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Writing Recommendations

A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)

I often meet young writers who ask me for writing advice. I also receive many messages about this. I particularly remember a postgraduate student who told me that she wanted to specialize in writing literature, but that her friends told her that what she writes is nothing but stream-of-consciousness thoughts and not literature. She sent me samples of her writings and asked for my help. When I read what she sent me, I realized that I had to start from scratch, so the first thing I asked her to do was to invent a fictional character and project her own feelings onto her or him. However, she said that her feelings were sincere and she didn’t need to hide behind a mask! I told her that it is this mask that gives the words the adjective of ‘literary’. We kept communicating for a while, and I think that she has made good progress.

Artwork by Maria al-Ajeeli

One of the most common questions is related to writing blocks. Below, I share some simple tips that may help get rid of a writing block and other problems facing beginner writers.

  • When you write, give yourself permission to write badly! And then your conscious mind will stop resisting, and you can start writing nonsense. But later, perhaps after several minutes of writing, or even after several sessions, the subconscious will intervene and respond and give you good writing.

The secret knowledge of successful writers:

Good writing does not come from the conscious mind, but rather from the subconscious. The conscious mind requires you to adhere to inescapable aesthetic conditions, so you find yourself unable to write… You have to evade your conscious mind. In football, this is similar to an attacking player deflecting defensive line players; after that, you will score wonderful goals.

  • We do not differ in anything from an athlete who trains with strict discipline to maintain their physical fitness. A writer who trains daily by writing will be able to maintain their literary style.
  • Read every day.
  • Use a notebook to take notes.
  • Train yourself to create characters and save them; establish a bank of characters.
  • Never depart from the subject of your story.
    Artwork by Maria al-Ajeeli
  • Rewrite your story, and you will discover the differences.
  • Be neutral.
  • Focus on developing your artistic tools.
  • Avoid common, wooden language – clichés – and shape your own language.
  • When writing a short story, focus on the event; if it’s a novel, focus on the character; and if it’s a theatrical play, focus on the dialogue.
  • Get help from your friends to get feedback and to develop your story.
  • Do not publish your story before checking it for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Avoid being satisfied with the work you have created, and go beyond yourself and write more beautifully next time.
  • Participate in conversations about literature until the last day of your life.
  • Avoid writing to get awards, because it spoils your style; instead, write for readers to enhance and improve your style.
  • You are not in a race against others, you are only in a race with yourself.
  • Hang Hemingway’s advice as a golden earring on your ear: “Do not write everything on your mind at once, but save a little writing juice for the next day.” If you follow this advice, you will never suffer from white paper phobia every morning.
  • I desire to write with questions haunting my mind… so writing becomes a tool for searching for answers, though the conscious mind does not know these answers. But while writing, the subconscious mind may intervene and provide me with glimpses and references to ‘the truth’.
    Artwork by Maria al-Ajeeli
  • The reader has the right to enjoy the text, as it doesn’t deal with a dry scientific book but rather literature, and good literature evokes a spiritual ecstasy for the senses and purifies the soul, thus refining behavior and elevating feelings.
  • In the beginning, I used to create characters from my imagination, but gradually I realized that I was creating fictional characters that were derived from the influence of my reading of Arabic and foreign novels. However, when I set out to observe people from reality, take notes about them, and then blend their characters into a narrative, I felt that what I wrote was better.
  • A talented novelist is someone who grasps the invisible reality and makes it visible to the reader. A reality which is radically different from the false one shown by biased media and from the superficial reality that floats in social media, as well as the chatter of cafes and salons. It is a reality filtered from impurities, like a 24-carat gold bar.
  • A writer or an artist is a person who decides to voluntarily give up their personal happiness and suffer in order to actually succeed in creating something new. Creating a good work of art requires you to exclude many pleasures from your life. This voluntary deprivation is a necessity to focus on your creative work.

 

Wajdi al-Ahdal

A Yemeni novelist, storyteller and playwright, whose many works have been published in multiple editions and translated into many languages.
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