Preparing to write and actually writing: a comparison

The single most useful piece of writing advice I have gathered from reading books, blog posts and articles on the subject is: use bum glue. To be specific, that means glue yourself to your seat and stay there. You can fiddle about with fancy word processing software, gimmicky grammar tools, and writing websites, but in the end, it’s just you and your willpower.

I don’t mean to say that you can force words out of your brain from sheer force of will. What I mean is that once you sit down and commit to sitting there for a specified period of time, you will eventually put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper) and get work done. Maybe you need a cup of your caffeinated beverage of choice to activate your mind. Maybe you need an arrangement of cushions and footstools to get comfortable enough for the words to flow. Once your writing environment is in place, all that is left is to stop messing with it and just write.

I spent a long time in this space where I would just read about writing and not actually write. Sure, I picked up on the finer points of putting together a manuscript, but the writing process itself was quite neglected. The fact of the matter is that you learn by doing. You can choose to spend all your life making one piece of art or spend your time making different things and improving along the way.

Most things worth knowing are simple. It is when our natural resistance to making effort comes into play that things get complicated. You can choose either to “keep it simple, stupid” or make life unnecessarily tangled for yourself. It’s your choice.


Finding my way back home

“Home” for me is writing. I have never suffered as much as I do when, for whatever reason, I give it up for a period of time. Whenever I turn back to it, it welcomes me back with open arms. I lose myself in it. It is my personal process of healing. If I don’t write, my unspent creative energy builds up into a big block of worry, and that is unhealthy.

In my autograph diary in which I got autographs from my teachers and schoolmates back in high school, one of my teachers told me to keep a hold onto writing, as she herself regretted letting go of it. Whenever I experience the peaceful bubble I can cocoon myself into when I write after a break from it, I recall this piece of advice from her and doubly appreciate it. I would be a fool to give up writing permanently. It is just hard-wired into my brain.

My brother is my personal cheerleader as far as writing goes. He is responsible for getting me to set up a “writing tracker”, which is basically a notebook in which I chart my writing progress. As usual, I either have several works in progress at one time, or none at all. I suppose it’s “all or nothing” for me.

My latest return to writing has been a happy one. I finally started writing my book, for real this time. I started a serial story for one of the magazines I write for. Both projects are enough to keep me on my toes. I aim to see both projects through to completion. That would be a serious achievement for me as a writer.

So, here goes nothing. I’m all set to continue my writing journey. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes!


Readwrites: your procrastination is my “novel research”


That’s basically what the name of this site means. Iqra=”read”, so “readwrites”. “Iqra” is my name so of course what I really mean is “I write”.

The funny thing is that I’m moving between reading and writing like a ping pong ball being bounced on a table between two players who definitely don’t want the ball to fall on their side. Writing a novel seems easy enough, just sit down and start writing until you stop. That is, unless you get sidetracked by, let’s say, a book on writing. Then you want to read a well written book, you know, just to see an example of good work. Of course, what actually happens is that you get discouraged by reading excellent writing. “I can never pull that off”, you say, tossing everything aside and opening the black hole of the Internet: Facebook.

Once you travel through the black hole and get thrown out on the other side, you realize that you have some non-novel writing to do. So you do it. After which you have no more energy to write, so you start watching a video instead.

The good thing is that nowadays I’m listening to the Leadership workshop by Nouman Ali Khan. It’s relevant. Come to think of it, everything is relevant. Like the author Bob Mayer says, living life gives you material for your novel. That means all procrastination is actually novel research work.

When push comes to shove, what I really need is to stop addressing the intangible “you” and talk about myself. While living life instead of actually writing and posting #amwriting tweets is all fine and dandy, that novel isn’t going to write itself. So why am I writing this blog post instead? I put this into the “exercising my writing muscles” category.

After I’ve exercised my writing muscles, read about writing, and listened about leadership, it’s time to…live life. Yup, actual novel writing time is not here yet. Hey, I do have 1800 words down (unedited), which I really should stop bragging about on the Women Writers, Women’s Books Facebook group, and not just because there are published authors there.

How about a goal to write at least 1000 words until next Friday’s blog post? Let’s see.

A writerly milestone

I won third place in my age category in the first Commonwealth Essay Competition I participated in. I was 14. I won 120 pounds, and my parents made me buy a gold necklace with it. (I would have splurged on random stuff if left to my own devices). It was a great milestone for me and after that, since 2006, I started writing for local magazines. Now, I’ve sent in an entry for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Let’s see what happens. The results will be announced at the end of May 2015.

Here’s what the judges had to say about my 2004 essay:

Nearly all the essays in the book review category were complimentary. This splendid diatribe made one think that we have a future critic in the making–authors beware! There is nothing to recommend, it seems, in this unfortunate book and we are told of its failings in well-chosen words. Even the description of the plot is used to demonstrate shortcomings. It is hard not to become convinced by the essay writer’s scorn and disappointment. That said, Iqra has a lightness of touch and an underlying wit which allow her to write such a devastating critique and get away with it!

Here’s my winning essay:

Topic: “What book have you either liked or disliked? Why did you like or dislike it?”

It was the summer vacation and monotony was driving me mad. So, I hit the bookstores, scouring the shelves for some series new to me, or the works of any writer which I had not read. Good fiction is soothing for a mind lethargic with boredom. A friend who was passionate about the “Goosebumps” series recommended a book to me. It was “Let’s Get Invisible!” by R. L. Stine.

After reading the book this became apparent: I did not see eye to eye with the friend who had recommended the novel to me. It was not according to my taste; too bland and frivolous to be delightful. It did not possess the charisma which many books had; the charm which made me read them repeatedly.

The plot revolves around Max, the protagonist and narrator of the story. He and his friends discover a magic mirror in the attic, and they soon find out that there is more to it than meets the eye. It is capable of granting temporary invisibility to whoever uses it correctly. The children play with it, but whoever stays invisible for a long period of time is drawn into the mirror and held captive there, and his reflection replaces him in the corporeal world. In the end, the imprisoned children are released when the mirror is broken, and the reflections go with it.

Now you might be wondering that what was so disagreeable about the book that it served as an impetus for me to write this essay. There are many reasons why I do not rate it amongst the treasured books of my collection.

The first thing I must point out about the novel is that it is supposed to be frightening. I singled it out from the other “Goosebumps” books because I wanted to see if there were other ways to scare people other than with monsters, devilry, carnage and the suchlike. The storyline is far from bloodcurdling. I read the book expecting to be scared afresh with every turn of the page. Instead, I was left waiting for something to happen. The plot tends to abate rather than arouse interest. It is the kind of book one can gladly stash under the

bed and forget. There is nothing horrifying or alarming in “Let’s Get Invisible!”, unless one tries to count the innumerable false alarms that mark the end of almost every chapter. As an example, say: a boy crosses a room enveloped in absolute darkness, and something howls…and it turns out to be his idiotic kid brother. The first false alarm gives the reader a satisfactory jolt; the second is easy to predict, and at the third one it becomes a monotony; another aspect of the continuous ennui that inhibits every last line of the story. It might terrify a five-year-old when told as a bedtime chronicle, but to me there is no element of terror whatsoever. If one selects a book because it is categorized under “horror”, then what is the use if it fails to instill any sort of fear at all?

It is not worth wandering in the bleak world of Stine’s magic mirror, because it is composed of nothing truly new. Invisibility and magic mirrors are among the trademarks of fiction. Creativity is extremely valuable.

Some writers are so good at writing stories that along with making their plots strong, they express, portray and elaborate very well. Such authors compose books with such dexterity and ingenuity that the reader is spellbound from the beginning to the end. All of us have read such masterpieces: stories with narrators so charming one cannot desire to quiet them or worlds so richly painted one does not want to leave. I am afraid that “Let’s Get Invisible!” cannot be rated so highly. It is simply too mediocre and insipid to be pleasurable; it takes only a moment’s contemplation to tell whether you like it or not. If one seeks literary bliss, it is better not to read this book.