Some Lessons I Have Learned About Writing.

In 2016, I had asked my sister to become my literary agent. Her job, unpaid for the period, was to collaborate my writings from the past, the present, and what I might write in the future into one place, segregate them into their genres and according to their level of completion, and send them out to publishing houses. We worked together for a while, creating accounts on platforms like Submittable and writing to publishing houses across the American continent, until rejection emails started crowding my inbox. Each of the rejection emails would address me by my name and tell me that they will have to pass my piece this time but that this should not forbid me from writing and expecting publication. I took their advice to heart.

For the whole of 2016, I continued to write, at times picking specific memories from my fading intellect, and at times, events of the present that left a mark. However, my favourite pieces were the ones that entered my consciousness as a hanging line (quite literally in mid-air), usually the first line that would eventually begin the piece. If I was near my house, I would rush, often in a fit of frenzy and stealth in order to record the line before I forgot it. If I was far away, knowing that I would not make it in time, I would repeat the line, like a chant, until I reached the place and the time to write it down. What would come out, as a result of this communication with the Source would be written pieces that were closest to describing how I experienced this existential realm. These were my best moments in 2016 because I now knew what Ruth Stone would have felt.

In her inspiring TED talk Your Elusive Creative Genius, the author Elizabeth Gilbert mentions her rendezvous with the American poet, Ruth Stone. I am copying the transcript from the talk because Gilbert puts it beautifully and magically, and I would want anyone reading this to experience that magic for a moment. Gilbert says,

“I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.”

This image of Ruth Stone has stayed with me since the time I watched this TED talk and has helped me identify my own grabbing the poem and running like hell when the universe communicates and I am eternally grateful to both these amazing women.

Some of my students ask me how to write. Usually I try to answer them with an uncanny smile and talk about writing like I have been doing it for more years than they have. It is not true. What I really want to tell them (and, if they are reading this) is this – you begin writing well by beginning to write. It may not appear as the kind of quality advice one would want to hear. I certainly didn’t when I was told this. But, the advice has survived the most turbulent of times in the history of the world and so I have decided to believe in it. I hope you would believe in it as well.

In The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, the American author Julia Cameron writes:

“There are two pivotal tools in creative recovery: the morning pages and the artist date. A lasting creative awakening requires the consistent use of both. I like to introduce them both immediately, and at sufficient length to answer most of your questions.”

I have recently learned to write the morning pages (three pages) and I find myself exculpating my consciousness of the things that hold back my creativity. For the three days that I have written these morning pages, I have rewarded myself a mind that is free from sabotaging worries or anxious preemptions of the day to follow. As for the artist date, I strongly believe in the nurturing of the young creative genius that rests within all of us but sometimes gets less and lesser attention as one grows.

Then, you try to find writers who inspire you but more importantly, you find writers whose writing resembles closely or distantly to your own. For me, it was Lydia Davis. Because when I read her say that her characters needn’t have a name, I knew she was speaking to me. It emboldened me for I could now write with freedom and with the conviction that my stories held themselves without the need for too many characters.

In his book Like the Flowing River, the writer/novelist Paulo Coelho sums up his experiences in life and offers the reader his reflections. He says,

“Every human being should know two languages: the language of the society and the language of the signs. One serves to communicate with other people, the other serves to understand God’s messages.”

Once you start writing or creating, you must invest some time to learn the language of the signs. For me, it started with the single line of the eventual piece establishing itself in my mind, demanding my attention, and making me write it down to completion.

Recently, another sign came in. In January 2017, my sister sent a text about a call for applications for a course Becoming a Writer by The Asian Writer, a magazine that celebrates the emerging Asian literature. This application was for writers, who like me, had put their writing behind a veil of doubt and responsibility, but now wanted to bring it back to the forefront and enjoy the process. I wrote my personal statement,

“I was eight when I wrote my first story about a fairy princess who sacrifices her powers to save her people. In the next twenty years until now, I would find unfortunately myself boxed within multiple closets. You see, there was a closet of essays from lived realities, a closet of political opinions, a big closet of writing, all within a bigger closet of subverted creative pursuits.

[…] Entering into these closets was a deliberate move to keep myself unnoticed. Not only was I afraid of being judged, I was afraid of living. The result – my creative voice and manner fell prey to what other people wanted to hear and how they wanted to hear it. I stopped writing for two years, barely even making entries in my daybook.

This course comes at a time, when I begin writing, begin creating again.

I stand now as an individual who is in the process of reclaiming her power and her identity. I believe a lot of it remains in the undocumented stories waiting to be unboxed. Last November, when I began teaching writing to young people, I knew that it was a sign. Now approaching my thirtieth year, standing amidst uncertainty, I look up to that eight-year-old girl, who had not just the courage to write the story but also doodle – just for the fun of it.”

On Monday, for the first time in many years, I received an email with the subject, Becoming A Writer – Successful Application.

I wish you success in finding your signs.

And, keep writing.


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