Notes from the Creative Frontline

The one thing that I have always shamelessly desired as an aspiring writer is a rigorously detailed guide on how to write a novel. I read all the books on creative writing that I could find—from the self-righteousness of Ayn Rand’s Art of Fiction to the raw vulnerability of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way—and they were all very practical and helpful. I heeded their advice and applied their methods.

But I still couldn’t write.

I needed a guide, my own Virgil who would descend with me through the inferno of my own subconscious and identify all of the demons that were working hard to ensure that my ideas would never see the day of light. I cried out for someone to guide me through the hell of my own creative frustration so that I could purge myself of years of pent up frustration and finally ascend into the paradise of finally bringing my characters to life and, therefore, bringing my work to completion.

All I could find were books written by authors who had personally grasped it—that mysterious ability to write that somehow evaded me. I, stubborn and meticulous, pedantic almost in my need to know the why and the how of every detail, found in these books all of the most useful truisms I would ever need—but I still did not see how they did it.

The doubts that I had felt when I first became firm in my resolve to write were quickly becoming my dogma; I needed to break free from my fears and quickly, too.

I asked everyone and anyone—at writing conferences, at writer’s clubs, on forums— who might answer: how must I begin? how must I proceed?

Ideas came to my mind as readily as the autumn leaves that fell before me as I went on my daily walk in the forest in search of some moment of epiphany. And, as I continued to walk, I felt the crunch of the leaves underfoot, crisp and loud as if I were stepping over the brittle bones of ideas that would never be brought to life.

Would I ever be able to write?

I despaired, but not because of a dearth of ideas, but precisely because of the abundance. No one could seem to answer how, of all the sundry characters and plots and moods racing in my mind, I was to choose the right one. Most people repeated that “the right idea” would be apparent the moment it appeared, as if it would be a love-at-first-sight experience. And so I waited, but I never saw any one idea jump out at me. I was in love with all of my ideas. Like a child transfixed by the sheer variety of ice cream flavours, so was I creatively crippled by the potentiality of all of my ideas.

If only someone could help me choose which idea would be the right one for me! I needed an artistic dictator to compel me to just choose one, but no one was willing to risk it. They knew that if they chose wrongly, they would be at the receiving end of my sizeable wrath. And so the months turned into years, I grew older, and my ideas more plentiful, but I still could not write, or rather more accurately, I wrote copiously, but could not bring anything to completion.

My works were stillborn, and I grieved each one.

Still I scoured the used book stores for some author who would promise to show me the way through the entire ritual of the creative process, one who would be frank with me and not shield me from the ugliness of self-doubt and the bliss of artistic creation.

I could not find such a guide, and so, as the saying goes, if the mountain does not go to Mohammed, Mohammed must go the mountain.

These diary entries promise to record the most mundane details of the writing experience of someone struggling to fulfill a dream that I have so craved for myself. Just as I wanted to know the exact genesis of a character (and no, please spare me the whole “I can’t explain it” response), so I am writing this diary to record for myself, and for anymore whom it will benefit, how I came to write my first book—if, of course, I succeed, for my quest starts tomorrow morning and I have no guarantee of success.

In fact, if my past serves as a model, I am almost certain to fail. One would hope not, but if that is the case, then so be it. Failures are fruitless only if the goal changes; but my goal has been constant since my earliest childhood, and so however dissatisfied I may be with my own work, I hope to always find the courage and strength to never grow tired of trying. If I fail, you and I will at least know what an honest attempt looks like. If I succeed, then I will finally have the guide for which I have yearned all these years. In either case, I promise that it is going to be interesting ride.