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.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Story Magic

When you’ve been writing a particular story for a very long time, sometimes it’s hard to continue. So hard in fact, that even before you sit down to type, you want to drop it and do anything else. ANYTHING ELSE. In short, it becomes an absolute chore to continue.

I think writing is so hard because we pour so much of ourselves into it and sometimes, a story will only take you so far before the only thing left to do is to set it aside and carry on to the next story. But eventually there comes a story that won’t leave you alone no matter what. It keeps nagging at you to write it, to finish it. But you’re terrified to write it because you’re afraid you’ll botch it up (and when I say "you", I mean me). And it lies lingering there like that ghost you pretend you don't see.

So, how do you find your way back to the magic that drew you to this story again? Is it even possible, you ask?

You daydream. You let your mind wander about the story ideas and its characters. You imagine the scenes that you were once beyond excited to write. And you keep feeding your imagination with stories of all kinds by reading as much as you can.

But most importantly, I think spending regular time with the story becomes crucial. Stories, like relationships, are high-maintenance because when you neglect them, you start to lose them, their threads and what made them special to you in the first place.

Schedule regular alone time with the story if only to stare off into blank space and daydream about it like it’s some long-lost crush. Hopefully, you will be flooded with a rain of ideas (to self: that's a horrible metaphor) or you know just think of a couple of things that can help move it forward.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Imagination Is A Hungry Beast

Signs of summer have been popping up where I live.

Peach Blossoms

Lately, I've been in a bit of a reading and writing slump. I'm having trouble focusing on the things I most love to do. And it’s not even because of lack of time. I just don’t seem to get much done because of…laziness, I guess? More accurately, I feel like a puddle of inertia and don’t know how to get myself out of this state.

But with the beginning of summer here, I feel like I really need to get a certain story (the one I've been writing since forever) done because I've got just about three months before the end of the year (which is kind of my self-imposed deadline).

I don’t know why this is so hard, because I've done it before when I really needed to get something done. I think I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needs to be done before it becomes the story it’s meant to be.

I really need to start looking at it in smaller pieces rather than one big daunting piece of work. I need to take it one page at a time, one day at a time and not stress myself with whether I’ll be able to finish or not.

Above all, I think that at the crux of my problem lies one specific thing: I’m not reading enough. Anyway, not like I used to in the past. I find that when I don’t make time to read regularly, my creative inspiration starts to dwindle super fast and I can’t get any decent writing done.

Stories are fodder for a writer’s imagination really (at least, that’s my take on it). And my imagination is a hungry beast (and right now, it's about to pass out of hunger - I'm trying to revive it). If I don’t feed it regularly with stories, I find that it refuses to carry me anywhere. Is your imagination a hungry beast?

So, the plan for this summer is to set aside reading and writing time every day. I’m going to try this and see how it works out.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Finding The Story

Stories are found things...relics...

Once upon a time, I started a novel, dumped it after sometime and started all over again...only to dump the second version (pretty much permanently) and rewind to the original version. Why? Because the original story elements wouldn't leave me alone. Why again? Because there is a reason behind this (which I didn't realize only until recently).

After returning to the original version of said novel, I've been struggling A LOT with it from Chapter 4 onward. Let me decrypt that. By "struggling", I mean that I wrote scenes that did practically nothing to move the story forward, only to chop them off, backtrack and then do it all over again.

It's like doing a step dance from writer-hell (wait, a céilidh dance?), where I go two steps forward but one and a half steps backward. Then after a while of doing that dance, I took a step back from the novel and asked myself: what the hell* are you trying to do? And this was when I had something of a light bulb moment: I'm trying to find the story.

More specifically, I'm trying to find the true form of the story, not just a phantom of that story. And for that, I have to be willing to explore uncertain avenues and dig in unlikely places.

As of now, I don't know the whole story. I know what kind of story I want to tell (or at least I think I know) and I know some of its core elements. But I don't know all of its core elements. And this is what I'm really trying to do: find the missing elements so that I can connect the dots and draw the whole picture.

And lo and behold, the brilliant Laini Taylor just did a fantastic post about her writing process, which she likens to a dance between the known and the unknown. This woman. She must be divine or something. In her post, she talks about how she doesn't outline her stories before writing them simply because she doesn't know what's going to happen beforehand and she also mentions the terror that accompanies her process.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Corridor Of Broken Dreams (Short Story)

Following The Burden of Expectations post, here's a short story that's sort of inspired by it and other things. Life is too short to waste it away in a miserable cubicle job. I needed a well-deserved kick in the butt from the universe to remind me of that. Also, this is my first short story after a very long time. I'd forgotten how much fun they can be.

Credit: The Corridor by Adikko (from deviantART)

I push the bar-handles of the double doors open and enter the school building. A long hallway stretches out ahead of me endlessly. There is no one in sight. But I can see them. I can hear their voices in my head. Voices that belong to the past. I start walking down the hallway. Its lockers are full of memories of countless events involving the countless teenagers who used them.

Locker 137. This is where my first boyfriend asked me out. This is also where I had my first kiss.

I keep walking. Locker 156. This is where we broke up. My first ex-boyfriend's locker.

Locker 301. This is where I poured my eyes out to my then best friend and told her I was so done with boys. It was stupid to fawn over them anyway. They were selfish beings who put themselves first.

Two months later, I had no memory of saying that, as I kissed my next boyfriend at Locker 307.

The so-called significant events in the life of an ordinary teenager.

It’s not just the lockers, but the hallway itself. I remember thinking about being a vet or sometimes a lawyer or a fighter pilot amidst the whirlwind of crazy activity that was my life.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hope...(and My First Dear Author Critique)

Hope is what fuels my writing. Aside from writing because I just plain love writing, I write because I hope to write my stories the way they deserve to be written. I write because I hope that this was what I was put on this earth to do. And I write because I hope that someone somewhere in the world will like what I write.

So. I wrote a chunk of a novel last year (with the rather unimpressive title of "Death Wish") and decided to submit its first page to Dear Author's First Page critique feature in February to see if there was any hope in my writing. I totally forgot about it until I got an email yesterday saying that my first page was up for critique! The community over at Dear Author have taken me to task (wonderfully, might I say) here:

I am truly grateful to Dear Author and its community for giving me hope. I couldn't ask for more.

Oh, and here's my first page for the Dear Author submission (and it's not the most brilliant thing):
I rolled my shoulders and assessed the wraith in front of me. The thing howled like an enraged gust of wind. It was trapped within the circle of containment I’d just cast. There were only two ways it could go now. Back from wherever it came from or through my Rifter.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Burden Of Expectations

So, I've been listening to Disparate Youth by Santigold on and off for quite some time now.

And obsessing over a few lyrics. The ones that go like:
“Another roadblock in our way.”
“They wanna sit and watch you wither.”
“A life worth fighting for.”

Note: What I’m about to say is just my personal opinion. And probably unwanted advice of sorts. Take it or leave it.

The thing is that song has brought back something I realized fully in a single moment of clarity a few years ago and it’s something I've been wanting to get off my chest for quite some time now.

It’s about expectations and the burden that comes with them. People (your parents, your acquaintances and society in general) expect you to make something out of your life, from the day you are born. Even if no one tells you about it straightaway, it’s there – you can feel it and you can see it in the eyes of the people around you. Unless you are a child prodigy or a pop star who makes it big in your teens or simply have incredibly open-minded parents, the commonly approved standard for meeting those expectations or alternately “success” generally involves studying hard enough, getting decent grades, going to college, graduating and finally getting a job. Not any job at that, a “real” job that pays the bills and gets you a decent place to live in.

But what if you don’t want to get a “real” job? What if your dream is to make something else out of your life? To become someone else who’s not a robot doing that miserable cubicle job? What if you don’t want to go down the beaten path but make up your own? And oh horrors of horrors, what happens if you don’t conform to the expectations that others have of you?

So, my question is: Do expectations really matter?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Life is short. Unexpectedly short.

As I sat on the bus earlier today, I looked down the street where I live and felt like this might be the last time I was going to see it. At that moment, I chalked it down to paranoia. And I was wrong.

Today a car lost control and crashed against the side of another car. This happened less than one meter from me as I was walking back home. When I turned back and realized what had happened, my first reflex was to thank God (or the Universe or whatever else you believe in) for sparing my life. I'd just crossed in front of the car that had been smashed against the wall and FELT the whoosh of the cars as they crashed and skidded right behind me.

As I think about it right now, I can still feel my legs shaking and my heart pounding. Standing right next to me, a guy was whining about his totaled motorcycle. I looked at him like he'd lost his mind. He could have lost his life and instead of thanking God or whatever else he believes in, he chose to whine about losing his motorcycle?

People swarmed around and tried to help and get those people out of the cars. I tried calling the emergency services several times and it was ringing, but nobody picked up. Nobody fucking picked up. I realize that this is a developing country. But that's just no excuse.

Dear Emergency Services, what good are you if you're not here when the people who pay the taxes to run your services need you? Fuck you very much Emergency Services. (Someone must have deigned to pick up someone else's call later though, because I could hear the sound of sirens from my home some time later...)

Right now, I can only pray that the people who were inside those cars can make it. Thankfully, the people from the car that lost control were still conscious, though shell-shocked and injured. I pray that they'll be okay. But the guy in the other car was unconscious…and I hope that he makes it. I remember glancing at him for all of a second before crossing in front of his car - he'd been waiting to get on the main road...

Yesterday, a bus of around 60 people turned over, killing 10 people and injuring many more. Today this. The difference is, today I was there. Until it happens right in front of your eyes, this doesn't really really affect you. You can feel sympathy and sadness true, but you cannot really understand the horror of it until you live it.

The car crash happened just a hair’s breadth from me and just a 5 mins walk away from my home. I could have never walked down the street where I live again.

Before the car crash, I thought I'd used up all my luck. I was wrong.

Life is short. Unexpectedly short. This could have happened to anyone anywhere. There's no guarantee of when you'll die. So, cherish each day that you live. Don't neglect the people who matter most to you, because you might never see them again. Do the things that you most want to do, because you might lose the chance of ever doing those things. Whatever it is you dream of doing, do it now. Don't wait for the conditions to be ideal. Because it might be too late by then.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Musings about Music and Writing

Ever since I heard this piece in the Game of Thrones Season 3 trailer, I haven't been able to stop listening to it. It's called Bones by MS MR and pretty much won't leave me alone.

My favorite bits are: "Midnight hours, cobble street passages, forgotten savages...forgotten savages.." and
"These are hard times, these are hard times..for dreamers.."

I swear, it gets better every time I listen to it. There's a mix of dreaminess, bitterness and darkness in it that makes me obsess over it appeals to me on a very visceral level. Sometimes, music triggers powerful emotions that I can't quite explain and this song is one of those.

To me as a writer, music is powerful and beautiful and inspiring and a very essential part of the creative process. It is a muse of sorts, if you will. I generally tend to associate songs (some quite strongly so) with a particular story or a particular character or one character's relationship with another character. So, music helps to inspire me while I think about the story, the characters as well as the mood I'm trying to create. But when I'm actually writing and listening to music at the same time, that's a different kettle of fish.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Writing Update

It's been ten months since I took a big risk and decided to quit my day job to take some time off to write. Recently, I've taken the decision to get a day job for a few reasons. First, I found that not only am I not productive as a writer for more than five hours a day (because apparently my writer-brain switches off after said five hours and I start writing crap). So, what do I do with myself for the rest of the day?