Jhumpa Lahiri on Writing

“All writing, all art is just a wild leap off a cliff. There’s nothing to support you. You’re creating something out of nothing.”

I loved hearing one of my favorite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, ruminate on the work behind her writing. It’s always great to hear an accomplished person describe their process, almost like a magician showing you the truth behind their illusion. But in this case, it doesn’t make the reading any less delightful or worthwhile.

Writing is always different for everyone and it’s empowering to think about creating something out of nothing. No one needs or wants my story yet, but I will create that need and want through the depiction of my characters and their experience. I will bring them to life without understanding how or why, but I’ll do it because they speak to me. In darkened shadows, in fleeting moments of silence, in wavering footsteps across the street. Even if it takes 100 drafts, I will figure it out slowly and whittle away until I stand back and find my creation completed. I can’t wait until that day finally arrives.

 

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Planning and plotting your novel

I’m taking some time out today to work on structuring my novel for NaNoWriMo and I’ve been finding a lot of cool methods. There’s obviously no perfect way to do this, but it’s worth reading and trying some different ones until you find one that really speaks to you.

1. The Snowflake Method

2. How to Make Sure your NaNoWriMo Project isn’t a Hot Mess

3. 25 Things You Should Do Before Starting Your Next Novel

4. The Jim Butcher Way

5. Marathon Training to Finish Your Book

I’m using Scrivener to organize all my character sketches, research, and notes, and then when it’s time for the writing, I’ll also be typing the novel in here. I haven’t decided if I’ll also handwrite my story as well, because if I’m not at home with my laptop, I don’t want to lose precious writing time. But typing up my handwritten copy to check the wordcount doesn’t sound like fun either…

Last thing, here’s one of 2012’s author pep talks by Melissa McCafferty that I really like. Also, I really need to read her Jessica Darling series!

Best First Lines

Here’s a great post by the talented Stephen King on first lines and opening sentences that make you want to keep reading.

Hooking your reader from the beginning is really hard to do but with so many distractions and entertainment options, it’s all you can do to make sure people keep reading your story.

Some of my favorite opening sentences include:

1. “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” The Kite Runner

2. ” Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, ‘That afternoon when I met so-and-so… was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.'” Memoirs of a Geisha

3. “Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.” Coraline

I find all three particularly effective in grabbing your attention, piquing your curiosity, and immediately establishing expectations for what the story is going to reveal. They don’t have to be flowery and scenic or have explosions and car chases. As someone who’s drawn to character first and foremost, I believe good opening lines either establish a strong voice or provide a good teaser into the action of the story. Prologues and “once upon a time” type scenarios can be hit or miss and often bore the reader before they’re fully invested and interested in getting background information.

The opening sentence for my current novel-in-progress is not quite as catchy as I’d like it to be, but since it’s still in draft mode I’m not expecting it to be that perfect. Right now, what’s important is simply having something on paper and setting the stage for the plot. If Stephen King can spend months and years on his opening sentences, I’m sure it’s fine for me to put off that big decision too 😉

What are some of your favorite opening lines for novels or short stories?

 

Post-grad/summer life

So I graduated university 2 weeks ago exactly. I have abandoned the one identity I have been comfortably walking around in—student. As I walked across the stage to get my not-diploma in three different ceremonies (honors, bachelor 1, bachelor 2), I felt like I was shedding my skin in front of hundreds of people I didn’t know and asked to smile and pose while doing so.

Now I’m here, in the lull of summer days with no routine or purpose, no expectations, at least for a short while. I will be starting an internship in June that will have me working 40 hours a week. This sounds painful but also welcome. Boredom comes quite easily to me. I have plenty to do of course, but yet boredom still sneaks up on me because my brain begin an over-analytical inner monologue and then I end up thinking about the utter pointlessness to whatever activity I’m engaging in.

I’m trying to jumpstart the creative engine of my brain this summer and hope it lasts into the next year. Creativity comes from habit, routine, practice, action, perspiration, therefore I need to establish that for myself. I can’t let my characters, dialogue and plot points float around without a page to land on. Some sort of direction must be delineated, much like my own personal/professional life.

One of my best friends gifted me this wonderful 5 year journal that asks you a question each day with a few lines to answer. So far, I’ve been writing in it everyday and it’s been good. Here’s the cute little thing:q&a book

Also, I found this cool reading list of writers on writing compiled by a website called brainpicker. Check it out and see if it inspires you:)

My current dilemma is that I have four different novel ideas I started over the past 4 years in college and I’m having difficulty deciding on which one to come back to or if I should just start fresh with something completely different? Thoughts?

I really want to put together a good writing playlist on Spotify. Music keeps me going, so if you have any suggestions, I can add them in. I’m currently enjoying the lovely Sia. I don’t know why, but she looks like what I imagine is my writing muse: deeply passionate, profound, but also whimsical and fun.

Anyhow, enough rambling from me. I’m looking forward to rediscovering myself in the coming months and see what progress I make with my writing. This is supposed to be when my real life begins, right? Let’s hope it’s also when my real writing begins, hehe.

Writing Memoirs

I love memoirs. They’re such fascinating, complex, disturbing, magical creatures. You have to remember such minute details to make everything come alive and relive those memories.

I hope to have one one day, when I’m finally done observing and analyzing the hell out of everything in my life and there’s some sort of story arc to tell. I have plenty of interesting individuals in my family and social network to round out a wacky cast of characters. My minority status could make for a clever, empathetic hyphenated identity crisis that could either be a hackneyed immigrant tale or another Jhumpa Lahiri bestseller.

But I’m still afraid of what the effect of this kind of writing could do on the people I care about. In some way shape or form, I do weave in people from real life into my stories, often changing genders, combining two people into one or vice versa, but nothing too revealing.

This interview in the Paris Review with author, Alison Bechdel, was really informative and I’d recommend you all read it to hear how she tells her painful personal stories in graphic novels, Fun House and Are You My Mother? I’ll be putting those on my summer reading list!

Write Music

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important. So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.

-Gary Provost

creativity collage

photo credit:mugley

photo credit:vladimer04

photo credit:lauraoliviabaker

photo credit:Tim Walker

Photo credit: Dylan MacMaster

photo credit: rafael milani

when i’m feeling down, out of it or lost, i immerse myself with photography. now if only i had the skills to replicate the kinds of photos that make me shiver, sigh, laugh and cry.

there’s nothing like visual stimulation to make your thoughts go aflutter into a cave of wonders. please enjoy these beautiful pieces of art and get inspired to create your own collage while you’re on your own writing journey to complement what you’re working on.

How To Genres: Dystopia

Dystopian fiction is really hot right now. Just look at The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Uglies trilogy and more.

The New York Times had a discussion where authors and other professionals chimed in on the popularity of the dystopian genre and tried to understand why young adults specifically are so drawn to it.

What exactly is dystopian?

Dystopia, according to Merriam Webster, means an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.

It’s the anti-utopia, the anti amazing heavenly paradise.

Stories in the dystopia genre are dark, conflict-driven and usually take place sometime in the future after something horrible has happened to the Earth whether through an apocalypse, government takeover, war, drought etc.

Coming up with the back story in a dystopian novel is where a writer can be truly inventive in social commentary and criticism. Some writers are very specific and detailed, while others only give vague descriptions about the past and focus more on the present events.

The protagonist has some kind of awakening or passion to right wrongs and find a way out of the miserable , but not with out lots of sacrifices and facing terrible consequences for fighting against the system. The protagonist becomes a hero for questioning what others are too afraid to question and for noticing what others are too afraid to notice.

If you want to read some classic dystopian literature to do some homework before you try your hand at it, you should definitely read Brave New World by Aldeous Huxley, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and The Giver by Lois Lowry.

My favorite contemporary dystopian novel is The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, which I’m on book 2 of. I know, I know the third one has been out for awhile, but I’ve been busy!

Here’s a dystopian writing prompt: Write a short story where everyone on Earth can only speak one word a day. Once a person chooses the word, they can only use it for the next 24 hours even if they have other thoughts and feelings to express. What would people’s conversations and interactions be like?

Get writing!