Notes on how to write

The short and beautiful answer to this, in the words of my dear friend Shriya (find her lovely blog here), is: Just write. Don’t think much, just write, write, write. I followed her advice and I think, just writing helps overcome writer’s block and gets rid of the imposter syndrome. It’s super effective.

That tackled, I am proceeding to the finer questions writers often face:

  1. Should writers write from personal experience or attempt something completely foreign to their understanding? How can they write anything beyond what they know and if they can’t, can we say they aren’t writers but mere memoirists?

    2. It’s very true that writing is an exercise in building awareness of the world around us and of us. In that case, should it matter to a writer that he / she makes a note of his writing habits and styles besides his own reaction to other people’s knowledge and stories?

    3. Should I writer always focus on his / her strengths and speak to it through writing or should he experiment more? What are his limitations?

    4. Does assessing and getting around to answering these questions help evolve with one’s writing and thrust it in new directions?

I am thinking these over and trying to answer each one by one. I don’t know if I am making sense but if you are a writer too, chug along –

First, I enjoy writing memoirs. Memoir writing is like letting loose a vast reservoir of personal memory – joy, sorrow, struggles and convictions – and bringing them all together to share something others can connect with. If a memoir doesn’t make you connect with it, half of its purpose is lost. It’s like writing on love but the experience of love (that can be universal) escapes you even if you have read it multiple times. Or, if you write about growing up wanting to be a writer, your struggle to earn legitimacy for your ambition escapes the reader. This exercise in personal memory comes easy to me. I don’t know about others but I can imagine memoirs can be very difficult for some people who are reluctant or hesitant or still coming to terms with their memories. And some people may just be very private and shy.

This brings me to the very question of attempting something we don’t understand or know much. Should we write about it? Yes, we must. Familiarity can be acquired or imagined, in my view. Journalists do that all the time and I think, I am saying this partly because my years as a journalist equip me to traverse other universes and people’s stories with a certain empathy that comes with years of professional practice. Yet, it can be difficult, especially if you are fictionalizing it. Some of the stories I have done in the past lie as story pegs for some of the short stories I have wanted to write. The plot has come to me in minutes, but stitching together details has been a painstaking effort. I say this in spite of all the ground work I put into the stories, all the interviews and social mapping that goes into reportage.

Second, do I make a note of my writing habits and styles besides my own reaction to other people’s knowledge and stories?

I am breaking this into two parts to first assess what my writing style is. I think my style comes most eloquently in my memoirs. I am more direct, often intense and emotional about whatever it is I am addressing through my writing. That’s where my true voice emerges. I am not playful with prose – I am all heart, bare all writer, who feels deeply and churns out intense pieces. I don’t know where a lot of this fits into but I guess I am happy not getting fixed into frames or genres. The one single aim of my writing – even when I was writing stories for newspapers – was to touch people’s hearts with my writing. I have always tried to achieve that quality with my writing where my prose is empathetic, simple and profound all at once, evoking sentiments and sparking off deeper reflections and personal experiences in readers. I prefer writing about common people, or problems of the working class. I prefer breaking down complex ideas and trends down to how those affect lives of the common men and women. That’s all the more reason why I think the writing done to convey their issues need to place them first in the narrative and do so with utmost empathy and ethos.

My writing habits are eccentric, to put it mildly. I often wake up middle of the night just to write. My poems are mostly written on the phone, because poetry writing is not a conscious or planned effort for me. It just erupts any moment and phone becomes the most accessible writing pad for me at that moment. Of late, I have attempted to build a routine where I dedicate first four hours of my waking day to writing, ideally immediately after my morning workout and bath. This usually is quite early in the mornings, around 5-6 am. Silence in the world with no cacophonous noise from the street calms me and I think that’s when I consciously write. For newspaper columns, I spend a few hours over the weekend and that’s the only structured writing I do besides writing memos for my research.

Third, the starting point for me is always to do what I think is what I am good at. Playing to your strengths is a time-tested adage every writer follows. I think the point of exploring other novel frontiers in writing comes once you have written enough and are craving for creating something completely different from what your readers expect from you. So, yes, one must forge into new areas in writing but when and how usually will depend on when you would feel the need to do that. This is related to the question on the limitations a writer can face. I think a writer’s familiarity with the subject or genre of writing style, which is his strength when starting out, can also become his limitation in the long run. That’s why forays into new frontiers of writing become so important.

Four, I think actively thinking about writing is very important. I never realized its importance until I reached a stage where much of my writing exercises were getting stuck midway. Thinking through the various aspects of my writing helped me steer myself ahead with my writing goals and develop an understanding of my idiosyncrasies as a writer.

That’s all for now. Will be back with more when I struggle with questions and will try and process them here.

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