Networking Events for Writers

Yesterday I attended a great event put on by the Surrey Public Library at the striking new City Centre branch. It was part of the Write Here, Read Now program and featured the inspiring Martin Crosbie, author of How I sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle, a self-publishing guidebook. In the 75 minutes that he had he did an outstanding job of presenting a plethora of useful steps to how aspiring authors can self-publish and not bankrupt themselves in the process. In the past, I have attended workshops and presentations on self-publishing and to be quite honest, mostly what I took away from them was how difficult it would be and how little success I should realistically expect. Add to that the fact that I am not great at the technical aspect of it. Martin Crosbie, on the other hand, makes it seem so achievable that it lit a fire in me once again. The best part of it is how encouraging he is to writers who are just beginning their journey. I also met the fabulous Lorna Suzuki, author of The Imago Chronicles. She was one of the writers in  Authors Among Us, an ongoing event at the library where you can listen to various writers give readings from their books and then ask questions and interact with them. I was able to spend some time with her afterwards and share some of my concerns. Ten minutes with her and once again I was on a motivational high. We’ve all been there, in that place of self doubt, of insecurity and frustration, when it feels that we’re stuck. Which brings me to my main point. I feel extremely fortunate to live in a city where the public library puts on multiple events that bring together successful authors of different genres and at various levels of success, so that aspiring writers can connect with them, learn from them and most of all be inspired by them. We all know that writing can be a somewhat lonely activity, but events like these make you realize that there is a community of writers nearby, where you can find guidance and encouragement and where hopefully, one day, you too can pay it forward.

Ways to Improve Creativity

I was thinking about ways to improve creativity, so I did some research and here’s what I’ve come up with:

-Keep an open mind about…well pretty much anything…what you read, who you talk to, what you watch. You never know what will inspire you and help you create the next great piece of art or literature.

-Use all your senses when you go about your daily activities. Observe the people on the bus, in line at the coffee shop and grocery store. Listen to how they talk to one another and what kind of hand gestures they use. The next time you go to a restaurant, an art gallery or a  farmer’s market, take in all the colours, flavours and scents that surround you. You never know where inspiration might strike.

-Put judgment aside for some time. When we look at something in our usual way it may colour our perception.

-Determine when and where you are at your creative best. It could be quiet mornings at your regular coffee shop or your local library. Or it could be in your favourite chair at home with soft music in the background.

-Add creative and inspiring people into your social circle. It rubs off.

Don’t let a slight lag in creativity let you give up on your dreams. Find what works for you and let the creative juices flow.

What to do if you hate the novel you wrote

What do you do when you’ve finally finished your novel, but you look back at it and hate most of what you wrote?

I’m sure most writers have at some point in their careers looked at their completed work and decided that it would never see the light of day. A few months ago I just stopped writing. I didn’t write any posts, I didn’t want to look at my chapters and I didn’t want to read other people’s writing. In fact, even in the grocery store I avoided the book aisle like the plague. It was as if I was angry with writing in general and wanted to have nothing to do with it. Then a few weeks ago I decided to take a peek at the opening chapter of my novel. I read it as if it had been written by someone else. And I really liked it. So I read a little more. Then I read the comments from the editor I had sent my novel to . He had a lot to say, some good, some not so good, but all very helpful and encouraging. Then I remembered something I read somewhere and I realized that instead of just dropping this project which I had worked quite hard on, I could work at it some more and make it really good. I was already on the right track and all I needed was to stick with it. But that was the hardest part for me. I have a history of not sticking with things, not because I can’t do them, but because when something doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time I tend to give up.  It turns out that I’ve been standing in my own way. So my new goal is to fix what I can fix and then send it out into the world and hope that people like it.

Here is what I have learned from the last few months of wallowing in self-doubt:

I may truly just be a bad writer.

My internal editor may be taking control of my creative side.

I may be a perfectionist, which is pretty much a death sentence for a writer, because who can produce a perfect first draft?

I might be afraid of failure and it’s easier to just give up.

Lastly, I might just be a whiny pants who needs a swift, hard kick in the butt to pick up my novel where I left off and work at it until it’s the best that it can be.

So, today I’m deciding to do that last one. Hope to hear from you about your moments of doubt.

 

Occupational Hazards for Writers

Since I started writing a couple of years ago I realized that there are some occupational hazards of being a writer. These include :

-Your sleep being hijacked by your characters as they live out the  scenes from your book.

-Your friends no longer sharing intimate details of their lives with you as said details inevitably find their way into your book.

-Being unable to go to any social functions without mentally categorizing people and their quirks for future use in your book.

-Listening with disturbing intensity when coming across anyone with an accent, in case you can use it in your book.

-Shushing people at the movies because they dared to fidget as you are trying to mentally record a scene that might help you with your book.

-Having difficulty concentrating on what your friend is saying at lunch because you are fascinated by the way she chews her food and you might be able to use it for a character in your book.

-Developing an unhealthy habit of imitating grimaces and other facial expressions as you try to write them, but forgetting that you are in public.

-Mentally practicing combat moves for your fight scenes, not realizing that you are acting them out while sitting at a Starbucks and people are beginning to stare.

If anyone wants to add weird habits they’ve picked up as writers, I would love to hear about it.

The Woes of Editing: Part Two

I seem to have painted myself into a corner while attempting to edit my novel. I started out making small changes here and there. But then, like bunnies they multiplied and before I realized it, so much had changed that my characters started turning on me. One of them didn’t like the way I made her look, the other doesn’t like his personality. So what do you do if your characters refuse to be who you want them to be? In my mind I’m the boss, but just as it happens in real life, this is just a figment of my imagination. Which is really my point. They wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for me. It’s like I tell my children sometimes (read everyday) , I gave them life, therefore I get to make important decisions. But just like my children do to me, my characters lured me into a false sense of believing that I actually control them. It turns out that I don’t. Most of them are refusing to do the things that I ask, so I started making more changes to make them happy. So now I have to figure out a way to coax them all back into the little darlings they used to be when I first started writing this novel. Good luck to me.

Dan Brown and Fiction

Recently I have been reading quite a few articles that are, quite frankly, just hating on Dan Brown and his writing. Mostly it’s because of the liberties he took with the life events of certain religious/ historical figures and other facts. This leaves me perplexed. When I pick up a book knowing that it is a work of fiction, I expect to be intrigued. I certainly don’t expect all of it to be true. I really enjoyed all of his novels so far. It didn’t matter to  me that he was making stuff up when he wrote them. Isn’t that what a fiction writer does? I fail to understand why religious accuracy  has anything to do with it. Nowhere in his writing does he claim that he is stating facts. All he did was pose an alternative reality. If people insist on believing that everything he wrote about the Louvre, for example, is true and then are disappointed when they go there and find out otherwise, well then they will fall apart when they  travel to Forks and realize that the vampiric Cullens do not actually live there.

Home Remedies for Writer’s Block

Writer's Block 1
Writer’s Block 1 (Photo credit: OkayCityNate)

Last week I suffered from a particularly virulent strain of Writer’s Block. To overcome my frustration I decided to do some research into home remedies. Here’s what I came up with:

– A Castle Marathon may not be what the doctor ordered, but what do doctors know. It gave me some awesome ideas.

– Dive into your work. I’m a tutor, so my teenage students are great fodder for YA dialogue.

-It’s okay to have a drink after work on a weekday,every day, as long as it’s for medicinal purposes.

-Incessantly messaging your friends on Facebook is legal if it generates ideas for your book. After all there are so many different characters in a novel, the voices have to come from somewhere.

-Telling everybody that you are suffering from Writer’s Block and that you need an evening out is a legitimate excuse to go out for a night of karaoke. A Karaoke bar is a veritable smorgasbord for characters.

And the research continues…

Writers and the Fusion of Cultures

Child_with_red_hair_reading
Child_with_red_hair_reading (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was thinking about the stories we all grow up with. No matter where we spend our childhood, when we move to another part of the world we carry these stories with us and consciously or not, they make their way into the stories we write or tell our children. The folktales we listened to as kids or the stories that Grandfather always told at dinner seep into the world of the characters we create and soon we experience a wonderful fusion of cultures in which the bedtime stories a child might have heard in India merge with the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Thus we create new fairy tales for another generation. Almost every culture has some version of  the knight in shining armour who saves the princess. Or the brave warrior girl who outwits the evil genius. And then there are all the mythologies.  As a child growing up in Germany I devoured the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales. But I also loved the stories that my Bengali father told me and the comic books he bought me from which I learned about Hindu mythology. I grew up in a Muslim home, reading stories about Hindu deities, along with old German folktales. I lost myself in the Arabian Nights and listened to the bedtime stories that my Pakistani mother told me. Fantasy knows no boundaries and stories flow effortlessly across  man-made borders. As writers, we are in a unique position. We can create characters and stories which reflect wonderful aspects of different cultures  and enrich the literature of our times. And never has this been easier than now, when we can  reach such a large audience so quickly and easily. I am grateful for the opportunity to share the stories that created such happy memories of my childhood.

The Woes of Editing

When the freelance editor I hired returned my manuscript with many helpful comments and critiques, my initial reaction was one of relief. I was glad that I found someone who understood the story I was trying to tell and was familiar with Indian Mythology. I read through all his comments, excited by the prospect that soon I would sit down and polish the manuscript and then it would be ready to go out into the world. After all there was nothing that could stop me now, right?

Wrong. I sat down to get started and hit a wall. Metaphorically, of course, but it felt like an actual wall. My head hurt and my heart started to race. It could have just been the aftershocks from the horrible flu I was still getting over, but the panic I felt was real enough.

I had to talk myself out of the dark place I found myself in to get going again. Luckily, no one in my family finds it strange when I talk to myself, and soon enough I got going. Now I’m on a roll again, but it was scary for a while there.

So, my question to you is:

What is the best way to approach the editing process?

The Abandoned Palace: Fatehpur Sikri

Painting of Akbar the Great with Jesuits at hi...
Painting of Akbar the Great with Jesuits at his court; Akbar’s vizier wrote a gazetteer on the Mughal realm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Imperial palace at Fathepur Sikri, near Agra, ...
Imperial palace at Fathepur Sikri, near Agra, India, built in 1580 Français : Palais impérial à Fatehpur-Sikrî, près d’Âgrâ en Inde, construit en 1580 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our trip to India two years ago we visited Fatehpur Sikri. A lot of the action in my book takes place in old temples and palaces, so this was a perfect spot for some great inspiration.  The Mughal Emperor Akbar had this palace city built in the late 1570’s when he relocated the capital of his empire from Agra to Fatehpur. The architecture is a dazzling blend of Persian and Hindu styles. The design bears testament to the religious tolerance that Akbar was well known for. While the Mughals were devout Muslims, Akbar chose to educate himself on the tenets of Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, as well as Christianity. In the palace he dedicated a large hall, called the Ibadat Khana or Room of Worship. There he invited scholars and leaders of other religions to meet and discuss their faith with the goal of enlightenment and brotherhood. Surprisingly forward thinking for his time, Akbar even invited women to join these weekly gatherings. But he didn’t just stop at gatherings and discussions. Akbar tried to create a new faith which was an amalgamation of all the faiths he had encountered. He called this faith Din-i-Ilahi, Faith of the Divine. Unfortunately for him, the ministers of his court were not quite so open-minded, and prejudices got in the way of his tolerance. Those closest to him began to worry that his open acceptance of the other faiths would pose a threat and political circumstances did not allow the new religion to gain popularity. Sadly, a few years later, Akbar’s court abandoned the palace at Fatehpur Sikri due to a water shortage.Today, the city still stands, nothing more than a ghost town of courtyards and surrounding pavilions. Walking around the complex you can almost hear the echoes of children playing in the gardens while the Emperor’s wives lounged by the pond. Inside the empty palace it is easy to feel the intensity and passion that must have filled the Ibadat Khana when Akbar led the scholarly discussions on the some of the world’s major religions.

As a writer there is nothing more inspiring than a place filled with so much  history and intrigue. Every room seems filled with secrets and stories just come alive as you walk in the footsteps of so many who made and changed the circumstances of their time.