Don’t Worry, Just Write

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ” 

― Joss Whedon

The past couple of weeks, I haven’t been regular with my blog posts. This got me thinking. Because I’ve done this before – started writing a blog with enthusiasm, slowed down as days went by, and eventually I gave up on it. So perhaps I’m heading the same way again? That thought had me concerned.

Image of a man sitting on a bench as he writes
Photo Credit: dhammza via Compfight cc

The truth is I’ve been working on a story, a book that’s leading me into fascinating and unexplored territories, in my writing and in my life. And it’s taking up a lot of my time. This is probably the first time that I’ve ever mentioned writing a book in public. Except for a few people, no one knew about it. No, it’s not some secret mission. I’m taking it seriously now and it makes sense to tell people about it. As I’m juggling my time between a number of writing projects, I wanted to tackle the slack in my blogging by reminding myself why I began writing in the first place. And it turns out, it all began with worrying … a lot.

I used to worry about my career, about my life, about where I’m going in life. I love jigsaw puzzles. It’s thrilling to figure out how the pieces fit together. But in my life, when I couldn’t find a piece or I didn’t know how the pieces fit together, I would worry. My eyebrows would furrow and I would squint at the pieces with everything I had to find some connection, and I would worry. My imagination, though extremely helpful while writing, would take flight unbound, and I would worry. The result: a muddled mind filled with uncertainty. And I waited almost in a limbo to be sure, for things to be clear. When that didn’t happen, what did I do? I worried.

That’s when I started writing. I don’t know why, but that just seemed like what I needed to do. I wrote and pages filled up. Perhaps my imagination was preoccupied with writing, but clarity that I sought found its way into my life. So I wrote more. My writing improved. Strangely enough, I stopped worrying. I was happiest when I wrote. The words that appeared on the screen were like the magic wand that cleared the clutter in my head – I could finally label things. From a sense of feeling emotionally retarded, I could express what I felt with my writing. I had to write, for my own sanity. Writing became my catharsis and I know it’s going to remain so for the rest of my life.

Writing has brought me so much joy, I wanted to share it by blogging. The more I read why people write, I realised, I was not alone in using writing to face my fears and doubts. That’s how I found the courage to share my writing with the world. I didn’t know if anyone would want to read it. But once you have taken the leap of faith with writing, you want to jump as high and as far as possible.

I read this brilliant article on the benefits of keeping a journal, where writer Susan Sontag says, “Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts—like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.”

If you are unconvinced by the astute writers in that article, let me tell you, science agrees with them. According to a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, the researchers found that writing regularly can improve your health. The article, Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write, highlights several other studies which have found that writing helps people evaluate their lives and get through traumatic events, thereby reducing stress. In fact, one study suggests that blogging might have the same effect as running or listening to music by releasing dopamine in our body.

So here’s what I’ve learnt – don’t worry, just write. You don’t have to necessarily open your heart to the world. You can share as much as you are comfortable sharing. If you don’t want to share, that’s fine as well. It doesn’t have to be a blog or a book or even a story. It can be a journal, your observations or thoughts, or just a series of events that happened to you. But trust me on this, you want to write. You may or may not find that book in you, but I promise you, you will find yourself. You will be surprised, you might be puzzled. But if you keep at it, you will be amazed by the insights you gain, about your life and the world we live in.

In a world addicted to instant gratification, writing gives you a few precious moments to pause and think, to figure things out for yourself, so you are not blindly swept away by the ever changing trends and what’s “in”.

The beauty of writing is that it forces you to stay in the present, to live in the moment. Try as you might to dwell in the past or project into the future, you have to be here, in this moment, to write your thoughts down. In that moment of solitude, you are free, to see what’s important, to feel what you want to rather than what you think you should. You are free to be who you are, instead of all that you thought you should be. You find connections that you didn’t know existed, the common threads that bind our universe together. When you connect the dots, make sense of things in life that seemed meaningless, that appeared to serve no purpose, it’s a rush you are better off experiencing yourself. A word of advice, that leap of faith I mentioned earlier, you have to want to take it. You must be willing to launch yourself from solid ground into the unknown. When I started writing, I had to let go of many preconceived ideas I had about myself and my life. It was not easy. But it was necessary and it took me a while to see that. So take the leap, open your mind and jump into the unknown. Just … write.

How has writing helped you? Why do you write? Do you want to write but don’t know where to begin? Share your thoughts in the Comments.

One morning in Bergen

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

 

Bergen – The city of colours, the Gateway to the Fjords of Norway

As part of our trip to see Sognefjord, after we cruised through its scenic waters from Flåm to Bergen, we had one morning to explore Bergen, a UNESCO World Heritage City. You can read all about my Sognefjord trip here: To Sognefjord and back – Part 1 – 1222m Above Sea LevelPart 2 – Finding my Rivendell on the Flåmsbana, and Part 3 – Through the Waters of Sognefjord and Back

What do you do when you have just one morning to spend in a city like Bergen? Simple, you walk around, stroll through its streets filled with history and colour, and soak it all up as much as you can. And that’s what we did. We stayed the night at the Grand Terminus Hotel, which is right next to the Bergen Railway Station. That proved convenient when we needed to leave our bags at the hotel and collect it before we caught our train to Oslo the next afternoon.

History

Bergen was founded in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre. Thanks to its harbour, it soon became a centre for commerce. In 1360 , it attracted the attention of the Hansas, the German medieval guild of merchants, who built their import and export offices on the wharf called Bryggen, the iconic wharf in Bergen. The rows of coloured wooden buildings with ancient gables facing the picturesque harbour are probably the most familiar attraction in the city. Though devastated by several fires, especially the Great Fire of 1702, which burned down the entire city, Bryggen was rebuilt on the original foundations and entered UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.

Travel to Bergen

Here are some links to help you plan your trip to Bergen:

http://www.visitbergen.com/en/

http://www.bergen-guide.com/73.htm

http://www.visitnorway.com/uk/where-to-go-uk/fjord-norway/bergen/what-to-do-in-bergen/attractions-in-bergen/

Exploring Bergen

What many tourists may not know till they walk through the streets of Bergen is that colours, on murals, on buildings, and on flowers, embrace you at every turn. We saw some beautiful street art and art displays as we walked down from the hotel into the heart of the city. Shades of ultramarine blue, crimson, chrome yellow, fuchsia pink, purple, and orange, depict a different story on every wall. We even found a house with shoes stuck all over its exterior wall.

Image of a mural in Bergen
These are the happy blues!
© 2014 Srividya K
Image of a woman holding a cat
Oh, I see the lines of your life
© 2014 Srividya K
Mural of bird and flowers in Bergen
You keep strange company, birdie
© 2014 Srividya K
Mural of a flower in Bergen
Soaking up the sun, are we?
© 2014 Srividya K
Mural of people and things in Bergen
There’s a mural Star Wars going on here
© 2014 Srividya K
Image of a wall with shoes on them
The places people’s feet have been to!
© 2014 Srividya K

 

The bright colours gave the whole city a freshly washed look. We walked through a local market selling all things touristy. The prices though, were typically Norwegian (read expensive). As we had just a few hours to spare, we wanted to make the best use of it by taking the Fløibanen, the funicular railway that takes you to the top of Mount Fløyen in just eight minutes.

We caught the funicular at the city centre, not too far from Bryggen. As we stood in the queue to get out tickets and waited for our ride to come back from the mountain top, the dark surroundings made me feel as if we were in a cave and were waiting to be transported through tunnels to some far off place. The ride on the funicular was interesting, the compartment going up and down at an incline. But as it left the dark dungeon-like station behind, it opened up to breath-taking views of the city. By the time I knew where to look, we had reached the top. We streamed out into a viewing area overlooking the entire city. At around 320 metres above sea level, we could see every little detail of the city – the harbour, the fjords around the city, roads, the green oxidised copper spire of the cathedral we had just walked past on our way to the funicular, sea green lake in the heart of the city with a little fountain in the middle – and the spectacular cityscape gave up all its secrets with dignity and pride. The slender arms of Bergen stretched into the sea, creating strips of colour, the teal of the sea mingling with the lively hues of the city.

Image of view of Bergen harbour from Mount Fløyen
View of Bergen harbour from Mount Fløyen
© 2014 Srividya K
Image of view of Bergen cityscape from Mount Fløyen
View of Bergen cityscape from Mount Fløyen
© 2014 Srividya K

 

After a photo frenzy (obviously!), from every possible angle at the viewing area, we moved on to the exploring the nature trails nearby.

If the 360 degree views of the city were magnificent, the nature around the mountain top was out of a fairy tale. The green grass, trees and bushes were so vibrant, it was as if someone had just painted them onto the mountain surface. Thin gurgling streams were on their merry way under adorable little wooden bridges. Stone sculptures and interesting displays entertained us on our trail.

Image of a board on a tree which says "Don't insult the witch"
You heard them, don’t you dare!
© 2014 Srividya K

As we walked further into the forest around us, among tall trees, stony paths, fallen logs and cascading moss, I could see why the legend of trolls became so popular in the north. Nature and time seem to have sculpted the rocks into clear shapes and with the mossy grass tumbling down them like windswept hair, it’s easy to mistake them for trolls. I was so lost in its magic, I almost hoped I would see a pair of eyes peeking out at me from underneath some rock and I would quickly snap a picture before it vanished behind a tree to hide from prying eyes. Well, that didn’t happen and I had to settle for befriending a troll statue instead!

 

Image of a troll statue
I made a troll pal 🙂
©2014 Srividya K

We had to part ways with Mount Fløyen, thanks to the ticking clock reminding us of the train we needed to catch. We took the funicular back to ground level and took a leisurely walk one last time through the flower-filled streets of Bergen. We had lunch, collected our bags and got to the station just in time to find our train waiting to take us back to Oslo.

I will end this post with two displays I saw in Bergen. This one is from a shop display on one of its streets:

Image of a t-shirt on a shop window
Are you sure you want to be caught wearing this when the dolphin army comes?
© 2014 Srividya K

This sheer contempt for nature and other living beings, despite the city being steeped in nature, is just sad.

However, something I found on one of Bergen’s walls sums up the feeling I left with from this beautiful city:

Image of lights on a wall that says "There are a lot of good people around"
This is the Norway I’ve come to know
© 2014 Srividya K

11 Lessons About Writing I Wish I Had Learnt Sooner

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

– Sylvia Plath

 

 

Image of a pen on an open dairy
Photo Credit: Olivander via Compfight cc

 

I was speaking to another writer and I realised how much we writers deal with doubt. But as I talked to her, I found that I have learnt some valuable lessons since I started writing, lessons I wish someone had shared with me when I first decided to string some words together to tell a story. So I’m sharing some of them in the hope that it will help other writers.

 

1. There’s no perfect time to start

There’s just one way to be a writer: You write. There’s no point waiting for the muse, or sitting at your desk staring dreamily into the future where you see yourself winning the Man Booker Prize, or arranging your writing space till all your pens and pencils are perfectly aligned. If you want to share your words with the world, if you want to be a writer, start now. Make time each day and write. Bum, chair, write. You are welcome to change that sequence to suit your needs.

2. Learn how to tell a story

Whether you are writing a novel, a short story, or a blog, storytelling is an essential skill and it’s a skill that can be learnt. There are a number of books you can read that will give you valuable pointers on what makes a story work and how to write it, such as On Writing by Stephen King, Hooked by Les Edgerton and The Writer’s Journey – Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler, which is based on Joseph Campbell’s book, The Writer’s Journey.  If you want inspiration and motivation to write, follow Jeff Goins’ blog, where he generously shares his insights on writing and life.

These are just a few drops in a sea of advice that you can find on writing and storytelling. But remember, these are not strict rules, they are merely guidelines. When you search google maps or any GPS navigation device for routes, it usually gives you a number of route options. Whether you use  one of them or a combination of them, you can still get to your destination. You can be as adventurous as you want to be. It’s the same with writing.

3. Use your imagination

You know how people tell you to “Write what you know”? Well, if everyone wrote only what they know, world would be full of boring books, and the fascinating and thrilling books would all be written by sociopaths and killers. Yes, writing what you know is a good place to start. But don’t stop there. Explore and research. Dig deeper. Find out things you don’t know, little titbits of information can trigger a story. Use your imagination, we writers have been gifted with a vivid imagination. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be writing. Cultivate your imagination. It’s simple really. Take any dull situation and apply ‘What if …?’ to it. Say you are falling asleep at work or at a class in college, what if your boss or teacher turns into a dragon? What if he disappears right in front of your eyes? What if, in the middle of a meeting/class, he can’t remember who he is? Or what if he gets attacked by a ninja, drops down dead and people look to you to go after the ninja? I could go on like this whole day. It’s a lot of fun. But please, do be aware of where you do this and who is around you. You can be Walter Mitty if you want to be, but don’t blame me if you get fired trying to save your grumpy boss from an imaginary ninja.

4. Call yourself a writer

Go on, do it. Say this aloud, ‘I’m a writer’. Say it again. Remember these words. Keep repeating them till you find yourself saying it in your sleep. Remember them when you are full of self-doubts and you think you can’t write. Tell yourself this every morning when you wake up, irrespective of what your day job is, whether or not you believe it. Soon, you’ll believe in yourself and your abilities as a writer. And you will write better because you’ll make the effort to ‘be a writer’. And remember, like Spidey says, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Well, Uncle Ben Parker said that, but Spidey makes it sound so much cooler … at least the way I hear it in my head.

5. Listen to criticism

Find some writers you can trust and ask them to critique your writing. When I say critique, I mean constructive observations intended to improve your writing and story. Bullying or putting some one down is neither constructive nor acceptable. Don’t get defensive when someone tells you something isn’t working in your story. Hear them out. Whether you agree with them or not, that’s completely up to you. But if you turn a deaf ear to criticism, you’ll never learn. Writing requires learning, constant, persistent honing of your craft, like a sculptor chipping away at a chunk of stone to find that masterpiece.

 6. Read a lot and learn

These days when I read a book, I not only enjoy the story, I love figuring out what makes the story work. Things I like and don’t like become learning tools. I think about how I would have told the story and how different it would have been. And I learn from every book. You don’t have to necessarily do this. But read, a lot. As much as you can. One day when you are stuck with a plot in your book, you’ll find a way to fix it by remembering something you read in some book. Our minds have amazing ways of storing things, including books. Use it.

7. Don’t let someone tell you how good a writer you are

Perhaps your English teacher told you that you should never write another word, ever. But you think you’ll be a good writer. You try and churn out some stories. But the face of your old school teacher looms in front of you every time you sit to write. Do you give up? Well, that’s completely up to you. How much effort are you willing to put in and how  badly do you want this? There will always be people who think you can’t do the things you think you can. Don’t do something just to prove them wrong. Do it because that’s the only thing you can see yourself doing, because you are willing to wake up on a cold morning, sit at your computer, and write for the next ten to fifteen years. Write because you have something to say and you need to say it. Learn everything you can about writing, and practice, a lot. Persistence is the key to being a great writer. It’s not enough to want to be a good writer, you have to do your very best to be a great one. Doing the best that you can is the best thing you can do. And don’t ever let anyone tell you how good you are at writing or in life. Only you know how good you can be.

8. Speak to other writers

I made a recent post about why art shouldn’t be lonely pursuit. We writers think we need to sit in our bat-caves to write “good things”.  But we forget that there are people out there, going through similar experiences, facing similar problems and difficulties, people who share our passion for writing and understand the frustrations that come with it. The idea that sharing a problem makes it easier to face applies more than ever to writers. We need to share, that’s fundamental  to who we are and what we do. So reach out and connect with other writers. You’d be surprised how generous your fellow writers can be, how willing they are to share their process or give advice on how to solve that pesky plotting problem you are having. No one expects you jump right in and pour your heart out. Take your time but don’t hide behind your computer, typewriter or notepad. Meet other writers and speak to them. There’s no reason you have to do this alone. And you never know, you might end up getting some amazing ideas or meeting another kindred spirit who could be your writing partner. As a writer, it’s very easy to stay in a cocoon. We need it sometimes to dig deeper into ourselves. But you need to come out at some point. You know what happens to the caterpillar that doesn’t emerge in time from it’s cocoon as a butterfly? It dies – cue in dramatic music.

9. Be generous

As an aspiring writer, your views on sharing can be split into two categories. One, people will steal my ideas. Two, I don’t know anything.

There are a lot of ideas and stories to go around. Even if someone is following a similar idea, there’s only one you. Find your unique voice and no one can take that away from you. That doesn’t mean you prattle on about the brilliant idea you have for a story to anyone and everyone. As a writer, you should know when to talk and when to listen. That skill never grows old and is always useful to have.

Don’t let your insecurity come in the way of sharing what you know. And trust me, you do know something. When you are just starting, your thoughts usually revolve around, “I don’t know anything”, “I don’t want to say something because people will think I’m stupid”, “I don’t want to ask for help because they’ll know I don’t know anything”. Say you are an engineer and another writer is working on a story in which the protagonist is an engineer and she wants to know what that really involves. She would be grateful for the information that you can share with her because you have the real life experience of being an engineer.  So don’t shy away from sharing what you know. And before you start saying something on the lines of “a story about engineers would be so boring”, people probably said that about archaeologists before Indiana Jones.

If you are still afraid someone is going to steal your ideas, write them down and put them in a vault. Don’t forget the combination for it though, or your ideas might never see the light of the day, literally.

10. First drafts are crap

So you’ve written your first draft to that mind-boggling novel or short story. You’ve left it for a few days and now you are ready to sift through it and polish it. You sit down to read it and it hits you, like a truck, full of smelly manure, all tumbling down on you  – every word is crap. What do you do, sit crying and rocking in the shower for hours because you can’t get rid of all that smell? Oh the drama! All that would do is give you a cold, make your bum sore and waste a lot of water. So when you are tempted to do something like this, remember these words: first drafts are almost always crap. And yes, it happens to everybody.

Most people feel this rush seeing their words flow on a page. That’s good. But the real work comes after you have finished it. It takes a lot of editing and rewriting to get a polished story that works. It’s part of the process and you’d have to be daft to skip it. And the fact that you recognise what makes your writing good or bad just proves that you have grown as a writer.

You might have read about writers who spew gems in their very first draft. They are the exception. Yes, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be one of them. But when you are just starting, it pays to learn as much as you can and be humble. In fact, it always pays to be humble, no matter how many books you have sold.

11. Live your life

There are many writers who have spent their life in isolation, crafting literary masterpieces. You could be one of them. But is that really what you want, a life of solitude, without the support of family and friends, without experiencing the beautiful world around you, without having walked on dew-covered grass or soaked yourself in the first rain of the season? The more you live your life, weather the highs and lows of life, the more enriched will your writing be. Travel and see new places whenever you can. It doesn’t have to be expensive trips. You will gain vast life experiences. You will draw inspiration from them and from the people you meet. Since I started writing, odd bits of conversations that I hear inspire me to write. I’ve found story ideas from words I thought I heard someone say. With my imagination, I hear the wildest of things and it has resulted in some fascinating stories.

The added bonus of living a full life is that instead of being a depressed writer leaning towards self-harm, you will be happy and alive to share your writing with people who enjoy reading it 🙂

 

Share your tips on writing in the comments.

Why Art Shouldn’t Be A Lonely Pursuit

“An ivory tower is a fine place as long as the door is open.”

– Darby Bannard

 

This week I met up with some fellow writers from my writers’ group, The Oslo Writers’ League. We sat in the beautiful green surroundings of Frogner Park. We feasted on strawberries, chocolate truffles, water melons, cheese and crackers, and more picnic goodies. As we relaxed on the lush green grass, we got our creative juices flowing with a micro-fiction exercise where each of us would start a story, pass it on to the person sitting to our right. That person would write a middle for the story and pass it on again. The third person to the right finishes the story. At the end of the exercise, we read out all the stories. We even had hungry seagulls and sparrows as our feathered inspiration! You can read our creations here.

Since I joined this group, I’ve realised what I’ve been missing. This is the first time I’ve ever been part of a writers’ group. The support and encouragement I’ve found in the group is amazing. We have writers of all levels and we inspire and motivate each other. I’ve even got ideas for stories from conversations with other writers in the group. This experience has only reaffirmed my belief that art should not be a lonely pursuit. The image of an artist toiling away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere may sound idyllic. But how long can someone sustain that?

Image of a solitary man sitting with a book with a sculpture behind him
Photo Credit: Nick Kenrick . via Compfight cc

 

“Putting out something that’s new in the world requires temporary removal from it.”

– Sarah Lewis

 

Writing, like most art forms, requires intense concentration and persistence. Writing a novel or a story when you are distracted by emails, tweets, Facebook updates, and family commitments can be exhausting and annoying. Just as you lift up your head to answer a spouse’s queries about dinner, you catch a glimpse of the tail-coat or skirt hem of your muse fleeing away from your mundane life. You make a desperate attempt to grab it, but it’s too late. The idea is gone, your spouse is upset because you snapped at them to chase that fleeting idea/muse which they obviously cannot see, and worse, you have to move on to make dinner. Easier to just live in a hermit’s hut you think? Trust me, that doesn’t work.

We humans are social creatures and art is a means of communication and self-expression. So who are we communicating with if we don’t want to be around anyone? Temporary isolation is essential for an artist. But the problem with complete isolation is that we give up on having a support system. Artists are prone to depression, self-doubt and self-loathing because we have been led to believe that we can do our best work only in absolute isolation. Being social does not mean you should stop in between your painting or writing to tweet. You don’t build support systems that way, you only manage to procrastinate. What sustains us are meaningful relationships formed with supportive and encouraging people. The alternative: You run out of ideas, inspiration, and life, while you wait in that idyllic cabin on your own to create that all elusive masterpiece that refuses to happen. And you end up alone, without anyone to listen to you gripe about it.

I’ve found that being a part of lovely group of fellow writers (or artists) has many benefits. You have others who go through similar struggles as you do – trying to find time to write, fixing a plot or characterisation problem, searching for references for a historical or scientific fact that you want to include in your story. They understand, and they generously help and share their wisdom.

It can be terrifying to trust other people who do what you do and open yourself to criticism. I’ve met some artists who avoid talking to other artists because their biggest fear is that someone would steal their ideas. It’s sad that we are constantly told that we live in a competitive world and the only way to “win the game” is to not share what we know with others. Of course, there are people who do steal others’ ideas, who like to put down others to make themselves feel better. But they are not the norm. They don’t realise that it’s much more fun when we share what we know. Sharing knowledge helps us learn from each other, learn from each other’s mistakes.

As a writer, it’s great to have people who can poke holes in a story you’ve written and be objective about it. It’s certainly helps to find problems in your story before you approach an agent or a publisher who really don’t have the time to help you learn. The benefit of having a fellow writer read your writing is that they don’t just read as your audience, they read it as a writer. So they can tell you about ways to improve it and they give you a different perspective, which adds depth to your writing. Since I’ve joined the writers’ group, I’ve had more “Aha! I didn’t think of that” moments than I can count. I get to learn and I get to share what I know. And I’m glad that I have people to help me, and I don’t have to do it alone.

Are you an artist who likes to interact with other artists and how has it helped you? Share your experiences in the comments.

The Place of the Artist

On October 26, 1963, President John F Kennedy gave a speech in honour of the poet Robert Frost, who had died that year. His words on the importance of an artist in our society hold true now more than ever. It is an artist’s job to question injustice and inequality. True art is not meant to be a trend and merely reflect “what is”. Rather, it has the power to explore and present the best that we can be.

“When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

– John F Kennedy

Continue reading “The Place of the Artist”