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Crafting From Beyond

Here’s something I want to confess: I’ve stopped trying.

A curvier-beaked whale dies with a lump of plastic in its belly. Evidence of the levels of marine pollution. I want to write about it. Writing about a subject that rattles me, simultaneously about a field of study and understanding that is inadequate for me, limited only to the scope of an article, is a delicate business. I stopped trying.

Here’s something I want to confess: I’ve stopped trying.

To put words out in the world is to feel urgent, vulnerable, and to use that feeling to catapult experience onto pages and screens. Beyond the life and times, there are notions to be addressed, rules to be followed and complexities understood. When the entire hillside of a popular tourist-station nearer home fell crashing down one morning, the result of irresponsible construction, it was a news piece I did not let go of. I stopped trying to ignore. I wrote a prose poem.

Here’s something I want to confess: I’ve stopped trying.

No denying the overwhelming pressure to fit in. Perhaps in a cubicle or slot where your selfhood perfectly fits in. Amidst record unemployment across the world, I thought of a flash piece on the theme, with Hoopoe birds as central characters, stressed and underpaid, finally retrenched. Joblessness is a subject rarely explored in flash-length works, and the piece received excellent responses from editors and readers. I stopped trying to squeeze in. I refused to fit into a slotted hole that I disliked. I published a story.

So long story short, writing can be venting. It is talent, art, but also acquired skill. And it won’t be ‘acquired’ if you quit!

As diverse writers, coming from backgrounds where English is a “taught” subject, I suggest moving back and forth to observe your core areas of strength. Learning to pay attention to voice. This trait may be acquired with patience because it is like going against the grain of our current times in that our attention spans and levels are clearly declining. If it helps, try and figure out the basics: what subjects really pump you up to say something unique, what is the depth of your immersive experiences/knowledge in the matter, did you observe the details, and is the chosen form (poetry, flash or short story) the best vehicle to carry it?

Here’s a simple trick: Construct a language and image palette that uses punctuation to good effect. In the brief scope of a flash piece, imagistic vivid descriptions bring the subject alive, like this story by Shareen Murayama in Fractured Lit. Notice the immediacy and emotional pull placed alternately, expertly enhancing the overall effect. Bits and pieces of memory and summation of parts is also a great technique, like this micro by Sudha Balagopal, also in Fractured Lit. Read the pieces to see how these writers of color showcase their talent via excellent imagery and how the narrative exudes the personal styles of the writers.

In George Orwell’s essay “Shooting the Elephant”, he writes about an experience in Burma, in undivided India, concluding with this line: “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool.” Consider this line as an expression where he offers his vulnerability. The writing of a unique experience is sure to resonate when the reader can identify with all the flaws and tensions in the story. Writing should be earnest and compelling, mined from personal experiences and observations, but always striving to answer that abstract question at the outset, “Would I stop trying and quit?”

Mandira Pattnaik’s nonfiction has appeared in Hypertext Magazine, Timber Journal (Pushcart-nominated), Epoch Press, and elsewhere, fiction has found homes in Passages North, Watershed Review, DASH Journal, Miracle Monocle, and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021, among other places. She is a regular columnist for Reckon Review and Trampset. Blogs at mandirapattnaik.wordpress.com

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