Being an author is hard work. You only have to eavesdrop on the conversations of writers to get my gist. You will hear soundbites such as writer’s block, lack of motivation, I’ve just discovered I hate my protagonist etc. It can really be a labour of love but I believe that getting through all of those emotions and the practical debris of the craft is what really makes a writer. You get to show what you’re made of. There is a huge factor that makes writing hard and that we sometimes can’t control and that thing my friends, is life.
In my last article I spoke about creating the perfect writing environment. Sometimes however, the elements have ideas of their own. The UK has recently been in the midst of a heatwave (as has the rest of Europe)- at its’ peak hitting temperatures as high as 38 degrees. You can imagine that at that sweltering point, opening windows and operating fans have had zero impact on me creating my perfect writing environment. You know things are bad when you’re sitting still and the weather decides on your behalf that no matter what, you will wilt like an ice cream. In short, my writing has suffered somewhat but I have to be okay with that because I am human.
Good intentions, not so great outcomes
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, your writing plans
conspire to go south. I started my week
as I meant to go on despite the furnace-like temperatures and aimed to transfer
that same motivation to my work. However, this heat has made me feel physically
faint and exhausted during the nights when I would usually be writing and so I
have had no choice but to listen to my body and give it a bit of a break.
I am somewhat of an organic writer and that works for me, however if this UK heatwave returns, I will need a bit of reinforcement in order to push ahead. I will propose two tactics to my usually organic writing process:
I will enforce a minimum wordcount on myself. You don’t do
this? I hear you say- The answer is not really. I write when I am inspired and
enthused and when I am not, I stop. That way you stop Writer’s block dead in
its tracks as I discussed in this previous article. I definitely do
check how many words I have written after a session though as I find it useful
Write notes ahead
Sometimes feeling unmotivated to write doesn’t mean that you
should stop writing altogether. Why not write up some notes that will keep you
ahead of the game in the next session? My manuscripts are full of incoherent
paragraphs containing disjointed sentences and singular words. They act as a
guide to my next scenes and thought they would look illegible to anyone else,
they act as a beacon for my storylines. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve
woken up really pleased with myself because I have more insight into where my
project is going. Being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel is a
huge incentive for us writers.
So, when the going gets tough, what tactics would you propose
to keep yourself going?
In my last article I discussed how to combat writers block. What could possibly go wrong once you’re full of ideas and sit down to write? Our writing environment comes to mind. Creating the perfect writing space makes room for a more productive writing session. Lately I’ve been thinking about what I call writing variables and how they affect our output. The variables I’m going to discuss are those of the physical variety and since we are sensory beings, this affects more of us writerly types than you might think. If I received a pound coin for each writer I’ve heard complaining about not being able to sit down to a session, I would have had a five-course meal at Nobu already. This is why we need to consider creating an ideal writing environment before we even sit down.
Here are some of the variables you may want to consider and adjust before you take up your next writing session.
Room Temperature and air quality
If there’s one thing that puts me off writing, it’s a hot and dusty room with the sun spilling into it. I might be bringing back memories of your double Geography lesson and I really don’t mean to, however could air quality be making you retreat away from your next chapter or article? I’m a hay fever sufferer and now that the summer is here, I am definitely finding it physically harder to sit through writing sessions with the same zest that I usually have. It’s like I can’t win at the moment: if I keep a window shut, I’m boiling hot and can’t focus but if I leave it open, I’m inviting the pollen in. If I leave the window shut and the fan on then I’m dehydrating myself from the inside out. Sigh. Get it? It’s up to me to find the right balance so that I can focus on my best writing rather than the forces of nature.
How I usually avoid this is to leave a window slightly ajar for fresh air but to cover it with a sheer curtain to act as a barrier for the excessive bright light as well as pollen. An air ioniser or purifier acts to get rid of dust, pollen and cigarette smoke fumes. Likewise, a humidifier works wonders to alleviate dry skin and alleviate coughs and stuffy noses. If you’re a writer who is serious about your craft, it may well be worth investing in creating the perfect writing environment for yourself.
Are you hungry or thirsty? Too full even?
I’m ever evolving when it comes to my writing and eating co-schedule. Being a night writer who works into the wee morning hours, what works for me has dramatically changed. It’s very rare that I can withstand writing on an empty rumbling stomach. However, while I used to find it mandatory to have a chocolate bar nearby, I now find it somewhat distracting to eat sugary foods during the process. This has taught me that writing ritual preferences can definitely shift with time and that you must respond accordingly.
Writing on an empty stomach only keeps your mind wondering off to that tasty treat in the cupboard. Yet being belly-poppingly full can make you lethargic and unproductive as well. Being proactive here would be to find your sweet spot beforehand to ensure you are not high on sugar and low on energy.
Are you alert? Can you hear me?
The con to being a night writer is the fact that sometimes I do get very tired. I have found myself jolting my head up at the screen after having nodded off for a few moments. I hate that feeling because the disorientation is a far cry from the focus needed to complete a writing session. The bottom line is if you’re tired, the last thing you are going to want to do is write. I’m absolutely exhausted, it’s time to get writing– said no writer ever.
Are you physically comfortable?
I admit to being a slight hypocrite on this one because when I get into the swing of one of my projects, nothing can stop or interrupt me. In fact, one writing session was spent working on my novel on a full bladder. Primarily, the ideas were flowing so freely that I didn’t want to miss out on anything. I stayed like that for probably an hour or more- but I would never recommend that. Authors can be the biggest procrastinators and that goes for a lot of writers in general so having a comfortable writing environment to keep you writing is very important.
Feeling physically uncomfortable can be used as yet another excuse to put down the pen or laptop so why make space for that outcome? I would advise that you prep meticulously before writing to avoid this- take that loo break, itch that scratch, cut that pesky hangnail, tidy your writing space- any silly thing that could take away from your full, devoted attention on your project.
I find that manipulating my writing space definitely makes for a better experience which fosters enjoyment in my craft. It allows me to seamlessly zoom into my projects in comfort. As a writer you need to learn what variables do and don’t work for you so that you can increase productivity and get the best out of your writing sessions.
How are you going to adjust your writing environment next time? Let me know in the comments below.
No writer ever wants it to happen to them but the truth is that if you are human, writer’s block is inevitable! The good news is that you don’t have to torture yourself by staying within its clutches. willing it to go away or metaphorically banging your head against the wall isn’t necessary- I promise. Back in March I wrote an article about how I find writing inspiration. The practices I mention can be used as back up tools when the dreaded writer’s block strikes. Any writer can attest to the fact that writer’s block is a tortuous predicament. that’s why it helps to step away sometimes and refuse to play ball. Step away? I hear you say. I can assure you I am not mincing my words with this specific solution to a writer’s universal dilemma. Here are my five suggestions for actions to take when writer’s block looms and dims your bright ideas.
When the thinking cogs aren’t working,
never force them. Doing so merely adds to the feeling of frustration and
helplessness at being unable to move forward. It’s time to step away and reach for
inspiration somewhere other than the crevices of your mind.
Go out for a walk and observe the
weather and the smells carried by the breeze or the still air. Spot the signs
of life as you walk past homes; something as simple as the whiff of laundry
detergent or the aromatic spices of a homemade curry could spark an idea and
set your writing wheels back into motion.
Have an Experience
Make a marked effort to experience
something new: this is the fun part. You can be as adventurous or as in the
box as you want. Been meaning to visit a different part of your city or refurbished
establishment? A restaurant serving food you’ve never tried? Go! Drink in the
sights and flavours, inhale life around you- feel the ambience.
On the contrary it could be
something as simple as tasting that new Macchiato fusion you’ve been meaning to
try. The flavours could strike a chord and catalyse a new idea- perhaps the
sweetness reminds you of an indulgent childhood treat which could lead you to
think about the associated emotions…think about what content you could conjure
up from that single experience. Testing new waters in any capacity can
stimulate new thoughts and thus ideas in the process.
Release Some Endorphins
Endorphins are the ‘happy
hormones’ released after aerobic exercise. They lead to the onset of a
positive feeling in the body that boosts energy, lifts the mood and can lower
symptoms linked to mild depression and anxiety. It can also improve sleep.
Now think about the alleviation of
all of these symptoms and the potential they have to hit a variable that could
be leading to your writer’s block- Perhaps the stresses of life are clouding
your creativity or tiredness is impacting your ability to conjure up or process
new ideas. Raising your serotonin levels through exercise could potentially
offer improvement in these areas. Even a slight shift in your mood could change
your approach towards your craft during a writing session.
Read a Book
What better way to push Writer’s
block to the side than to read the work of someone else who successfully beat
it? They got through writer’s block and so will you once you give yourself the
opportunity to step back, take stock and reup on your ideas.
Make Random Lists
Seriously. The more random, the
better. List ideas could be anything from top ten desserts to five of your
happiest moments to worst songs to dance to. These ideas might help you strike
gold for your next article or scene/chapter outline. You could use the tiniest
component from a list to help you develop your next piece of content. Forming
multiple lists may help you to strike gold and even if they inspire nothing the
first time around, you may go back and find that your next piece of content was
staring at you the whole time- from that random list.
What do you do to help lift writer’s
block and what action from this list are you going to try the next time it
strikes? Let me know in the comments below.
Believe it or not I started writing fanfiction by accident
when I was about 13-14 years old. In fact, at the time I didn’t even know what
it was. I went to a friend’s house and she started reading a fanfiction story
she had written about her favourite boyband at the time and conveniently inserted
herself into the narrative. I found it to be a genius concept; I was boy crazy,
I was also fixated with a string of male celebrities who I never stopped
sounding off about to anyone who would listen. So what happened when it
suddenly occurred to me that I could write all of this stuff down? I ran away
with it and created my own world where I lived at the centre.
So guess what I ran into recently after rustling through my
old papers? Yep. My whole preteen fanfiction collection written on lose bits of
lined paper, carefully folded together in my Graphic Products folder from about
a century ago. Am I glad to be such a nerdy pedant who keeps this stuff? You
bet, because I had lots of fun going through my fanfiction. Here is what I
learned about myself and my writing.
Don’t you know the
world revolves around me?
My writing encapsulated a preteen world where EVERYTHING
revolved around me. As someone who wears motherly cardigans and sensible
trousers on the school run, I found endless entertainment value in the girly
glamour of my narratives. I seemed to wear an awful lot of spaghetti straps,
string bikinis and ‘boob tubes’ which were popular at the time. More notable was the constant gaze of others
on me. Though it wasn’t explicitly stated, I appeared to dabble in performing
as I sang at an awards ceremony as mouths opened in awe as I ‘moved swiftly and
stylishly to the music.’ I couldn’t imagine writing myself into such an
indulgent narrative now but that’s the beauty of unabashed youth. You say whatever
you want to say and not what is necessarily best to drive a story plotline
I am so delicate I just
Feminism? Don’t be silly- I need boys to fawn over me all day, every day. Their attention means absolutely everything. This is what my old fan fiction tells me about my younger self and I think that is completely fine. My concept of the role of a woman hadn’t been defined yet and there is nothing wrong with that at all. It is very interesting however, to see how old-fashioned notions of how women should act and be perceived permeated my work. I hadn’t quite navigated the concept of female empowerment and overzealously concocted an ongoing storyline of a damsel in distress whom a number of suitors where trying to court. I often fled scenes in floods of tears at the littlest slight and once even ‘tripped over a small rock’ only for the fall to be broken by my celebrity crush. Ah, those preteen days of crushes and daydreaming…
I used fanfiction as proactive escapism
At thirteen I hadn’t yet discovered my narrative voice or how
to empower a protagonist. In fact, I probably didn’t know what a protagonist
was. I didn’t know about the conventional lines of crafting good writing, so I
blurred them. My fanfiction was driven around my pre-teen boy crazy existence
and I created a fictional place where I was at the centre of it. There is a great
amount of freedom in writing whatever the hell you want to, without the
constraints of genre conventions. I had no consideration for character
integrity and general regard for the writing craft. All of that went out of the
window and it made for extremely entertaining writing. I was writing for myself
and myself only. This is why I look back at my fanfiction so fondly. It is
still so exciting to read the work of someone who was unafraid and uninhibited
by the writing craft.
Fanfiction as therapeutic
The beauty of fanfiction is that it feels therapeutic to
write what feels good as opposed to what is good for the story. Through fanfiction
I got to set my teenage angst aside and create a fun, girly world which reflected
my interests at the time and for that I am truly grateful.
What do you think of fan fiction? Have you ever read or written any? Let me know in the comments below.
As a writer
you have the advantage of finding inspiration in your everyday emotions. These
emotions can be the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or the lemonade in the
evening, after a day of sucking on bitter lemons. Only If you know how to
manipulate them. Nobody likes to feel like garbage but let’s be real, life is
full of challenges and pivots and we will be tested. Find comfort in this one
true fact: those negative emotions can act as the pieces of meat that tie the
soup of your story line together.
Here are two
ways in which you can turn negative emotions into inspiration for your fiction
It can fuel a plotline
that rude shop assistant you encountered the other day? The one who glared at
you when you asked where the hummus was? They have the potential to be a fine
resource of inspiration. I can see you shaking your head but seriously, hear me
out. What about that commuter who knocked into you on Tuesday morning? If none
of these scenarios ring a bell, think back to a time when someone really
disappointed you or elicited a strong emotion? Gather your thoughts and squeeze
that lemonade because you’re about to add a spoonful of authenticity to your
work in progress.
Consider the following:
How did the
scenario make you feel?
What is the
physical description of the person in question?
of the scenario and consider or imagine (if you don’t know them) what type of
person they normally are. Could they have been really stressed out or do you
think this behaviour is a part of their normal personality?
What was the
setting like? Was it crowded and claustrophobic or spacious? What was the
Writing it all down and adding to
Now that you
have a bank of inspiration from your experience/s sentences, begin to jot down
notes and words.
Do you have
a character in mind that you can project a similar emotion onto in order to
push your storyline forward?
feel the emotion from somebody else or did they elicit it?
their subsequent reaction?
unsure, begin to plot down possibilities. You don’t need to have a clear
outcome from these exercises. They are merely designed to provide a source of
information which you can draw from at any time.
Forcing your character into action
yourself out of the scenario and transfer it to a prospective character. You
can have a character in mind or create one. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a
main character at all.
what triggers their emotions? Is it
the same factors which trigger yours? If not how are they different?
where your character can go with this. Brainstorm the possibilities for
embedding this into scenes or storylines. It could be a minor part of one scene
or could be a major conflict which creates the story arch. It is all dependent
on what you gain from this exercise of digging from past conflicts.
Turning reality into fiction
It takes a box of odds and ends to embellish a work in progress. Taking the good with the bad ensures that you’re collecting resources to draw from at all times. So how will you react to an unsavoury situation next time? Jot it down and think about how you can transfer it to your work in some small way. You can even file it away for future use if it doesn’t fit into your existing work in progress. Is there a situation that you can think of which could inspire your current work? Tell me in the comments below!
I had a pang
of bookworm withdrawal and wanted to find a place to read when I made a visit
to the Sussex coast of Brighton last week. The British weather was abundantly
generous at 22 degrees, so you can say it was at its absolute best. And the
fish and chips were on point- I personally cannot go to the seaside without having
fish and chips! I had the quintessentially British seaside experience minus
purchasing seaside rock. I don’t really do sweets anymore, especially the type
that stick to my teeth. As a child the downside to going to Brighton used to be
that the beach largely contained pebbles instead of sand. Last week I
remembered why that detail irked me so much- they’re agony to walk on!
Especially when your feet are half numbed by the freezing sea. Funnily enough,
hot coals came to mind as I struggled back up the incline away from the tide.
The desire to read could spring up
returned to our spot, on the uncomfortable pebbles, I had a pang of book lust.
Despite the thousands of other visitors, all packed around me like sardines on
the beach and the pebbles indenting my behind, I suddenly craved a nice read.
Of course, it was hardly the time or place for it and the idea flounced out of
my head as quick as it came. This leads me to ask the question, where is the
best place to read a book?
would seem an ideal place for a bookworm to devour a juicy read but the chances
of that go down when the circumstances are like those I just described. Replace
pebbles with sand, make the beach slightly more remote- but with a resort
behind it for those all-inclusive cocktails and then we’re talking bookworm
variables that make a good reading space not a specific location
there are more obvious locations for reading, like duh- the library. This
however, would depend on how yours is equipped. Libraries can be beautiful
grand places that you can get lost in with twists and turns and winding
staircases, I think I may be venturing into the world of bookworm porn here.
When you find a library like the one I’ve just described, it’s easy to spend
ages roaming the aisles to find a book and then spend hours getting lost in it.
On the contrary, there are those libraries which leave a lot to be desired and
leave you itching to get your book and leave.
me to my next consideration for reading – in transit. Whether on the daily commute
or en route to a getaway via plane, reading while travelling can be a way to
mute the activity around you and immerse yourself in a world of your choice. Of
course, this is dependent on the quality of your carriage. For example, the
London commute on a packed tube train confronted by the stench of underarm and
looking up into somebody’s crotch when trying to decipher which station you’re
at isn’t quite as relaxing as downtime on a long-haul flight. If you’re going
to be pedantic about it like I am you could say that it’s not about where you
read but about the variables and conditions of that place at the time. A beach
could be idyllic but not if, as I described earlier, the features of it don’t
necessarily permit comfort. Unwittingly, a long wait at an airport could
provide relief to an individual experiencing book withdrawal.
If we must
be specific and I do think it’s necessary, my ideal place to read would be on a
warm summer’s Friday night. It would be in a freshly laundered bed, in equally
laundered nightclothes with a juicy Literary Fiction novel. Oh, and I would be
wrapped around that book like a lover so it has to be a paperback.
What is your
ideal reading space? Leave a comment below!
I have a
pile of books I’ve been meaning to get around to reading. I’m hoping to review
some of them in the not too distant future (take this time frame with a pinch
of salt!) but before I get ahead of myself, one major factor needs to be
considered. As I look at the pile, it becomes apparent that this requires some
serious time management allocation. A skill that I’m not even sure I possess.
There’s a fine balance to tread as a writer when it comes to your reading/writing
ratio. I think it’s a widely accepted notion that the art of writing is
preceded by the pursuit of reading. Most writers would agree that it is a
necessity to read in order to season and hone your writing skills. I wonder
though how necessary it is to separate the two experiences instead of marrying
Reading for Fun
As a bookworm, I like to isolate my book reading experience to just that, one of sheer pleasure. Sifting through pages to simply find those Aha moments of spotting nifty literary techniques or the like makes the experience about as pleasurable as pulling teeth. I’m a sleepy reader anyway so it wouldn’t work for me. I’m the type of bookworm who loves to curl around a paperback at night and fall asleep, page to cheek.
How Reading Shapes Writing
feel that my reading history has shaped my writing overall over the years but
not in a way that is entirely specific. My voice is my own but being an avid
reader has definitely tapped me into the general conventions of fiction writing
such as creating irony, humour or creating the type of lingering sentences that
poignantly end a chapter.
between a bookworm and a writer is definitely fine. We read for pleasure and we
also knowingly or not take nuggets of information onboard about a number of
things whether it be tone, cadence, sculpting a protagonist or creating humour.
I don’t really like to consider these things when reading as I want to benefit
from all the cosy things about being a reader and not wracking my brain
thinking about how it will improve my own writing. This process of learning
from reading is somewhat organic anyway.
My Current Reading List
So, back to the
original point of my impending reading list. I
have a few oldies in there as I love to reread past books- if I get around to
one of my listed books Never Far From
Nowhere by Andrea Levy will be my fourth read! For those obvious reasons
though, it’s at the bottom of my current to
read list. One past read that I will be prioritising however is Wild Seed
by Octavia Butler. I don’t often read Science Fiction novels but once my now late
uncle recommended this to me over a decade ago, I had to give it a try and I
was not disappointed. I look forward to revisiting the world of Anyanwu, an
immortal shape shifter and you can watch this space for an impending review. This
book literally changed the way I look at Science Fiction books forever.
reading This Will Be My Undoing by
Morgan Jerkins last year and ended up putting it down because of a stain in the
book. Yes, I know it sounds silly, but I purchased the book as new and to find a
damaged, stained page in it really put me off as I am easily grossed out. Call
me an OCD reader but I like my pages to be clean: they can be worn, discoloured
through age and curved but they can’t be dirty! I was really engaged by what I
was reading up until that point however, so I will make it a point to finish and
review. It was also refreshing to commit to a non-fiction read, which I don’t
often do (note to self, more non-fiction reads!) Why should I deny myself a reading
experience because of a dodgy seller? Humph!
Other upcoming reads high on my list are Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid and Leon by Kit De Waal. The last three books I have mentioned are high priority reads but the others are subject to change as I flip through my book collection and make more purchases. Nothing makes a bookworm/writer like me happier than having a to-read pile of books on my bedside table and who knows? If the beliefs of giants before me are to be considered, it will inform my writing process in some meaningful way.
Recently I’ve been thinking about the significance of food in fiction. Yes, that arguably minute detail that often gets neglected in a story. But is it so minute? Eating plays an integral role in most people’s lives whether our relationship with it be problematic or the joie de vivre. For me it’s a little of both, however that hasn’t stopped me from appreciating descriptions of food in fiction as a book lover over the years and incorporating it into my own foodie fiction.
A CLOSER LOOK AT FOOD IN FICTION
This fixation with food in fiction came about when I read novels about food as a child and began to associate feelings with the descriptions. Feelings which I still distinctly remember today. For example, I have a vivid memory of reading The Perfect Hamburger by Alexander McCall Smith as a ten-year-old in class one day before lunch time. The vivid descriptions of the character’s pursuit to make the perfect hamburger with the right selection of ingredients had my stomach rumbling and made me crave burgers! That precious memory has never left me and it’s all owed to the ‘minutiae’ of food in fiction. Who says that a fiction story has to be all plot and characters? I would argue that the subtle ways in which they relate to something such as food really can offer a broader sense of who a character. Furthermore, it offers yet another branch of analysis for book lovers.
Through the often-overlooked lens of gastronomy, we get to understand what it is that drives a character, how they react to scenarios, how organised or disorganised they are or even how healthy their bank balance is. For example, The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell’s non-fictional ethnographic pursuits into the life of the working class of Northern England led him to the home of the Brookers. His description of breakfast in their home included a ‘pale fried egg’ and bread and butter which ‘always had thumb-marks on it.’ I always found the vivid description of the food utterly repulsive yet brilliant in communicating the squalid nature of his lodging abode. On the contrary ‘runny fried eggs’ are used in Toni Morrison’s Beloved as main narrator Denver recounts a second-hand story about her absent father and how ‘a plate of soft fried eggs was Christmas to him.’ Food becomes the medium through which we understand the distance between herself and her father and how this distance metaphorically becomes smaller with an endearing recount about his favourite food. This makes him appear more present and attached to her life in some meaningful way, however trivial.
As a writer who is a self-confessed foodie, I find it hard not to write food into my fiction. There is something comforting about rendering an appealing description of food into a scene. It’s almost like a piece offering to a character, something for them to relish. I must admit, upon reflection, I don’t seem to incorporate unpleasant experiences of food or food of an unappealing nature in general. Certainly nothing like the disgusting bread and butter offering Orwell received in The Road to Wigan Pier.
A consistent pattern that I have spotted in my own fiction is that food represents relationships. In my collection of short stories Sausages, Motherhood and Other London Tales, food consistently rears its head. In one story, a family express their gratitude when the husband returns home with soggy bags of fish and chips, especially the burdened housewife who no longer needs to cook. In another short story I have written about Post-Natal depression, a new mother has forgotten to cook and love expresses itself when her empathetic husband takes over and gently suggests they pick a take-away of her choice instead. Elsewhere in the collection an estranged mother and daughter have a brief run-in over what they are going to order, a detail I used to represent the awkwardness of their encounter. The mother eventually settles on what the daughter is having, showing a willingness to cooperate and make the already strained reunion run smoothly. Here food moves away from being a medium of pleasure to more of a negotiation barometer of how much are we going to get on today?
As a writer I definitely find food to be an alluring tool to map out relationships that characters have with themselves and their issues and how this arises from the presence of food or whether food becomes a remedy to aid this. The latter becomes apparent in one of my stories where a woman battling a failing relationship and disused gym membership turns to food for comfort.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
I find myself naturally inserting foodie descriptions into my fiction. On the other hand as a bookworm, I feel it enhances the experience in a very subtle sensory way which can sometimes be taken for granted. As a booklover, the small details really catch my attention. For example, if a protagonist is in a café, I want to know what they’re having. On a superficial level it adds decoration to a scene. It’s oddly satisfying to be privy to the contents of a character’s meal but it is quite pleasing on a sensory level also. For me, the more attractive the food, the better, as opposed to the mundane or repulsive.
On a deeper level it can add to the characterisation aspect of a story. For example, if a character has chosen to eat something superfluously indulgent or on the contrary meagre, It leads us to think about why this is the case. Simply writing food into fiction can inform us about the underlying circumstances of a character and of an extra layer of intrigue. It can support the theory that a character is greedy, self-medicating, rich, broke or whatever else the writer is attempting to convey through their choice of words in relation to the food in the fiction.
Food will always have a special place in my writing. It’s too interesting not to and I’m sure many (well, perhaps a humble percentage) of my fellow writers would agree. Additionally, as a bookworm I am certainly grateful for the morsels offered up in indulgent food novels such as Eat, Pray, Love. Let me propose this to my bookworms out there: the next time a scene includes a description of food, don’t skim over it. Think closely about what is being signified, it might sound boring but it could actually enrich your reading experience! Seriously, try it. I promise it won’t bite. Do you enjoy descriptions of food in novels or is it something you skip over. Let me know in the comment section!
As a writer, inspiration is something that I don’t often
look for. I know it sounds strange as us writerly people are known for digging
and delving through the crevices of life to find hidden gems that serve as
inspiration. I, on the other hand allow inspiration to come to me in
spontaneous form. I let my ideas flow at whatever ungodly time that they pop up
and then capture them. Remember the BFG? Rahl Dahl’s giant who was also a dream
catcher? He used a net to catch good and bad dreams to put into bottles and
store in his cupboard. As an author I take a similar approach because forcing
myself to conjure up ideas just highlights the fact that writer’s block is
around the corner. Instead when my ideas and inspirations pop up, I take note
and capture them.
Never Let an Idea Go!
It’s really important to never let an idea go as a writer.
Many of us can attest to scribbling on receipts in the supermarket when our phone
battery has died. Better yet, miraculously holding that idea in your head before
you reach home looking vacant, mumbling to yourself and dodging conversations with
others in the process so as not to drop your genius idea. I have been known to
spend the wee hours of the morning writing illegible notes on my phone’s
notepad when I should be sleeping. Worse still, when the notepad ran out of
space, I made notes in the form of text message and sent them so that they
would be saved – maybe that’s just my dramatic #writerslife, however you get my
drift. Writers do crazy s**t to hold or retain ideas in our heads when pens
That spontaneous eureka moment of inspiration
One of the upsides to not looking for inspiration is the
feeling you get when it appears. That magical eureka moment releases some serious
endorphins and that feeling never gets old. A few recent instances stand out in
my mind. Take for instance a period of writer’s block that came about a few
months ago. It was regarding the main character of my upcoming novel and a male
love interest. I wanted them to go on a date but the thought of conjuring up a
samey restaurant scene- which I knew was needed- left me feeling really uninspired.
I deliberated about the scene and even started to dread writing it which made
me postpone working on the project altogether. I didn’t want to move forward
without having written it because it was pivotal but I was also too uninspired
to write it. The break I took enabled me to work on other projects in the
meanwhile and though this may sound cliché, I allowed myself to trust the
process. I didn’t know when I would feel inspired to press on with the scene
without deeming it a chore but I didn’t allow myself to ponder on it.
Inspiration Will Always Come and When
it Does, it Feels Great!
When the idea did eventually come, it was instant. I found
myself looking out of the windows of a vehicle as it crawled through traffic
one day and the road happened to be one lined with restaurants, most prominently
South Asian restaurants. A lover of this type of cuisine, rich curry dishes in
cartons began to spring to mind. Did I fancy a take-away curry that night? Nope.
My main character and her man did though! Out of nothing, a hiccup in the
construction of my novel was remedied without me once ever having to suffer the
ails of writer’s block.
This recently happened again when my main character was
returning home to get on with some errands whilst considering major life
choices. I wanted to document her journey home from the address that she had previously
been staying at but couldn’t think of anything other than a monotonous
description of her walking through the street, holding her bags and possibly
catching a train or bus. Then one day the idea of her bumping into someone
significant came to me and I decided to zoom in on the details of their interaction
opposed to her journey home, the prospect of which, even bored me to oblivion.
I make it a thing to grasp at ideas that pop into my head IN THE MOMENT during a work in progress. Never take it for granted- being a human being, you might actually forget it and that could be disastrous for progress. So, unleash your inner BFG and capture those ideas and treat them like the magic they are.
Literary fiction zooms a panoramic lens into
the mind of the protagonist and we see how they deal with the challenges that
they face. Take Pauline Breedlove in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for
instance. She is the burdened wife of redundant and abusive drunk, Cholly
Breedlove. Trapped in a loveless marriage, she takes refuge in the cinema and
immerses herself into the romanticised notions of love offered by white
Hollywood movies with their glamorous starlets and debonair suitors. The
escapist glamour procured from her cinema trips ends abruptly however, when she
loses her tooth, an apt symbolism of her youth and beauty. She finally gives up
on this notion and focuses her attention on being a superlative domestic
servant for a white family, whose home she appropriates as a new source of
romanticism. It is the focus on the human condition and mapping out the way in
which characters navigate their social landscapes that makes Literary Fiction
so compelling as a genre. Getting firmly between the pages of a Literary
Fiction novel, you potter about in the character’s shoes, begin to hate their
nemeses and even taste their supper. You get to assume a warts and all position
firmly within the lives of the characters and as a reader, that is a very
privileged place to be.
It Can Get Uncomfortable
Of course, as with
any other genre, there are downsides to being an avid reader of Literary
Fiction. It requires having an unconditional relationship with a story that
often has a bumpy ride and this can be uncomfortable. Take for example a
scenario in the world of Romance or Chick Lit: Rosie has had a series of
unsuccessful relationships and has given up on love. We observe her quest for
such through a series of comical mishaps with a chatty best friend in tow and a
hypercritical but somehow harmless mother. Rosie however, is lucky because she
is the main character of a Romance or Chick Lit novel and so these genre
conventions dictate that she finally gets her man in the end.
Now let us envision
the sombre world of Marta. She has had a string of unsuccessful relationships
owed to the fact that she had an abusive father who often spent all of the
family’s earnings at the bar or in the betting shop. She suffers from severe
bouts of depression and lives life through a gloomy lens. The story is littered
with constant descriptions of squalor and poverty. As a reader there is little
to find funny about her predicament and to make it worse, just when you think
she has found Mr Right it turns out that he has a family on the other side of
the world and by the end of the novel has left her to return there. Sigh. This
is what I mean about Literary Fiction requiring you to have an unconditional
relationship with the story. We may not like the dark twists and turns that it takes.
Moreover, these moves are downright unpredictable and I can understand the predictable
plotline patterns that genre fiction enthusiasts have come to love and look out
for over and over again.
The heaviness of
the themes in Literary fiction may be unsettling to some and that’s why I as a
booklover enjoy mixing my genres depending on my mood. Not everyone wants to be
forced to witness the trauma of human hardship and strife, often without a
tangible happy ending but one that’s often centred on the main character’s
melancholic reflection on their grim predicament. For me however, it is the
flouting of a perfect end resolution that makes Literary Fiction so attractive.
It makes it all the more real and thus more interesting.
It Zooms in on the Ugly Underbelly of Life
When I was a child,
I would spot someone in public and wonder who they were, where they were going
and who was waiting for them to come home. Reading a novel within this genre is
like zooming in on a real person and for a curious being like myself, it’s an
alluring factor. That there are a million Pauline Breedloves in the world makes
the novel a more attractive read. It isn’t a far-fetched tale that requires me
to use my imagination when I’m too tired before bed or acts as a light read
that leaves me wanting to know more of the nitty gritty. Literary Fiction gets
into the ugly underbelly of a novel and doesn’t succumb to the pressure of
tying the ends into a neat resolution at the finale. It is this sense of unapologetic
realism that makes it so attractive.