The Art of Writing Is The Art of Leaping and Letting Go

Sonam Wangmo is a mother of two. She worked at Chemonics International Open Society, and Asia Society. She now divides her time between her family and developing her writing craft at Grub Street in Boston, U.S.

Sonam Wangmo is a mother of two. She worked at Chemonics International Open Society, and Asia Society. She now divides her time between her family and developing her writing craft at Grub Street in Boston, U.S.

I must confess; I never want to go bungee jumping. But I have experienced the overwhelming feeling of sheer fright and exhilaration, when one leaps with complete abandon into the unknown. Submitting my piece of fiction – labored over hours in front of a computer screen – to a group of fine eyes, is like throwing myself into the dark, with only a rope at my ankles to keep me from complete obliteration. There are psychologists, social workers, lawyers and sharp yummy mummies in my writing group. Surely they will rip into my writing!

And they do. But I am a better writer-in-progress because of that. Here’s what I’ve learned over the course of writing and rewriting:        Explore and Discover: “Write about what you don’t know, about what you know,” says Eudora Welty, a Pulitzer Price winning novelist. Pick a writing inspiration – images, characters, memories – that is familiar to you, and you are curious about. That desire to know more than you know will energize your stories.

 It is not just talent, but your stubborn persistence on the page, laboring hour-by-hour, sentence-by-sentence that will land you with a finished manuscript ready for publishing.

Character, Want and Conflict: Your character/protagonist is the king of the story. Plot, narrative arc and climax are second to your character’s wants. The meat of your story is how your protagonist’s desires are conflicted (internally), or come into conflict because the external world won’t allow it.
Hook the Subconscious and not the Conscious Mind: Suzette Martinez Standring, a syndicated columnist explains it like this: You need to hypnotize the readers. Keep the person in a trance, as if in a dream, by appealing to the feeling, and not the analytical part of the readers. You do that through images and simple details that drive right to the point. And John Gardner in the “Art of Fiction” makes no bones about saying that in bad fiction, one “snaps” out of the dream when the reader is “forced to think of the writer and the writing.” In other words, writers do step aside, unless you are Nabokov (in Lolita).
Active, Simple and Direct Language: To keep the readers engaged and in that lucid dream, use simple and direct language. Energize your story by using active words. Cut out the adjectives and adverbs, and get at what you want to say in the most direct way possible. Use language that your characters would use.
Show and Tell: Writing is not just showing, but showing and telling. It is the mix of exposition, summarized dialogue and dialogue. Often we are told: show, don’t tell, but good writing is a combination of showing and telling.
Sentiment and not Sentimentality: Sentimentality is when you force sentiment. When your characters have not earned the right to feel rage, sorrow and unbridled happiness, your readers will taste its overly sweet juices and become sickened by it. Sentimentality is Bollywood on steroids. I love Shahrukh Khan, but don’t you cringe when he overacts? Similarly, when your characters explode with clichéd emotions in clichéd situations, you have not connected with the characters of your story at a deeper level. Sentiment is connecting with your readers through reaching the inner depths of your character’s emotions.
Revise, Revise, and Revise: The first draft is just the beginning. Your real story will come to you at revision (unlike Arundhati Roy, who wrote God of Small Things in one mighty sweep without revisions). Jumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Price winning novelist says, “All the revision I do — and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation — occurs on a sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds.” Your unique and exact way of looking at things happens, when you’ve written your sentences over and over again.

Read, Read, Read: To become a better writer, you have to read. And read obsessively. Examine sentences, dissect them, and reread the words of your favorite writers, so you can learn how they create magic on the page.
Create a Routine and Join a Writing Circle: Sitting on the chair at the same hour every day is essential to writing. And don’t keep your writing to yourself. A writing group will propel your work forward to a higher level.
It is not just talent, but your stubborn persistence on the page, laboring hour-by-hour, sentence-by-sentence that will land you with a finished manuscript ready for publishing.
Writing is similar to the art of Mandala painting in colored sand. Like the lamas, you’ve worked many hours with close attention to painstakingly create a beautifully detailed novel. And now you must abandon it, let it go. The sand mandala is swept away and disintegrated into tiny pieces for distribution into the universe; similarly, you will release your written work into the world.
May your written words heal and enlighten the people who read it. And may you leap into the unknown, drive through the dark and let the words come through you, as if in a vivid dream.

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