A Labour of Love
Nadia Kabir Barb
A few months ago I recall reading a book I had been given and when I had finally turned the last page and read the concluding sentence, I found myself feeling rather disappointed and unsatisfied. I also remember dissecting the novel and trying to find its few merits and analysing its many flaws and failings at length with a friend. It then occurred to me that it is very easy for me or anyone for that matter to read a book and dismiss it as 'boring', 'implausible', 'badly written' or think it is downright awful. It is also very easy to disregard the fact that the author probably spent months, even years putting pen to paper or should I say fingers to keyboard writing down their ideas and creating a story for us to enjoy. In other words what is a past time for us is a labour of love for them. However, I think if you are a writer of any kind, be it a novelist, a journalist or even a columnist, you find that you tend to wear your heart on your sleeve and open yourself up for criticism. It is just par for the course and at the end of the day you just have to learn to deal with it! Developing a thick skin seems to be a prerequisite of exposing your work to the rest of the world.
Having been a columnist for a few years and writing articles on a regular basis, I thought it would be interesting to find out about the intricacies involved with writing fiction. I remember reading an article by Tim Clare in 'The Guardian' newspaper a while ago which said that “brilliant writing is very, very hard, that there are many dragons to be fought on the way to publication, and that perishing in the battle is no shame.” It was something I wanted to find out first hand and it was only when I decided to join a creative writing course did the words actually mean something to me.
The seminars I attended were definitely an eye opener for me. I was in a group of ten to twelve people, all of whom were aspiring writers, many who had already started or completed a novel and were attending the course to hone their skills or gather more information before setting about the daunting task of finding a publisher to take them under their wing. I have to admit I felt slightly intimidated by my companions. I suppose in a naive sort of way I hoped that my experience of writing articles for Star Magazine would help me with the various tasks thrown at us during the course. I was quickly dispelled of that notion. Never having written fiction it was a totally new ball game
Apart from the regular lectures we had, there were weekly exercises or writing tasks we had to complete during the session and were given five or ten minutes to finish each of them. If I thought having a deadline for my column was hard, churning out a piece of writing about a certain theme or topic in less than ten minutes was unbelievably difficult. To add to that we had to read our work out to the rest of the class. At first it was excruciatingly embarrassing but once you got past the initial fear of sounding like you had no clue how to string a few words together to make a coherent paragraph or two, it became easier to bare one's soul. It made it easier when everyone in the session realised we were as apprehensive as each other to have our writing read out and analysed by the rest of the group. I had to tell myself that in a way it is what I do every time I send my articles to my editor and then see my words and thoughts in print. The only difference is that I do not sit across the room from my readers and get an immediate response to my work. What the course kept reiterating is that you have to just write from the heart, in other words one should write for themselves and not try to anticipate what other people might want to read. Otherwise, in trying to please everyone you end up pleasing no one.
When you are writing an article for a newspaper or magazine, you have some parameters you have to work within such as a certain word limit or topic or time constraint. All I had to do was take a look around the room to realise that the amazing thing about wanting to tell a story, whatever it might be, is that there is no age limit to becoming an author, there is no particular style that is good or bad, there is no subject that is taboo. In fact what you need is a good idea, great imagination and the willingness and ability to chase that story and a huge amount of luck in finding a publisher who thinks you are the best next thing after J. K Rowling. They say everyone has a novel in them but the real question is does anyone want to read it! But the harsh reality of the literary world is that there are a few authors that enjoy success in their lifetime and the rest of the hundreds and thousands of budding writers find their dreams buried in the sea of unread manuscripts languishing in various publishing houses every year.
My few months at the writing course was an experience I have learnt a great deal from about the amount of effort, blood and sweat that goes into producing a work of fiction or literary piece of any kind and it has definitely given me a new found respect for the authors of the books I see adorning the shelves of libraries and book shops. I may not like some of the novels I pick up but I definitely raise my metaphorical hat to them for achieving their dream of being able to tell their story to the world. Trust me it is not easy and I have a feeling that the novel in me will take a very long time to see the light of day! But then again you never know..
(R) thedailystar.net 2009