Writing Bad to Get Good

Free Writing

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the difference between writing and editing. I mean sure we need our brains for both tasks, but doing them requires something very different. And although I am not tackling the entire process of editing right now, I wanted to share something with you about writing, to help you get over the fear of trying to create something great as soon as you start.

It’s not a myth or a secret weapon, however, because we should all be familiar with the process of free writing. I am mentioning it here, because by using it you can get around the problem of procrastination, and it may also help you to turn off your internal sensor. The one that often dictates that you must be great.Or perfect. Or extremely competent. The one that sometimes stops us in our tracks, and derails all our good intentions.

              the-war-of-art    Writing With Power

In his novel, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield called that force resistance, and urged us to continually show up and do the work, while Peter Elbow in his novel, Writing with Power suggests that the writer should, “Just write, trust, don’t ask too many questions, go with it.” I agree with both of them, and one way that I have found to do this was suggested by Natalie Goldberg in her novel, Wild Mind, where she encourages writers to do different tasks such as free writing.


My favourite free writing task, is the one called I remember, to do it you can write things about your past, things of course that you remember. For example, I remember that one summer in ’99 where I went with my parents to the beach, but what I remember best of all was being thrown into the deep end and my brother telling me to swim. As if it was so easy for a beginner. As if I had already learnt to tread… You get the point, just go with it. Allow yourself to write for ten minutes straight without stopping. Or editing. That is the the small move you make, allowing yourself to write without being too critical. Don’t stop, just allow yourself to write. Do the work.


This is how you may start off writing bad, and eventually get good. The truth is when you first write you don’t really know how bad or good the work is. In fact you might second guess it and think it’s really bad, but if you give it a few days or weeks, or months depending on your own method of editing, you might find something that speaks to you. Something that comes directly from your core that you may not even remember writing. But to do that you have to turn off that sensor first. The one that Goldberg calls the ‘monkey mind.’ That is the thing that makes you see everything as either bad or good.


Remember though that it takes time and space and distance to get over yourself and your ego. So that you can see the work for what it really is. Or as a friend of mine pointed out a few years earlier, for what it might become. Give yourself the time and the space. Be patient with yourself, the same way you would be patient if it was the writing of one of your friends. Take the leap of faith. Believe in yourself and the work. Trust me, it makes all the difference. And when you put down your writer’s hat and become an editor it might be best to start with intention. Ask yourself: What am I trying to do (or say) here? Is it clear to the reader? And if not jot down what seems wrong, and draft out a possible edit.

writing (1)

The thing is the mindset of the writer, will always be different from the reader’s so your approach will also have to be different. But before you go from writing to editing remember to put a block of space between the two tasks, and trust yourself enough to know that once you get it all down the first time, thereafter you can polish it up to make it better. But focus on one task at a time, be it writing or editing, and try not to rush when you get closer to the ending.

Have a fantastic week and keep writing!


Freestyle Writing Challenge 2: Fear an adrenalin shot taken or avoided

Google Search Image

Google Search Image

As a child, almost instinctively you know not to walk the streets at night, even if you are holding onto the hands of your mother, and trying to get a taxi. There is nothing more frightening than the sound of the wind at your back, roughly tugging as though it would rather wear your clothes, and walk in your shoes. So you close your eyes, the way you do when you are home alone, and there is no one else there to protect you.

Because the room is dark and you can hear the curtain move as it beats upon the glass. Or is it your teeth that are chattering. Either way it is fear, inside and outside of you, like a doppelganger that cannot be soothed. But closing your eyes only makes the fear more palatable, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, you are feeling to go to the bathroom, only to get there you will have to compete with a long narrow hallway, a square, obzokie washing machine and a leaky faucet.

No, things can’t get any worse you tell yourself, wondering if you can make it down there with your eyes closed, and then you feel someone’s hand on your arm. So you do the only thinkable thing that comes to you.


Google Search Image

Google Search Image

222 words, 10 minutes

Okay, Marjorie I saw the new post option this time. Thanks again for the writing challenge.

This post is an answer to a free style writing challenge

from https://kyrosmagica.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/free-style-writing-challenge-the-hurt-behind-the-smile/

The Free Style Writing Challenge Rules:

1. Set a stop watch or your mobile to 5 minutes or 10 minutes whichever challenge you think you can beat.

2. Your topic is at the foot of this post BUT DO NOT SCROLL DOWN TO SEE IT UNTIL YOU ARE READY WITH A TIMER.

3. Fill the word doc with as many words as you want. Once you began writing do not stop even to turn.

4. Do not cheat by going back and correcting spellings and grammar with spell check in MS WORD (it is only meant for you to reflect on your own control of sensible thought flow and for you to reflect on your ability to write the right spelling and stick to grammar rules)

5. You may or may not pay attention to punctuation and capitals. However, if you do, it would be best.

6. At the end of your post write down ‘Word count =_____’ so that we would have an idea of how much you can write within the time frame.

7. Do not forget to copy paste the entire passage on your blog post with a new Topic for your nominees and copy paste these rules with your nominations (at least 5 bloggers).

So, instead of blanket nominations, I invite any interested parties to continue with the new post below, and thanks again for reading.




Your New Topic:

Oh the tangled web we weave, when we try to deceive. (Deception)

Freestyle Writing Challenge: The Hurt Behind the Smile

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Google Search Image

This piece was written in response to a freestyle writing challenge from Marjorie Mallon at kryomagica. Usually, I don’t do this sort of thing, but upon reading the challenge I thought about my main character, Brandi Daniels from the Way of the Seer, because her story was first posted here.

Follow the link if you haven’t checked it out already. (Brandi is a teenager who believes that she possesses innate gifts and more than anything, she wants to be reunited with her long-lost father.) Below is her note to Roger, the boy who once saved her life.

Thanks Marjorie for this prompt/challenge.

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Google Search Image

The Hurt Behind the Smile

(Brandi’s secret note to Roger)

When I first met you all I thought about was that you were probably just another dumb jock, but then you came to the diner, taught me how to discover themes hidden in literature, and defeat men who wanted to overthrow me. You were my guardian, seems you knew I had powers long before me, and Teresa and you saved my life.

And I’m thankful for that even though I can never repay you. When the incident happened at the school and my father appeared, you were there. Truth was, you were always there. Even when I doubted myself and my latent talents. Look how far I’ve traveled and I’m still here. On that floor, crying because you are gone. A thorn from a rose, broken off and stripped to prevent other things. Only now I am lonely, regretting the friendship that could have been something great. Regretting the lack of time, but hoping at least that the hurt behind the smile will eventually fade. Because my memories of you, right now, are everything.

words 174, 10 minutes

This post is an answer to a free style writing challenge

from https://kyrosmagica.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/free-style-writing-challenge-the-hurt-behind-the-smile/

The Free Style Writing Challenge Rules:

1. Set a stop watch or your mobile to 5 minutes or 10 minutes whichever challenge you think you can beat.

2. Your topic is at the foot of this post BUT DO NOT SCROLL DOWN TO SEE IT UNTIL YOU ARE READY WITH A TIMER.

3. Fill the word doc with as many words as you want. Once you began writing do not stop even to turn.

4. Do not cheat by going back and correcting spellings and grammar with spell check in MS WORD (it is only meant for you to reflect on your own control of sensible thought flow and for you to reflect on your ability to write the right spelling and stick to grammar rules)

5. You may or may not pay attention to punctuation and capitals. However, if you do, it would be best.

6. At the end of your post write down ‘Word count =_____’ so that we would have an idea of how much you can write within the time frame.

7. Do not forget to copy paste the entire passage on your blog post with a new Topic for your nominees and copy paste these rules with your nominations (at least 5 bloggers).

So rather than nominate 5 bloggers, it’s my pleasure to invite any of you who would like to participate to do!) I look forward to reading your short shorts, and thanks again for reading.

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Google Search Image

Series Part 1: What is the Thing about a Good Series?

In college, I remember falling in love with Harry Potter. Due in part largely to the movies since I discovered the books much later. I remember always feeling eager to move on. Then when that part was over, I had to find something else to sustain me until the next book or movie came out. But what is it that sustains us? Or drives us to be one with the characters. To feel as if we too are a part of the frame. In essence, what keeps us yearning for more?

It could be the overall story and the story world, but to a great extent I think like with anything else it all starts with character. There stands Harry Potter with his books. There stands the Dursleys busy going about their business, while Harry with his oversized glasses is forced to stay in the room beneath the stairs until a letter arrives summoning him to a magical school called Hogwarts where he will find friends he would  otherwise have never known.

Harry's Letter

Harry’s Official Letter

Maybe it is the child in us, in search of an adventure who presses the covers open wider and dares to take a look. Or maybe it is the adult in need of some reprieve who also yearns to be taken on some adventure. Yet even if we are drawn there or taken kicking and screaming like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, eventually that is where we will land.

In that strange kingdom (e.g Dorothy and Toto – the Wizard of Oz). We are drawn to the things that frighten, surprise, amuse and intrigue us. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We are drawn in by the story world and the cast of characters and the problems that are to be overcome.


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Google Image

For what is the hero without a problem? Or quest? Or journey? Think of Luke Skywalker on his quest to rescue Princess Leia, become a Jedi and defeat Darth Vader. The Jedi. Series give us people fighting for things. Trying to overcome some disaster. Or running away from some burden or hurdle. Either way, we are intrigued. Something moves in us and as such we follow.

Like the pied piper leading away the rats. Or children. The Pied Piper of Hamelin. We too are led away by the storyteller. Writer. Director. Producer.

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Google Image)

So are you crafting a good story? Are you being interesting and intriguing and suspenseful? Write with the reader in mind. Be vivid in your portrayals of the world and adept in your creation of characters and their emotions. Show the things that they encounter. Draw the reader in as you want to be drawn in and only pull back when you are ready to leave them. Then bid them farewell. Adieu. Until the next book or story or world…

2014 A Year in Books

2014 hasn’t ended as yet, and already I find myself in a reflective mood. Truth be told I haven’t even considered possible new year’s resolutions or cleaning (since I do that routinely), but I’m going through the 70 plus books I’ve read in search of additional insight and tips.

So, how do you know when you’ve found a good book? Usually you end up reading it again, to see if the juicy parts are just as meaningful. Anyway here’s my line up:
1. Essentialism (Greg McKeown)- A great book, that tells us to do most of the things that we know we should do, but often don’t. Like pare down to the essentials. Focus on the work.


2. Fire in Fiction (Donald Maass) –  Does just what the title says. This book shows you how to improve your writing technique, how to learn new skills by reading different authors across various genres.

fire in fiction

3. Pure (Julianna Baggott) – A fantastic novel with well-crafted characters, whose names are interesting: Pressia, El Capitan, Glassings, Partridge and Bradwell. Who knew using the present tense could be so evocative. I enjoyed the characters immensely. The novel reminded me of a great movie with an ensemble cast like Schindler’s List. Or Chicago. (Insert your own movie here).

4. The Devotion of Suspect X (Keigo Higashino) – A while back, when I lived in Japan, I was intrigued by a television series called Galileo, about a University professor who was helping the police. Now seven years later two of the books (that led to the serithe devotion of suspect Xes) have been translated into English. What I love about the books other than the fact that they are detective mysteries, is that sometimes a translation can show you how easy it is to explain things in a novel, if the writer just takes their time. What I’m referring to here is what W.S. Merwin referred to as knowing the limits of your language, his advice for poets. Here though it can also refer to the vocabulary needed to tell your tale. Check it out for yourself. Is there anything you’ve read in another language and then explored in English, or your own language, if English is not your mother tongue?


5. The Maze Runner (James Dashner)- I know it’s been adapted for the screen but I still haven’t seen it as yet. MazerunnerAlthough I’ve watched If I Stay and the Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both of which made me feel totally gutted, in a good way because the stories were adapted well. Anyway, The Maze Runner was intriguing. I liked not knowing the whole story, and having to discover everything along with the characters, be it their environment and personal things about their life. In this respect, it reminded me of False Memory (Dan Krokos), where Miranda North had to figure things out for herself. As your write your story, consider the predicament of your main character. What is he or she trying to figure out? And how are you getting the reader involved?


6. Uguglieslies (Scott Westerfeld) – Tally Youngblood is an intriguing character. What else can I say, I like Pretty Town and the fact that she was trying to chase after some boy, Peris who had been made handsome. Other than that there were diverse character, an intriguing setting and genuine friendships.

7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black) – A few people I know didn’t quite get it but the book struck a chord with me. I get howthe coldest girl in coldtown Tana yearned to be reunited with her mother and in the end tried to do what was best for her sister. After all life is full of trade offs. And surprises.


This year I’ve managed to read more books, maybe next year I’ll have read more, somewhere between 100-120. Recommendations anyone? I’m not trying to go for gold, it’s all about pacing.
Whether you’ve read a few books or many, kudos to you! Remember part of being a good writer means we have to be even better readers. So, I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog thus far and will be back next year. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to blog about, possible topic or book suggestions and I’ll see what I can do. Have big dreams, set them down in writing. And ladies and gentlemen, after you’ve indulged a bit and spent some time with your family recommit yourself. Get back to work.

How often do you learn new words?

Growing up, all of us may have had instances where building a vocabulary list proved vital: SAT’s, GRE applications and if you live in the Caribbean, standard 5 just before exams. Remember you are only as good as your next new word. The thing though that has taken a while to seep in is not to show off your knowledge, but write in a way to capture your readers. I am thinking here of someone like Keigo Higashino’s Suspect X and Malice. You can fill in someone you like reading here. So, when was the last time you learned a group of new words (say 4 or 5), and when will you be meeting another.

After all writer’s job is to amass words. As you read try to imagine the vocabulary list this current writer puts together, which words did he string along. How did he or she present their protagonist? Or create suspense? Get a feel for the characters as you read and re-read books that touch you. Is it all just words thrown together to move you?

writing on both sides of the brain
One of the books on writing (I think it’s Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer) suggests that the emotion you want to create in your novel or story already exists inside your reader. You are only letting them out. So read, write, repeat. And like the person who asked the guy in Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, “How to get to Carnegie Hall?” You’ve got to practice. Practice. Practice. Catch you all back here next week and sorry for the delay. It feels great to be back. Cherish every time you sit down to write and afterwards ship, launch or show your work. Let’s all build on small wins.

Some Aspects of Craft from Zadie Smith

z smith A few days ago I stumbled upon a youtube video by Zadie Smith. It was a lecture given to students of the Columbia University’s Writing Program. In it, she distilled ideas on her method of writing. Some of which I thought was insightful, and others remarkably pleasing. I post it here only as a means of sharing her insight, not to copy her work.

Watch the video here, when you get a chance. Or read her novel, Changing My Mind where it is also included. Here, I present part of the lecture in the form of a mock interview.

What kind of a writer are you?
I am a Micro Manager. I start at the first sentence of a novel and I finish at the last. It would never occur to me to choose among three different endings because I haven’t the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it.

Do you have a cheering squad?
It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself. This is hard to do alone. I gather sentences round, quotations, the literary equivalent of a cheering squad. Except that analogy’s screwy – cheerleaders cheer.

Do you read while you write?
It’s a matter of temperament. Some writers are the kind of solo violinists who need complete silence to tune their instruments. Others want to hear every member of the orchestra – they’ll take a cue from a clarinet, from an oboe, even. I am one of those.

I read lines to swim in a certain sensibility, to strike a particular note, to encourage rigor when I’m too sentimental, to bring verbal ease when I’m syntactically uptight. I think of reading like a balanced diet; if your sentences are baggy, too baroque, cut back on fatty Foster Wallace, say, and pick up Kafka, as roughage.

Do you ever tinker with the first twenty pages?
What’s amazing about the first twenty pages is how little confidence you have in your readers when you begin. You spoon-feed them everything.

You don’t trust the reader to have a little patience, a little intelligence. This reader, who, for all you know, has read Thomas Bernhard, Finnegans Wake, Gertrude Stein, Georges Perec – yet you’re worried that if you don’t mention in the first three pages that Sarah Malone is a social worker with a dead father, this talented reader might not be able to follow you exactly.

For writers who work with character a great deal, getting back to the first twenty pages is also a lesson in how much more delicate a thing character is than you think it is when you’re writing it.

What should a writer do when they are finished writing their novel?
When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second – put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal – but even three months will do. Step away from the vehicle.

The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer…You need to forget you ever wrote that book.

Well, that brings us to the end of the discussion. I hope you enjoyed the interview. Remember to check out the rest of the lecture, either on youtube or by reading the book. I send my best regards and keep up the great work. Meet you back here next week!

(FYI: Other topics of the lecture includes: the middle-of-the novel magical thinking, dismantling the scaffolding, the last day, the unbearable cruelty of proofs and years later: nausea, surprise and feeling ok. Check out the video, even if only to capture the beginning where she discusses some of these things.)

Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist: Some Advice


About a week ago I came across a post by Damyanti about Tim Tomlinson and his novel, the Portable MFA. (Read it here.) What interested me at the time was that Damyanti had said that that book had given her the confidence to write. And having read the introduction, The MFA vs. the Portable MFA, I can see why shelling out less than one hundred dollars would be better than paying between $35,000 – $50,000 to get an MFA degree. Believe me I’ve tried. I was told not enough publications to my credit, so I continue to write. Anyway, after reading her post, I checked through my stack, realized that I had a copy, but as yet hadn’t given it a read – so many books, so little time. Now though, having read the first chapter on Fiction, I can see that it is indeed valuable and that led me digging through the stack to see what other books I might also have overlooked.


on becoming a novelist
Which led me back to On Becoming a Novelist, a book by John Gardner. I had read it a few months ago, but during a lull in the writing I am finding it helpful. Consider it suggestions to a developing writer. Below I offer you six pieces of advice or things to consider as you write your novel. If you possess a copy, go through it again. See if you find anything hauntingly helpful, like the list below.



Six things to consider if you want to write:


John Gardner

1. What counts is the character’s story and the first quality of good storytelling is storytelling.
2. The young writer should read to see how effects are achieved, how things are done, sometimes reflecting on what he would have done in the same situation and on whether his way would have been better or worse, and why?

3. The wise or more experienced writer gives the reader the information he needs to understand the story movement by movement.

4. Good fiction affirms responsible humanness.

5. Maintain a vivid, continuous dream. (i.e. tell the story without butting in, like I’m doing here by adding this bit.)

6. Look inward for approval and support. Have the endurance and pace of a marathon runner. (Here I think of Haruki Murakami) Be driven and directed by an inner force.

Thanks again for your post, Damyanti. Read it above and catch you all next week!