Q&A with Naseem Rakha discussion

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The Writing Process

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message 1: by Naseem (new)

Naseem | 13 comments Mod
Ask me your questions about the life of a writer.


message 2: by Diana (new)

Diana (dianasilva) How do you deal with writer's block?


message 3: by Naseem (last edited Feb 05, 2011 10:20AM) (new)

Naseem | 13 comments Mod
For me, writer's block comes when I start to feel afraid of the ambiguity of writing. The not knowing what comes next, and then the not believing that I will figure it out. When this happens my left brain quickly tries to fill in for my addled creativity, but it is a ineffective and stagnating substitute. Story, I believe, takes magic. It takes the blending of scene, structure, plot and character in ways that the logical, deterministic, and highly judgmental left brain would never put together. It simply does not have either the flexibility or the access to the inner wells from which the right brain draws. Unfortunately, the more we allow the left brain to lasso in our writing, the less and less magic those words will posess, causing many to either give up, or fall into such a miserable state they suffer significant paralysis.

How do I deal with writer's block? I have pen and paper wherever I go, and I use it. If I hear an interesting bit of dialogue in the waiting room at my son's dentist, I write it down. If I see a person wearing clothes I would never think of putting together, I write it down. I write down my thoughts, the sounds, the smells, anything and everything that I want with one goal only in my mind. NO EXPECTATIONS ALLOWED.

No, I tell my left brain, you can not help. I don't care if my spelling sucks. I don't give a rats ass about grammar, or proper word usage, or whether Kennedy died in 63 or 64. Nothing matters but words on a page. Unedited. Unmolested. Uninterrupted, and wholly inspired from that blissful space between our ears where memory and experience blend in ways we can never ever anticipate.

Expectations are toxic. Hemmingway considered it a good day if he wrote a single good sentence. In other words, keep expectations low, and tell your left brain to shut up.


message 4: by Valerie (new)

Valerie | 1 comments Fabulous answer, Naseem. We're not really "blocked;" we're trying too hard to capture something that needs air, space, and freedom. The idea of a perfect draft is also a killer. I'd like to do away with the term "writer's block." It immediately makes the situation worse, as if we're caught in a traffic jam that will never end. But it always does. And if we're patient, use that time in the car to breathe, maybe read a chapter in a book, write down our experience, distract that monkey mind, the subconscious does a lot of work on our writing while we're in park.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I wish I could do that. Old English teacher habits die hard (drowning in red ink). I've found that using my pack of 64 crayons to draw lets me vent in another way!


message 6: by Naseem (new)

Naseem | 13 comments Mod
I love it when I go to restaurants that have butcher paper on the table and loads of colored pencils and crayons for everyone to use....


message 7: by Naseem (new)

Naseem | 13 comments Mod
Sand boxes -- I was at the Fetzer Institute last year and they had this big table top sandbox. It was divided into sections so that multiple people could play. They showed us the box, then they took us to this large storage room that was filled with anything thing you could imagine. From bottle tops to tiny dolls, to shells to acorns or yarns or sticks or gum wrappers or dice or fake eyeballs - just everything. They told us to come down there when and if we wanted, gather what ever spoke to us, then bring it up to the sandbox and play. The idea was to play with intention - a question in your mind, but not foremost in your mind. And then just see what you create in the sand. If your lucky, there may be an answer there.

Now, I wish I could tell you I had an epiphany in that sand box, and that I left wit all kinds of answers to all kinds of questions about my novel in progress. That didn't happen. Still I liked the idea, and it did help me focus my questions.


message 8: by Yassemin (new)

Yassemin (yas666) How long does it take you from when you first come up with an idea to begin writing it and for the idea to be for the most part fully formed in your head?


message 9: by Naseem (new)

Naseem | 13 comments Mod
The idea for writing a novel about a mother forgiving the man who killed her child germinated when I took a novel writing class with a teacher in Eugene, Oregon named Elizabeth Engstrom. That was June, 2005. I had a first draft done about nine months later, then began outlining that draft in great detail, making sure each scene served the story. That is, it built tension, added or answered plot questions, built character, and was well paced. The outline took me 6 months, and ended up being 180 pages. While I outlined, I simultaneously re-wrote. By September of 2007 I had what I considered to be a readable novel. I passed it onto three astute readers, re-wrote a bit more. In December of 2007, I signed on with an agent, and the book was sold at auction in May of 2008. It came out in hardback in July 2009, and trade paperback i 2010. It has sold to about 10 other countries.


message 10: by Yassemin (new)

Yassemin (yas666) Thanks for answering!


message 11: by Naseem (new)

Naseem | 13 comments Mod
I should say, Jaz, that my research into the novel actually began in 1996, when I covered Oregon's first execution in over 34 years. I was a reporter for public radio, and I felt that I had cheated my listeners. I did not have a way to tell the type of story that needed to be told - how executions effect ALL the people involved. I wanted to do that sometime, and began doing as many interviews I could on the topic of capital punishment. This meant I spoke with several death row inmates, "Lifers", prison officials, and crime victims. I also got to interview men who had been exonerated after living on death row for my than a decade. I envisioned doing a radio story - perhaps something for This American Life. Then I thought that fiction may be a way to reach even more people.


message 12: by Yassemin (new)

Yassemin (yas666) I bet it has! Sounds like you've put a hell of a lot of work into it, its admirable!


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