My writing journey, part 1

20th September, Berlin, 18:20, this has been a wonderful year for my writing journey. It started with a fiction course in the middle of January. It was a remote class with four students from different parts of the world. We read short stories selected by our teacher, had 10 minute writing breaks with prompts, and workshopped each other’s pieces on the fifth week. 

My first story of the year that I shared with others and got feedback on was a story of a boy who discovers tattooing in prehistoric times after being influenced by the paintings inside the caves. At the time I was pondering about the cave of the hands where people thousands years ago painted their hands all over the walls in a gesture of “we’ve been here”.  I outlined the story thinking that his older brother would ask him to tattoo a hand on his chest and the tribesman would think the brother was touched by their deity, a blessed person, and earn a position at the hunt. At the end the hand on the brother’s chest would cost him his life. But I couldn’t finish the piece as I outlined it because while writing the story, the flow of it didn’t want to follow where I’d like to take it. So, I struggled to keep it together and tried to end the story at an interesting point.

I failed in many aspects and those failures became precious lessons. Selection of the present tense, the reader knowing the thoughts of the characters, and most importantly not following the initial plan when the story calls for a different direction. My classmates and my teacher were honest and gentle. Also reading the works of other writers who were more advanced than me and trying to analyse the decisions they made and be able to ask direct questions to them real time helped me connect the dots. For example, the power of repetition, usage of parallel metaphors and imagery to reinforce the emphasis, and the subtle issue of writer’s voice were slowly getting clearer.

Because I thought the course was a success, I decided to take another one right after it by the same teacher. This time it was a flash fiction course and was held in our teacher’s house. In between the courses we had a two week vacation to Italy where we saw a million masterpieces. Influenced by them I started reading Paradise Lost and summarily blown away by Milton’s incredible imagery of Heaven and Hell. That’s why my second story of the year was about Satan sneaking into Paradise and having a different plan than the biblical one. I made the class laugh but I couldn’t achieve much depth or find a good ending. 

For the next six weeks, everyone wrote a fresh piece of flash fiction, max 900 words, and we discussed those six to seven pieces every week, giving each other constructive feedback. So, at the end of the course I had seven stories. It was hard to come up with a new idea every week and develop it and also read classmate’s stories to prepare for the gathering. It was a fast paced course but the deadlines definitely worked for me.

The war between Russia and Ukraine was at its early stages by the third week and I was obsessed with the news, watching everything and anything about the unfolding chaos, even the most gruesome details. I was mentally in the warzone which led me to my third story about children that fell through the cracks of society, scavenging destroyed buildings, carrying guns. This time the cold, almost numbed emotion of my main character and the brutal environment I pictured in my story got praised by my teacher. Although the ending was still off. When my class pointed out to me that the vibe completely changed in the last two paragraphs, I saw my mistake. I thought without action the story wouldn’t make sense, but now I know that silence or inaction or lack of things can be as loud and powerful.

Then came a story related to climate change called “The Tide”, referring to the millions that would need to migrate due to weather catastrophes. I was starting to grow a taste for the most difficult, the most chaotic concepts, like war, disaster, death. So, I decided to develop an idea that was ricocheting in my mind for a long time; a dying man’s last moments. “He could see the bullet in the gun’s barrel, whirling towards him.” is the beginning. The class liked it and my teacher told me of a story in exact structure, published in the New Yorker, called “Bullet in the Brain”. Of course when compared to the published story mine feels like stick men drawing next to a Picasso. Still, I feel I was making some progress. The ending felt right and thought provoking. 

The next week, my mind was dry. Actually I had a funny idea around our habit of closure, our need to find a narrative between the given information, even when they are as distant as possible. I used the voice of an impresario addressing the reader directly; “If I say “Fire, dance, shaman” you couldn’t help but see a group of men dancing in a trance around a bonfire with a shaman performing a ritual under the stars, maybe putting paint on their faces with his thumb, and I bet you can even hear the drumbeat.”. I wanted to find interesting triplets and entertain, but a week was too short to find enough to fill my quota of 900 words. My fellow writers enjoyed this magic trick more than I expected. They said it was like a puzzle game to find the familiar stories, such as; “Misfortune, pound, flesh”, “Hair, snake, stone”, “Tiger, clock, elephant”.

The last week of the course, I turned to my own memories from Istanbul. Even though I didn’t want to mentally go there, to the chaos of the city that made me feel trapped, made me flee, I knew it was a good source for interesting stories. When I started writing the piece, I immediately saw the huge difference between an imagined fiction and a fictionalised piece of real life; it’s impossible to mimic the richness of life. In the end the story gathered much applause. My big lesson was the moment I had to make up for the missing beats of the memories, I was reluctant and chose to stay true to the past. Now I had an idea of when to tell the truth and when to enrich it with fiction.

Stream recording:

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