“Do you know what you want to say?” There’s an awkward silence across six blank faces, as well renown author Tim Lott opens up his creative writing masterclass at the Guardian News and Media office with his key question. The decision to sign up for Tim’s one day class titled, “What every writer needs to know” was completely spontaneous. The classroom was filled with five budding novelists, bundled with enthusiasm and hungry for creative inspiration. And then there was me: a full time city worker, who in between jobs, had attempted a hand at documentary film making, blogging, produced short articles for a handful of South Asian magazines on the perils of cross culture dynamics, and was now on the cusp of penning a real life story. Was I really going to fit in?
My fear of being lost in translation during this teaching with a focus on the use of distinguished words in the literature world which assumingly would be completely alien to me, were instantly thwarted by Tim’s simple yet direct methodology to story telling. His approach to the dynamics of novel writing blanketed across the key facets that every good author subscribes to; from the clarity of narrative, defining a theme, appropriate timing of dialogue, right through to creating a sense of belief within the characters and vision of the backdrop to ensure the reader’s consistent engagement to the story.
However, I was still faced with my dilemma of wanting to portray a real life story without over glorifying the sequence of events of a very sensitive subject. Real life is fragmented and follows no shape or pre-defined path, hence my challenge to keep readers immersed in my vision of this story yet still bringing full justice to its contents in its entirety was, in my mind, still a big concern.
Tim’s set of principles of a good author’s commitment to writing reflects how he sees the process of novel writing almost as a form of meditation; which to me, translates as the awareness of the present moment and being in that moment. It is this stillness which creates a sense of freedom, allowing us to be observant, persevered and believing those words that travel from pen to paper.
Be it fiction or non-fiction, the psychology of writing actually reveals our underlying personal characters and is that rare opportunity that allows us to be honest about who we are. Human beings by default have shades of grey, hence the ideology of inventing black and white characters are simply not relatable to a reader because we are all flawed. The characters we create reflect a part of our own qualities through whom we sometimes try and justify ourselves. Even if it’s fiction, there is always a journey associated with these characters psychologically that every novelist is going through.
I realised that the importance of words can determine a voice that often a reader wants to relate to or identify with. A recognition of a writer’s individual style mirrors the reflection of a writer’s persona, and all of us students at that table had to ask ourselves – do I recognise my own voice? For those that know me, they will fiercely agree that more so than often, my infamous foot in mouth syndrome often leads me to trouble when the notion of “think before you speak” becomes foreign in my deluded mind. So could my written words compensate for the sharpness of my tongue that often leaves a trail of destruction and regret?
Tim’s frank yet moving advice encourages novelists, writers and even bloggers to essentially become our own healers by penning down our fears of rejection, failure or lack of worthiness, thus building our own journey before we sketch another one for the world to read. Everyday conversations we have face to face don’t necessarily always hold a literal meaning; a lot of verbal interaction is purely out of politeness and is just a gesture. However, the true depth of a feeling is carried in the ink that has carefully been transcribed into words, leaving a permanent mark on both paper and in the mind. Using his own novel as an example, “How to be Invisible”, a young adult’s book based on a teenager who feels invisible to the world and isolated, Tim displayed how the use of words such as ego, love and self-worth that are not physically visible to the naked eye, can be felt through the written word.
“Words are our weapons and our shield.”, he says; no truer words were ever spoken. The written words magnify our silent voices and protect us to shadow a deep wound. The cynic in me couldn’t agree more, as I admittedly often find myself seeking shelter behind my sarcasm and dark humour to either protect myself or conceal my own insecurity. What we write can be read and absorbed again and again, but spoken words can’t be retracted even if we think we didn’t mean it.
Tim’s class was the encouragement that was needed for me to realise the importance of voicing my undertone in anything that I go on to write . Even if it isn’t my own journey, it is still my freedom to voice without judgement. Many say that the pen is mightier than the sword, I believe that the pen is almost wiser than the tongue. Thank you Tim Lott for your wise words; I may not know exactly what I want to say, but I know I want to be heard.