Today I remembered that writing is supposed to be a comfort, a playful and joyful act. Not a pain in the ass. For the last few of weeks, I’ve been moping around the house, on heightened passive-aggressive mode, angry at the whole world. All because I haven’t been “producing” any writing. To be more precise, I wasn’t making any progress with my “Taboos in Arabic” manuscript. I did write other materials – one short piece about sexual violence, some journal entries, and I have a poem in progress. But I wasn’t working on my novel. Last weekend I printed all 17 files of the manuscript, totalling 86 pages and around 42,000 words. The printed pages got me motivated – at least I have enough of a mass that can be worked with now. I cleared my desk, bought two packs of index cards, sharpened my pencils. And then – nothing. Again, for a whole week, I didn’t approach the manuscript.
Today I finally sat down, and started reading. At this stage of writing, when I have produced more than 40,000 words, it’s time to reread, and start tightening it up and see the direction in which the narrative is pulling. The idea is to read through the whole 86 pages and work with that. There is no detailed plan. I make it as I progress. Today I read through four pages and wrote down some notes in the margins – passages that need polishing, editing ideas, that kind of stuff. After four pages, I quit. I wasn’t feeling productive. I guess for me reading over my writing and editing doesn’t give me a sense of satisfaction – the rush that comes after creating something out of nothing.
Giving in to the knowledge that yet another weekend has passed with no actual, visible progress with the manuscript, I absentmindedly browse through the internet and stumble upon a blog called Daily [w]rite – A Daily Ritual of Writing. I stare at the blog title, amazed at this “discovery.” It felt like a sudden electrical shock. I felt a rush buzz through my brain. My eyes zipped to all the different colored pencils, patiently waiting in their tin cans, the several notebooks on the table.
I realized that in my impatience to make progress with “Taboos in Arabic,” I have forgotten the very essence of writing, and what it means to me. In my desire to have a finished draft, I placed the goal of the final product on a higher pedestal than the process of writing itself. Misplaced. Yes, the goal is to eventually have a finished draft of the manuscript at some vague point in the future, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the most important thing. For me, no less important is the process of writing itself. That indescribable feeling I get while I write, and the rush that comes after filling up a blank page, or creating a scene.
So instead of making deadlines and monthly goals for number of words, I am going back to the origins. Retracing my steps to the beginning. A time when a notebook and a pencil were my daily companions.
I’m not abandoning the manuscript or the deadlines. Only adapting them and incorporating other elements into them. I’ll keep the deadlines, but they will no longer be DEAD-lines, but rather LIFE-lines: lines to guide the writing towards completion, towards life. Work on the manuscript will be complemented by other creative writing elements. I have several reading/writing spaces in my new home – a creative writing room, a corner in the living room, and a writing desk in my garden. Writing can be done just about anywhere, but I designed these three spaces in a way that invite and inspire writing. I will also be less strict with myself in the coming days – keeping in mind that a process takes its own time, and there is no reason to rush it. Try to re-establish the daily ritual of writing again, focusing on the playful creativity aspect of it. Remember the joy of putting down on paper one word, then another, seeing them strung on a line to make up something new.
Remind myself not to be afraid of a blank page or a new notebook. They are just pages. And words are only that – words. Remember that I can always call it just ‘practice writing,’ if nothing else comes out of it.
Another reason I’ve been not writing in the past two weeks is that I keep getting ideas for writing, but I force myself to put them at the back of my mind, shoving them forcefully in some drawer, telling myself, ‘it’s not time for this. Need to focus on manuscript.’ I was single-mindedly focused solely on the manuscript, and that’s the main reason I wasn’t making progress. But these ‘other’ ideas kept picking at my brain-cells, pestering me, and festering into monsters. As long as they remain in the back drawer, they pose a threat. Yes, I can focus on my manuscript and along the way find time to write other pieces. Play around with words, make up poems, write whatever is on my mind, empty those drawers, and make room for the characters of “Taboos in Arabic.”
Just two examples: I’ve been wanting to write an article about the murder of women for about a month now. I’ve been shoving all kinds of fragments of information into a drawer at the back of my mind, telling myself not to forget this and that point when I get to the actual writing. Meanwhile, I haven’t written a word about it, and now the fragments are scattered about inside my brain, but I keep revisiting them, reminding myself not to forget when I eventually sit down to write the article. This has created a situation whereby my brain is quite overloaded, as the information is stored there and I unconsciously keep making the effort to save it from being lost. So what I could do is just sit down and write the article, even if not in a structured way. I can just freewrite it, get all those bits and pieces out of my brain and out of the way. Make room in there.
Another theme I want to write about is the theme of fluid identities, quite a complex theme. I think about the structure, the intricate connections between the various points, and how to tackle the issue. While I go through this process, more points pop up in my mind, I get all confused, and again I go through the whole process of “shelving” the idea, and again it festers underneath and takes up space.
So today I go back to writing as a lifestyle – write, write, and write. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing an article, a poem, jotting down some disconnected ideas, or working on one of several short stories I have started. The idea is to create. Write. As long as I’m writing, being creative, producing words, I don’t need to worry about the fact that no tangible progress is being made with “Taboos in Arabic.” Because I know for sure, that as long as I write, no matter what I write, the creative process will eventually carry over to the characters of “Taboos in Arabic,” and they will feel secure enough to lead me through their lives and narratives.
I recently wrote these two lines: “writing is often literary my lifeline. Writing through pain, loss, sadness. But also writing through love, solitude, kindness.”
Now I add to it: writing through anger and frustration. Which is exactly what this piece was about – just letting out the steam, writing through it, and on the way, resolving at least some of the issues.
If you enjoy my writing, please consider supporting my work. To support my art, please visit my Patreon page at: https://www.patreon.com/khulud_khamis?ty=h