Writing Season has begun.
Not that no one writes during the rest of the year, but there is something particularly… writerly about autumn. The mood is more melancholy, inviting thoughtfulness and introspection. Long walks before the actual cold sets in are commonplace, especially with the leaves blazing in warm colours, from scarlet to magenta, caramel to golden brown, dramatic crimsons and fiery oranges flashing in between.
It’s the time of hot beverages and open laptops, a new set of writing journals (at least half of which you’ll never use), pens, pencils, markers, and all the Back-to-School paraphernalia that makes certain hearts leap with joy. Others simply stock up on work tools, since writing is, after all, part art and part craft.
After the first inspiration, there’s the hard work of honing the words written to something others can actually make sense of and enjoy – speak, read. Which is why this Twelve Ten edition is about writing, from a few thoughts on writing to examples of the written word. In the latter case, we’re happy to present three poems by poet-in-the making Mahshid Mayar, a self-described part-time Iranian, full-time migrant, and current citizen of Berlin.
Oh yes, writing season has definitely begun.
Snippets, scenes, and works in progress (also known as WIPs) are growing, expanding, word for word all across the various hemispheres, in all four corners of the earth. And this is wonderful. For all the messes we simply cannot escape, it is heartening to see people continue to create, to write, to try their best to put something worthwhile to paper.
So, definitely don’t give up.
Keep on writing.
It took me years to find nothing
I looked for the lungs in the air and for the nose in the park and for the arms
in the maze. I looked for the eyes in the mask and for the heart in the jar and
for the mouth in the dark. And I looked for the throat in the vase and for the
knees in the car and for the things in the hair.
Nothing was the game.
It took me years.
I found it.
Just when you thought you were done…
Reading lists are the boon and bane of every reader. They tend to get out of hand, dominating bookshelves, coffee and bedside tables, desks, chairs – any piece of furniture books can be piled on. Not to mention entire archives in e-readers. TBRs are by definition far too long to tackle.
The problem with these To-Be-Read-lists is that they never stop growing. 100% because there will always be far more books to read than a person will ever be able to read in their entire lifetime. If this saddens you, then you are a reader who understands the universal conundrum. If you see this fact as a challenge, then hats off to you, please relate your progress. This is not a jest. Countless readers are more than happy to hear about herculean projects, reading challenges that inspire awe and fear and sheer incredulity (Goodreads is full of them…).
If you, however, belong to the (un)fortunate readers who have yet to put together a TBR-list, Literary Hub’s BookMarks is a great place to start. The aforementioned Goodreads is also a good starting point, but beware: on this mega-site for readers and reviewers you will find the reading-equivalent of Iron Mans, K2 climbs, and deep-sea-diving. With regard to TBRs, it is best to start small and then watch the sapling grow to a many-armed monstrosity you will never be able to tackle again, ever.
(You have been warned.)
To remember is to redo. To redo is to be human. But so is to undo.
For some reason you cannot separate sweaty pangs of pain from the
memory of the day before the last day of the decade after your first car
crash, caused by one closed‐eye‐sigh longer than your speed allowed, into a
tree that had grown ‐‐ apparently overnight ‐‐ between the two ends of the
width of the street in order to sleep a reasonable stretch of nightly hours
without screaming out of a dreamland whose address you cannot divulge to
Write Right Now
Question: What do you do when you just can’t find the motivation to write?
Yes, it’s Writing Season, you say, but every incentive to write has been ruined by the all-round Mess of the present day.
Motivation? On Mars, trying to find water.
There are mitigating circumstances. The forever disaster of the pandemic has thrown all previous “normal”s right of the window, requiring incredible resources in energy, stamina, and resolve simply to see through the day, week, and month. It is understandable that being creative right now is especially difficult.
How write in this climate, especially when the actual climate is an increasingly escalating Problem with a capital P?
How find the time to think? To have creative, imaginative thoughts?
How actually have the peace of mind to type something out, to put words to paper?
How can one write in this day and age?
For those wondering about the self-indulgence of the creative act: humans are by definition creative creatures. From cave paintings to cameras, from theater productions and novels to poetry slams and TikToks, humans are perennially creative. That is what we are, we can’t really help it. How creativity comes to fruition in each human is different, but creativity is a kind of operating system of the species. Don’t denigrate it, you’ll just hurt yourself (and everyone else you’re terrorising with your negativity; please, desist).
The First Step
The first step is simple – though not easy:
Take up a pen and paper, or open a Word document on your computer screen, and start with one word. Write it down, type it out.
Then add another. Then another. Until you have sentence.
Then, after the full stop, question or exclamation mark: start again.
No, don’t look at that last sentence just yet. You have enough time to fret later.
First: write the words down. Get them out there.
Help yourself see what it is you actually want to say, what you want to show and tell.
Free-writing can be very liberating, since it opens that first floodgate of words you’re keeping stored inside. Allowing yourself to simply write without judgement, without that ‘I don’t think this is good enough’, let’s you pour it all out. Before you know it, you have the first draft of a scene, maybe even a whole plot-line. It is a first step, but definitely not the last. First drafts are exactly that: a first, a beginning.
Breaking the barrier that stands between you, the hopeful writer, and the goshdarn empty page like an invisible membrane, that is the first hard step of writing. The second step is keeping yourself from deleting everything all over again, or tearing it all to shreds.
That second part, sitting with the silly scenes and trite phrases, the wrong words, bad similes, and awful sentences – that’s hard. It’s a bit like facing yourself with the most detailed mirror imaginable, the one that shows you all the things you really didn’t need to see. The point here is working your way through that first draft and finding what really works: what is a genuine building block, a part of the foundation of your story.
No, it is not easy. There will be anger and frustration, maybe even some tears. Meltdowns have been known to happen. Writing, after all, is not only a matter of creativity. It is also a craft. And every craft requires practice, practice, practice to perfect. Give yourself the time to practice, to get better. Give yourself the patience you need to reach your goal, where you do write that scene that is perfect, those lines that are simply great.
Write everywhere, don’t mind the strange looks. Writers have been known to stop in the middle of the street, rummage for a piece of paper, and jot down whole lines of writing because they didn’t want to forget what just came to mind. Do that. And if people complain, let them. After the last two years of pandemonium and very bad behaviour, a little public writing won’t hurt anyone.
Find your style
Here’s the thing: contrary to the myths around writing, it is good to have writing companions, as in people who understand this creative thing you just have to do, you really can’t explain why. It is good to have people in your writing life who understand the whys and wherewithalls. So, go to writing workshops. Read up on writing advice. If you like, join writing groups. There are platforms on and off social media that cater to fledgling and seasoned writers – join the ones that sound best and see what works for you.
But most to fall: read. Read stories you love and authors you admire. Dabble in genres you at first wouldn’t consider, just to see how they are written. Read wide and deep and thorough. Pile up books-to-read until your TBR-list makes you shudder. Study the books that genuinely inspire you, re-read the books that make you want to write. They will help you find your style, the kind of writing that is uniquely you. But: give yourself time. Finding your own style rarely happens overnight.
If you really want to write that poem, that story, then take your writing seriously.
Set aside time to write and be diligent about it. Forget all the myths about typewriters, booze, and lazy ceiling fans in Havana. Find your own writing space, your own rhythm and time, and do the thing that it is: write.
And then, after all that is done and you have your First Full Draft, find someone you trust to read what you wrote, because that’s step three and oh the terrors and joys of that part. Nothing beats solid feedback that is both honest and not unkind, but to that another time.
Most importantly, though, is not to give up:
Keep on writing.
It’s a wallpaper—the prettier, the thicker; the thicker, the uglier.
There, behind the curtains, to the west of the stairs, is the map room, my
dream for which is to watch as ‐‐ one evening ‐‐ a fire ‐‐ vengeful, as moths ablaze
in the mouth of the lamppost ‐‐ burns them down: century‐upon‐century‐upon‐
century‐upon‐century‐upon‐century mounts of distrust and of homes displaced.
These are dark, dense days.
We need light.
We need heat and emptitude.*
*A noun; emptitude denotes the double-urge to empty the map room and fill it with empathy.