Words: Nina Bhadreshwar
Some people live to write. Other people write to live. I’m one of the latter.
But I don’t write for money. If I did, I’d belong in the loony bin (not saying that I don’t anyway). When I first discovered I could write stories, I was probably seven. Write and change people’s feelings, ten. Then the usual trajectory: prizes, awards, A levels, degrees, journalist, editor. But none of these made me a writer, just evidence I could mess about with language like billions of others. I’m still not doing what I call ‘writing’.
For me, my writing should be the fullest, fiercest and fastest expression of my ideas with as little manipulation as possible. I’ve written three novels and had one published, 'How To Survive Puberty At 25' which I am now having to rewrite completely as a comedy filmscript for a British production company and director. I’ve written and sold a few filmscripts in the past, too. I’ve written poetry and won some awards in America for that and a few short stories. I am always in the middle of several things, most of them are pure twaddle. But it is the process which is more important than what you think you're writing as it's the process which makes the real product.
The thing which made me a writer was getting involved in life, real life, myself. Getting my hands, my knees and my face dirty. To be a writer, you are signing up for abdication of vanity and a position of being at once in the middle and outcast. For the rest of your life. I’d love to read more but am compelled to write. The bulk of my reading I’d absorbed by the age of twenty three. After that, I was ready to go. I wanted to find real stories, my own stories and I wanted to write about real emotional truth not somebody else’s or a mimicked fake hollow world.
Most writers have interests, and it’s not for writing. Writing is as incidental as breathing out after breathing in. These interests could be sport, crime, gardens, history – whatever. For me, it was music and graffiti. Both of them helped shape, not only how I viewed the world, but also how I processed my experience and how I approached writing. They are my creative keys and also my framework. Having interviewed and lived with so many legendary graffiti artists who risked life and limb and careers to go to the outer reaches of imagination, I learned respect and total commitment for the creative process.
I learnt the creative process will ALWAYS cost you and never to expect any reward; the reward is in the process and the completion. It gave me the all-out mentality: pursue an idea to its absolute end, never be limited by history, circumstances or expectations. It taught me how to explore and have fun in the creative process (which you need as otherwise the sheer scale of the task and the drudgery of it would send you packing and make the reader give up). For me, images are vital – they inspire my imagination and characters and ideas. I paint or use my murals to help me process a character or theme in my head before I start writing.
Music is the same. There’s so much bland pop/rock/electro waffle out right now, synthesized and produced on MySpace in someone’s bedroom with no cultural texture or connection whatsoever. It’s horrid – like vacuum-packed space food. I don’t give a care if it’s cool or popular – it leaves me cold and hollow. Whereas stark, brutal, honest music with some space for the listener’s engagement and imagination really massively helps.
Punk music and hip hop works for me as it has an elemental, unfinished edge which allows me to synthesise a world within. I can get several narratives just from one song or a riff – sometimes, the words help but often I don’t hear them – I just get these pictures and energies in my head. Music which helps me write includes Twisted Wheel, Joy Division, Souls Of Mischief, The Seeds. The starker, the realer, the better. It’s the truth you hear and which triggers an emotional response. That’s why I feel so strongly about ‘muzak’ and ‘dot-to-dot music’ i.e. overly produced compositions. We’ve become such an emotionally and spiritually lazy culture; we want ‘artists’ to fill in all our empty spaces. I think it’s very dangerous and avoid it like the plague as it is the death of creativity.
I need noise, dirt, mess and chaos to do my first drafts: give me a crazy house, festival, a tube train, busy café, railway or bus stations, classroom. Or, if it’s from a shorthand transcript, the basic conversation or interview. Closer still, a live performance when the music speaks directly without any spin or effects. Later, I redraft by longhand and then, in silence, type up. I just keep going in that way: a chapter at a time until I have one whole complete first full draft. Then I read, review and edit. Tear up the structure. Again, music and art help me get an architecture together which is real.
STREAM: Joy Division - Disorder
My whole aim is to create a totally believeable world with real textures and characters so I get as far away as I can from the work in order to reconnect with it at a deeper level. I dance, do chores, something manual or physical, go into town and observe people, nature, look at buildings. Then I go back and edit again.
I very much believe in good old-fashioned heavyweight ideas. You look at the classics like Milton’s 'Paradise Lost' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' or 'Middlemarch' and there were some laboured expressions there. You could feel those worlds. Since I truly committed to writing, I banished tv and limit myself to one hour max internet surfing a day.
I don’t have any social networking sites. I want to be able to follow an idea through and that takes time, space and mental and emotional rigour which TV and internet dissipate. Our thoughts in the 21st century are fragmented and unfinished so ideas all sound the same as everyone is Twitterised, Facebooked, limited to a soundbite or a comment. I do everything I can to create space and silence in my life so that the thoughts birthed in the chaos of reality have room to grow fully.
To conclude, here are two suggestions to improve your writing:
a) Write at least 1500 words every day, even if it’s just your response to something. Anything.
b) Write stone cold sober, or else you risk compromising the true intensity of your own feelings.
Somewhat amazingly, Nina also finds time to write reviews online and is Editor of The Real State. Purchase 'How To Survive Puberty At 25' at Amazon.co.uk.