Living in Boston on a self-proclaimed sabbatical, I discovered the joy of writing during a ‘Living stories’ course at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Now, six years ago.
I enrolled in this course as I had decided to write a biography and didn’t really know where to start. How does one start writing a book?
I’ve always loved writing – journals, travelblogs – but that’s on a completely different level of writing. With journals & travel diaries I’ve never been able to keep up the habit of ‘finishing the task’. How to stay focused? I get distracted with the things I see happening all around. How does one write a book from scratch?
There I was, in Don’s class. I never imagined I would enroll at an ‘adult education center’. I wanted to focus on writing and get some tips to help me along.
In the very first class, on hearing the prompt given by the teacher Don Gervich – “write about your first home” -, the visuals of numerous stories started drifting past. After the class I had an urge to head home as quick as possible and start writing…… Start writing is exactly what I did and one of these stories became the first chapter of my debut novel Colours of a Cultural Chameleon.
I enjoyed writing my first story about my home in India, and was amazed at how the story got created; it just flowed out of my pen as I wrote. While starting to write I hadn’t thought out the entire story, enthused I just started typing….I kept on typing and I enjoyed the sentences and paragraphs that appeared on my screen. Little did I know back then, that what I was doing was actually termed as ‘free writing’.
During Living Stories classes a participant read out her/his own story, or in some instances someone else read out the story. I noticed that every writer had his/her own style and it was interesting to hear these other ways of writing and of course to enjoy other stories. After hearing the stories we were given a few minutes to jot down our comments (strengths and questions/recommendations for improvement) and then give feedback to the writer. This feedback was very valuable. Feedback and comments from my fellow classmates were sandwiched; i.e. critique was always accompanied with some positive words. This is a quality I learned in Cambridge/US. This feedback allowed me to grow as a writer when I saw how my fellow writers enjoyed my stories and told me my stories contained humor and that I had found my voice. That was the encouragement I needed to dive in and start writing more.
While rewriting my stories, I was amazed how the stories improved tremendously by just slight alterations based on the input and questions from my fellow writers. I also noticed how I loved rewriting stories. Nowadays I still can’t stop rewriting. I love to see the stories develop while new details are added and all my senses are deployed. ‘Killing my darlings’ is however still a tough challenge, which I don’t think will ever get any easier. While reading my stories I realised that they were based on reality with fictional elements sprinkled in. What I discovered was that the story gets formed while writing. Now, a few years later, I’ve come to understand my way of writing to be a ‘pantsing’…someone sitting on their pants and just writing, without any prior planning. The freedom creating, that’s what I love about being a writer.
The prompts given by Don during those Living Stories classes, inspired me to write short stories on many different topics. The actual writing of my debut novel took place a few years later, when I elaborated on some of the short stories. I rewrote them and added additional stories to the mix. I was delighted and grateful when Don agreed to proofread & edit my manuscript. It was a wonderful process & a full circle. Without realising it in 2015, Cambridge lay the foundation for my novel Colours of a Cultural Chameleon to be written & sparked in me the joy of writing. In Cambridge the author Shakti Hannie was born.