It gets said a lot: writing is hard. So why do we keep on going? Writer, teacher and Word Factory Apprentice Award winner Farhana Khalique explores why we write and shares her tips on how to keep writing — even when you don’t feel inspired.
‘Doctors may help us stay fitter for longer, but what are we being kept fitter for? For a better understanding of our daily struggle, the search for that thing that keeps us awake in the night. The discovery of passion, unburdening of fear.’
‘It is not my job to explain [my] story… The literary story is a story that deals with the complicated human heart with an honest tolerance for the ambiguity in which we live. No good guys, no bad guys, just guys; that is, people bearing up in the crucible of their days and certainly not always — if ever — capable of articulating their condition.’
‘The first draft of anything is shit.’
Writers writing about writing. Inspirational quotes, kick-up-the-bum quotes, reassuring quotes, funny quotes, contradictory quotes, I love ’em. And will probably Like, Retweet, share on Facebook, WhatsApp, screenshot, or scribble somewhere. As long as it resonates with me, makes me excited to write. I might not actually write anything, but hey, at least I’ve filed it away somewhere ready to return to it if needed.
I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Filing things away. Putting old projects on hold while I work out what on earth I want to write next. And reading. And iPlayering, Netflixing, MS Teamsing and Zooming. I prefer the reading, though.
‘Why does it matter? Learn your craft, then work out what the message is. But in the end, if you want to write a good book, then understand why it matters to you.’
That’s why I’m reading quotes and writing this. It’s another distraction from Proper Writing. You know, the writing that gets published in lit journals, magazines, and anthologies. The kind that’s Liked, Retweeted, Shared and wins prizes. Well, we can dream.
And yet, if I get blocked (by the Muse, not on Twitter), it’s nothing new. We’ve all done this before. Or rather, not done. You eventually get back to a project, eventually complete it and if you can bear to look at it again you eventually submit it. Again. And again. In the hope that someone will publish it and lots of other someones will read it.
There is a point to this, bear with me.
“You fail only if you stop writing.”
Right, the point is… We carry on? Because, these days, no one in their right mind does this for fame and fortune. Unless you already have both, in which case good for you. Though, I’m guessing that didn’t come overnight.
In all seriousness, we write because we must, and not writing would feel worse. So, write what matters to you, write whatever and however you want, write for yourself, show it to someone, show it to no one. Just write. Or don’t, and do so when you’re ready; health comes first, creative projects can wait.
‘Writing, if nothing else, is a bridge between two people, a bridge made of language. And language belongs to all of us.’
On a more practical note, here are things that have helped and continue to help me:
- Notebooks/ computers/ laptops
- Writing groups
- The Asian Writer’s ‘Becoming a Writer’ and ‘Advanced Fiction Writers’ courses
- The WoMentoring Project
- The Word Factory Apprentice Award (obvs)
- The Word Factory’s Vimeo page of free videos
- The Literary Consultancy’s new online bank of free resource for writers
- SASS’s (South Asian Sisters Speak) Brown Girls Book Club
- Tara Theatre’s Creative Group
- Every single writing course/ workshop/ talk/ festival/ online resource I have ever attended or used
- The writing community on Twitter
- More reading
So, whatever that thing is that you’re searching for in your writing, I hope you consider seeking out or applying for some of these, or similar.
“Mainstream publishing encourages writing from the outside-in; writing for the market. We should challenge this every time we go to the page, and write the stories that only we can tell.”
In terms of craft, there are others who are far more experienced than me who can tell you about Proper Writing. However, I will add:
- There’s only one you, so dig deep and listen to all the things that make you you. Trust your instincts and explore all lines of curiosity and excitement. Your own voice and style will emerge/ get better
- Writing is a solitary activity, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Find your advocates and uplift each other. (Or just share writing memes for now, it’s all good.)
And finally, in the words of one more writer, remember:
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
- Richard Bach
Farhana Khalique is a writer, voiceover artist and teacher from southwest London. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including Reflex Press, Lighthouse Literary Journal, Litro, Popshot Quarterly, The Good Journal, The Brown Anthology: Language, and in Spread the Word’s City of Stories anthologies. She has been shortlisted for The Asian Writer Short Story Prize and won a Word Factory Apprentice Award 2018/19. Find Farhana at @HanaKhalique and www.farhanakhalique.com