Geetanjali Mukherjee

Friday, December 16, 2016

We Know More Than We Think

My mom used to always tell me to write fiction - she thought I wrote beautifully. I didn’t really pay that any attention, after all she was my mom. She was hardly objective. I told her I can’t write. Then when she insisted, I said I couldn’t write fiction. I had no ideas. She said, “why don’t you try writing short stories? You wrote such lovely stories as a child”.

I rolled my eyes. My mom really didn’t get it. I wrote silly stories about Scrooge and Daffy Duck in third grade. You could hardly call that publishable fiction. And I didn’t think that I had gotten much better in the intervening years. Mostly because I hadn’t tried.

Now before this sounds like one of those stories about Tiger Moms dragging their kids to practices everywhere - I really did want to be a writer. Mostly this was a secret dream, but given the number of writing reference books in the house, and the fact that I regularly brought home piles of books from the library with titles like “Write Your Novel This Year” and “Your Novel Writing Companion”, it was hardly difficult to surmise that what I wanted most of all was to write fiction.

But I am a firm believer in having rational dreams, and it was clear to me that if I wasn’t actually doing any writing, then all the books on writing in the world couldn’t transform me into a successful novelist. And besides, I wasn’t sure if that was really what I wanted to do. Be a novelist. Maybe I wanted to write non-fiction. Yes, increasingly I felt, that was my calling instead. It felt doable.

I discovered self-publishing and dug out the books and book-like things that I had hidden in my hard drives and published them. I wrote a new book, and got great reviews. I even started telling people I was a writer - I wrote non-fiction. Most people didn’t know what that meant, so didn’t ask too many questions. I still brought home books on fiction writing, I just treated them like the cookbooks I brought home - sort of like a fantasy exercise, where you imagined how the apple tarts and quiches would turn out instead of actually making them. I also read everything I could about others who were successful fiction writers - read their blogs, listened to their podcasts, took notes on their advice. Its just that I didn’t really believe that I would be following it particularly.

After all, I didn’t have any ideas. I wasn’t a fiction writer. This despite the fact that since I was about 10 years old, I couldn’t go to sleep without telling myself a story. Sometimes it was a new one, sometimes the continuation of the one from the night before. Usually I fell asleep in the middle of the story. For years, I had been making up stories for myself. Stories where I fell in love with handsome princes, travelled to exotic countries and fought the forces of evil. But these weren’t real stories. Not like the ones in books or written by talented authors. I told myself I was just an amateur who had no business getting in the ring with the pros. So I refused to even put on a glove.

Until one day I decided on a whim to test myself. To finally write something after signing up for Nanowrimo for years and then chickening out. Last year I decided to write a novel (or at any rate 50,000 words of it) during the month of November. I announced this intention to my immediate family. And for some reason, I kept at it, despite not being able to write for half the month due to family trips and festivities. I raced during the last ten days of the month, taking my iPad to Starbucks and the local library to coax a few thousand words out. I wrote terrible scenes and had a blast. I tried to remember every trick I read on the Nano forums to inflate word count, even throwing in a few recipes the protagonist was supposedly cooking. Anything to get closer to that magic number.

When the month was up, I had made it. Just under the wire, with about 3 hours to spare. I wrote 50,000 words of fiction.

But I still didn’t really think of myself as a fiction writer. I thought that was it - that one novel. Besides it was terrible, so I shouldn’t really be setting too much store by it anyway. Real fiction writers were good. Real fiction writers had lots of ideas. Real fiction writers didn’t inflate their word count.

A year later, I don’t think that book is so worthless. I plan to edit it and publish it myself, and let the readers decide how good or bad it really is. And I plan to write more. Because I have so many ideas. I still don’t know whether I will ever be as good as the authors I grew up admiring. But that’s the thing. I don’t need to be them. I just need to be me, the version of me that writes. Fiction.
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