writing

5 things I learnt from NaNoWriMo 2016

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner

For those who don’t know, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing event where writers all across the world are invited to write 50,000 words within November.

Yes, I actually managed it. To write 50,000 words in 30 days. To brave the early mornings, with bleary eyes and cold limbs; the frantic late nights, with aching feet and exhausted bones. This month, where my mind had completely crippled its creative capability, only to have a few hours sleep to recharge for the next day.

In 2015 I only managed 35k, which, at the time, I thought was quite an achievement. Now I’ve reached the ‘official’ finish line it feels great, but I still haven’t finished writing the novel. It’ll probably be another 50k before I do!

Here are the 5 things I’ve learnt this year, and hope that it encourages a budding writer to take part in next year’s frenzy:

1. Don’t let your other commitments stop you.

In 2015, I was a final year university student with, let’s face it, plenty more time than I had now. Despite that, I didn’t manage to win, and that made me cautious about reaching 50k this year as I had started a full time job.

I actually got off to a good start and was slightly ahead of the game for the first few days. In the middle I hit a slump but still wrestled through. I wrote in the mornings after fajr and when that was too painful, I knew in the evening I’d have to eat a quick dinner and get back to it. I wrote on my phone in the car before I stepped into work and again on my lunch breaks.

What this showed me is that you do have time to write. Anywhere and any time. Remember, NaNo is just about the writing itself. Editing is a whole other monster to tame, but just to write is much more fluid. Just do it whenever the feeling comes to you.

2. Uninhibited writing is brilliant

My novel had been brewing in my mind for several months. I had already wrote out a few scenes but nothing seemed right. I just couldn’t tell the story the way it was playing out in my head. I knew NaNo was the opportunity to write without any pit stops, breaks, or even any thinking. Just write whatever comes to my mind.

That was brilliant.

It means anything weird and wonderful can be born on the page, without feeling the need to hit the backspace or furiously scribble the out the words. No one will look at this crappy first draft, unless you give them permission. I know for a fact that the first drafts of any novel I write are completely out of bounds for any mortal being to lay eye upon.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of mornings and nights where stringing together words felt as painful as prodding my brain with a dagger (That’s where point 4 comes into play). But that’s okay, because it’s a first draft. When you let yourself write terribly you’ll find that the creativity of the story and the characters themselves start to shine better in your eyes, which is what I prefer to focus on in the first draft anyway.

3. Don’t look back. Not yet, at least.

Do not press backspace. If I genuinely cringed at something, but it was worth, say, 100 words, I’d just highlight it and click ‘strike-through’. That way it still counts towards my word goals, but when I get to editing I at least know it needs some work or needs to be deleted. Cheating? I call it NaNo-ing smartly 😉

graph

Daily word counts. See the infamous dip in the middle? A lot of self doubt going on there…

4. The community is wonderful

Join the forums (but don’t get too distracted), or dedicated Facebook groups, or even find people through Twitter. Don’t do this alone, because writing can be a lonely pursuit. Find cheerleaders to keep you going when you can’t bear to cheer yourself on any longer.

Word sprints are definitely what got me through: a casual challenge with other WriMos to see who can write the most words in a set amount of time. In reality no one is bothered who wins these sprints, because all that matters is that you wrote something.

That’s what’s lovely about the writing community: no one is trying to one-up you in anything. Everyone’s running towards the same goal, and if you trip or stumble, be sure that someone will catch you and pull you back up on your feet (or at least smack you to your senses).

5. If you want to do something, go do it. Go get your goals.

Yes, a slightly cheesy number 5, but a truth nonetheless. I’ve always, always wanted to be a writer, an author, or anything to do with words (let’s question my day job at a later time…). NaNo has shown me that I can write 50,000 words in one month, something I never thought I could do before. What’s to stop me from finishing this novel draft? From editing my novels? From actually getting published? The publishing journey can be a long and arduous road, but don’t be disheartened.

Remember what is at the core of your journey: your wonderful words.

Good news!

It’s nothing amazing or spectacular or even really that big. But it is, to me.

I finally got published!! *yay*

Just a short story really, less than 1,000 words, nothing special… but still — something I wrote is actually published. Alhamdulillah 🙂

Big thank you to Bunbury Magazine for giving me this opportunity, this stepping stone in my publishing and writing journey. You can find ‘Red’ in Issue 14 of the magazine here. All they ask for is a small contribution towards the magazine to help keep it running. That sounds fair, right?

And now to leave you with one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite books 🙂

“– a beauty neither of fine colour nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance. Then her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed, from what source I cannot tell.” – Jane Eyre

Catch the sunlight

In these early hours of the morning, when all the dreams and wishes of the world lay in the palm of your hand, everything seems possible. Sunrise stretches over this ancient earth, but each morning it feels as soft and supple as a newborn baby,  like fresh snow awaiting footprints to carve a path into its canvas.

Push past the dreary remnants of sleep, the exhaustion that fills your bones, and the dread of the coming day. Push it all to the side. Listen to the songs of the morning birds, those that are ready to chase their purpose with every fibre in their tiny feathers. Those that chase the sunlight.

Spread the prayer rug out and let your forehead touch the worn fabric. Whisper words of wishes and hopes, to the only One who listens. Listens to the fears of frightened souls who have hearts too fragile to hold the world’s pain.

Go outside and embrace the breeze–cold and shocking at first–and feel goosebumps tickle the surface of your skin. Then catch the sunlight as it rises across a sleepy sky, until the warmth spreads over and fills you up from the inside.

In those earliest hours of the morning, when everything seems possible. When years of muddled confusions evaporate and you are left with a clarity as clear as polished glass. A clarity of purpose, of intention.

Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror and see your future staring back at you, waiting for you to take hold of it. Waiting for you to catch it in the palm of your hands, your eyes ablaze with the euphoria of eternal victory.

Crybaby

eidpic16

I used to keep a baking blog here, but it took up too much time and I had far too much leftover goodies than I could eat myself. I kept the blog up for the nostalgic factor, but regardless, here’s what I made for Eid this year–a carrot cake that actually turned out pretty nice (if I do say so myself). Enough to get me back into baking! (Note: I realise I need to be more conscious about what I eat, but this cake was too pretty not to post!)

This post will probably be all over the place but to be honest, that’s how I feel right now. It’s as if I’ve been dragged out of my own body and plunked me into someone else’s, someone who’s more emotional, more tired, more fed up. And every day I keep saying “this isn’t me, this just isn’t me”.

I’m reading more into hypothyroidism/underactive thyroid because I want to learn more. Because the doctor can’t tell me more than is possible in a 10 minute consultation. Because I hadn’t realised how deep this condition can go (I’m still struggling to say the word ‘illness’). The more I do it, the more emotional I feel. Even the word ‘emotional‘–makes it sound like I’m getting teary for nothing. And honestly, I was never the type of person to cry over these kinds of things.

Was.

I remember being adamant that I only cried at ‘physical pain’, not emotional. I toughed myself out. Never used to cry at films. All that sort of stuff. Sure, maybe I put it on a little, but I wasn’t a crybaby. Now, these days, I’m having to take deep breaths. Tell myself to calm down. Don’t let myself get overwhelmed.

This isn’t me!

I tell myself I should stop reading into it and just give my brain a break–but in between all those moments of my brain fogging out, I’m thinking about this condition, because it’s starting to define me.

And I am so, so worried about that. It’s like having a cold define you. Or an itchy rash. It sounds ridiculous, right? So why should I let my underactive thyroid start to become me, because it’s not. I am so much more than my health, though my health is such an important part of me.

This is a strange post, I know. I figure writing it all out will help me sort myself out to a certain extent. It’s such an unsettling feeling, not being as reliable as you used to be. Reliable to myself; forget other people. I’d like to think myself as an independent person, always have done. Solitude isn’t frightening to me–that’s the perks of being an introvert. But the importance of asking for help is something I need to work on. It’s okay to feel weak, but asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It’s not something that should be looked down upon.

It’s like I have a dimmer switch in my brain that keeps going brighter or dimmer with a single thought. One moment I’ll be struggling to pull things out of my memory; the next, I’ll be jumping from one anxious thought to another, too quick to recall what I had thought the previous moment.

It’s frustrating.

Brain fog

img_20160912_155436

I’m tired of being tired.

I’m tired that my paper thin patience can snap at a moment’s notice because of something incredibly insignificant. I’m tired of feeling that way, and I know I wasn’t always like this. I’m anxious that I’m becoming more anxious;

a tiny thing I did yesterday is riddled in my thoughts today;

I feel embarrassed about doing something that other people barely noticed–or did they?

I am so concerned over these small things… and then not concerned at all. Not bothered and not caring–but not carefree. I just want to spend an entire day–twenty four cosy hours–in the security of my bed. Not having to speak to anyone. But I’m tired of feeling like I have to mentally pull a ‘let’s-be-social-now’ jacket over myself together just to talk to someone.

My bones, my muscles, my blood, feels tired. I can’t bear to drag myself up again, but I have to.

That’s normal, right?

But those are only the bad days.

I used to be carefree. I used to have the energy and zeal to spend time with others, to be able to make others laugh, be concerned about their well being. Now I fear that I’ll be too concerned, so I step back.

I don’t want to get hurt either.

I step so far back that I feel like my mind is in another room: boxed away, sterilised and sanitised; yet here I am, talking to you. You probably don’t notice all these things spilling around in my mind. Confusion upon confusion. Layers of fog.

I literally just forgot what I wanted to write next. I’m tired of that too.

I hate conflict, yet I feel like I want to start one whenever something ticks me off. I never used to be like this, I promise.

This isn’t normal.

It’s as if there’s a strange storm thundering inside me, wearing me down, straining me on all pressure points–and in the next instance there is nothing. Not even a calm sea–just nothing. I could stare blankly at a wall, neurons dimming, chemical circuits flickering; my thoughts too weak to resurface.

And then I’ll fall asleep, wake up, and the day will renew. It can be better. Sometimes I go back to normal, my normal, where I feel balanced and whole inside once again. But then it can get worse, and I’ll feel like grey clouds are filling me up, top to toe, bringing misery wherever I go.

It’s awful when you realise you’re no longer interested in those things that you loved to do. Not every day, thankfully, but sometimes I can’t bear to look at a book or pick up the pen. That could be classed as usual behaviour, but this isn’t just “I can’t be bothered”. It’s more a hollow non-feeling, where you have no connection to that activity, as if I’d never picked up a book in my life. A strange and unsettling thing.

It is terrible and tiresome when you have to contend with yourself. When your mind is telling you that nothing is going well, but there’s that silver voice that goes over the negativity, the voice of some-kind-of reason, telling you to get yourself together. Telling you it’s all okay, you’re just crying for no reason, you’re being scared for no reason. There’s no reason why you should stay in bed all day. There’s no need for this.

This is the fog that I fight through, and it feels terrible, because battling with your own thoughts is exhausting.

I don’t know where the end is. I don’t know for how long I have to carry on like this. I hope, well and truly hope, that I can manage this. You can never know what cards you’ll get dealt, but you can’t swap them or throw them back to the dealer. This is your lot in life, and you have to get on with it. Through every tear, every cry of frustration, each and every miserable morning where I don’t want to get up–I can do this.

It’s gonna be difficult, but that’s okay.

Not everything comes easy.

Just take it slowly, one foggy day at a time.

Our Innate Ignorance

You were not born with hatred, but with curiosity.

You were born with an intense thirst for knowing, even if you didn’t know that.

Children are little students of life. They don’t have a pen and paper ready but they make notes in their minds as they crawl, walk, and run; entranced by everyone and everything. The first dandelion they hold is the sun in their hands. They stand at a mountain’s peak every time their wobbly legs hold them upright.

We don’t know about hatred until we are taught. This raw, horrible feeling that riddles your emotions and clouds your judgement. Making you less human, perhaps.

There are people who have been taught to hate others. To hate a certain group of people, just for being different. But that ‘different’ is what allows us to grow. It’s what children need to learn;  anything different is a new universe opened to them. But there are people who will continue to hate others because of their difference. And when the seed of hatred grows within them, they water it with malice. It takes over their limbs and lungs.

They breathe with venom. Can’t go without the spite.

IMG_20160715_120320

Why?

Does making someone else feel disgusting, make you feel better? Do you feed off their tears? Do your ugly words taste like honey to you?

Because somehow constantly telling yourself the lies made them the truth, and you’re blinded by your truth. But really, deep inside, you let your curiosity wither. You let the hate grow.

Do you fear the colour of his skin, or the strange accent traced in her speech? Do you hate the scarf on her head, or his language that you don’t understand?

But what would have happened if you called out a question instead of an insult? What if you asked him—hey, that’s a lovely accent you have. Where you from?

What’s your name? That’s a cool name, what does it mean?

Your clothes are nice, is it from your culture?

Children rely on that curiosity to discover the world. They are explorers of the Strange. Adventurers in the Mysterious. They ask questions, perhaps one too many at times. But that’s how they learn. To learn is to be human.

And we, as shameful adults, decide that asking questions makes us feel stupid. We feel defeated by our innate ignorance. By denying our natural curiosity—the thing that challenged us and let us grow—we turned to fear the unknown. As we feared that which is strange, we instinctively want to lash out at it. To hurt it. To put it away somewhere so that it doesn’t affect our cosy familiarity.

IMG_20160715_115300

These are just some thoughts I’ve had about various events happening across the world, related to racism and intolerance. It is heartbreaking to see people who believe that one race or people are inherently better than others. To even say that other races came ‘from animals’. It makes me sad that they cannot see past their ignorance, that their curiosity has died within them and given rise to something vile. It is a small minority that have these attitudes, but often times this minority shouts the loudest.

But know that the world is filled with decent people. In every country, on every street corner, in every home in this tired world we live in.

Hatred breeds hatred; don’t add fuel to the fire.

 

Streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All photos taken by me.

definition

Diaspora.

Sounds like a strange word, doesn’t it? Before I knew its meaning, I always thought it was linked with war, turmoil, or something else that I didn’t really understand. Another technical term. I wasn’t completely wrong, however.

Diaspora: a technical term for the feeling of being “not quite there”.

At least, this is how I feel.

I’ve spent many quiet moments thinking about my identity and how I’m often caught between a crossfire of different culture, so much so that it feels like I don’t actually have an identity. Now that’s a scary thought. Imagine being nameless and faceless when you’re surrounded by the vibrancy and colour of other people’s national or cultural pride.

But, of course, I’m not the only one who feels this way. I know that there are people in the world like me, probably not 100% like me, but they feel the same way about identity. Being “not quite there”. They know they can’t speak their mother’s tongue with perfect fluency, but they still appreciate its subtle phrases that express their feelings better than English. Or, they have a soft spot in their stomach for both homemade curry, and a beef lasagne. Or, they feel most comfortable walking the streets of their capital city more than they would driving through a market place back in the ‘homeland’. I know that describes me.

There are several directions I’ve been pulled in:

am I Muslim,

am I English,

am I Bengali,

am I British?

Many ropes that tug me in separate ways in separate moments, sometimes giving me a wonderful colour to my life, and other times wishing that the each identity wouldn’t clash so much.

I still wonder at my identity. Perhaps only to satisfy that human urge to belong. I have friends and family who are proud of their cultural heritage as well as their Britishness. But in all truth, I am neither proud nor am I ashamed of my culture. I just don’t feel that strong, irreplaceable connection that other people might do.

And you know what? I like it like that. I like who I am; I’m just trying to figure out who that is.

When I was coming from a holiday all the way in Malaysia, it was only then when I realised what my ‘homeland’ was. It’s England. More specifically, London. I never felt like I would miss England (in fact, I was more than happy for a holiday), but I felt a genuine homesickness for my home. Not ‘the country’. For home: the place where I wake up and feel secure, the place where I live with the people I have grown up with for the past twenty-odd years, the place where I feel my soul is connected to the ground that I walk on.

Sounds deep, but really, isn’t that what home is? When some people say that home is the people they love; you have a connection to your loved ones, right? So I have a connection to this home of mine, this city, this little part in the south of London that I’ve inhabited for my entire life. It’s my home. It’s not defined by a certain culture or language. It’s a mish-mash of many things, and I think that pretty much describes me. A mish-mash. Not quite 100% this, nor 100% that. So you can stick as many labels as you can on me to try to define my identity, but you’ll never be able to pinpoint me exactly to the letter.

I guess this means you’ll have to speak to me to find out who I really am.