Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Can I write a book in which NO ONE dies??

It's been a bummer of a Tuesday. It didn't really have a chance to be otherwise, considering that the fist message I got on arriving at this office this morning was that a patient of mine died yesterday. I say 'a patient of mine' but he wasn't really. He was  usually seen by a colleague who was off yesterday. He was on the palliative care register and this meant that he was terminally ill and would be receiving only TLC to make him as comfortable as possible until the end came. This was his choice. I had heard about him previously when he had been discussed in the palliative care meeting which we hold once every month in the Practice.

So I went to see him yesterday by the request of his carers. According to them, he was more drowsy and I got the impression that he was deteriorating. However, when I got to his home, he was lucid. He was alone, as the carers had left; bed bound as expected but was quite alert and trying to tell me something. Our communication, was unfortunately hindered by the fact that he was stone deaf and he mumbled. I could not understand a word he said, and obviously he couldn't hear a word I said. After several minutes of good-natured but confused back and forth between us, I decided to go back to the practice and arrange for the district nurses to help him out with several things and wait until the carers called again so I can figure out what exactly they wanted me to do with this man who was dying and didn't want anything done with him.

As I took my leave of him, he turned his face fully up to me and said, 'I have not seen you before'. Clear as the sky on a crisp winter morning. I was so taken aback, but responded, telling he was indeed correct and I introduced myself. When I repeated that I would be on my way, he put his right  hand out from underneath his blanket, between the bed rails, and I shook it. Then I left him - alone; with nothing but unkempt garden to stare out from his bed, through his patio doors/

And this morning I learnt he had died four hours later. I was so shocked that I cried. I cried in the morning speaking to my supervisor and I cried in the afternoon speaking to his usual doctor. But, I am not sure why. I am four years post-graduation. I have certified deaths; had someone die whom I was in the process of examining at the time. I have had patients in hospital alive at morning ward round and dead by the afternoon and I have not cried. Sometimes, I would think, 'Oh dear'; or 'Oh that's sad'; or 'Please let me not be here when he dies' (that prayer was answered-and I didn't cry when I found out). However, this particular death of a ninety-nine year old man really shook me.

I know it is something I have to get used to dealing with. As I train to become a GP in a country with an aging poplulation, this scenario will not be a strange one. I suppose the only way I can learn to deal with it is to confront it. Take those palliative care cases and see them through instead of shying away.

It is something I have to do. Today, though, I have had a portion of chips as comfort food (couldn't have chocolate as I have given it up for lent and still have four days to go), therefore earning myself 10 extra minutes on the stepper when I get home. But I am looking forward to my evening of writing. At least then, no one has to die. Not yet anyway. Not if I have anything to do with it.

Enjoy the rest of your day and stay alive.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Helping Hands and Roadblocks

Some time at the beginning of this year, I discovered Brandon Sanderson's Youtube lectures from his creative writing class and became hooked on them.

There are over a hundred videos averaging at ten minutes each. For someone like myself, who has had any creative writing training/coaching, it has been an absolute boon.

It made me so happy listening to it that I used to let it play as I went to sleep. I was doing an Emergency Department placement at the time, so my sleep and other activities affected by circadian rhythms were thoroughly messed up. But the contentment I felt watching these lectures, helped me settle. I went to sleep with a smile on my face, hoping I would still be able to learn during sleep or through some sort of osmosis.

I discovered from them that I am what is called a 'Discovery' writer or a 'Gardener'. That helped me understand why I always had a huge block whenever I tried to step back from the keyboard and brainstorm and outline first, before writing a scene. I spent hours string blankly a white page, doodling on the sides and drinking cups of tea, while eating cookies. All of this very stressful. Whenever, I ditched this, and just let go on to the keyboard, then my story formed and I had series of 'Aha' moments.

However, it is a tricky situation to be in. As I said in my previous post, I have written about 50,000 of my WIP. The problem with being a Discovery writer, is that I have only now, begun to see how I can take it to a logical conclusion. The problem is though, now that I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel, so many of what I have written up until now, do not fit with that. Herein, lies the dilemma.

Do I go back and change what i have written to fit my new path-to-a-logical-conclusion; or do I try to come up with a new ending?

The first option will see me re-writing scenes and characters that I have come to love and may even change the whole feel of the story that I was trying to convey. The second one, might see me stuck in writer's block hell for the next few weeks or months eroding, the joy of the place I am in right now and crippling my ability to write.

It is a tough decision. Brandon has a cure for this, where first-time writers are concerned: Ditch it! He says that writing for the first timer should be about producing work, and as much work as possible. The reason for this is practice; which as we all know make perfect. But it also frees you from that millstone around your neck, helping you flex your creative muscles in a different direction.

As you can see, I have really been paying attention; and I agree with what he says. But I have grown so attached to this story. It is the first that I have stuck with for any respectable amount of time, which for a commitment-phobe like myself is an achievement in itself. If I am forced to abandon this story, I will probably go into mourning. I will probably convince myself that writing is not for me, which is the reason why I couldn't follow it to a satisfactory end. Then I'd decide to focus on my training, forget everything else and be the most fantastic GP I can be while enjoying other non-aggravating pastimes such as jewellery making.

How do I know this? Well over the last two years, I have done just that (including the jewellery making). I decided a few times to abandon my story for a couple of reasons. One was: lack of time and energy. Training was too difficult, I had to study after work, until I fell asleep, there was just no space in my life fore it. Second reason was: huge, months-long bouts of writer's block, related to the aforementioned 'missing/unknown' conclusion. whenever i manged to steal a few guilt-free hours, I often spent it wondering what on earth I was writing towards and the conclusion always seemed farther away each chapter I wrote.

But I keep coming back to it. I think it's love. The thing is, though, love can sometimes be bad for you. Love can be all-consuming. Sometimes you have to take a deliberate break from the object of your affection in order to start to see things clearly and for your life to come into focus.

My solution? I will keep my mind open for new ideas. When I come across one, I will endeavor to grab a hold of it and see where it leads me. Then, I might just be willing to pull out that drawer and lay this current WIP down for a nice, long nap.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

An introduction... Part 2

As time went on, I found several ways to discourage myself from pursuing this goal. The first road block was finding that I was not a natural verbal story-teller. I could not sit in the midst of a circle of friends, family, well-wishers or strangers and pluck a story from thin air. Surely, to be a writer, you have to be a good story teller? You need to regale friends first, then convert the audible to the written, don't you? I had failed at the first hurdle. I commiserated with myself and decided to be satisfied reading the works of other much more talented ones than I. For the rest of my time in secondary school, I never put pen to paper.

The next roadblock was that, being Nigerian, aiming for life as writer was not an objective looked upon with any favour. Having been identified 'clever' early on, few avenues were open to me: lawyer or doctor. I chose doctor. There was no point in fighting it- it was for my own good, after all. Unfortunately for me, I was not so brainy as to be able to take the studying of medicine in my stride whilst doing a whole lot of other extra-curricular activities. It was a struggle that pushed out any other activity that required the use of anything more than a minimum amount of brain power. My skull was relentlessly stuffed with anatomy, physiology, genetics, immunology and all the rest of the horrendously long list of things I had to to learn in order to be in with a chance of pass my finals first time.

Throughout all this, I still felt the urge, bubbling inside me, to at least attempt to write. I would buy one notebook after another, declare each my 'writing pad' and start on a couple of stories. However, time after time, it would come to a halt. Sometimes jerked harshly back to reality as I became more submerged in the world I was creating, like my subconscious had suddenly panicked because by surrendering myself wholly to the story, I was pushing out something I had learned; something that was perching precariously at the edge of my external auditory meatus (ear canal) and was in danger of falling out and being lost into oblivion, if I forced any imaginary characters or ideas into the cramped space that was my skull. I always had to choose. And medicine always won.

However, there came a turning point. After I finished my finals (and passed first time), I started my two year foundation programme. For the first time in eight years, I did not have to do an exam for over a year. It was a kind of freedom I came to enjoy in many unexpected ways. One of them being that I could think seriously about writing without feeling too guilty about work or study neglected. I thought about what sort of books I'd want to write and I realised that the books I enjoyed the most were ones that took me away from the realities of day to day life (no surprise there, I suppose) and showed me worlds and alternate realities that left me feeling like I had acutally lived those lives.

But the one story and the one author that I read and declared 'I want to do what she has done', is J.K Rowling. I think I will forever be in awe of what she created. If I can come up with something half as riveting, I will be enormously pleased with myself.

With this thought permanently at the back of my head, I carried on. One day in 2011, sitting in the lounge of a gym waiting for a friend of mine to register, I picked up a magazine. Flicking mindlessly though the pages, I came across my flash of inspiration. It was a picture of a grand, sweeping staircase and the whole page was in black and white. For some reason, that photo reached out, straight to the heart of my imagination, grabbed it and ran. It has been running since.

I created this blog over two years ago, during a more sedate placement. I wanted it to be a place where people came to talk about books they loved; their favourites. I never intend it to be a review site. As far as books are concered, I know how difficult they are to produce. If I don't like a book, I don't finished reading it-life is too short. But I do not criticise. There would be people that like it, after all. I think to myself, 'At least they've written a book'. I did not have the time to work on exposing the blog after I set it up and I did not know enough people who were mad about books, to get enough posts on to the site. And so it dwindled.

Now, I've decided to revive it and take it in another direction . I have decided to use it as diary. It will be a diary of my attempt to write a novel - a trilogy; the lessons I learn along the way; the bitter and sweet experiences that I go through and most of all, the joy I feel that at least now, over 50,000 words later, I AM WRITING.


An introduction... Part 1

This blog is now over two years old. It has been neglected for nearly a year, for reasons that I will come to later (Part 2). I have decided at this point, that in order to blow away the cobwebs and get my (internet) home in order, I need to take it  in a whole new direction. But before I do that, I would like to introduce myself.

My name is Adaure; I am in my late 20s. I am a doctor currently in training to become a General Practitioner  (GP) in the UK. The training takes three years to complete (after two years of foundation training which takes place after 5-6 years of medical school.... I hope you are still following). It involves a whole lot of study and some exams and a few important-but not-compulsory courses that I kind of have to do to feel like I am not totally clueless when it comes to several aspects of caring for my patients. It is full on, then a bit more; with forever changing clinical guidelines and whole system overhauls which occur according to the whims of whichever government is in power. As my mother says, 'It is a full time job and a half'.

So why the blog?

Well, the story is in two parts: one concerns the discovery of my love of books; the other, the discovery of my love of writing.

Let me start with the discovery of my love for books. I can almost narrow it down to the events of one summer in the mid 1990s. I had been feeling very bored because my brothers were not around and for some reason, before this time, I had found other ways to occupy myself (probably being pranked by brothers or chasing them around and pleading to be allowed to join their games). But this summer, those avenues were closed to me. It was hot, I was bothered and something had to be done.  Wandering around the empty house, I came across a discarded storybook which had a picture of a tortoise at the front. I picked it up, settled somewhere that had a modicum of breeze flowing through, and before long, I was done with it. I can barely remember what the story was (the tortoise was probably being very cheeky and had his comeuppance handed to him by an even cheekier spider?), but I know that when I lifted my head up from that thin, dusty storybook, I wanted more. More!

I proceeded to scour the house for books and realised it was full of them! Oh, the joy! I stopped only long enough to devour each new discovery, before recommencing my search, more ravenous each time. Not all the books were child friendly- I read my Dad's naughty joke books, and my mum's mills and boon collection, but to me they were just fodder-feeding the fire. By the time I read two or three books of the same genre I got bored and continued my crazed search.

It was an exhilarating summer for me. I lived in worlds I had never seen or heard of before; met people long dead or those who had never existed and ended up knowing them more than I knew myself. It was a sort of power. And as the saying goes, power corrupts. I was insatiable. After finishing the books at home (I stopped short of reading my Dad's Encyclopaedia Brittanica collection, but I did look at the pictures :)), I had to be taken on weekly market trips (I was living in Nigeria at the time, libraries were not an option. Oh, would that they were!), to stock up on enough to last me until the next trip. That was how I learned to pace myself. I learned that if I stopped for food and toilet breaks, the suspense and intrigue lasted longer and so did the story. I didn't have to buy five books each time as three would do just as well.

And that is how I spent the next few summers-in a haze of discovery.  I say summer, because in between I was at boarding school (with shorter breaks for Christmas and Easter) and in the first few years, there was no library so I had nothing to feed my hunger. Like a beast, it went into hibernation, in this its winter, waiting patiently for the summer.

It was during one of those summer breaks that I discovered a love for writing. Ironically, I discovered it writing one of the most  boring pieces of work I've ever had to write. I had been enrolled in summer school to give me something useful to do with my life for at least three of the the eight weeks. Unfortunately, one of my classes was agriculture science and the assignment in question was to find out and write about 250 words on fallow farming (Gah! Research this at your peril). I cringed and moaned but I did it and when time came to submit, I stood in a line in front of the teacher and waited my turn.

When it came, I placed my sheet in front of him and stared down at his bent head as he read. I must have been at least the tenth person whose work he was reading that afternoon and we had all been given the same assignment. I had watched him silently mark each submitted work; making brusque corrections with his pen; saying few words to the student concerned and dismissing them, calling up the next person to the firing line. If he had dropped off to sleep reading mine, I would not have held it against him. However, as he read my work, I noticed something peculiar happening: his voice became more and more audible as he started to read it out loud; he also smacked his lips and stroked his knee with the hand that was not wielding the red pen (said pen, remaining quiescent in his other hand). He continued reading, the tics holding forth, not casting even a glance at me, until he had finished. I must admit, I thought he was a bit weird. No one can that excited about fallow farming surely? 

When he was done, he looked up at me for the first time and exclaimed, 'Excellent!'. He then proceeded to gush for nearly a whole minute about how well written it was, how I had explained the whole process succinctly and how impressed he was that I had put in such an effort. My smile grew exponentially with each article of praise and by the time I was sent on my way, my red-pen free paper clutched in my hand, I knew that that emotion I had just witnessed was the same one I wanted to spend my life eliciting from people, and I knew I wanted to do it by writing. Obviously, I would write things that did not make me want to rip out my eyeballs and slather them in hot oil. No, I would of course write pieces that I found altogether more pleasant. And just like that, the seed was irrevocably sown.

Continues in Part 2