“True Originality Can Only Come From Within”

I have been rereading “Becoming A Writer” by Dorothea Brande. It is one of my all time favorites and I have had it in my library for quite some time now.
The basic problems of the writer listed in her book are no different today than they were in 1934 when the book was first published. In her book she doesn’t talk about “the techniques of writing fiction.” In fact it has nothing to do at all with “the techniques of writing fiction.” 

Dorothea writes that the root problems of the writer are personality problems. The writer cannot get started, or starts a story well then gets lost or loses heart, or writes very well some of the time, badly the rest of the time. She mentions that all creative writing courses are for most people most of the time failures. The beginning writer who is taking the creative writing course writes brilliantly while the course lasts but after it is over can no longer write. The root problems are problems of confidence, self-respect, freedom.

Now, when I first read this book I hadn’t heard of Julia Cameron. I hadn’t read any of her books nor was I familiar with the fact that she taught creative recovery for artists. Julia’s books are a source of inspiration to many beginning artists and even to those who are blocked. 

Come to think of it Julia also talks about problems, problems that have to do with our past as writers or artists. In her exercises she asks us to go back to our childhood years and remember any incident that might have caused us to be blocked creatively. Just like Dorothea Brande writes:

“The writer’s demon is imprisoned by the various ghosts in the unconscious.” 

Julia tells us to go to the page every morning right after we wake up and write three pages. “Three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing done before the day begins,” she says, calling them Morning Pages.

While Dorothea suggests we start the day by writing first thing in the morning, for that’s when the writing is the truest, most genuine.
In her book Julia has sections about confidence, self-respect and freedom. The same issues that we find in “Becoming A Writer.” 

Julia talks about how much energy the artists possess and how if they don’t put it to good use creatively they become exhausted. 

While Dorothea writes, “Becoming a writer is mainly a matter of cultivating a writer’s temperament. The moods and tempers, when they actually exist, are symptoms of the artist’s personality gone wrong- running of into waste effort and emotional exhaustion.” 

Julia writes about despair and perseverance. She talks about the need for inspiration and “enriching the soul.” She tells us to show up at the page or the easel no matter what our moods. While Dorothea writes:
“Every writer goes through this period of despair. Without doubt many promising writers, and most of those who were never meant to write, turn back at this point and find a lifework less exacting. Others are able to find the other bank of their slough of despond, sometimes by inspiration, sometimes by sheer doggedness.”

The list goes on. As I mentioned earlier Dorothea’s book was published in 1934. And for a small book of 175 pages it has priceless advice for writers (even) today. 


“True originality can come only from within.” Dorothea Brande


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Thank You Dear Friend!

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry writes:

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

Many are the days when I long to write but I am not writing. Many are the days when I feel that I have so many things to say, things that are important to me and yet somehow I feel they may be trivial to the reader. That’s when negativity steps in. I groan and grump and whine and complain. And if I don’t put my feelings, my thoughts, my true emotions, and my negativity down on paper, the feeling stays with me throughout the entire day. The page is where I do not pretend. 

The scariest thing for me as a writer, more than facing the blank page, is keeping up the faith. The belief that what I am doing is meaningful and not just a waste of time. To think and believe in myself as a writer and keep going no matter what the odds. 

To keep the faith from time to time I long to hear readers’ opinions about my book. My readers keep me going and help build my confidence as a writer. And yesterday I received a message from an internet friend. 

“Hi Choghig. Just finished reading your book. Amazing situations that we, here, in Greece haven’t lived since world war II. Easily read it, liked it and I would say that you could write more chapters of the story. You could write a sequel about what happened to Nayla and Samer and their friends back in Beirut. Generally I loved it. Great job. Thanks again” 

He even blogged about it. (It’s in Greek but the translation will follow soon!)

Book Review: The Lost I

Thank you dear friend. 

“To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” Mahatma Gandhi



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You Were In My Dream

You were in my dream last night. In my dream I was asleep when I heard a noise like someone talking. I woke up and walked to the sitting room. I saw you standing by the window overlooking the deck, talking to someone. I didn’t see who, I just heard your voice. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was so overjoyed I started crying and rushed into your arms.

“You came back! You came back!” I shouted at the top of my voice. You smiled your beautiful smile at me and you held me in your arms and told me,
“Shh don’t cry, you’re doing fine, you really are. Shh everything will be okay, you‘ll see.”

And in my dream I could feel that something was wrong- I heard myself say this can’t be, he’s dead. He can’t come back. I woke up and dumb as I am I even walked to the living room only to find it empty and have to face the harsh reality.

My dream felt so real though. I heard your voice. I looked into your eyes and they were smiling and it felt so good. I didn’t want to wake up from it. I wanted it to last forever.
Sometimes I wonder if we were still in Dubai where we had our successful careers and jobs, we had our circle of friends and colleagues, our group of supporters, where our life simply was much more organized than here, would it have made it easy for us to continue?

What bugs me most is how quickly everything changed. My perspective of life has changed completely. And I am sad today specially, because today marks the opening of an art exhibition in Beirut, Towards New Centennial, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Musa Dagh. Yesterday I received a Facebook invitation to the event. 

I was surprised and disappointed to not find your name in the list of participants. You were among the first to capture the life of our villagers on canvas. The simple everyday life starting from the chair they weaved to the pot they used for cooking during those first years as refugees.

How can they overlook you as an artist? Is this ignorance on the part of the organizing committee or is there a certain criteria that artists have to meet and you don’t? Whichever is the case I think it is very wrong to exclude you from it.


On a lighter note, the other day when I was talking to a representative from the Canada Council for the Arts, she asked to see my blog. Moments after I emailed the link to her she called back saying, and I quote; “What a beautiful blog, very elegant, very simple and beautiful design.” 

Those were her words my darling and she kept repeating it a few times. I felt a lump in my throat and at the same time I felt so proud. See you are gone but your legacy and your work remains even though some either forget or ignore it. 

You continue to live through your kids who miss you terribly. I miss you, we all miss you more and more every day. How we wish that things had turned out differently for you and us.

May you rest in peace my darling. 


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Need For Speed

When writing a novel, the advice many experienced and professional writers give to beginner writers is to write the first draft as quickly as possible without wasting time on fixing anything. Just get the words out on the page as fast as possible.


The first draft of a story or novel is often written at top speed. Maybe that is the best way to do it. Dorothy Canfield Fisher once compared the writing of a first draft with skiing down a steep slope that she wasn’t sure she was clever enough to manage. She says:

“Sitting at my desk one morning I ‘pushed off’ with a tingle of not altogether pleasurable excitement and alarm, felt myself ‘going’. I ‘went’ almost as precipitately as skis go down a long white slope, scribbling as rapidly as my pencil could go, indicating whole words with a dash and a jiggle, filling page after page with scrawls.”

Frank O’Conner doesn’t start changing words until the first draft is finished. He explains his need for speed:

“Get black on white used to be Maupassant’s advice- that’s what I always do. I don’t give a hoot what the writing’s like, I write any sort of rubbish which will cover the main outlines of the story, then I can begin to see it.”

Once the first draft is finished he then rewrites “endlessly, endlessly, endlessly. I keep on rewriting and after it’s published, and then it’s published in book form, I usually rewrite again. I’ve written versions of most of my early stories, and one of these days, God help, I’ll publish these as well.”

Joyce Cary says:
“I work over the whole book and cut out anything that does not belong to the emotional development, the texture of feeling.”

James Thurber revises his stories by rewriting them from beginning, time and again. He says:
“A story I’ve been working on was rewritten fifteen complete times. There must have been close to two hundred and forty thousand words in all the manuscripts put together, and I must have spent two thousand hours working at it. Yet the finished story can’t be more than twenty thousand words.”

There are other writers, however, who revise as they write.

“I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph- each sentence, even- as I go along.” William Styron

Dorothy Parker says that it takes her six months to do a story:
“I think it out and then write it sentence by sentence- no first draft. I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

Julia Cameron, on the other hand, writes:
“Perfection has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. Perfectionism is not a quest for the best.”

Hmm… Makes me wonder! I always believed that what makes a writer’s work great is the commitment of the writer to rewriting endlessly until he/she achieves perfection. And to me that is what distinguishes the great writer from a good one.


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The Crisis Of The Novel!

Going through the books in my library the other day, I came across the classics. As I dusted and rearranged those books I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the new generation has read these books other than those assigned for them in school. Tolstoy, Balzac, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Dumas, Hugo, Dickens, Austin, Eliot, Hardy, Woolf, Flaubert, Turgenev, Gorky and many others. 

François Mauriac once said when asked if he still read novels:

“I read very few. Every day I find that age asphyxiates the characters inside of me. I was once a passionate reader, I might say insatiable, but now… When I was young, my own future assured to the Madame Bovarys, the Anna Kareninas, the characters from Balzac, the atmosphere that made them, for me, living creatures. They spread out before me all that I dreamed out for myself. My destiny was prefigured by theirs. Then, as I lived longer, they closed around me like rivals. A kind of competition obliged me to measure myself against them, above all against the characters of Balzac. Now, however, they have become part of that which has been completed.
On the other hand, I can still reread a novel by Bernanos, or even Huysmans, because it has a metaphysical extension. As for my younger contemporaries, it is their technique, more than anything else, that interests me.”


“It is because novels no longer have any hold on me that I am given over more to history, to history of the making.”

Novels nowadays no longer interest me the way the classics did when I was much younger. It’s so true what Mauriac says about the technique of the writers. I can hardly finish a novel without complaining about the story, the characters, the plot and so on. I mean, for some of the novels that I have read I don’t remember anything about the story nor the characters. I know that while reading I am fascinated by the way the book is written, and for me that is not enough. 

“Today, along with nonrepresentational art we have the non-representational novel- the characters simply have no distinguishing features.
I believe the crisis of the novel, it exists, is right there essentially, in the domain of technique. The novel has lost its purpose. That is the most serious difficulty, and it is from there that we must begin. The younger generation believes, after Joyce and Proust, that it has discovered the “purpose” of the old novel to have been prefabricated and unrelated to reality.”

Have a great week reading and writing!


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Was There A Time

Today marks the ninth anniversary of our move to Montreal.


I remember sitting on the bus and wondering about my life, about us, about our future as a family. And I remember having this sad feeling too. This gut feeling that this was it, this was our final move and there was no turning back no matter what. Specially since we had left our extended families back in Lebanon which was at war with Israel. And nothing was ever going to be the same any more.

The future of our kids was what mattered most at the time. We kind of expected some of the difficulties my late husband and I would face. We had read accounts of families who had moved before us and we had heard about how difficult it was to find jobs here, full time jobs. All was fine and we were ready. My late husband was a hard working honest man who did everything for us, his family. He had this joie de vivre. He loved life and loved to laugh. He even joked about how he got his cancer passport before getting the Canadian one.

Cancer. That was something we were never prepared for. While we were busy making plans life happened. And on a day like today I can’t help but think of all the dreams we had that were never realized, of all his dreams, the unfinished projects and canvases he left behind. On a day like today I can’t help but think of the poem “Was There A Time”  by Dylan Thomas:

“Was there a time when dancers with their fiddles
In children’s circuses could stay their troubles?
There was a time they could cry over books,
But time has sent its maggot on their track.
Under the arc of the sky they are unsafe.
What’s never known is safest in this life.
Under the sky signs they who have no arms
Have cleanest hands, and, as the heartless ghost
Alone’s unhurt, so the blind man sees best.” 


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Get That Muscle Working!

It is one of those busy mornings again when I have a lot to do and I feel frustrated because I know that I won’t be able to write during the day. Sometimes even thinking about upcoming bills and expenditures causes me to be creatively blocked.

Usually I am a positive person. I am well aware that some things are out of our control and that there is nothing we can do about them except wait. I am a positive person by character and I realize that if I don’t expect anything from anyone I don’t get disappointed or hurt.

During all my school years and even later in university, I don’t remember anyone telling me how to make decisions in my life. Certainly, no one shared with me a process of finding out what I love to do. I have been taught to look to the outside to find answers, to quickly look for alternatives out there and hang on to them.

And I guess I am that kind of person who no matter how well I am doing today I can’t stop worrying about tomorrow. Maybe because I have lived most of my life in the Middle East where there is no political stability. And when we finally moved to Canada to provide a better life for my kids, I lost my husband to cancer and with that I lost that social, financial and economical stability I needed to feel safe.

Maybe I am the kind of person who really values having that security that really allows me to be happy, and lets me concentrate on enjoying every part of my life. Because right now I am worrying about what’s next and I just don’t like it. This confusion hinders my creativity and I find myself constantly blocked.

And yes, I get very depressed sometimes. I know I have to step back and take a look at myself. Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Or do I take the advice of the so many great writers before me and try to put words on the page no matter what. Sarah Harrison writes:

“Yes, I got very depressed at times. But it doesn’t all just happen.
You have to keep driving yourself to put words on paper. It’s the point I’m making to these would-be writers I’m talking to at the moment. Writers say they find it difficult to achieve the ’flow’ so I genuinely think covering the paper is the most important thing, because if you make yourself write a page, then suddenly, halfway down the second page, you find you’ve written a couple of paragraphs that do flow, and you did not notice it happen.
My advice to any aspiring author is, I think, not to stop writing. I think people put their all into one short thing and send it off and wait for the result, instead of immediately writing something else. I know it sounds terribly banal, but if you keep the muscle working, it’s better.”


I guess I have to keep that muscle working no matter what.


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