is honking in the driveway.

But when I’m sitting at my desk, trawling the recesses of my parched creativity for a single kernel of inspiration, preparing to offer myself as human sacrifice to the Muse if necessary, then…nothing. Not a damn whiff of an idea. The Gobi Desert gets more rain than I have hope of getting any writing done.

I finally figured out the reason: Creativity happens when you’re not forcing it.
image
I’m still a huge advocate of disciplining yourself to write and showing up at your writing station everyday so your mind can be trained to be present to your writing at that time but I’ve come to understand that showing up doesn’t mean tying yourself up in knots if ideas don’t come and the writing doesn’t happen. Writing happens when you don’t worry about it. Whenever I try to FORCE myself to write it stresses me out. I get nothing done and then it catches up with me when I’m adrenalin-charged for other things. Dashed inconvenient.

So here are a few Scribe’s Tips to write stress-free:
1- Cultivate a pre-writing ritual. Peppermint hot chocolate features prominently in my pre-writing schedule. The first mug (ok, so I’m a little addicted) gets me out of my sleep-funk and thinking about the day’s writing. It’s the calm before I give myself over to furor poeticus. It centers me and prepares me for the mental work.

2- Suspend the deadline. I don’t recommend doing this too often because it is good to have a structured, disciplined approach but when planning your writing build in days when you write not to meet the word count or page quota but at whatever pace suits you.

3- Enjoy your writing. Remember when it was fun? When there were no deadlines or agonized self-loathing for not putting your best writing foot forward? Give yourself permission to recapture that sense of joy and play in your work that makes being a writer worth it. Relax and delight in the process.

Until next time!

Posted in Poetry, Prose, Scribe's Madness, Time, Writer's Wellbeing, Writing, Writing Obstacles, Writing Process | 2 Comments

SOUNDBYTE FROM THE SAFMA READING

In July – August this year I made a trip to Pakistan where I had the opportunity to read my poetry at an event organized by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) and the Islamabad Literary Forum. It was an evening of literature and laughter and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Read more: https://scribesmadness.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/coming-full-circle-the-pakistan-trip-and-my-identity-as-a-writer/

I did not think any of it had been recorded so imagine my surprise when a soundbyte was shared on my Facebook wall today by Nadine Murtaza who runs Dheere Bolo, a Pakistani initiative aimed at creating educational content for children. The clip was shared through Dheere Bolo and is an excerpt from my introduction at the reading.

Posted in Culture, Poetry, Reading, Scribe's Madness, Traveling, Writer's Identity, Writing, Writing Process | Leave a comment

3 TIPS FOR MURDERING YOUR DARLINGS

Murder Your Darlings

It’s not easy being ruthless.

I get attached to the sentences I write. I develop soulful relationships with whole stanzas and passages during the process of their creation. If I hang on to them with the ferocity of a pitbull with a trouser cuff in its maw it’s because I am loth to excise words I have brooded and slaved over and given birth to from the tortured recesses of my being. I like to keep them gathered to my bosom and tucked into my story or poem.

Until revision time.

I’d find my metamorphosis from maternal Hoarder of Words to demon Thresher From Hell amusing if it wasn’t so damn painful. Culling the grain from the chaff of my writing and going all Hashashin on the best pieces (or so I think) is like pulling fingernails with industrial strength pliers.

Usually the passages or verses I feel are particularly inspired or extraordinary writing on my part must be cut because I recognize that they can be self-indulgent and detract from the essence of a piece. Flown on ideas and words, I can craft writing that can be too clever, or cute, and clutter the text with unnecessary flourishes of style. After years of writing, I now know never to go with my first impulse of expression but continually weed out such passages and prune the writing to its simplest, tightest form.

I know many writers who understand this as necessary in the service of good writing but still get anxious when they approach this stage in revising drafts. Here are three tips to get away with ‘murdering your darlings’ without serious psychological trauma.

1 – Get Distance From Your Writing
Put your writing in a drawer and forget about it for a couple of weeks. Most of the time when we find it hard to cut parts we love but that don’t really belong in the piece is because we’re still emotionally entangled in the process of crafting the work. Distance gives objectivity. In order to come to your writing with a clinical eye, you need to put it away for a while. It makes the surgery easier.
Read more: https://scribesmadness.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/getting-distance-from-your-work/

2 – Tune into Your Writer’s Instinct.
Some writers feel the bits they love about their writing are automatically bad writing and a good rule of thumb is to just knife out the parts they feel overly attached to. I beg to differ. Don’t cut it just because you love it. Cut it because it doesn’t belong in the piece you’ve written. Cut it because your piece reads well without it. And a good way to know this is to keep your writer’s instinct razor-sharp by reading widely and testing your hunches.
Read more: https://scribesmadness.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/writers-instinct/

3 – Keep the Higher Goal in Mind
Every writer aims to put out quality work which can mean giving the axe to a beautifully written passage or stanza because it does not serve the piece. I find keeping that desired end result in mind helps me focus on doing whatever is necessary to make my writing strong. If that means taking the life of a stanza I spent months perfecting, so be it. It’s all in service to the writing.

Hope you find this useful. Until next time!

Posted in Poetry, Prose, Revision, Scribe's Madness, Tips, Writer's Mind, Writing, Writing Obstacles, Writing Process | Leave a comment

AUDACITY AND TENACITY FOR WRITERS (7 TIPS)

This blog post is for two types of people:
1- Those who want to write but are paralyzed at the thought of beginning their project.
2- Those who start writing but their passion, ambition and ideas fizzle out midway through their project.

Both types need to infuse their writing life with audacity and tenacity.

Audacity brings you to the page – it is the boldness, the fearlessness with which you begin and approach your writing. Tenacity is the stick-to-itivity that makes you slog at it, day after day, week after week – for most of us, year after year. Audacity is nothing if you cannot see your writing project through to its conclusion. Tenacity is nothing if you do not even have the courage to begin. Both are critical to a writer’s success.

Photo credit: postiveinspirationalquotes.com

Photo credit: postiveinspirationalquotes.com

Here are seven ways scribes can bring audacity and tenacity into their lives and approach their writing with courage and persistence.

1) The Burning Desire to Write:
It’s simple: If you can’t bring yourself to begin writing, you don’t want it enough. If you’ve begun but can’t seem to see it through to completion, you still don’t want it enough. Every serious writer must cultivate that burning desire to write. And that comes through exuding positivity and confidence for it. Setting your hands to the keyboard comes later – first and foremost, it is a matter of orienting your mindset towards total commitment to your work. Assess your passion.

2) Take Small Steps:
Writing can be overwhelming. The thought of putting out a 350-page manuscript or compiling a 60-plus collection of poems can be disheartening and torpefy most writers. A good rule of thumb is to break your writing into smaller steps that can be done piecemeal. Beginning your project and completing it can be seen as bringing yourself to the desk one day, writing a line the next day, and working in increments from there, one page, one scene, one chapter at a time. This makes it more manageable and less scary.

3) Re-invent Your Relationship With Writing:
A lot of times we balk at approaching our writing and sticking with it because our relationship with our project has weakened. There can be any number of reasons for it: we are being challenged by it, it has become stale, we are burnt out, yada yada yada. The key is to keep your relationship with your writing healthy by taking a break from it. Give yourself time to unpick the knots rather than becoming frustrated and consigning it to the trash folder. Acknowledge the stress of writing but don’t let it govern you.

4) Be A Risk-Taker:
Audacious and tenacious writers do not accept the limitations of their environment. They do not make excuses to put off that which daunts them. They are risk-takers. To begin an endeavour knowing full well that even after all the hard work they put into it, it may meet with rejection takes a lot of heart. They begin in boldness and then do whatever it takes to see their writing through to the end. They are not afraid to experiment with their story or take a poem in a new direction and are open to expanding their worldview.

5) Silence the Inner Censor:
One of the best ways I know of strangling the voice inside my head that causes me to doubt and second-guess myself is to stay motivated by reading success stories of writers. I can begin and continue with my writing knowing that many seasoned and accomplished writers were standing in the same place where I find myself, fearful and unsure of themselves and they made it through. The fear of embarking on a fresh writing project assails every writer whether they have one novel under their belt or several novels. Audacity and tenacity comes from self-belief.

6) Be Patient:
It may seem like a simple bit of advice but I cannot stress this enough. So many writers give up because they do not have the patience to stick through the long process of writing and throw down their pen at the first hurdle along the way. Writing is an incremental process. There are days when you seem to have no ideas and it can seem tortuous. Know that even when you feel that your efforts are not yielding any immediate results, your subconscious is working on it and sooner or later, if you stick with it, a breakthrough will happen.

7) No Such Thing As Failure
As a writer, you need to eliminate the word ‘failure’ from your vocabulary. Failure happens only if you give up and let it happen. It is something within your control. If JK Rowling or Stephen King had considered themselves failures at the first rejection and never written again, we would have been deprived off some great stories. Strike out the option of giving up. When you think you’re at the end of your tether and you are close to folding in, give it one more shot.

Hope this helps, writers. Be audacious, be tenacious. Until next time! 🙂

Posted in Inhibitions, Poetry, Prose, Scribe's Madness, Tips, Writer's Health, Writer's Mind, Writer's Wellbeing, Writing, Writing Obstacles, Writing Process, Writing Strategy | 2 Comments

A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE

Right off the bat, let’s clarify: Perspective and Point of View (POV) are two different things. Perspective is the character-speaker-narrator through which you want to tell your story or poem. POV is how that character tells the story (in first, second or third person).

One of the first choices a writer makes when conceptualizing a piece of writing is to decide who is the speaker in their piece. The choice of speaker defines how the reader enters the story or poem and where their attention is directed. Perspective is as important in writing as it is in visual art because when well-chosen, it enriches the writing by imparting depth, controlling mood, allowing the layering of thought and language, and positioning the reader vis a vis the story.

Picasso and Dali Source: Unknown

Picasso and Dali
Source: Unknown


When choosing perspective, ask yourself:

Who can best carry the story/poem?
You may choose to tell a story from the perspective of a single, strong character or have several characters tell the story. You could decide to write from the perspective of a sherrif, or a dog or a rock or even all three by turns for that matter depending on what you think will drive your narrative forward. The idea is to choose a perspective that can best sustain your narrative.

What limitations will it impose?
Choice of perspective, like any other element of writing, creates parameters which a writer has to honour in order for the writing to emerge as cogent and credible. For example, if you choose to write from the perspective of a child, then everything that drives the narrative forward – observations, language, style will mirror that decision. To have the child express the viewpoints of an adult or use adult language would weaken the perspective unless you have set up your writing to invert the rules or be fantastical.

How will it enrich the writing?
The character(s) a writer chooses is not just a matter of who can tell the story and take it from beginning to end but who can tell the story well. Can the character convey a nuanced narrative with emotional and narrative depth befitting the story? Will the reader be able to get the narrow as well as wide angle view of the story? Will the perspective bring the reader to a sense of immersion in the story?

Hope this was helpful in thinking about perspective in your writing.
Until next week!

Posted in Poetry, Prose, Scribe's Madness, Tips, Writing, Writing Process | 2 Comments

3 TIPS FOR THE CHATTERING MIND

“It has been estimated that the average person has sixty thousand separate thoughts each and every day.” – Wayne W. Dyer.

Most of us have minds that race night and day and if you’re a writer a major chunk of your sixty thousand thoughts probably revolve around your writing. It’s hard to take a break from the plot of your novel or the concept of your still-under-construction poem. As a writer, you’ve probably had trouble concentrating in a meeting or falling asleep at night because you can’t seem to disengage from the 3 a.m. revelations or the ideas you get just when you’re about to fall asleep. Suddenly, you’re wide awake groping for writing implements and the next thing you know, the sun is up and you have to deal with life as one of the walking dead.

Along with the creative furor in your brain, your mind is chattering to you about job concerns, laundry that needs doing, dinner that needs cooking, grocery lists, bills to pay, errands to run, world peace…

In short, you’re taking the express lane to Town Burnout.

Been there, done that. Sometimes, you just have to slow your brain down because the grueling pace of your thoughts can hurt your productivity by fragmenting your concentration and affecting the quality of your writing.

Here are three ways I use to help me haul the brakes on a mind that won’t stop chugging a mile a minute:image

Read!
Reading is a great way to slow down and interrupt the thoughts crowding and clambering over each other in your head. Entering the realm of a book takes you out of your present and disrupts the thoughts on loop in your mind. Over the years, I’ve realized reading is the panacea for pretty much all writing ills.

Listening to music also helps.

Meditate
You don’t have to try advanced meditation, count your breaths or chant a personal mantra over and over again. It can be as simple as finding a quiet space and focusing on the gaps between your thoughts, trying to lengthen the time between one thought and the other. Introduce silence in your mind as an intervention to the stream-of-consciousness jostling in your brain. Silence invites you to slip beneath the surface of buzzing brain activity and find a sense of stillness. Oftentimes, you can tap into a greater pool of creativity by retreating to your inner center.

Declutter
Writing can come from a place of chaos. Sustained writing, however, comes from a place of discipline. Train your mind to sift through important and unimportant thoughts. Believe it or not, you can train your mind to choose the right thoughts for the right time. If it’s time for writing, then entertain only writing relevant thoughts and firmly push the rest out of your head. It is difficult in the beginning, disentangling writing thoughts from non-writing thoughts, but with time and practice it becomes easier.

I still struggle with this and have to make a conscious effort to practice these tips but they work for me. I hope they help you navigate the warzone of brain overdrive and bring you to peace.

Until next week! 🙂

Posted in Inspiration, Poetry, Prose, Reading, Scribe's Madness, Time, Tips, Writer's Mind, Writer's Wellbeing, Writing, Writing Obstacles | 7 Comments

COMING FULL CIRCLE: THE PAKISTAN TRIP AND MY IDENTITY AS A WRITER

I am back from my Pakistan trip. It was by far the most literarily productive vacation I’ve ever taken. Reasons being:

* I ran a Poetry Workshop in collaboration with Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education (FACE) which was a wonderful experience.

* I gave a poetry reading at an event organized for me by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), the Islamabad Cultural Forum and the stalwarts of the Islamabad literary scene.

* I was able to meet, learn from and exchange ideas with seasoned and emerging writers and become more informed on Pakistani poets who write or have written in English.

* I came back with tons of inspiration and future focus for my writing. Being in the thick of Pakistani culture, politics and society always fuels my poetry.

Coverage in the Express Tribune of my Poetry Reading organized by SAFMA and the Islamabad Cultural Forum.

Coverage in the Express Tribune of my Poetry Reading organized by SAFMA and the Islamabad Cultural Forum.

Being part of the Pakistani diaspora, like many other Pakistani-born-bred writers, I struggle with issues of continuous and interrupted identity and the weaving of two sensibilities: that of birth and that of adoption. This trip, for the first time, I felt the constant immersion and detachment, of being insider and outsider, has provided a space where ‘self-fashioning‘ can occur. The solidification of my identity as a writer has been incredibly liberating.

I think it has come with reconciling that my writing has always been a product of East and West, not just one or the other. I grew up in a family where quoting Ghalib, Meer, Faiz or any of the great Urdu poets was the norm, where dinner table conversations focused on the appreciation of a perfectly-turned verse and the double meaning in a ghazal couplet was food for endless conversation. What that engendered in me was a passion for reading and deep admiration for the wielders of ink and pen.

There was only one hurdle: I wrote poetry in English.

Mainly because I read voraciously in English.

While I read as much as I could of the great British and American poets, both classic and contemporary, my readings were confined to the level of deepening appreciation of literature and imitative expression in my work. At that time in Pakistan, the avenues for publication were limited and those for developing English poetry writing as a craft even more so. I learnt alot on my own reading as much as I could (still am!), drawing parallels with Urdu poetry, translating ghazals, examining the ‘weight’ of a verse, exploring sound and rhythm. I think that rooted my writing in subcontinental poetry, its motifs and dynamics even as my experience and expression of it was influenced by Western poetry and approaches.

I think the prickly tension I felt between the two, that was like a burr under my skin, thinking they were two distinct halves in me has given way and melted into a more unified, alloyed poetic identity.

Still getting back into the swing of things. Until next week!

Posted in Culture, Inspiration, Poetry, Reading, Rhythm and Sound, Scribe's Madness, Traveling, Writer's Identity, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

3 TIPS FOR WRITING DURING HOLIDAYS

View from the Margalla Hills, Islamabad Pakistan. Faisal Mosque in the distance.

View from the Margalla Hills, Islamabad Pakistan. Faisal Mosque in the distance.


I’m visiting Pakistan, Ramzan just ended and it’s Eid holidays.

That alone should be enough to make me throw down my pen and surrender to the lure of long-awaited family gatherings, conversations that end at dawn, excursions with kids, constant infusions of Rooh Afza + Tang, card nights, midnight calls for food delivery…

You get the drift.

…yet here I am writing the weekly blog post at 5:48 am on a holiday when I just went to bed 3 hours ago. And not just this, but I’ve been surprisingly good about keeping up with my writing this vacation. Yes, thank you, I’ll take that medal now.

So how did I get my writing done this holiday season?

SCRIBE’S TIPS:

1 – Mindset
It begins with attitude. I made up my mind that come what may, I WILL be writing this trip. I will find the time, I will make the time. Talking myself into this attitude helped. Any endeavour begins in our head. Make sure, your head recognizes you are committed to writing and brings you to the page when you don’t want to write.

2 – Habit
Writing is a discipline requiring dedication and regularity. You have to cultivate the habit. This holiday, I write when the muezzin gives the Fajr azaan – the pre-dawn call for prayer, possibly because our home’s proximity to the mosque makes it feel like he’s standing by my bedside with the loudspeaker. Either way, once the ringing in my ears fades, I am up to write. Everyday.

3 – Workload
It IS a holiday and not military bootcamp so I do cut myself some slack: I reduce my workload and writing time. For me, taking a complete break from writing and then getting back in the swing of it, is harder. Writing everyday keeps me in practice. During vacations, however, I have a lighter workload and cut my writing time in half.

Plan to finish a poem today. Hope your writing’s going well!
Until next week! 🙂

Posted in Poetry, Prose, Scribe's Madness, Tips, Traveling, Writing | 3 Comments