Some days ago I got a few messages on my LinkedIn account congratulating me on my work anniversary. An anniversary that celebrates my finally taking the plunge and becoming a freelance writer and editor. It is also the anniversary for many other momentous and not-so-momentous personal moments. It is the anniversary of the day I said good-bye to monthly pay cheques. It is the day I bid goodbye to job security. It is the day I finally, after being a part of the print and visual media for nearly 15 years, found the courage to declare myself a writer. It is the day I committed to a dream.
Being a freelance writer and editor for hire was just one side of the coin. The other side of the coin was the part of me that was now freed from the 9 to 5 (or in my case 7 to 5, and sometimes longer) commitment to the punishing schedule of bringing out a weekly magazine. That part was now free to write.
Since I quit working full time, I have published a travel book on Dubai, written a host of blog posts, poems, articles for newspaper supplements and magazines, and edited everything from resumes to features. However, it took me a few more years and the kick-in-the-butt words of a truly good friend, to finally commit to my ‘real’ dream… ambition – to type out the story that has been buzzing in my head for a while. To be honest, more than a story it was the characters who were buzzing in my head. The story was there… somewhere… lost in the fog of fabulous scenes and witty dialogues.
Once I committed myself to writing that novel, I went the way most beginners go – the pantser novelist – the one who lets her characters speak to her and take her wherever they decide. After all that is what Stephen King does! By the time I reached chapter 5 I realized that Stephen King can afford to do that because he has a few novels under his belt already. His characters may have free rein… but within the dimensions and paths he provides for them. To use the metaphor of God and creation – Mr King is the divine force in charge of his world and his people are in charge of their destiny, but within the limitations placed by the world created by Stephen King. He also has the experience to go about it without planning. But lacking his experience and success, I cannot afford to do things his way.
This meant that I had to make the rather heart-breaking decision of going back to the drawing board. In this case that meant teaching myself everything I could about writing stories. I went on an internet rampage, following pretty much any and every writing related website or blog that came my way. Over the next many months my email’s inbox was full of subject headlines like – make your characters sing; know the difference between premise and concept; story structure is the key!; and so on. In time, I whittled the people I considered teachers down to three from a list that was nearly 100 websites and blogs deep. I have listed below the links to the three blog writers / teachers I follow for the benefit of anyone who may be interested.
This last week I finally got my story map sorted. It is a big deal… for me. It involved my journey from accepting that I am a proficient writer of features, blog posts, short film scripts, poems and travel pieces, to accepting that I am struggling writer of novels.
These months of learning have taught me so much! I cannot begin to emphasize the importance of opening yourself up to learning about writing and the technical aspects of writing a novel. I realize that some of you out there are wincing – creative writing and the word technical don’t seem to go hand-in-hand. I winced too in the initial days.
I feel differently now. Creativity is original and the most creative ideas are born off very personal experiences and influenced by very unique and individualistic factors and inspirations. But to transfer that beautiful, vibrant idea in to a story that someone else can read and understand requires certain techniques. Techniques that go beyond language skills. This whole process has been a bit like going back to school – frustrating, exciting and confidence building. And now I have a story map that I am reasonably proud of. The foundation is being laid.
Receiving the congratulatory messages on LinkedIn reminded me of the many steps I have had to take to reach this point. Steps that are significant only to me.
Some of my friends and acquaintances look at me and say, “It is easy for you to do that! You are a writer. You have the flexibility of being a freelancer.” True. I am lucky. Lucky enough to find a path that allows me to earn money while I pursue a dream.
But if the ones who have said this to me were to be brutally honest with themselves, they will have to accept the fact that the only thing holding them back from pursuing their dream vocation, is not the inconvenience of their current situation, but their unwillingness to let go of the convenience of their current situation.
We get used to the comfort provided by our current scenario and want to maintain the status quo no matter what. The thought of taking a risk, even in the case of a housewife wanting to make art, scares us so much that we’d rather not take a step forward. We’d rather stay in our current situation, no matter how unhappy we are in it, and crib about it. But we will not make the decisions that have the potential to shake us out of this marsh of discontent.
I don’t know if my novel will ever get published! Even if it were to get published, I don’t know if anyone will read it. And if people were to read it, whether they will like it. However, these are factors that are beyond my control right now. So all I can do is learn the rules of writing a novel, break some of those rules, write a novel and put it out there… risking criticism and failure, but maybe even praise and success.
Those congratulatory messages on LinkedIn celebrated more than just a work anniversary for me. They celebrated the day I became a little bit braver.
Thank you for reading.
The websites I recommend for anyone interested in writing are –
http://www.livewritethrive.com/ by C.S. Lakin.
http://storyfix.com/ by Larry Brooks.
http://jamesclear.com/ by James Clear. This is not really about writing, but about habits, routines and discipline – things that I, a lazy human being by nature, need to be reminded about quite often.
All images courtesy http://www.123rf.com