Do you Own Your Memories? #writing


Damyanti:

Writing about family. Always a dangerous topic. Someone, I don’t remember who, said that writers should write like orphans, like they have no family– that the family they belong to isn’t theirs.

I’ve written about my family, once or twice, and the reaction of those who read it has been, “But that’s not what happened! She’s twisted it up! How dare she?”

What they don’t realize is writing is its own truth– each story has its truth, and it has no relationship to facts, and what are facts, after all. Things happen, and depending on who saw them happen, you have different perspectives.

History is littered with perspectives, mostly those of the winners. I write sometimes from the loser’s perspective, from the point of view of ‘wrong’ (what’s right or wrong, anyway? who decides what’s right?).

I read this post today, and I’m reblogging it because it gives a perspective different from mine — You own everything that happened to you.

To me, I own nothing, from the clothes on my back to the stories I write– one day all of this would be ashes and dust, and not even a memory of me would remain.

What do you think? Do You own your memories? Do you write about your family? Would you be hurt if your family members wrote about you?

Following on Social media

Do You look Back?

Originally posted on Adventures in Juggling:

Working this week on me being the sole proprietor of my thoughts, my memories, my words, my opinions with my therapist has been hard. A lifetime of being told these are not mine, not real, not true, not worthy of being shared takes it toll. It’s one of the reason why I stopped writing decades ago, much to the disappointment of a high school writing teacher who just recently reconnected via Facebook upon discovering that after high school I stopped writing altogether. I did stop, until I started blogging more than ten years ago. First in secret. Then with a faceless audience who seemed to like the words and thoughts I put out there. Then it grew and grew as did the audience some who know me very well and some who like to imagine that they know me even better than I know me and now, well sometimes it’s…

View original 102 more words

Do You Wait Till Things Get #Interesting ?


I’m not big on Author Fan pages on Facebook, don’t have one myself (haven’t written anything worth a page. So far, anyway). But I ‘Liked’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s page at random and haven’t regretted it.

Writing about interesting things

When things get Interesting

Yesterday, I saw a post on her page I want to share with everyone (who hasn’t seen it yet, cos she has a gazillion followers):

Somebody asked me the other day if writing was easy for me.

When I hesitated with my answer, they asked, “I mean…has it gotten easier over time, as you’ve gotten better at it?”

And still I hesitated with my answer. Because the truth is, I’ve never asked my work to be “easy”; I just want it to be interesting.

(By which I mean — I want my writing to be interesting for ME. If, as a side effect, my work eventually becomes interesting to you, that’s awesome. But mostly, I am just trying to interest and educate and occupy and challenge and delight myself.)

Often writing is indeed quite difficult for me. But I’m not sure that’s the point, and I know it’s definitely not a problem, because all the really interesting things in life are difficult — love, wisdom, growth, compassion, learning, travel, loyalty, courage, endurance, transformation…

The post goes on, and if you’re on Facebook, I encourage you to go read it, whether you’re a writer or not.

In my writing and in life, I’ve often found that I have to keep going, even when (especially when) I reach a breaking point. Be it writing, swimming, household chores, hiking, research– the best part is after you climb that one seemingly insurmountable hill– the other side’s where that gorgeous sunrise is at, or that wonderful dizzy feeling of making your 10th lap (I learned swimming two years ago, so), or that shiny house or that nugget of information. In writing, especially, every time I’ve pushed harder to a more painful place, or to a higher word count, I have found something worth keeping.

Because stories come to me– I don’t make them up. On days when they don’t come, I wait and I work, till they do. So, as Ms. Gilbert says:

Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking — be careful not to quit too soon. Don’t quit the moment it stops being easy, OK? Because that moment? If you stay in it and then stubbornly push past your fear and resistance? That’s the moment where INTERESTING begins.

Do you stick at stuff till you reach ‘Interesting’ answers, levels, revelations? Any experience you want to talk about when you quit, or when you didn’t quit and came upon something worthwhile? Heard of Elizabeth Gilbert? What are your thoughts on her?

What can you #write in Ten #Sentences ? #heywriters


I’ve been botching up taking an open online creative writing course from Iowa Writer’s workshop. It is in its last week, and after doing the first two classes, I mostly missed out on all the others. I traveled, worked on stuff at home, basically did anything but write.

I’ve missed the deadline for the writing assignment in the last class, so I thought I would make a fool of myself by doing it here, in public. Here’s the assignment:

Write a scene of ten sentences and include in each sentence a numeral. If you’ve reached ten sentences and you’d like to keep going, you can make this a scene of twenty sentences, or thirty — the idea is just to write within this pattern. Example: On the day my town flooded, I was ten years old. It was four o’clock in the morning. In the darkness, right before I heard the water coming, two roosters crowed.

Boy soldiers in Syria

A Boy Soldier: Copyright Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via the Guardian

And here’s my attempt:

Shut your mouth or I’ll kill you, he’d said, on day one at the camp, the day they brought his brother in. After a month, when opening his schoolbag, I found three packets of white powder, larger than the packs salt came in, but much smaller than the packs of sugar.

I found these in your bag, I said to him two days later, when I felt able to look him square in his bloodshot eyes.

He snatched them from my hand, slammed them on the table, and banged it with his stringy hands: You listen to me, woman, he said, though his thirteen-year-old body wasn’t yet as tall as mine, You listen to me good. I’m tired of eating your kabsa and your kushary, and I’m tired of Abba’s begging for rations– give me one month, and I’ll sort this all out.

You listen to me, son, I said, making the tremble in my voice a scream of anger, not fear, as my mind whispered the ninety-nine names of Allah.

I ignored the bulge in his pockets, tried not to think of the steel they hid, the two spitfires that made his voice so loud, and the new masked bosses who had given them to him.

 

Now there he lies, six months later, one dead body minus its head, the two spitfires on his chest, folded in prayer.

Shut your mouth, I tell the Mullah at the funeral, He may be the One and Only, but He has taken a mother’s sons from her.

They’ll kill me soon, maybe in twelve hours when night falls, but I’ll use each of those hours, each minute, taking my boys’ names, and I won’t take their names in vain.

So that was some fiction on my blog, the first time in six months, I think.

Have you ever taken an online creative writing course from Iowa? Have ever written exercises with constraints in mind? Did the constraints of my assignment overwhelm the piece above? Would you like to do a similar 10-line writing exercise (fiction/ nonfiction) and post it on your blog?

Do Women Dominate #SelfPublishing ?


A to Z Stories of Life and Death

My self-publishing experiment

On Daily (w)rite, the majority of bloggers who comment are women.

In any creative writing workshop, women outnumber men by ten to one.

I recently read an article in the Guardian, that says women dominate Self-Publishing:

Alison Baverstock, an associate professor in publishing at Kingston University, Surrey, said her research showed a clear gender split, with 65% of self-publishers being women and 35% men. Nearly two-thirds of all self-publishers are aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half are in full-time employment, 32% have a degree and 44% a higher degree.

Baverstock said there was a widespread misunderstanding about who decides to self-publish a book, and how the genre was changing the publishing industry.

The article goes on to talk about how self-publishing is quite a robust alternative to traditional publishing:

“…there were popular subjects that traditional publishers had ignored, including “respectable soft porn” and “gentle memoirs of everyday disasters, such as losing a child”. Most publishers, she said, were being outpaced by a heady mix of democratisation and digital distribution, because they came from a “very limited gene pool … all agree on what they like … they know each other, and are not necessarily in touch with popular taste. Self-publishing is going on in schools, across institutions, spreading knowledge [of how to publish].”

While I agree with self-publishing having had a much huger impact in the last few years, I’m not so sure of women authors outstripping the contribution of men in this area. I’ve tried self-publishing a book of flash fiction, mostly as an experiment in learning how it’s done. Being less interested in publication and even lesser in making money out of it (both are unarguably good things, just not things I’m terribly interested in so far), I’ve mostly gone the traditional route. I’m trying to learn how to write, and despite the small published portfolio of short fiction I have gathered, I think I have a very very, long way to go.

I’m interested, however, in how the publishing world is shaping up: as a reader, I want to stay in touch with who’s publishing the books I read, and why. So here are a few questions, if you have a minute:

What has been your experience? Have you read more indie books by women than men? If you self-publish, would you drop a comment here, so we can have some real, first-hand accounts? Why do you self-publish? Have you tried the traditional route?

What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?


Last week, I went to Paris.

I would have posted excited pictures, breathless descriptions. I would have told you I saw the Eiffel tower, arriving there after two missed trains, just when the lights began to blink, that I stared up at it against the clouds, that it seemed to rise and hover in the air, like a golden tower made not of steel, but strings of light.

Paris evening

An evening in Paris

I would have told you that the bridges gleam day and night, that the coffee is lighter than in Rome, that the croissants and crepes disappointed me somewhat–not that they were bad, that sitting outside watching the world go by seemed overrated when tourists sat by the Seine in traffic smoke, that the Notre Dame looked like calligraphy in air, like a papier-mâché thing I dared not visit for fear that the illusion of its lightness would disappear.

That the Mona Lisa underwhelmed, the ladies taking selfies with her made more of an impact, but that the Louvre made me feel like I wanted to lie down and die, because surely then I would be reborn inside of it, as a guide, a cleaner, a waitress. And wouldn’t have to leave. That d’Orsay does not do justice to the Impressionists, shutting away all their shimmering outdoorsy light in a smallish hall, where you have to peer over heads and shoulders to see them from a distance. That Van Gogh looks sadder in his swirly blue self-portrait than I remembered from prints, that his starry night over Paris looks far better than the sky today. That Rodin’s Thinking Man makes just as massive an impression as I imagined from the pictures.

But it is the people who remain with me.

The waiters who looked down their noses as they took orders, unsmiling, the pretty girls in snug scarves, that tall man crossing an alley shouting in French on his phone trying to look manly, the Chinese model being photographed at the Tuilieres Garden, who joined us minutes later in the metro wearing frayed shorts and golden eyeshadow, the artist at Montmarte drawing a smiling little girl’s portrait who would be oh-so-disappointed in a few minutes, a group of old women dressed in black lace, hobbling uphill on walking sticks, laughing, lugging loaded Desigual shopping bags, the Arab women covered top to toe, being led along by their husbands in shorts, the tall black men at shops and restaurants, regal despite their valet coats, the young couples, kissing in parks, eating long sandwiches, sipping wine, smoking, always smoking. I’ll remember being stuck in a jam in a back alley, looking up at the sky, only to find a bald old man and his Persian blue cat staring straight down at me from their red-flowered window.

I will, of course, go back, given half a chance. And this time I would spend more time watching people in the less tourist-infested areas. I’ll sit down and get lost, merge, disappear. A writer’s job is to paint what she sees, not interfere with the picture.

But on our way back now, on this long haul flight back to Singapore this is all I can think of: each of us, the protagonist of our lives, is just a part of the picture in someone else’s eyes. Note to self: no matter where you go and what you do, you’re just a tiny, insignificant part of the picture, remember that. The world is bigger than you, it would go on. Be here, now, and let that be enough.

Been to Paris? What is the one thing you remember the most? Would you go back again? What was the last city you traveled to and how did it make you feel?

Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?


Here at Daily (w)rite, I run a series of interviews of publishing industry experts: I’ve had poets, authors, and creative writing professors. Today, I’m chatting with Tim Tomlinson, who teaches at the New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program, and is an author and poet in his own right.

My first encounter with him was through his book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, one of the first books that gave me the confidence to go on writing without an MFA, and not lose heart. I took a writing workshop with him some time back, and speaking from experience, if you have the opportunity to go for one of those, do not hesitate.

1. You’re one of the founders of the New York Writing Workshop. What was the impetus behind it?

Solidarity and frustration. The founders were all teaching for another organization whose demands began to clash with our values. We met, somewhat conspiratorially, and we decided that we could do it better on our own. The rest is a combination of history and farce.

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

Meeting new writers, hearing their material, and giving them ideas for presenting the material most effectively. I recently finished two long sessions in Baguio, Philippines. Lots of talent, many wonderful people, but with a need for craft, useful practice, and self-belief. In two days, we made great progress in all those areas, and that’s gratifying.

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

3. Tell us about your book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. How would you like a reader to approach it?

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing was meant as something of a substitute to MFA programs, or more accurately, a substitute for the expense of MFA programs.

At New York Writers Workshop we encountered hordes of recovering MFAs—aspiring writers damaged to varying degrees by destructive MFA programs. Writers who’d become convinced their work was garbage unless it matched whatever criteria were being pushed in whatever program (if, indeed, any criteria were being pushed). The Gordon Lish survivors were the most crippled: they couldn’t get beyond sentence one (which, according to Captain Fiction, must be perfect before one can proceed to sentence two). So we wanted to offer an alternative to spending $50,000 on nothing, or worse than nothing. For $16.95, the conceit had it, one could avail oneself of some, many, or close to all of the lessons of the MFA program.

But, and this is a big but, the book can’t provide community, or readers, or encouragement. MFA programs can (although none of these is guaranteed). The book also encompasses a range of disciplines: fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, poetry. Some programs prohibit movement between disciplines; our book encourages movement.

4. Can creative writing be taught? Why/ why not?

It most certainly can, and as we say in the book, one should run away from any program or instructor who says that it can’t. Talent can’t be taught, luck can’t be taught, discipline can’t be taught. But talent can be recognized and nurtured. And when it is, discipline follows – it’s more fun to sit down to the grind and discover that good work, or better work, is forthcoming. And when disciplined practice becomes part of the routine, luck often follows—one creates one’s luck. You teach the craft, you suggest the discipline, good things follow.

5. What advice would you give someone who is applying for MFA Writing programs?

Ask tough questions, of the program, and of yourself. Who will be teaching? What is her approach? (Does she believe creative writing can be taught?) What’s the rate of acceptance? How many nonsense requirements will intrude upon my writing time? Can I afford this? How deep will I fall into a financial hole? Can I achieve the same goals through less costly means?

6. If you had three pointers to give an aspiring writer, what would they be?

Read a lot, write more, and spend time far away from books (or universities). The work of too many young writers is informed by university experience solely, or predominantly. That creates the kind of provincialism you see in American fiction and poetry today.

7. You have taught creative writing in the West, as well as in Asia. What would you say are the key similarities and differences in the two experiences?

Very broadly speaking, Asian writers have more humility, which is a good thing for the development of craft, but maybe not the best thing for career advancement. Aspiring writers in Asia, too (again, broadly speaking) have far greater awareness of global realities than most aspiring writers in the U.S. American writers are freer in their diction, less formal.

8. Which is the last novel you read that you would recommend and why? Which authors would you name as influences on your own writing?

I liked Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth: A Novel. Her fragments are fairly large (in comparison to the fragmented fictions of Maggie Nelson, for instance, or Evan Lavender-Smith), but they’re still discrete units of narrative that enable Guo to focus on smaller moments, which build like blocks to a full coming-of-age story.

As for influences, in fiction no one has been more important than Henry Miller, particularly his Tropic of Cancer, for language and spirit. John Cheever for structure, Denis Johnson for lyricism, Robert Stone for rhythm, James Salter for vision, Lydia Davis for options, Junot Diaz for freedom, Mary Gaitskill for awareness, Edmund White for honesty, Chekhov for neutrality. The diction of cowboy movies. Sam Shepard. And the diction of gangster movies. Martin Scorsese, and David Mamet. So many. In poetry, I don’t know if I’ve been influenced. Rather, there are sounds and visions to which I aspire. Charles Wright, Li Po, Merlie Alunan, Mary Oliver. And subject matters that enable my own. Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder, Philip Levine.

9. You help run a literary journal Ducts.org. Tell us more about it.

I’ve edited the fiction section for the past six or seven years (we also run essay, memoir, poetry, art, and humor). I’ve tried to make the representation global, and non-New-York-centric. I’ve run stories from Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, England, India, as well as from many places in the U.S. Our readership has grown, the quality of submissions has elevated, and publication has become more and more competitive. We have two best-of anthologies: How Not to Greet Famous People, and The Man Who Ate His Book.

Tim Tomlinson New York Writers Workshop

Tim Tomlinson

Tim Tomlinson is co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in The Blue Lyra Review, Caribbean Vistas, Coachella Review, Writing Tomorrow, and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), and Fast Food Fiction (Anvil Publishing). He is the fiction editor for Ducts. He teaches at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Do you have questions for Tim Tomlinson? Have you taken an MFA or considering applying for one? Would you like to talk about your experience?

 

What’s Your Story? #socialmedia


Fishy thoughts

My thoughts on Social Media

Today, I had a minor setback. My first instinct– to go and share it on Facebook.

I don’t share much of my private life on my blog, nor on my Facebook or Twitter. But recently, I’ve noticed a tendency– or maybe a temptation– because I don’t give in to it, of sharing about my life on social media.

I recently read this article in the New Yorker by author Dani Shapiro, about exactly how damaging giving in to this temptation can be for writers:

I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?” I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite.

In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings—that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it—are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.

There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do. We don’t experience the Pavlovian, addictive click and response of posting something that momentarily relieves the pressure inside of us, then being showered with emoticons. The gratification we memoirists do experience is infinitely deeper and more bittersweet. It is the complicated, abiding pleasure, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, of finding the universal thread that connects us to the rest of humanity, and, by doing so, turns our small, personal sorrows and individual tragedies into art.

I am given to Facebook updates and blog posts about the small things in life. Now I’ve begun to wonder whether that’s affecting my storytelling. Maybe I’m not building up enough steam over the years, by letting it out through my social media updates. Maybe the fact that I talk about small, impersonal-sounding details on my blog is affecting my storytelling abilities.

What’s your take on this? How much of your inner life/ rants/ life news do you share on Facebook and other social media? If you’re a writer, do you think sharing life experiences on social media detracts from an author’s ability to tell a story?