As I randomly leapt from one website to another yesterday evening, I came across a book called 'Becoming a Writer' by Dorothea Brande.
Actually, a prolific author and daily blogger, Harvey Stanbrough, had mentioned a book titled 'Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer' by J. Michael Straczynski, and in looking that up on Amazon, I came across Brande's book of almost the same name and was drawn to it.
In her book, Brande addresses the psychological and emotional issues that hinder authors from showing up and writing their stories day after day after day for years on end. And it felt like exactly the kind of thing I needed to read right now.
I've long suspected that my inability to write on most days is primarily owing to the emotional baggage that I had come to associate with writing for a long time. I'm listing below many of the beliefs I had held about writing as a practice and also writing as a career, as a way of making a living, all of which I'm only now beginning to realise are extremely false notions.
- We need to slave for our writing.
- Writing fast leads to shoddy work.
- Only literary writing can be deemed to have any value.
- Writing is at best an indulgence.
- Anything worthwhile must entail hard work.
- Writers do not make money.
- And so on, and so on.
I don't think I've even scratched the surface when it comes to all the erroneous notions and beliefs I've held, and still continue to hold, about writing.
I've been trying to learn a lot, while improving my practice itself, and I'm always stumped by how much we creatives tend to self-sabotage ourselves in ways we don't even realise we do.
So anyway, I came across Brande's book and one of the things she suggests is to try free-writing first thing in the morning for half an hour to one hour, and again at another time of the day for at least 15 minutes. And she asks us to commit to these times. She states that when we show up at the appointed hour, no matter what we may have been in the midst of, it trains our subconscious and critical mind such that we develop the ability to write whenever and wherever we may be.
This promise is of special appeal to me because gosh, the number and type of excuses I can come up with to not write are simply astounding! Somedays it is the lack of peace and quiet in the house (because what else can you expect with a precious little child at home). Somedays it is the lack of good sleep at night. Somedays it is because I had a late start to the day and I came to the writing desk an hour or a half-hour later than usual. Yes – my excuses are astounding in their superficiality too.
Brande says that if we are consistently unable to show up for those writing sessions, then our resistance to write is much greater than our desire to, and that we'd be better off pursuing a different occupation.
That terrified me.
And I want to prove to myself that my desire to write is much greater than my resistance. In fact, I already know this to be true. On days when I have written, I'm a happy soul and life is perfect. On days when I haven't written enough or at all, the misery resulting from that simply seeps into everything else.
So Brande's statement was quite literally the impetus I needed to reframe how I view my life, my writing practice, the kind of commitment it takes, and how it can once again become a pleasurable task for me.
For long, I've blamed – whether overtly or not – my family, my life events and situations, my mental and emotional and physical well-being or lack of it, financial dilemmas, basically everything under the sun for my inability to commit to writing the way dedicated author-entrepreneurs do.
And I understand that even while BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) is the precious mantra, I have been unearthing several emotional issues that have kept me from committing to my writing fully so far.
But I desperately want to turn this around. So I have decided that I'll schedule a 15-minute session of writing at 7 P.M. every evening. D has usually fallen asleep by this time, and I spend this time loitering on the Internet, having convinced myself that I am too tired to write fiction or do any other writing-related thing such as design book covers for my next work or edit the pricing changes I've been planning for Dying Wishes.
What I usually do at this hour are these things.
- I check FB a thousand times.
- I check Whatsapp to see if there are any new messages of if the messages I've sent have been read or not.
- I check email every five or ten minutes to see if there's anything new that merits attention.
- And then I head into the shower, moaning that I haven't been able to write much during the day.
- And I come out and see KrA still hard at work, typing away on his keyboard, and I pick up a fight with him, anxious about the zilch progress I'm making in my work and envious of the calm, persistent effort he seems to so effortlessly manage to put towards his work even after having woken up at five in the morning to play with D.
- I also check other writers' blogs like Harvey Stanbrough's or Dean Wesley Smith's or Kristine Kathryn Rusch's, mostly for inspiration and very useful insight into writing and publishing, but I've found that it's not the outside voice that I need to hear in my darkest times. It's my own.
Sure, it's great to be informed of what's going on in the industry and the advice from these longstanding authors is invaluable. I wouldn't have known about writing into the dark had it not been for these authors. DWS and Harvey post invaluable advice on their daily blogs about critical voice, writing speed, how we as writers form so many myths that keep us from producing our best work, consistently, over and over again.
But right now, I'm at a stage where I need to dig deep within myself for that confidence, conviction, and commitment. It's so easy for me to read all these wonderful blogs and concoct dreams in my head and after an hour or two of feel-good Internet surfing, I pat myself on the back for having encouraged myself, and I go to bed, promising myself that tomorrow I will show up and put in the work required.
That has never worked, so I'm not going to keep doing that over and over again.
Instead, at 7 P.M., I'm going to head straight here and write a post.
About how beautiful summer evenings are in my home as the evening light pours into our west-facing windows, as the leaves of the trees in our neighbours' backyards glitter and dance in the sunlight, and knowing that the lake is only a kilometre away makes it feel as if I'm on a beachside, my own private beach, with KrA and D beside me, and me doing the thing I love the most – writing – without fear, without hesitation, without being my own biggest obstacle.
I had set a timer for 15 minutes, and I've already written for close to half an hour. I believe if I keep writing my thoughts here, I'd clear up enough space in my head to convert this time too into fiction-writing time eventually.
I will continue to reserve mornings for fiction alone, and on days when I find myself in a slump, refusing to write fiction, I'll head straight here and pour my heart out on this blog.
I don't plan to post links to these on my FaceBook page because I don't need another excuse to get lost in the nefarious maze that social media is. In fact, I plan to head to FB only once a week henceforth, on Fridays, when I post the week's Tales for Dreamers.
Besides, I also want to do this for myself. Not for validation in the form of comments/likes/engagements on the Internet. You could argue that I might as well write in a journal then. But I type out my fiction, I type out my blog posts. This is the medium I work in, so I think it's best I do this exercise using the same medium I use for writing fiction. Come to think of it, it's mostly poetry that I write in longhand form anymore, if at all, considering that the last poem I wrote was months ago!
Anyhoo, I'll be back here tomorrow evening.
For now, I hope to keep at this for 30 days. Today is June 15. Let's revisit this on July 15, and see how I've fared.