Tag Archives: writer

How Toni Morrison’s works Inspired me to Write

Her rich narratives inspired me to write with depth and without constraint.

When I recently saw Toni Morrison trending on google my stomach flipped. How likely was it that she was trending because she had broken the internet with a controversial picture or been involved in some tasteless topical scandal or a public spat with a peer? Highly unlikely. Toni Morrison was a Nobel prize winning writer who stood on the platform of her integrity to inspire others and scatter her gems of wisdom among us literary types. So when I saw her trending, I thought the worse and sadly I was right. Her recent passing has really saddened me, not only because she was arguably one of the greatest writers whoever lived, but because stumbling on her work as a child is what inspired me to write. It might sound odd but for the longest time I always considered it a privilege that my favourite author was still living and breathing while I was.

An Early Introduction

My introduction to her work came through a copy of the novel Paradise which I found laying around one of the spare rooms in my grandmother’s house. At my young age, a lot of the sentence structures and dense metaphors were beyond me. I was unfamiliar with words which read like art. My first encounter with how she wove her words together so abstractly intrigued me and I hoped to one day access her stories.

I was second time lucky when the motion picture of Beloved was released. A part slave narrative about a woman named Sethe who (now freed) is haunted by the child she sacrificed in her infancy. Sethe lives with her surviving daughter Denver When a mystery woman named Beloved appears out of nowhere and wreaks havoc on their household. Oprah Winfrey bought the rights to the novel and  starred alongside Danny Glover and Thandie Newton in the 1998 motion picture. I was captivated by it and it soon became one of my favourite films. Of course, the novel was even better.

A Life’s Worth of Writing

Toni Morrison did with words, what I hadn’t thought possible. She wove intricate portraits that humanised the suffering of a historically oppressed people. She brought the narratives alive that compelled people of all backgrounds to sit, up, take notice and empathise. Moreover, she inspired me to gather my experiences and spill them onto blank pages through one of her most memorable quotes:

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I absolutely adore this quote. It’s nurturing and yet earnest about the need for us writers (arguably the biggest procrastinators) to be proactive in creating the art that we want to consume instead of waiting for what may never appear. She did exactly this with her own work and thank God she did! I can’t imagine a world without her stories in it. Morrison juxtaposed the traumas of slavery with the infinite possibilities of newfound freedom in Beloved, she liberated her characters without minimising their suffering.

In The Bluest Eye, which I discussed in this previous post, she holds up many mirrors which enable us to see how little black girls view themselves both internally and externally, how their beauty and worth is viewed both within and beyond their own communities and the external factors which help to either shape their strong sense of self-worth (Claudia McTeer) or lack thereof (Pecola Breedlove).

Her works serve as historical artefacts; fictional ethnographies that speak to the very real socio-historical experiences of black women and yet can engage everyone. Her stories are many things at once: harrowing, brutal, awakening, educational, honest, beautiful. I’m just grateful that she inspired me to pick up something that I love- painting pictures with words. And for that I am truly grateful.

Have you ever read anything by Toni Morrison? If not, which writer’s work has inspired you the most? Let me know in the comments below!

Being a Writer in a Heatwave is Hard

Extreme weather is bound to have an effect on your writing sessions…

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:

Word count

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 to know.

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?

Let me know in the comments below!

Five Actions to Take When Writer’s Block Takes Hold

Any writer can attest to the fact that writer’s block is a tortuous predicament.

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.

Step Away!

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 Through Exercise

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.

Amazing Things Happened When I Read My Old Fanfiction!

Fanfiction: there is a great amount of freedom in writing whatever the hell you want to, without the constraints of genre conventions…

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 forward.

I am so delicate I just might break

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.

Finding Writing Inspiration in your Everyday Emotions

Writers! Can you think back to a time when someone really disappointed you or elicited a strong emotion? Weave that into your work.

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 writing:

It can fuel a plotline

Remember 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?

Step outside 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 lighting like?

Writing it all down and adding to your inventory

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?

Did they feel the emotion from somebody else or did they elicit it?

What was their subsequent reaction?

If you’re 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

Now take 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.

Think about what triggers their emotions? Is it the same factors which trigger yours? If not how are they different?

Think about 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!

To Write or to Read? That is the Question.

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 them together.

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

I definitely 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.

The line 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.

I started 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.