Tales From Beyond.

Having recently seen fellow Desi Writer – Osman Khalid Butt (informally known as Obi)’s play – The Good Doctor, produced under his own theatrical production company – The Living Picture Productions; yesterday, I think I can safely say I am immensely proud of his accomplishments. It’s heartening to have seen a person’s transition from poet to writer to actor to full on playwright and director. Although there were a few things about the play that may not have sat too well with me, for instance the blaring sound which seems a permanent fixture in any play performed locally and especially at Islamabad Club; and the added fact that towards the end, each succeeding death seemed a little contrived and something of a plot device; some things like the sets (with the added touch of the family portraits) were beautiful. Down to the way the actors were dressed – very period-like – this play was the play of a perfectionist. Added to the fact that the boy in question, is just 21 years old. Kudos to you, Obi.

The DesiWritersLounge.net reconstructive surgery is set to start on November 1st, and is something I am greatly looking forward to most especially since it’s been a long time in coming.

An added thing I’m looking at now, is how to raise awareness about our site and the work we do. A desi writer (mikko on the boards, Madiha to the world) pointed out that we can begin the work by hosting poetry readings under our banner, at a local coffee spot and intellectual hang-out (Civil Junction). It is an interesting idea, and something which we can definitely run with. Her idea was to start with the classics, but I can foresee something more interesting branching up and more along the lines of what I’d planned so many years ago. Having proper readings with real people bringing in their own work and reading it aloud. I don’t have everything planned – for instance, will we recruit these people to be part of the lounge and slowly begin to post – will it be a members-only event with invitations being extended to other people and eventually starting a cult of some sort? As can be seen, things have still to be woven together. But as an idea, it has tremendous potential.

Concluding, the desi writers as a collective seem to be moving forward and after all these years, it’s a marvelous step in the right direction. Here’s to more milestones, here’s to moving forward, here’s to being heard and being inspired.


Creaking Doors

With development slated for November’s first week, a structural policy or something is needed imminently. A board member (we have an unofficial board of directors, comprising mostly of the remaining members from our original Orkut days – five including yours truly) recently stated that we need to make alliances with other desi oriented writing websites. And here I thought we were the pioneers (no, that’s not entirely true: I knew we weren’t. But our operations are so far from left field, it’s genius). To that extent, there are quite a few of them out there – desiwriters.com (name thieving…and this is quite literally true – the founder of the place was a former member, back in the days when we were still trying to narrow down a time and place for the creation of our own site), desilit.org, chowk.com, readitlive.com, t2f.org for related events, etc and probably a handful of others just waiting to be discovered. If we create alliances with these places, chances are it helps us both. So that’s something else on my list of things to do.

I’ve found an excellent example of how I’d like our debating platform, The Podium, to look like…it was something work-related but my God, it was brilliant. Of course, I have no idea whether or not there’s going to be a component with just the right amount of tweaking involved to get us going, but at least it’s out there. Somewhere on the global, webby, stratosphere, it exists.

The event calendar is just a handy little way to keep our visitors and members abreast of anything new on the cultural, literary, arty and theatrical scenes. To that extent, it may become something like a global adventure, with members from all countries posting their ‘flyers’ on the bulletin board. Of course, that it comes out exactly as I’ve envisioned it is key. It has to look “writery”.

To that extent, our header image of the writer’s desk will more appropriately be incorporated into the site…something original and not infringing on anyone’s intellectual property is what we’re looking for. I’m hoping the board will begin to split responsibilities for varying pieces of the pie…since although November seems ideal, it’s the time when my own work is going to step up several notches. No more lunch hour blog posts, in other words.

One of our members–Obi’s got a play coming up–starting, if my sources are right, on October 26th and no doubt stretching to the 10-14 days that now seem standard. All kinds of rumors have begun to spew forth from ‘it’s a twisted love story’, to ‘it’s a horror story…or so I’ve heard’. Whatever it is, it’s entitled The Good Doctor. Since it’s an Islamabad only event, tickets are available from Illusions and the Islamabad Club. Make sure you get yourself a seat–I’ve been hearing the events may be sold out. But hey, that’s the news on the grapevine.

The Inheritance of Loss is the book that’s scheduled to take me out of my recent reader’s slump, and it’s been doing a decent job of it. I may now have the courage to pick up Hugo again considering I heavily pushed for it in the Book Club, and have been largely (read: entirely), absent in its discussions. How tragic.

However, I’m hoping that with the right amount of activities, people will and can get their butts to the Lounge, become members and start posting. We’re looking for the talent–our scouts are out there as we speak–but in case they miss you, drop me a line and we’ll see what we can do.

Later amigos.

Continuing from Before…

I realized that I made mention of elaborating on something which I never ended up doing – not wholly abnormal for me considering the varying plateaus of thought I switch to constantly. Anyway, back on topic, I’m talking about the whole ‘writer’s loneliness’ thing I wrote about previously.

Discussion about points 9-11, 13 begins now. Just to recap: #s 9-11 discuss the laziness of writers in general, while #13 talks about the importance of realizing rejection and getting past it. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the ‘excellent citations and examples’ I was going to give when I originally began writing that entry.

“A person must realize that writing is a daily routine, not the result of an occasional inspiration. The Writer has to find the time every day to sit down and write. Keeping a journal is one way of sitting down and writing. The beginning writer cannot use his job as an excuse for not writing.” – #9.

This is something that needs to be discovered through personal experience, otherwise it’ll never ring true. I would know – one of the desi writers has been drilling this into me since day one. ‘Color Me In’ – a short story I wrote about family skeletons was my own turning point. I had to get on it again and again. It’s taken me about a decade of writing to get to this point. Advice is all well and good, but actually seeing it for yourself, in action – pursuing this course of action on your own initiative really works wonders.

Writing, like any other serious pursuit, must be won by diligence and discipline. Just because it’s an art doesn’t mean it can’t be owned although to an extent, words in themselves will always be the elusive enigmas they are.

#11 is something I believe I’ve already covered throughout this blog. When you’re not writing, don’t blame it on the right inspiration or whatever excuse, when the plain, simple and rather glaring fact is you simply don’t want to. I know it’s often the reason I’ve got. Take the latest story, for instance – “Numb”. I just didn’t want to get into it, because I wasn’t sure where it’d take me – my stories often seem to be letters I seem to be writing myself, thereby proving Zafon’s timeless quote: “A story is a letter the writer writes to himself to tell himself things he wouldn’t be able to discover otherwise”. This is true on many, many levels. So when you’re scared of where a story’s going to take you, and don’t want to take the risk, eventually…if you’re not careful – it consumes you. Fortunately, I shared this fear with a friend who simply told me there’s nothing to the game without risk. One of our members stated this very thing (a lack of courage to write) on a comment on ‘The Bitch is Back’ post. My advice isn’t new: grow a pair and get out there. Everyone has an ego which will inevitably be knocked around a bit, but that’s no reason not to try. On that note, I should learn to take my own advice when it comes to program applications and writing competitions. Go figure, huh? I, however, have been out there. And trust me, it hurts. But you get right back on that horse and keep trying until you hit gold.

I think I may have gone off on a tangent there. I seem to have melded point #11 with posting on our forums. Whoops. 🙂

But seriously, with the 150+ members we’ve got not more than 10 who actually post. My question is simple: What exactly are you so terrified of? Being hurt, bashed into little pieces? What about us? Do you think it was easy? That we just breezed by? It hurt. And it always does, always will, but you take what you want and discard the rest, and then come back for more. Nothing’s better than being around your peers, learning and growing with them by your side. Chances are you’ll make a few friends — you’re surrounded by people who do exactly what you do — in gallons. Surely that has to count for something?

If you’re a writer, you have to be prepared for rejection. If anything, you’ll develop a thick skin after it all, and better able to take the undoubted rejection slips that will inevitably find their way to you. No writer I know hasn’t been rejected in some way or form. But if you’ve been through the moral, emotional and critical bashing phase, you learn to move on. A lot quicker, too.

Think about it.

All Abuzz

Blogs it seems, are all the buzz and have been sending traffic our way, so naturally I’m all up for it. Most particularly, one of them linked here (Jaded Malang’s blog) has sent repeat traffic our way. Yaay!

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve been here, and that may have resulted in a loss of readership. That being said, the reason was much simpler: there was simply nothing mind blowing enough to write. And since this is a writer’s blog, it just seems like it should be more writer oriented.

To that purpose, I have something new for us today. Familial literati – or, to put it simply: the pursuit of literary ambitions when its hereditary. What does that even mean, anyway? Umm…well, it’s normally when a parent is a writer or in the general field – take, for instance – Kamila Shamsie’s mother, Munizeh Shamsie whose an editor and critic and thus produced a writer offspring. I’m not seeing a necessary connection, but there are those who do, and we at the Lounge, like to say we take everyone into consideration. 🙂

So is it really a big deal? Do they really have an edge over the lesser fortunate who’ve grown up with the working class mom and dads, or in most traditional and conservative households in Pakistan, working dads? Or is it just another hurdle thrown out by the perpetual would-be writers, trying to make things difficult for themselves? Sure, as a writer’s kid, you’ll probably come more into contact with the artists of the literary world, or in general. And you’ll kinda take certain things for granted. But that only makes the struggle for the lesser fortunate, that much more interesting. Because we haven’t grown up with writers coming in and out of our houses, haven’t been in close contact with artists in general or activists in particular. We’ve had to climb our way up, earn our positions the hard way, and if you see it in a certain light it’s the ‘fortunate’ few who’ve got a tougher job. Being the offspring of a particularly good and established writer pushes you to develop your own voice away from that of your parent (or parents). So really, we’ve got a far better deal. Besides, we also know how much is at stake here, because we’ve slaved our way to the top…or, well…wherever.

A few months ago (enter personal anecdotes – there are few things I, as a writer, haven’t been through), coming off of rejection from my dream program, I began to wonder whether I was really at a disadvantage from those who were either holders of English majors in their undergrad, or Masters or with literary backgrounds, or with family history of literary backgrounds. My mother put it into perspective for me: You’ve had to do things the hard way. It wasn’t easy to be recognized or accepted as a writer, by either family or society, but with diligence and determination, I got there. So isn’t that a far greater accomplishment than having something handed down to you? Doesn’t that really show the love for craft, more than family or background? It’s much the same in anything – those who are handed down a title are more at a disadvantage than those who’ve had to get there by their own efforts alone.

So really, don’t complain about people whose fathers or mothers were writers being at a higher vantage point, when really it’s all about perspective. Beauty, as someone once said, is in the eye of the beholder. You make your own path in this life, irrespective of class, status or family and you earn respect for that.

But these are as always, my thoughts, and you’re completely free to disagree with them. In fact, I’d be happy to spar with someone who disagrees. We could have a healthy debate right here, which brings me to a feature we’ll be incorporating into the redeployed version of the ‘Lounge. ‘The Podium’, which as a platform for encouraging debate allows a member to create an argument, allow for rebuttal and name the deadline for said rebuttal. It’s sort’ve like a competition of sorts, too and is a great platform for all those verbal spars I hear in my mind sometimes. And the cool thing about it is, though you have to be a member to initiate a debate, you don’t have to be one to continue and/or rebut it. So you can write a well worded, detailed rebuttal and it’ll find its way up there, allowing the original or agreeing members of the population to contest it. Pretty nifty, huh?

We’re also planning a virtual bulletin board of sorts, complete with push pins and cork, which will allow members and members only to post upcoming events, but and here’s the nifty thing again: Anyone can view this. These two segments of the site will be independent from the forums, and will also include a rejuvenated and reborn Book Club including a newsletter to keep you abreast of our discussions regarding the book in question. Nifty, eh? Yeah. Very nifty. It will, I suppose, be lifting and editing existing discussions on the forums, and will probably introduce a degree of responsibility since I’m hoping more people would like a simple newsletter instead of joining the entire site at large. Responsibility for our members to be more active, involved and serious minded in the discussion.

So I’m trying to cater for everyone here. I’m just hoping this succeeds.

Comments are welcome, although I’m a little weary of actually getting them considering we haven’t gotten any yet. 🙂 But hope springs eternal!

The Bitch is Back

It’s got nothing to do with pricing – I would be more than happy to outsource to someone who gives me the impression he/she’s actually read the document – supplied his/her own suggestions and is enthusiastic for the project. But finding someone like that is incredibly rare. Not totally impossible of course, but rare. Besides I’d also like to know all the money and time I’m investing in this will pay off when it comes to our members. But people are such unpredictable, thankless and selfish creatures, don’t you think?

So I’m kicking off a new campaign: Tough Love. I want to up quality – when someone searches my name after a particularly successful run on another website – locates the Lounge and finds my work better, it’s sad. Flattering most definitely, but also completely sad. Because a lot of work’s gone into it, and we’re obviously not doing enough of a good job. But why base my opinion on the comments of one person, right? I’m not. Yeah, the truth hurts. Our traffic is down – we’re bringing people to the site but aren’t keeping their attention long enough to stay there – it’s down to one thing, and one thing alone that can attract the kind of people we’re looking for: Content. Bitchy, tough loving me has been reborn and doesn’t seem to want to leave. At least not any time soon.

I believe if you push people to be their best, they can get there. I would know. The Desi Writers have been doing it to me for the last two years, most especially when we were on Orkut, still unsure of what to say and what not to. It’s the tough love that gets you going, that gets you thinking, that makes you say: Fuck it but starts those wheels turning, nonetheless. It’s by telling them you believe in better, by saying ‘I expect something more’ that makes them push for it. It’s a constant drill – painful to watch often, and more specifically, to be a part of – to see them struggling, but knowing, inevitably that the result will be the biggest payoff ever. To both you and them.

I’m all in for giving us time to grow and all that jazz, but it’s been far too long and it’s time now. Time to take things into our own hands, instead of hoping for people to come around. Because here’s a thought: they never will. That’s just what people are. They’re lazy. Unless someone starts blowing a whistle. And you see this thing around my neck? It’s the proverbial whistle.

And it’s screaming.

All aboard?

Back on topic

Loneliness. As a writer, that’s something you have to get used to and something which only deepens over time. The recognition of it, is possibly the first step to true indifference. Personally, I’ve seen I only awaken to my loneliness when I’m surrounded by people I love and who undoubtedly love me (modesty is obviously not a virtue), and most acutely when I’m not writing. You know, it’s odd how we classify “writing”. For me, “writing” involves writing fiction – to truly put something creative out there – but really, this qualifies as writing just like writing in a daily journal and it’s various, various forms does. But that’s beside the point, or at least the one I’m trying to make now.

Yesterday, I went searching for how to handle writer’s loneliness (it was a particularly bad day) – I have my moments of self-doubt just like the next person. It may not look it, but I am human. Anyway, so I found a set of writer’s characteristics from this site which I’m going to list and discuss.

  1. The Writer doesn’t have to like people, but the Writer must be profoundly, passionately interested in them.
  2. The Writer must have an equally passionate desire to make the reader see what the Writer sees, hear what the Writer hears.
  3. The Writer must be sensitive to the human condition and moved to express his/her feelings about it.
  4. The Writer must have a passion for words so that phrases, sentences, and rhythms haunt him.
  5. As a person the Writer must be profoundly committed to what the Writer is writing; as an artist the Writer must be detached from it as the Writer learns to recognize what is good and what is bad about his writing.
  6. The Writer needs to be born this morning, and again tomorrow morning. The Writer needs to look at familiar faces as if the Writer has never seen them. The Writer should drive his car to wherever the Writer is going as if it were the first time. The Writer should look at the face of the supermarket checkout girl as if she, too, was born this morning.
  7. The Writer must learn that writing is rewriting. The Writer must be able to cut away at his manuscript without quivering, to carve up his child without flinching.
  8. The Writer must acquire a deep concern for details. This concern often makes the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful story or article.
  9. A person must realize that writing is a daily routine, not the result of an occasional inspiration. The Writer has to find the time every day to sit down and write. Keeping a journal is one way of sitting down and writing. The beginning writer cannot use his job as an excuse for not writing. (In fact, why not use the job as an excuse for writing?)
  10. The Writer must realize that only a small number of writers are able to make a living by writing. There are few compared to those who have other professions, trades, or jobs.
  11. The Writer must admit, finally, that there are no excuses, that the only reason the Writer isn’t writing is because the Writer doesn’t want to. People write successfully everywhere, under all conditions and with all kinds of handicaps.
  12. Occasionally the Writer will stop in anguish and tell himself that everything has been said, all the tales have been told. The Writer must remind himself that the story of Romeo and Juliet had been told by an Italian writer of novellas, but that Shakespeare told it better, and that the same plot was retold later in the form of Abie’s Irish Rose and again in West Side Story.
  13. The writer must learn to live with his rejection slips, use them as scrap paper, not label them “End of the World.” The Writer can avoid many rejection slips by knowing the market.
  14. The writer must learn how to handle the problem of loneliness, for writing is a lonely profession. It is one road a person must walk alone.

And that’s it. Some points, if not all, are absolutely valid and relate a lot to both the discussions that spring up on the site and this blog, but also questions I’ve been asked personally relating to writing.

On the set of links to the side, you’ll notice one for Orwell’s essay ‘Why I Write’, where he’s discussed that his writing was better when fueled by a purpose, usually political and if you ever pick up any of his books, in particular 1984, you’ll notice a warning resonating so clearly, made all the more important with America’s “Big Brotherish” tactics. So there’s #3 proved.

Points 1-3 I agree with, because you don’t have to like people to write about them, but to do it successfully you have to be interested in human nature. And really, we are the most fascinating creatures. Why do you think soap operas never die? Hell, we’ve coined a new phrase – “teen soap operas”. 90210, anyone? That the actors playing teens were in their thirties is entirely beside the point.

What is writing without words? But you don’t necessarily need to be haunted by them to be a successful writer – true, nearly every writer I know has been plagued by getting the right word – I know I have. Hitting the nail on the head can get me out of bed, inches before falling asleep, it is that incumbent. But it isn’t a must.

#7 – rewriting. I think a lot of today’s would-be authors don’t realize the severe importance of the rewritten word. When you first start out, you’re just getting the idea straight, putting it to paper is the result of all the events, emotions and conversations you’ve been seeing in your mind. It’s not a thinking story – it’s a driven story, by all means – but it isn’t in the right place at the right time. It needs to be hacked into, which explains #8 as well.

#s 9-11, 13 I will discuss in my next post, with a very illustrative and I believe, absolutely correct example and citation.

On to #12 – everything worth writing has already been written – has been a subject of great interest at the forums. It’s true: Everything worth writing has been written, but and here’s the clincher, contrary to the quote, I have my own (and it’s an old one): it isn’t the tale, but he who tells it. A story isn’t different because it’s been done before, but because I, Maryam Piracha, the Writer am writing it with my own perceptions, opinions and views. And every person, in particular every writer, sees things at a different angle, and it’s that for which writing that particular story becomes absolutely necessary.

Finally, #14 – writing is by far the loneliest profession you’ll ever encounter. Why? This blog provides an insightful look into the situation. Is it because nobody understands? From personal experience, that’s what it was like for me, until the desi writers. But even then, even when you have the community, the feeling never truly deserts you. At the end of the day, you need to seclude yourself, to write alone, unhindered and if you can’t handle it, you’re just not cut out for the job at all.

Will it break you? Absolutely. Will you survive? That’s up to you.

Budgeting Concerns

So I’ve stretched the budget, won’t be enjoying the first three months of my pay, and have eliminated one key feature from the project at large. It happens, right? And besides, it’s all for the greater good.

One of the great things about Joomla – an open source content management system (CMS) – is that you can add a host of things to it, later. Of course, I’m not entirely sure how I’d go about adding a gallery that would also merge with the forums, but hey! It’s not terribly important to have it managed in such a way that it incorporates both, right? Maybe we should stick to its traditional method and lump it with the forums. After all, if we must have a gallery, that’s where it should be. Alternatively, it could always be lumped in with the CMS, because once this is done, each component of the site will be meshed with the other and they’ll all perform together.

The important thing is that the core features not be messed around with – the gallery was a last minute addition – if the podium, the bulletin board, the e-zine and the forums are all there, that makes for one great looking website. Not to mention, if they all work together. A true place to provide intellectual debates, creative discussions and writing. To put our vision out there – to give the upcoming desi literati a chance to really shine – that’s all I want, really.

The chance to be involved in our book club discussion, keep abreast of all that’s happening on the Lounge via newsletters etc. Really “step up to the mat” and hopefully “set the world on fire” with the podium, “unleash your creativity” with the bulletin board (or well, maybe not creativity as informational skills) and of course, “write, experiment and be heard” on the forums and e-zine. The gallery really doesn’t fit into the grand scheme of things, does it?

Now all I can hope for is that my budget doesn’t exceed itself too much – really I thought it’d all be covered in my mental estimate – and it’s already doubled.

But it’d be worth it, that much I know and this…all this? It’s a little thing I like to call: investing in your dreams.

I’ll go out on a limb here, and ask what you think but don’t expect me to get all weepy when you say nothing. I’m on the clock here, as it is.