There is no ideal environment for writing, but there is one simple trick.
You can travel to a mountain retreat for a private room splashed in sunshine, the perfectly clean desk holding your fully charged laptop – and still have no idea where to begin.
Or if you prefer the invisible bustle of intellectual energy, you can get the best carrel at the library or most choice spot at the café, steeped in an atmosphere of collective thought – and still feel completely stuck.
That’s when you reach for the easy hack: be grateful for that struggle, not in some new-age sense where you thank the universe for what is actually driving you crazy, but with a very practical approach where you mine your trouble for material.
Felicia Denise hints at this concept in her novel Free when a son relates the characteristics of perennials to his mother’s strength.
“Perennials are sturdy and thrive in adverse conditions,” he says. “Some flower bulbs need to be dug up and stored during winter. But perennials’ roots run deep. They grab hold of the earth and pull nutrients from it. They learn to get by with less and sustain themselves. As the weather warms up, perennials wake up and let their buds grow until their blossoms burst forth in the warmth of the sun. Perennials are some of the most beautiful flowers you’ll ever see.”
This resonated deeply with me, recalling a passage written by my Buddhist mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, whose profound writings I encountered when I took faith in Buddhism at the age of 17:
“Flowers appeal to us because they bloom only after a long, persevering struggle. Beautiful colors and sweet perfume are the crystallization of the wisdom of flowering plants to survive. They attract insects that spread pollen and seeds, thereby contributing to their proliferation. Flowers are tough, sometimes even tougher than people; they are contenders who fight to win. They teach us this lesson: to live is to fight.”
A contemporary author and a Buddhist philosopher reflecting on the power of flowers to endure and encourage both seem to see the very struggle of these blossoms to survive as the source of their beauty.
For me, anyway, struggle drives the drama that inspires art.
Maybe this is on my mind because I listened to a lecture by a screenwriting expert last week who opened with that basic question: what does every story have?
It is an answer we all know: conflict.
No one wants to read a novel where, metaphorically, the paint just dries, even if that’s in a stunning mansion.
As a writer, you can be glad for all the crazy experiences in life because instead of being mere problems they suddenly become material. As a reader, you can relate to the conflict when the pages come alive in your imagination.
My latest novel, How to Judge a Book by its Lover, centers on a character who has some rough family relationships, a turns-out-to-be toxic friend, plenty of romantic struggles and a ton more rejection. Fiction? Sure, but inspired by fact. Writing it helped me to shift perspective on all those elements from my own life. Hopefully, the novel will give others who aren’t sitting in their pretty mansions watching the paint dry a chance to laugh at what’s familiar and love the way it can turn out.
A big dream, wrapped in a comedy, inside an unexpected romance….
Lucien Brosseau: those blue eyes, that thick hair, his messy shirts – Laurel Linden dreams of the chance to kiss a guy as sophisticated as he’s sexy. But while Lucien is a Belgian art critic raised in Nicaragua, Laurel barely escaped the suburbs of Long Island with dreams of publishing her hilariously messy, 600-page historical novel about Napoleon Bonaparte’s hairdresser. At least she loves her day job walking adorable puppies, and when she finds Vanessa – a wise mentor – they’re off on a wild ride through New York City’s hottest clubs and coolest boutiques. Along the way, Laurel’s dreams start to come true but she’s shocked by just how. That’s when she gets an even bigger prize: the one truth that always brings happiness in life, but only if you earn it.
I. Love. Readers! You are part of an awesome tribe. And I am one of you. My mother always told me we could travel far with books. Long before there were virtual tours and Google Earth, she introduced me to books that transported me across seas and centuries. One of my favorites is “The Alexandria Quartet,” a set of four linked novels set in Egypt. If you haven’t read them, that’s at least one recommendation I can offer by way of thanks for visiting this website.
Like parents everywhere, my father used to tell me bedtime stories. Being Iraqi, he made up tales about a brave girl named Cassima. Instead of starting with “Once Upon a Time…” he would open with the line, “I was a cook for the Queen of Iraq…” The cook was never much good at fighting off bandits or protecting the palace but Cassima would swoop in and save the day. I was mesmerized.
Somewhere between being raised on the power of reading and those imaginative tales, I started writing. As a die-hard fan of rom-coms, I try to capture the heartache and the happiness, the meaning and the madness of life. Sometimes, I cross continents and decades to write about the Arabic culture I was raised to revere. Other times, I stick with here and now, where contemporary love meets timeless desire. Either way, it’s a journey we’re on together.
To readers everywhere, I offer my gratitude, solidarity and allegiance. You rock.
Social Media Links