Flow, the Science Behind Having a Good Writing Day

You sit alone and engage with half-formed thoughts in your mind, hoping that some will spill coherently on to the sheet or screen before you. At some point after the inevitable self-doubt and blankness, the words start to fall in place. You begin to find the right words. Sentences pour out of your consciousness. Paragraphs come gushing forth. Ideas weave together, folding and unfolding in letters and punctuation. You feel as though you is outside of yourself, and for a time, nothing else exists. It is an exhilarating feeling, and it leaves you feeling drained yet satisfied. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent his career studying this experience of…

Review: Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Dani Shapiro is the writing mentor I wish I had. In her memoir – Still Writing: the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life – Shapiro, a writer as well as a teacher of writing, describes the simple act of sitting down to write. How can someone read (let alone write) an entire book about this? Try it, and the simple act of sitting down to write can encompass the entire world. In chapter-snippets from Reading and Patience to Cigarette Break and Envy, Shapiro explores the formidable space between the desire to write and the repeated act of putting words down…

Reading a Book is like Falling in Love

I love serendipitous moments. While I was reading a book and falling a love with it, the character in my book described reading a book and falling in love with it. And it was during Ramzan (or Ramadan as it is known in the Arab world.) Why is that last part relevant? Read the beautiful passage below. The book is Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman, a portrait of a 72 year old woman living alone in Beirut. Ah… the deliciousness of discovering a masterwork. the beauty of the first sentences, the “what is this?,” the “how can this be?,” the first crush…

The Writing Life. It’s Harder Than It Sounds.

I am awake. My husband has left for work. I am out of bed. I have made my first cup of tea. The familiar sounds of water boiling, tea bag bobbing, spoon clinking against cup, sugar dissolving. The cup makes a thud as I place it on my desk and sit down. I flip my laptop open. A blank document pops up. I expand it to fill the screen. I have shown up to work. I take another sip of tea. Settle into my chair. Stare at the screen. The cursor is blinking. I can hear someone sweeping stray leaves…

Writing: the Great Escape?

If you’ve ever read a book and enjoyed it, you’ll be familiar with the feeling of slipping into the pages of a novel. Reading a good book feels like an escape. It is a release from the daily burden of an ordinary, contained life and an ordinary, contained self. Writing, too, is a solitary act, and arguably necessitates escape. Comparing reading and writing, Susan Sontag wrote: “Like reading, rapturous reading, writing fiction – inhabiting other selves – feels like losing yourself too.” There are as many kinds of writers as there are books, but all writers share the desire – or at…

Book Review: Ursula Le Guin’s The Earthsea Quartet

I confess. I read the Earthsea Quartet because of a quote on the cover of the new edition. (The cover also looked more ‘literary’ and less ‘genre’ – and that appealed to me, although I’d like to believe it didn’t.) The quote read: “J.K. Rowling can type, but Le Guin can write.” An unfair quote, but it appealed to me because I read the first Harry Potter book and failed to get caught up in Rowling’s world (though I have seen every movie.) But as I started reading Earthsea, I was struck by the beauty of the writing. And it wasn’t just about the…

Do we write to escape ourselves or to find ourselves?

In writing about the way they see the world, are writers writing about themselves? And is this something to be avoided or embraced? Arguably, even though we call it fiction, writing good stories and novels is about capturing truths, truths that readers can relate to and empathise with. In writing fiction, writers learn to portray the world around us. Are they also learning to find out who they are? Everything we observe is coloured by our consciousness. When we write, we draw material from deep inside our minds, from places that make us who we are. Where memory, experience, bias, instinct, and…

An indulgent first post

I love words. I love watching words transform into images. I love the soft taps they make on my keyboard as they fill the screen, how they add weight to paper. I love looking for the right word: capturing something intangible into the shape of a linear sentence. I love reading something written a hundred years ago and half a world away, and feeling as if the writer wrote only with me in mind. I love sitting still while words flood my mind, preferably with a steaming cup of tea at arm’s length. Growing up, words were like magic to me. They transported…