Geetanjali Mukherjee

Saturday, April 25, 2015

On Cultivating Patience

Lately I have finally been finding a bit more time consistently to write, and been feeling a little frustrated, because for some reason the words aren't flowing and it feels like I'm dragging my boots through treacle. When this happens, I find myself staring at the screen, or trying to think of what I was about to say when the words sort of dry up in my head, or I start to type something and it feels like I have forgotten how to structure sentences.

Julia Cameron, creativity coach, says that this is "chop" - when your work starts to fall apart and it feels like you cannot proceed even one more inch. She says that apparently this period of struggle is necessary, and when you get through the other side, you are somehow better, your work is more polished, different. Its good to know that I'm not alone in feeling like this, that perhaps this is normal. Its tempting to think - oh, at the end of this period I will be a better writer. And be grateful for this upheaval in my writing process.

Except I'm not. To be honest I don't want to be one level better. I want instead to just be back to where I was - so that I can use this rare time I have to race through my work, and get at least a draft done.

And this is where Julia warns us, that artists need to learn patience. That fun as it would be to race through the draft, perhaps what I need to learn is to take it slower - to allow the work to find its own rhythm. This is probably what is hardest for me - when the work is hard, or when I look at my abandoned drafts or the major revisions I have planned - that's when I wish I could click my fingers and I would be at the other side, of the draft, of the piece of writing. I would be at the side that can look at the work and say, yes its really good. I can be assured of the quality of my work, possible assured that I am on the right path, yes this writing stuff really is for me.

And that's why patience is hard. I want results right now, because I am anxious. What if I am not a 'real' writer? What if I could complete this manuscript, and it would do really well, and then I would feel secure in my ability and my writerliness. So impatience really isn't my problem. Its needing approval and validation.

Julia always says - what if everyone were capable of being creative? What if there were no such labels? I don't know if I can contemplate that - but for now, I have my own question. What if I didn't need to prove myself - what could I write then, if I had no fear - of being judged, of failing, of falling short? How much more could I succeed?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Writing Through It All

I am working on a book project right now that is really close to me, and something I have been working on and off on for years, even decades. Perhaps because its so important to me, I have been having a miserable time of it lately. I have been working on it so long, I just want it to be done. I have other projects and plans in the pipeline, things I have moved to make room for this. I also feel I have a lot of credibility riding on this. All ingredients for fast flowing writing - not.

I'm working on my nth draft of the book, and although it does keep getting better, each time I begin to feel more discouraged. Things were going swimmingly a few days ago, but suddenly every minute I spend on this feels like a few hours. I am typing up some notes I wrote by hand into Scrivener,
and I am hating it - mainly because the book feels like crap to me. Its almost like I'm wading through a thick river of mud, with weighted boots, and each step is getting harder and harder. I'm feeling so guilty because I know there are so many other things I need to, I really need to make faster progress, etc.
Last night, I started to write down some notes for another project I have been toying with, thinking the distraction would do me good, maybe make it easier to get back to this book. I went to bed feeling pleased with the progress I made, as I fleshed out the structure for that book. I had told myself that I'm not writing it now, but if I don’t write it now, it probably won't ever get written. And if I'm not going to ever write it, what's the harm in just doing it anyway, good or bad? That let me go for it, and I felt like the words were flowing.

Back to my main project today, and it's still not coming together, not flowing. Today the pump feels stuck, like the pipe is clogged and the words are falling out in a clump, thick, sluggish.
I guess I have to trust in my writing. Do what Sage Cohen said in one of her books - let someone else decide whether its any good. Let me just do the work. If this is truly the best I can do, than procrastinating is pointless. Waiting to be inspired is pointless. There is only one thing to do - write through it.  Some days are good, and the words flow like music, and other days, you wonder why you chose this vocation (even though it really feels like it chose you).

This is what Steven Pressfield means by going pro. You put the words down even when everything is falling apart in your personal life, and you are lying in bed with cramps and a hot water bottle, and when you are convinced that what you’re writing is the worst drivel ever to be produced. You write through all that, and then you deserve to call yourself a writer.
So for today, I am a writer, although I really don’t know how I will feel tomorrow. Or five minutes from now. But for now, I am writing. What about you?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Writing Is Hard

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed”. Quotes like this (this one is attributed to Ernest Hemingway) make us thinking that writing is incredibly hard. It is daunting enough to put your thoughts on the page without having the baggage of such a mythology. One of my favourite authors, Julia Cameron, suggests that such a mythology is misleading nonsense, and it is dangerous because it creates blocks within us, that make us believe that if the work isn’t hard somehow we aren’t doing it right. I agree with her premise, mainly because her approach has helped me write, even though I did still struggle.

Why is it so hard? Its just typing a few words on a page, isn’t it? I always thought that the reason it was hard to write, and the reason for those “bleed on the page” type of quotes, was that writers feel the pressure to choose the right word, the right phrase to describe something. Much like the designer choosing just the right fabric, and seeing his creation come together, for writers simple things like structure, at what point to start the story and how much to reveal at what stage, can loom large and create blocks in our process. I already found so many aspects of writing hard, I could sympathise with this view – it was hard to figure out just the right way to express something, it was hard to keep the grammar Nazi in the form of your fourth grade English teacher from baying in your ear that your writing was full of clich├ęs and your punctuation isn’t good enough to pass muster (well, that’s the polite version of what she is actually saying).

Reading Natalie Goldbergs’ Thunder and Lightning, it occurred to me that the reason why writing was so hard was less to do with the elements of writing itself, but what it demanded from the writer. For writing to be good, we need to be honest, with ourselves and with the reader. We don’t need to spill all of our secrets on the page, but the feelings and emotions must be authentic. Otherwise, a reader can smell inauthenticity a proverbial mile away.

Writing also demands that we go deep within ourselves, and get to know intimately our own values and beliefs and then question them, up end them. This is not only required of memoirists, but of all of us. This inner journey is what makes writing hard, because at once we are required to be open, reveal ourselves and then question and take apart what we think now and thought before and how it is different, and how all of this has affected us.

We love our favourite authors and believe that we know them intimately – at a certain level we do know them. Whether they write fiction or non-fiction, good writers put enough of themselves in their work that their fans can feel the core of their being, can get a sense of who they really are. I may not know the favourite colours or food or taste in movies of my favourite authors, but at some level I can sense how they would think about an issue, or whether I would like them if I were to sit beside them on an airplane.

For us to really connect with our audience, and leave them with anything lasting, we first must intimately connect with ourselves, our own mind, and then have the courage to lay that basic truth bare on the page. And this is why writing is hard.
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