Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Create! Create! Create!

I've been thinking about this topic for awhile. The people who I admire the most are the ones who, to an extent, created their own educations. I've been fortunate to have incredible teachers throughout the years and something my favorite English teacher taught me is that at some point, it's up to each of us to be aware of our strengths and do something about it.

"Just because a trait is in the chromosomes, doesn't mean it'll flourish."

To an extent, there's little benefit to having a talent/interest if it isn't put into action. Every one of us has a unique combination of skills and when they're put into gear, incredible things can happen not just for ourselves, but for others as well.

For example, I've met so many authors who literally learned how to write from Google. They didn't take classes or have family members who already wrote. They recognized a gravity towards weaving words and then made something from it. And maybe it took a lot of deleting and rewriting and nail biting and doubting but it developed organically. And it'll always be something that nobody else could have given them. 

I went to an engineering college and threw too many internal pity parties. Nobody there valued grammar or creative writing or anything that wasn't about electric circuits and physics equations. But instead of whining, I should have created my own opportunities. Creation. Quite frankly, the answer to everything. 

So, if you like writing but don't want to fit into a genre, create your own genre!
If you think of yourself as compassionate, volunteer with a cause that speaks to you!
If you see a problem---in your family, in the world----think of a different solution and implement it!

I'm not sure if  you had a chance to hear the Ashton Kutcher speech and no, I never thought I'd say this, but it was wonderful. One of his last lines:

"Everything around us that we call life was made up of people that are no smarter than you. And you can build your own things and you can build your own life that other people can live in."

Edit: Someone pointed out that the above quote is originally from Steve Jobs and Ashton Kutcher was reiterating it during his speech. Sorry for the confusion!

Monday, August 5, 2013

tips to get out of a writing funk

Image from here

Editing sometimes erodes my desire to write. I like the end result but the process----whew. 
When the words haven't been flowing the way they usually do, these are some steps that have helped in the past:

1. Step away from all types of screens: Studies have shown that the blue light from computer and phone screens actually prevents your brain from going to sleep! Going through a lag with your project might just mean it's a sign to take a break. 

2. Free-write

3. View your story from different vantage points: I do a large, zoomed out story summary on a poster board and a smaller scaled look at each chapter through index cards. Some people find it helpful to write the conflict, characters, and plot movement for each chapter.

4. Novelty---of any kind: Read a different type of story. Try a new restaurant. Run. 

5. Whether you're self-publishing or going through the traditional route, ask yourself, Did I give this story my all? Did I go above and beyond with editing so that the first draft and final one look entirely different? Is it at a place that's good enough to be read by others? Did I ask multiple people to critique it?  

6. Read a book written by one of your inspiring blogger friends. My current list: Alex, Sangu, and Talli (more to come soon!)

7. Offer help to someone else on their journey. Put those query letter/beta reading/synopsis editing skills to work so that someone else can improve their work. For me, other writers have been extremely supportive and valuable.

P.S. In case you missed it, why Stephen King sometimes spends years writing an opening line!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

We are a collection of stories

This past week, I started a palliative care rotation. One of our days was spent at a memory care center, where patients with dementia live. Outside each resident's room, there is a glass display filled with yellowing photographs, medals, crafts, paper with faded ink, etc. The tour guide explained to me that these were memory boxes, collections that were put together with the hope of triggering something familiar for each patient. 

Patients with Alzheimer's Disease tend to lose their short term memory first. Past, present, and future become jumbled up. Often, their only sense of stability comes from stories. Stories about their first loves, their children when they were young, and accomplishments that are behind them. 

Ask them to take their blood pressure medications? They'll often grimace or worse, comply apathetically. 
Ask them about their families? They'll turn to face you and offer a few sentences or on a good day, share a memory. 
Sometimes, when someone is struggling, a sense of familiarity, of recognition, can provide comfort. 

In a way, writers are making their own memory boxes  with their stories. Character motivations, settings, important plot points, antagonists, etc. All of these elements are trying to convey a sliver of life, if nothing more. 

This week has made me rethink the role of stories. They're not just a source of entertainment. They're a form of preservation----maybe even healing. When all of those landmarks that construct a life have passed and time seems irrelevant, maybe all we have left are the stories.


It's been too long since the Kathak bells have been wrapped around my ankles but pictures like these are a beautiful reminder of what dance provides: