Writer’s block. What’s that?
From online trolling, food and substance abuse to crash-dieting and the perils of being a social media influencer, Nielson’s Bestseller Adulting (HarperCollins India) by NEHARIKA GUPTA spells out the world of the new millennials. In this entertaining new novel, crash-dieting, confidence no-brainers and creative dating form part of the story’s narrative. The author’s flawed but lovable and very real protagonists stumble around their personal conflicts, eventually finding their way in the world. Adulting takes you through the journey of these 20-somethings, the things that bog them down and those that lift them up.
In a special piece for www.lifeandmore.in, the author gives a few tips to succeed in stabbing writer’s block with the metaphorical dagger
As a creative writer, take it from me when I say, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. It is all to do with how you streamline what you want to write about. In our world of being bombarded with information from text messages, emails and ads, it is no wonder that when you sit down to write, an inspiration vacuum occurs. I suspect it may be the same for creative professionals in other spheres.
It’s one thing to look for inspiration, entirely another to float about aimlessly trying to create a book out of whatever strikes you at a moment’s notice.
In my book Adulting (HarperCollins India), I put across ways on how not to write a novel via Tejas Sahni, author and one of the three protagonists. Tejas has a two-book deal with the publishing house White Dog Books. His first book, Carnival of Dreams, was hugely successful but Tejas is having a tough time coming out with his second novel.
Tejas is clueless about where to begin and is all over the place. This is a scene from his room: Tejas, sitting with his computer, has twenty tabs of genres and sub genres open. He picks up one genre and tries it for a day, picks up another one and tries it out another day. The types of writing that Tejas attempts are fantasy, crime, historical fiction, romance, horror. While this is a great way to get inspiration and to learn about what’s going on in your respective field, kids, don’t try this at home on a deadline. It is no bueno and a colossal waste of time.
As you can see, Tejas has serious misnomers about writing and Stephen King in a quote from On Writing says, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. Your stuff starts out being just for you, but then it goes out.”
Tejas needs to have a heart to heart with himself and understand what he wants to write about. What is the story he’s telling himself? If he doesn’t know it, he needs to spend time delving deep into possible exploration, themes and subjects, follow his fascinations for a certain amount of time, then stop and come out of the rabbit hole.
What Tejas can do with his 20 tabs is take notes about what he likes and what strikes a chord. Another starting point is to explore writing prompts for about an hour or two. Tejas should aim to have either a character or plot or a setting by the end of this 60 minute exercise – this is not hard. When an idea clicks, it will scream out loudly enough. Tejas, or you the writer, will know. It is what triggers you.
After a guided exploration, Tejas should spend time with his chosen element and play around with it, just enough to give it a little life. Keep in mind: play. An hour or two is more than enough.
Then he should leave it alone for the rest of the day. While a story is taking form, he should not push. Think of it like a garden, it will take shape on its own. Just work on it, give it some light and water day after day.
On his off-time, Tejas should read what interests him but also widely, outside of his chosen genre. He should not push to make connections between his story and what he is reading. They will come naturally to him.
The big idea is that one can’t create in a vacuum. In a world where carefully-curated information is thrown at us, we need to actively engage with what appeals to us. This is becoming progressively difficult.
Tejas finds his way when he understands what he feels strongly about. His process of adulting as a writer, for your entertainment and my plot elements, involves being lovey-dovey with two girls, quite a bit of whiskey, a scandal at a publishing house and a fire. But anything less and he just wouldn’t get it.
Here are mine and Tejas’s tips (after he gets out of his rut) to succeed in stabbing that writer’s block with the metaphorical dagger.
- First and foremost, you need to be aware of that gut feeling, the one that calls you to create. It is an idea or a prompt that clicks. This ‘clicking’ is something you need to get familiar with. If you don’t know it yet, don’t worry, practise will help.
- Read widely. Use tumblr or books you can get through easily: for a variety of people, places, genres. Who knows, you might up writing a gripping steampunk novel and be good at it vs. a crime thriller set in the boring real world.
- Read well. I don’t think any of us have decent attention spans anymore. Build your reading habit slowly and steadily. Read good writing, tough writing, focus on depth of narrative, genre fiction, non-fiction about different issues and so on.
- Know how to start. Because of all the information overload, unless it’s early morning and the first thing you do is write, chances are, you will be stuck for ideas when you are at a blank page. This is when you browse the internet, only for a certain period of time, to spark the creative current.
- Try a literary technique that your favourite writer uses. Is it Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style digressions that you want to use to bring out hidden facets of the modern millennial or is it Nabokov’s unreliable narrator that you bring into your prose? Maybe Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism is the perfect missing element for your short story.None of my three protagonists are reliable narrators, and it is fascinating how they refuse to see things in any way but their own. And when that switch happens, their perspectives change, a bit of magic happens. But I would never have been able to use this literary device had I not been familiar with Lolita and the discussions around it.
- Find a writing group in your city or a free class online. There are things which are very important like Virginia Woolf’s depression, Salman Rushdie’s politics, Sylvia Plath’s relationship with Ted Hughes, which help one understand the writing and motivations behind it a little deeper. It is hard to research all of this on your own, but engaging with these kinds of conversations gives your writing and understanding of the literary world a certain knowledge that cannot be matched in any other way.
I am currently taking a free online class on post-modern poets and this is the first time I understand Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson’s ideas of national identity and how they differ. In my opinion, just reading their poetry is not enough. Not when you’re a writer. You need to understand how your writing is going to be interpreted over the years.
This pushes me to examine my own writing voice, and get clarity on what I want my words to mean over time.
- Feed your idiosyncrasies. Explore what fascinates you about the world, is it space, the multi-coloured clusters of gas and matter floating around, is it the mind of that serial killer whose picture haunts you from the newspapers, is it the question of the daily routine of a has-been music show judge? This could even be something politically incorrect like communism or terrorism.
These seven tips should help you get your writing to the next level.
Though they don’t matter. As long as you endeavour to learn more about the world, as long as that fire for life exists, kindle that, distill it into your writing and leave the writing advice at the door. Your words are your words, use them how you see fit. If you can be brave and stylish at the same time, you will be unstoppable.
Neharika Gupta is a writer, poet and a martial arts practitioner. Adulting is her debut novel. She also blogs at neharikagupta.com.