Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's Been Awhile...

I feel like I've abandoned this blog. I should be charged with gross blog neglect. So, where was I?

Right. I've been in a huge writing slump since the beginning of the year (since last year actually). And I've tried to motivate myself. Tried is the keyword here.

To start with, I created a "Working" notebook for my current novel (yes, it's the same one since I started this blog back in the mid-2012, so...gulp?) to generally organize my ideas about the novel and jot down new ideas as they occur to me, including bits and pieces of conversations between characters. It's helpful, it is. It helps me figure out the story little by little. But I still don't have a complete novel. So, my guess is it only works partially?

Then, I created a "Writing Journal" on my laptop to track my progress on said current novel . And I gave myself pep talks in each entry before each writing session. The pep talks didn't last very long and weren't very effective.

Next, I created a "Story Ideas" notebook, which works great for generating ideas, but not for THIS novel because it hates me (more on the aforementioned notebook in a future post - Sidenote: Dear Future Me, if you don't write that post, I will kick your ass.)

Finally, I created an "On Writing" notebook, which contains the greatest writing quotes EVER by authors I love, to motivate me to write. I know, I do love my notebooks (I know what you're thinking right now because I can read your mind). But again, maybe this isn't enough.

So, I have to ask myself: what in this world is enough?!

The answer may be simpler than all the stuff I've tried. It's simply sitting down and writing the damn book. I know this works. I know this works dammit.

And now, I'm actually doing NaNoWriMo in an effort to FINISH this godforsaken novel (I chickened out at the last minute and instead of starting something fresh and new, I decided to give said current novel a go because dammit).

I actually kind of know what happens next now that almost all the major characters (almost all) have made their spectacular (or not-so-spectacular) entry and I'm getting a handle on their motivation and stuff. So, onward (I actually typed "onword" before editing, so maybe that's a sign?).

It's just occurred to me that maybe what I've been trying to do with my notebooks is simply searching for inspiration and I know for a fact that inspiration lies in actually just doing the work (because it likes to find us working when it comes).

That's all for now, folks! I'll go and try to slightly raise my pathetic word count so far.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Music Magic

Last year in April (wow! it's been a year already), I wrote this post about listening to music while writing. Around that time I'd decided to stop doing both of things at the same time because I felt the music was artificially influencing the stuff I was writing, and I wasn't comfortable with it.

But SO MUCH has changed since I wrote that post, including me as a person as well as my taste in music. And recently I've started listening to music again while writing. Without feeling that it's leading my story away from the path I'm hoping it will take.

In the past year, I discovered that my "writing music" needs to be the kind that makes me want to conjure worlds into being. That makes me dream relentlessly. And most importantly that suits the mood of the story I want to create.

And that is the kind of music I've been listening to lately. I hear that wordless writing music helps too (it actually does). I might be posting links to some of them from time to time.

Lately, the song "I See Fire" by Ed Sheeran won't leave me alone.

I've been humming it over and over (and currently have it on repeat). There's just something about it. It moves me, tugs at something inside of me. And indeed, I see fire.

It turns out that my alter ego* was right all along. She suggested that on the contrary the fact that music might influence my writing could be a good thing. And it is. I just had to start listening to the right kind of music.

* Last year, I met someone on the wilds of the Internet and tend to think of her as my alter ego because we sometimes get into each other's heads (that is not creepy at all). She's totally real and not a figment of my imagination. I just haven't met her in person, 'kay? 

P.S. Sara, if you're reading this, please don't shoot me.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to Not Plot a Novel

I’m basically writing a novel where I don’t know what happens next as I write each scene. For anyone writing seriously, this is terrifying. I touched on this before in this rambling post about finding the story.

Why don’t I just plot beforehand, you ask? Plotting just doesn’t work for me. I attempted it painstakingly before (on a very different version of the current novel) and the storyline in question became so contrived and ARTIFICIAL that I just lost interest in it and chucked it. I don't regret the wasted words though, because they taught me how not to write this story.

As hard as I try to plot my current novel from start to finish or even the next few chapters, it just WON’T HAPPEN. But wait. Stop. Do I need to plot at all?

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

Here’s the thing. I find that plot germinates from scene to scene. This means that with each decision I make on the page concerning my characters and important story elements, this impacts how the story will unfold later on.

Though I don’t outline my chapters before writing them, I do outline them afterwards so I can keep track of what has happened so far in the story. An outline is just life-saving when you temporarily stop working on a story to focus on something else and then decide to come back to it months later.

Also, when I’m in the middle of writing a scene, I tend to get ideas of things that may happen in future scenes and I make a point to jot them down so I can explore them later. And Mr. Picasso makes a very important point here:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

When I’m working on a story, I’m always thinking about it even during the time when I’m not actually writing the story. And this is when I tend to get revelations about so-and-so character and discover plot holes.

Sometimes, I find that there are several possible pathways down which my story could develop. In that case, I try out a couple of experimental versions (even if there is a chance that I might not keep it) until I find one that works for the story. And I never know where each version could lead me, but all I know is that it could lead me to someplace I never expected to find (Sparta! Or you know. Someplace cool).

Even discarded scenes are not a complete waste of words (and time) because maybe there are elements, bits of descriptions or even entire characters that might be worth keeping. In fact, an important character from my current novel emerged that way (from an experimental storyline that I’m not keeping).

At some point, it occurred to me that the only way to finish writing this book is to keep writing it until it's done.

Recently, I came across invaluable writing advice by the brilliant Timothy Hallinan and apparently, he doesn't outline.

Also, here's a hilarious post about writing a novel: The Nine Stages of Dating a Novel by Tahereh Mafi (a guest post on Nathan Bransford's blog).

P.S. I'm in the grovelling stage right now. Hundred more Word pages to go, before I finish some semblance of a first draft (or should I say "experimental" draft? O_o).

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Touch of Southern India

So, I recently went to India for the first time. Finally! Because I'd been wanting to visit for a while now. This time round, I toured just the southern part of the country because India is just so huge that you can't explore it all in one go, especially in just 10 days!

When you are a writer, traveling is a good way to resource yourself and recharge your batteries. And of course, it's really just an excuse to wander around cluelessly and run into countless surprises. But I survived!

Surprises are part of the deal and sometimes, you just have to take it in stride (as long as you don't die, it's all good, right?). The food and the cultural experience were amazing for one. Some of the people I met were kind beyond my wildest expectations. And all in all, I had a good time.

Unexpectedly, I even learned how to ride a canoe!! Since my friend and I had zero navigation skills, I'll attribute the feat of getting the thing to move without overturning to our irrational fear of taking a dip in the filthy waterway and drowning in muck. See, fear is the ultimate motivator in situations like this. Anyway.

If there is one thing you can't accuse the south of India of, it's blandness. It is filled to the brim with strange and wondrous things...and colors! Here are a few glimpses...

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Right Word

We, as writers, sometimes lose so much time looking for the right word. Most of the time, it is right under our unsuspecting noses. Sometimes, we look down on it because it looks too simple and we are ashamed to use it because we think "we can do better". But that's because we forget that there is beauty in the humblest of words. I just wanted to share a couple of quotes to begin this new year.

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." – Mark Twain

"Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word – of course you will, there’s always another word – but it probably won’t be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean." – Stephen King (On Writing)

So, on this day, let us make the solemn promise to leave our shame behind and dare to use the right word. And speaking of lightning bugs, here's a short story by Sara Seay.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Ordinary Black Cat (Short Story)

As promised, I'm posting a short story to battle my fear.

I saw a black cat one day and this short story sprouted from my overactive mind.
The first time I saw the cat, I was walking back home from work. I wouldn't have paid any particular attention to it, if not for its black velvet fur and bright yellow eyes. It was not often I saw a cat like that. The kind of cat featured in folktales about witches or the devil. The kind of cat that people believed brought bad luck if it crossed the street in front of them. That kind of cat.

But truth to tell, I thought it was probably just an ordinary black cat.

It sat still on the lawn of someone’s front yard with its head turned the other way, ignoring the people who walked by, just a few feet away. After that one time, I never expected to see it again.

However, when I stepped out of the house to get the mail on the very next day, there it was. Almost as if waiting for me to notice it. It crossed the front yard and paused to look at me for the briefest second, before it was on its way.

And then I started seeing it at the most unexpected times. I would gaze out of the kitchen window in the middle of doing the dishes and it would return my gaze from the backyard, before jumping the wooden fence to the other side. I would randomly look out of my bedroom window and see it perched on the charcoal-tiled roof of my neighbor’s house and it would turn its head to look at me at that exact moment.

The days stumbled after each other. It became a little game of sorts. I would spot it and it would pause to acknowledge me, before running along. Not a day passed without our unspoken exchange.

Until one day, a full fortnight after I’d first seen it, it came treading along as I stepped out on the front porch on my way out. This time it stopped and sat a couple of yards away from me, waiting like it wanted to tell me something. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak cat.

It turned out, I wouldn’t need to. I’d barely locked the front door when I accidentally dropped my keys. I cursed, bending to retrieve them. But the cat swooped over them and scooted away in a flash.

“What the–?” I turned around to find the cat standing several yards away, with my keys firmly held in its maw. I cursed again.

My Fear of Failure

I'm an idiot. I just had this sudden realization around an hour and a half back. Today I've had this big uneasy feeling. Last night (or rather very early this morning) I went to sleep uneasy. I woke up uneasy. I spent the day uneasy.

I went for a run after I woke up today morning (something I NEVER do), because I felt I needed it. I thought maybe it would clear my mind. I woke up one hour before my alarm clock, despite clocking in less than six hours of sleep.

I couldn't put my finger on what was up with me the whole day until that light bulb moment. I know I've been avoiding writing for the past few days. Always making excuses. My resolution to write everyday if only for ten minutes hasn't lasted more than a few days. I've been ignoring it. Pretending it doesn't exist because I told myself I have more pressing matters at hand. Then I stopped and asked myself: what the hell am I doing?

Then, more questions. What is my passion? The written word - writing and reading! But why am I doing everything I can to avoid those two things? Am I lying to myself? Maybe my true passion is something else. Then, I thought: no. These two things have always brought me joy. What changed then?

My perspective, I think. Before last year, I never thought of these two things as anything less than an active hobby and they were nothing but pure pleasure. Writing was something that I was doing for myself. From the minute I started to consider writing as a possible career, it increasingly became a chore. Why?

Because there was this new pressure to succeed (pressure that wasn't there before - pressure I put on myself I have to add). However, the pressure kept rising and rising. It rose so much in fact that writing became so stressful at one point last year that I had to stop for more than two months before I gathered myself again.

I think this whole situation originates from this: my fear of failure. As difficult as it is to admit to myself, I'm afraid to fail at writing, so I constantly delay writing and even when I do write, I feel that it's not good enough. But by losing so much time being scared, I'm losing the opportunity to follow my dreams and my heart. The thing is, I realize I'm the only person holding myself back. And by doing so, I'm whittling my life away little by little. I'm sabotaging myself, like someone I know likes to say.

I watched a great movie today. It basically had this one line that I find so liberating: "Don't run after success. Run after excellence. Then, success will come running after you on its own."

So, I've decided I'm going to be afraid no more. Even if I fail at writing, at least I will still have the satisfaction of knowing that I gave it my everything. And I'm determined to make writing stories fun again. Even if no one wants to read them.

And as Robin Sharma says in this blog post, the antidote to fear is action. I'm going to post my next short story. It's not perfect. It's not even pretty (and I'm pretty sure it's badly written). But it is what it is. And by posting this short story, I will be battling my fear actively.
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