I Figured I could Make Time

For quite some time now I have not been able to create. I haven’t been able to work on any new writing project other than my blog. It’s not that I don’t want to or that I have run out of ideas. No. See , I have all these characters and stories running around endlessly in my head. But I haven’t been able to put them down on paper. In other words, I haven’t been able to actually sit at my desk and write. And that makes me angry and frustrated all the time. 

Three months ago I cleaned and tidied a corner in my bedroom which I would like to call my writing corner, just so I have a definite place to go to every day to write. I figured I will start with little tasks. One page at a time, and follow John Grisham’s advice and take each day as it comes.

“I had no time to write- zero time. But I figured I could make time if I could carve out little segments. I knew it would be a slow process, but I didn’t care because I was in no hurry. I learned two very valuable lessons in doing that. One, you can’t get in a hurry. Two, write every day if you want to see your novel completed. My goal was to write a page a day. Some days I could only find 30 minutes, some days two hours. Sometimes I would write five or six pages, sometimes just one. But writing every single day is of utmost importance. Especially if like most beginning writers, you have another full-time job.” 

I was so happy and looking forward to my new beginning when the landlord decided to renovate the building. Before I knew it workers were banging on my wall, the wall against which I had my desk, taking down the bricks. 

I tried to stay calm and figure out how to continue with my plan. On the first day I put on my earphones and sat at my desk. But the noise was so strong. In fact the entire house shook from the banging.

Hear

I changed my place, went to the sitting room but to no avail. After a while it all became too much to bear. I thought of going to the library or a coffee shop to work. But then I was afraid to leave the house in case something went wrong and the entire house got destroyed. How silly of me to think that I could have really prevented that.

Today there are no more workers working on the house. No more banging on the walls. The house looks much nicer from the outside. But the feeling and the taste I am left with after all those days of not being able to write, as Simone de Beauvoir put it:

“A day without writing tastes of ashes.” 

ChK

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I Wish I Had Listened!

“The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner’s humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small scary step.” Julia Cameron 

After a lifetime of teaching and traveling and spending most of my life away from the country where I was born, where I still have my circle of family and friends and support, I have but a few regrets. I have regrets in both my personal and professional lives. 

On a personal note I regret having spent my life away from my loved ones, away from the people whose company I not only enjoyed but needed most. That was a choice we (my late husband and I) made, to escape the civil war in Lebanon. What better choice did we have then when as newlyweds we spent most nights in the basement turned shelter of our building praying to stay alive.

On a professional level, sometimes when I travel down memory lane I feel that I shouldn’t have wasted my years going to university. I had a dream then. I still do. I wanted to create. I wanted to write. I wanted to spend my time listening, seeing, observing, connecting to people. I wanted to spend my time searching for something, I didn’t know what. The only knowledge of life I had was from the many books I read.

Julia Cameron writes:

“Creative people are dramatic, and we use negative drama to scare ourselves out of our creativity with this notion of wholesale and often destructive change. Fantasizing about pursuing art full-time, we fail to pursue it part-time or at all.” 

To become a full-time writer, since at the time I hadn’t seen enough, done enough, experienced enough relationships, and accumulated enough special knowledge and facts to fill my pages, I thought I needed help. I thought I lacked the practical training and professional techniques I needed to get it all down on paper and put it across to the toughest of all readers. If only I had listened to my heart instead of my head.

Edward Abbey wrote:

“I don’t think a college degree is necessary to become a good writer. I’m not even certain it’s an advantage. College probably won’t hurt you- if you don’t take it too seriously. But far more important, I believe, is broad general experience: living as active a life as possible, meeting all ranks of people, plenty of travel. Trying your hand at various kinds of work, keeping your eyes, ears and mind open, remembering what you observe, reading plenty of good books, and writing every day – simply writing.”

School

ChK

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Winning The Lottery

“There comes a time when you just stop trying. Deafening silence means something. When a lover- or an editor- doesn’t want you anymore, you have to move on.” R. Daniel Foster

I don’t know about you but I have kind of given up on submitting my work to publishers and agents. I know it is totally wrong to do that. I know the experts advise never to give up on your work. And I haven’t. It is not my work that I have given up on. But I kind of feel tired of getting the same polite answer over and over.

“Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it does not meet our present needs….”

Makes me wonder… Did the editor ever read my piece? Chances are I submitted the right piece to the wrong publication, or the wrong piece to the right publication, or something in between. I am not so sure any more.

Whatever the reason, what do I do next, now that the entire industry of publishing has changed since the first time my book was published in Dubai ten years ago. Every day I come across stories on the internet of self published writers signing big contracts because of the success they have secured for themselves. That’s right. Because of the number of their own books they personally have managed to sell.

One such story was that of Tina Seskis, 48, and her debut novel “One Step Too Far”. The article read:

“An author has secured a six-figure publishing deal after selling hundreds of thousands of books from her bedroom. Within a year she had sold 100,000 copies online and 10,000 hardback versions by talking directly to online and high-street booksellers.
Today Ms Seskis, who previously worked in PR, said her success was down to her strict business strategy and an “unfaltering belief in the book”.”

Dollars

Is it enough to have unfaltering belief in your book? What if unlike Tina you don’t have the marketing experience nor the skills to market and sell your work. Susan Goodman writes:

“When an editor doesn’t know what he wants, the only way he can sharpen what he wants is to react against what you give him.”

So does this mean that for those of us who have good stories, who believe in our books but do not have marketing experience nor the skills needed, the odds of selling completed work to booksellers, agents or even to an editor or publisher are about the same as winning the lottery?

ChK

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“I’m working on a novel”

“There is no shortcut to writing a novel, or to rewriting it. No publisher will be interested in hearing that a first novelist has a great idea- the publisher would want to see the book.” Richard North Patterson

“I’m working on a novel.”

You probably have heard this phrase often. You might have even said it a time or two yourself. Perhaps to your friend or at a dinner party or some social event. Then the question follows, “What is your book about?” Or, “Have you published anything before?”

You hesitate. Your heart skips a beat thinking what answer you can give. You have spent valuable time and energy studying writing, attending writers’ meetings, moving from one writers’ circle to another, being part of various discussion groups, taking classes, and enrolling in writers’ workshops. Only to come to the sad conclusion that without a manuscript you are still at the same place as when you just started.

English

Henry Ford once wrote:
“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”

You read all kinds of books on writing to get inspired. You try to follow all the instructions and advice. While all this is good you realize that what you have actually been doing is to stall or postpone the actual writing. You read about schedule and discipline. You wish your days or nights were longer and you had more time. You are too busy working to earn a living.

Or maybe, like me, you are busy being a “writer” and you forget that the first and foremost rule is to write. Even though you truly believe in yourself, in your dream and in your ability to succeed.

“There are no shortcuts- no substitutes for experience and hard work. Roll up those sleeves pal.” Ralph Peters

ChK

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Unless You’re Drilling And Filling

Have you run out of ideas? Do you feel blocked? Do you feel that you should be writing more instead of talking about writing? Which is more important to you: writing, or being a writer? Do you like to get published and make a living?

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Even many great writers of the past faced the same literary foes we all do. From procrastination and writer’s block to confounded interruptions and sleeplessness.

Victor Hugo, when he found himself distracted, simply removed his clothes and instructed his servant to return them several hours later. Naked and alone, he wrote.

Honoré de Balzac relied on coffee, “black water” as he called it, which when he drank it caused a “general commotion.” He wrote:

“Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army on the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensign to the wind. The light cavalry, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of wit start up like sharp shooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink, for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just like a battle with powder.”

He wrote from midnight to noon as did Kafka who suffered from insomnia and is said to have found sleep impossible so long as words were growing inside him.

Whether you are a night owl or an early bird, whether you drink coffee or tea or wine for inspiration, whether you have a corner or a desk to work at, or you write during long soaks in the bathtub like Benjamin Franklin, you don’t get paid unless you work.

Dentists have a saying: “Unless you’re drilling and filling, you’re not billing.” In other words you don’t get paid unless you work.

“The main reason I make a six-figure income from my writing is that I work 12 hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. If you are putting in 30 hours a week now, consider increasing it to 40.” Robert W. Bly

When I am blocked, which is unfortunately on most days lately, I just start scribbling on the blank page. I let my hand move across the page and write down whatever comes to my mind. Stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Most of the time whatever I write doesn’t make sense. But I still do it. And not long after I am back to my story, to my writing. As Gary Paulsen said:

“The reality is, you just write. And if you do it correctly, it’s like carving pieces off yourself.”

ChK

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Tomorrow Is Going To Be Another Day!

Every night I go to bed saying to myself tomorrow is going to be another day and I will write about how beautiful nature is. How beautiful the trees, the flowers, the birds and everything are around me. Come morning, a few minutes on the internet after I wake up and halfway through my second coffee everything has already changed.

I don’t see the beauty surrounding me anymore, I don’t feel it. My heart fills with all the heartache from all the killings and sufferings in different parts of the world. I see pictures of children decapitated by bombs and shrapnel in Gaza, missiles and rockets falling on them. I read about the parents of abducted girls by Boko Haram being killed by the same rebels that kidnapped their girls and sold them for prostitution in the name of Allah.

While in most parts of the world people are protesting against the bombing of Gaza, the militants are continuing their horrific acts against their own people. These militants are from the people themselves. There’s nothing worse than when your fellow citizen, your friend, your brother, your colleague turns his back on you and sees you as his enemy. Overnight he becomes the oppressor and you the oppressed.

“Nayla stepped out for the first time that morning and looked around her. On the other side of the street a group of three men in khaki uniform stood conversing. One of them, the one with black sunglasses and hands in his pocket, walked towards the two women. She recognized him. He was the one she had given the note to, the one with the wife and two kids. Could they have been driving in circles then? What were the gunmen trying to do? Were they waiting to kill him and afterwards rape and torture her and perhaps leave her on the street to die? What have they done to him? She wanted to ask him about Samer. She opened her mouth to speak but the words wouldn’t come out. She could hear her teeth chatter in her mouth. She was shaking all over. Her feet gave way. The gunman grabbed her by the shoulders to prevent her from falling on the ground, while Kawkab ran inside a house. A glass in her hand, she hurried back.
“Drink this!” she ordered Nayla. “It’s water with some sugar in it. It’s good for you.”
She couldn’t hold the cup in her hands. Kawkab held it for her to drink. She wasn’t trembling anymore. She felt so weak. She couldn’t even feel the glass on her lips. They were so numb. She was so very numb.
Kawkab helped her sit back in the car. Then turning around she screamed at the gunman with black sunglasses, hysterically. “See what you’ve done to her? Why? Why you do this to innocent people always? My son is in this with you. I don’t want him on the streets. I don’t like his being one of you. If only his father were alive, Zaki would never have dropped out of school and joined your gang.” A tear rolled down Kawkab’s cheeks. “This is all so stupid. This is madness. The whole country has gone crazy.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her right hand and in a desperate voice asked the gunman, “Do you like what you do, son? Honestly?”
“Calm down Aunt Kawkab. I only do what they order me to. My wife and I fight all the time. I miss her, I miss the kids. I haven’t seen her or the kids for almost a month now. She tells me she doesn’t like me to be on the streets. Tell you the truth, I don’t like it either. But I don’t feel comfortable anywhere, anymore; neither at home nor on the streets.”
Kawkab took a deep breath. “You know Nayla, when he came and told me about you and your husband I called Zaki. I asked him to talk to his superiors about Samer. You know what his answer was to me? He told me that at times like this there was little, or in some places, no control at all over what the gunmen did. It was a matter of personal loss. There was nothing any superior could do about those gunmen’s motives to kill anyone. It was all a matter of luck. Let’s just pray that Samer will be lucky today,” she looked at Nayla’s ashen face and shook her head.
Nayla could feel the tears that were accumulating behind her already wrinkled eyelids. Would she and Samer be lucky? Nayla thought. Your luck ran out on you the moment you fell into the hands of these gunmen. She remembered having read a scene from Hemingway’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” about the Spanish civil war. It described a mob killing some men, pushing them over some cliffs. The more frightened these men became, the more the crowd cheered.
At that moment the gunman with the black sunglasses came and took the driver’s seat. He didn’t have a kalashnikov but his pistol hung from his belt. He started the engine. Once again Nayla was in the car with a gunman and a woman she had only met that morning. They were taking her to see her husband. The only familiar thing around her was her husband’s blue Renault in which they were driving. Nayla took a deep breath. If only she’d had a chance to exchange a few words with Samer before they took him. If only he’d looked once, just once, in her direction before he had walked away from her in front of the gunman. A simple “Don’t worry, sweetheart” would have been enough for his part, even though it would have been a mere pretence under the circumstances. But he had just walked away, leaving her alone and frightened. This feeling of fear and loneliness reached deep inside her. She shivered and a small cry escaped her tightly closed lips. Unable to hold the tears that piled up behind her eyelashes, she started to sob, her whole body shaking.” The Lost I .

lost i

ChK

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Nothing Lasts Forever!

Nothing lasts forever!

Fin

I don’t know why it is but lately all the interesting people I meet are in clinics or in the waiting rooms of hospitals. Maybe because those are the only places I visit these days? Or maybe there is something in those rooms that makes people vulnerable enough to start a conversation with total strangers.

Let’s face it, if you walk into a coffee shop and order your coffee and sit alone at a table, chances are you won’t start any kind of small talk with the person sitting at a different table beside you, no matter what. Even when you are placing your order,  chances are you won’t start any kind of small talk with the person at the register because you feel that the person behind you is grumbling with impatience and you just want to hurry with your order. 

Yesterday morning I was in the hospital waiting room reading my book when the person next to me said, “Maxim Gorky is a great writer.” I turned around and this person introduced herself and when I in turn repeated my name she said, “You Armenian people have had your share of pain as Christians, haven’t you now?”

I was kind of surprised because I had never looked at our troubles that way. And I remembered an image I had seen on the internet early that morning, of a few women and children, girls, slaughtered in the bathroom of a house in Mosul. The caption read, “Killed by ISIS or IS, in their hiding place, for being Christians.” 

Has anything really changed since the Armenian Genocide of about 100 years ago? All kinds of atrocities still continue in whatever name they choose to carry them out. If you are caught in their war, and if by some miracle you are spared, then you have all that pain and burden to carry in your heart. It won’t always feel that bad. From time to time your heart might even be warmed by a dim ray of hope. The hope of some kind of change. But then your conscience will kick in and you will ask yourself, “Will something really happen to change all this?”

“As always at such moments the dim hope, the expectation glowed in him of something different, unlike what he saw around him. Sometimes the all-embracing words glimmered in his memory, “It won’t last forever.”” Maxim Gorky

ChK

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