Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Patrick Watson - Lighthouse

I only listened to this song a few days ago, but it's been re-playing in my head ever since. I don't usually blog about songs and movies, although I should; and I listen to a lot of music anyway.

P.S. This song reminds me of you somehow, as odd as it may seem.

Patrick Watson - Lighthouse Lyrics

Leave a lighthouse in the wild
Cause I'm coming in
A little blind
Dreamer of a lighthouse in the woods
Shining a little light to bring us back home
Or to help us get back into the world
When to find you in the backyard,
Hiding on the ceilings of our lives OR Hiding behind all, all busy lives
Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods
To help us get back into the world
Cause I know
I've seen you before
Won't you shine
A little light
On us now
Won't you shine a little light
In your own backyard
Won't you shine a little light
In your own backyard
Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods
Dreaming of a lighthouse in the woods

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Counting Raindrops

You read my words

The story of 

I dream of
After all those
Until the music


Longing for
hardly does

What if
Tomorrow is
And all that we are
We are not?
I've lost faith in
Many people and things 
Yet I'm certain of this
I'm yours
Till the end of time
And beyond
Even if you don't
Know it

If I make no sense
Don't mind me
Even when you're gone
I'll still be here


© Marwa Ayad

Thursday, 24 October 2013

On Being an Introvert

In a world that is mostly filled with extroverts, introverts stand out and find it often hard to fit in or blend. Statistics say that introverts are about 25-30% of the population; so yes, we are a minority.

Since I blogged about being an empath (by the way, intuitive empathy is quite rare at about 3% of the population and is one type of empathy), the response has been overwhelming. First, this is by far my most popular post, and I do get many hits for it. I've been getting emails from many readers sharing experiences and thoughts. By the way, I do plan on updating that post with more thoughts.

I've also been asked to share my own thoughts and experience on being an introvert.

Let me clarify something: You can be an introvert, but not necessarily an empath. An empath is not that common.

Now, let me explain - from my own experience - what it is like being an introvert:
  • Socializing, even being around people, exhausts us; and afterwards we NEED to recharge by being on our own. 
  • In fact, sometimes when in a crowd of people, we will get away from the crowd for a while, get out of the room, the house, garden, etc. and re-join them when our mind is calmer and we're feeling less stimulated.
  • If we socialize and don't recharge afterwards, we are miserable, angry, unable to concentrate and/or depressed. That is because we lose energy from being around people for a long period of time. In contrast, extroverts gain energy from people and social interactions. Extroverts are drained/out of energy if they spend too much time alone. We're completely different.
  • Recharging is as crucially essential to us as sleep.
  • That's because our brain works differently; we process far more information... in other words, we're ultra smart, or rather... possibly geniuses.
  • We LOVE spending time alone, or with a few close friends/family. We need it to recharge our batteries, aka our brain. Extroverts consider this "doing nothing"; but for us, it's awesome and performance-enhancing. It's a necessity, not an option. We can read, daydream, write, watch TV, cook, listen to music, and it will help us relax and recharge. Doing activities by ourselves is fun. 
  • Of course, most people (extroverts who don't acknowledge introverts) will mistranslate that as depression, shyness and being anti-social; they may even ask if we need help.
  • We often cancel plans with friends and/or relatives... if we don't feel like going out/getting out of the house/more people and guests are being invited/etc. When someone else does it, it makes our day.
  • Last-minute surprises can upset us. For instance, the idea of someone dropping by unannounced is beyond annoying, since we're not mentally prepared for their arrival/presence. 
  • We don't like small talk; we prefer deep conversations with close friends.
  • We have a small circle of friends; anyone outside that circle is an acquaintance. We do prioritise our loved ones. If we use our limited socialization energy on everyone, we won't have enough energy for the ones who matter the most to us.
  • We need silence to concentrate and think. We find it impossible to work, focus or study when there is noise, or loud non-stop chatter around; which is why we'll often be found wearing headphones.
  • We work best alone, uninterrupted and undisturbed. 
  • Only then we're able to concentrate for a long time.
  • If we go out with friends or attend a party and cannot for whatever reason leave early, or when we want to, we will become really awkward, fidgety and/or stressed.
  • Being told often: 'You're just so quiet. Are you okay?'
  • Being unable to deal with that friend/person who is overly extroverted, who always wants to go out, socialize, make new friends (that it starts to get on your nerves)... and telling them we just want to be on our own for a while.
  • Having to listen to others tell us: 'You just need to be more social.'
  • We get irritated if someone interrupts our thoughts.
  • The idea of working from home, or on our own, THRILLS us.
  • We feel alone in a group of people or a crowd (unless we're with someone close to us).
  • We don't like networking all that much; mostly because it has to do with small talk and superficial expressions/topics/connections.
  • We've been told we're "intense", "philosophical", and/or "an old soul".
  • We'd choose hanging out with a few close friends over a party where we can meet tons of new people. 
  • Personal space matters A LOT to us.
  • We prefer expressing our ideas in writing than in speech.
  • There is an inner monologue inside our head at all times.
  • We hardly answer our phone unless we're mentally prepared to talk to that person. Most of the time, we actually have our mobile phones switched off, or set to silent.
  • We're quite happy with who we are; deal with it. If that makes you uncomfortable; it's your problem. 
Here are scientific facts about introverts:
  • Introversion is a naturally occurring neurological configuration. Introverts have a naturally high level of activity in the anterior part of the brain; thus, introverts are not in need of significant external stimuli. Or in other words, we are already mentally stimulated. Extroverts, by contrast, live in a form of chronic activity deficit and must therefore seek external stimuli to maintain a certain level of activity in their brains. Extroverts need stronger influences before the brain understands the message. So our brains operate differently.
  • Introverts' brains have a greater amount of dopamine which is a neurotransmitter, a chemical responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain. One of the things that it does is help release chemicals (endorphins, for instance) that make us feel pleasure. Extroverts have little dopamine in their brains; thus, they need more stimulation to feel pleasure, etc. For introverts, it's the other way round, we are in danger of being over-stimulated, or flooded by dopamine.
How to best deal with the introvert(s) in your life:
  • Respect their need for "alone time", personal space and privacy.
  • Don't embarrass them in public, jokingly or not.
  • Don't demand instant answers from them on the spot. 
  • Make them feel welcome in a group.
  • Give them enough time/advance notice of upcoming plans/changes/visits, etc.
  • If you need to reprimand them, do it PRIVATELY.
  • Don't tell them they need to be more social. Don't force them into having more friends. All they need is one (or a few) best friends they share A LOT with.
  • Don't try changing them into extroverts. It doesn't work, and they will stay away from you eventually.
Being an introvert is a gift, despite what many may think. Introverts are more likely to maintain life-long relationships and friendships. For us, it's about the quality, not the quantity, and we are great listeners and attentive. Unfortunately, this may attract negative and/or toxic people to us; they crave attention and sincerity. Watch out for those.

We also choose our words carefully and think before we speak. We don't blurt out nonsense. We're definitely creative, imaginative and often think outside the box. We have excellent analytical skills and pay a lot of attention to detail.

By the way, introversion doesn't necessarily mean social withdrawal or crappy social skills. Many often assume I'm an extrovert because I do have very good social and communication skills that tend to come out every now and then in the right setting. But I'm still an introvert at heart.

Did you know that Meryl Streep, JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, Gandhi, the lovely Audrey Hepburn, Chopin, Larry Page (Co-Founder of Google), Anthony Hopkins, John Lennon, Yeats, Shakespeare, Orwell, Plato and Einstein are/were introverts?

Celebrate your introversion!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

On Writing, Re-Writing and Starting From (Almost) Scratch Again

November is here; so NaNoWriMo is here, too; and this year I'm a participant!

It's been really windy, and grey (speaking of which, my heart goes out to all who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy). The sun sets at about half past four here, so evenings are dark and slow.

I decided to write this post for myself, as an inspiration, a reminder of sorts. This is also to those embarking on the amazing journey of writing a book, or are currently working on a book and losing momentum; this post is for you.

Last year and this year have been crucially important for me as a writer. For two years, it's been nothing for me, but writing, nothing else. I wrote a novel before, and it was published back in 2009. And I wasn't entirely a full-time writer then.

Yet, I haven't been able to finish my current novel-in-progress... which I actually began to plot in 2009. It's dramatically changed... from the story of three Egyptian girlfriends and what they are dealing with to what I'm writing now: a complex, multi-layered, psychological/mystery novel focusing on the life of a child, later young woman and her family and all that is life about to throw at her.

I suppose I somehow always thought I'd always write romance novels. I'm not sure what happened. Have I changed? Yes, I have. My current novel-in-progress isn't a romance by any means; so if you're expecting something similar to my debut novel The Years of Silence, I hope you will not be disappointed. Because this time, at least for most of the book (or what it is so far), it's an anti-romance, or rather a love story gone sour and terribly wrong. Be warned!

Anyway, so for the past two years, I've been working on this novel which has changed so much it's unrecognisable from what I first had in mind.

By the start of this year, I had almost completed the first draft and all seemed to be going well.

But something did not feel right; and I wasn't sure what.

From 2011 to the start of this year, I had access to writing groups and critique partners. I could (give and) get all the feedback I wanted; I got more than the feedback I wanted... which was great.

For a while.

Probably it's because I'm an introvert, I work much better on my own. I don't think any type of critique is recommended while writing the first draft. As a matter of fact, I'd warn against it.

Up until a couple of years ago, I used to write for myself. I probably shouldn't say this, but there was no editor nagging all the time in my head; I was not a word perfectionist. I was a W.R.I.T.E.R. The Editor-in-me only emerged when I was revising later. But while I was writing, there was so much joy... I never judged my writing; I never lingered on EVERY single word, every single letter, how many words per chapter, the perfect scene - albeit contrived -, the "flawless" (no pun intended) characterization, the uncanny dialogue... The list goes on.

Because that's not the kind of book I want to read. And if that's the kind of novel you appreciate, then you may not like my book(s); and I'm being very, very honest.

The thing about getting feedback on the very first draft WHILE you're writing it... well, for me, it's a major distraction. You will unwillingly start to worry about what others want to read or think. A workshop has a group of roughly 8-10 people, and you submit your work bi-weekly... Let's for arguments' sake say you get about ten opinions every two weeks. That's still overwhelming (to me). I'm not saying this includes everyone who has critiqued my work; I must stress there were several people whose honest and constructive feedback I found helpful and whose opinions I still appreciate and value; those were usually writers whose writing I liked as well.

There were also "defensive" writers/readers who critique on a personal basis (critiquing you rather than your work) and somehow take it very personally if your feedback of their work has the slightest criticism. I found those are best avoided, if possible; you must always remember to keep it professional and non-personal. Otherwise, don't pay much attention to what they say. That's another thing: Only accept the feedback that resonates with you and your vision. But then if you're not going to accept everyone's opinion and/or feedback, then what is the point? And sometimes out of a whole group, only one or two get what you want to say and provide helpful comments (worst case scenario being none).

One thing that usually left me puzzled was why I, or any other writer, needed validation from others, judging our writing, seemingly to help or even offer support. The need for validation from an outside source is terribly wrong on so many levels, writing-wise, or life-wise. I think if you write for yourself, awaiting no validation, this is much better for you and your book. That is what I firmly believe now. And when you're happy and satisfied with your first/final draft, then you can have a few people you trust and who are familiar with your writing provide comments and feedback. This makes much more sense to me.

There are even more scenarios in work shops: Some people may attack you or act strangely around you, be tactless, rude or clueless, especially if they're intimidated by your writing or you, or if others - particularly tutors - praise your writing... and may resort to saying stupid or laughable things, to annoy you or make you feel less confident about your writing/work. You'll meet jealousy; people who say one thing and something else behind your back, or pretend to be friends, but don't want you in the spotlight. I didn't even know about that; but when I shared the topic with a writer friend of mine, I realized it could and does happen. Apparently some people act like the more writers they eliminate from the "competition",  the more chances they have in getting published. Some people may not even mind losing you... if that means getting published. Sad; but it's a sad, sad world we live in.

You'll learn to get over it. You'll be told writers need to have thick skin... even when you do. Anyway...

Feel free to agree or disagree with me; like I said, this post is meant to inspire me when I read it again later, and hopefully those who agree with me.

For instance, nowadays there are one or two people I currently reach out to (one of them in the publishing field, like myself). I trust them and know they are honest and want my best; that's crucial.  They don't provide much criticism, but rather gentle non-intrusive after-thoughts... gentle ones, and it leaves me inspired. That's what I want for now.

A first draft is like a recipe; you're still working on it, adding the right ingredients, substituting mild for hot chilli, and perhaps cumin for curry. You won't definitely know for sure until you put it in the oven, adjust the heat and wait for some time. Let it cool... then taste it. You may add more - or less - ingredients next time. Or you may leave it as it is. It's YOUR recipe. You can't allow others to taste your cooking/baking until it's done AND you're absolutely satisfied with it. And remember, others have different taste buds from yours. BUT if you're happy with it, don't change it for anyone else. Remember that.

So, back to what I was saying: I wrote and wrote... based on others' feedback, some of them professional writers and got amazing feedback. Several agents I met were very interested.

But something did not feel right.

I let the novel "simmer"; I decided to leave it alone, untouched... while catching up on my ever-growing to-read  list (reading inspires me to write... always) and a few books on writing - which indeed helped.

I decided to read my novel-in-progress again a couple of months later. Yes, I waited that long.

And I knew instantly what was wrong.

It was seemingly rich, perfect wording, immaculate scenes... yet a bit bland; above all, it was not me, and that hurt. I know writers shouldn't say this about their "babies" and novels-in-progress... but that's what came to mind. The thing is the novel itself was creating some sort of buzz apparently, and I started hearing from more agents.

I still had a problem; the novel was only about 75% finished, and my writer's block was now a permanent ailment. That's another sign. Writer's block is okay, but if it stays too long with you, it's your creative mind telling you something needs to be changed.

So, I realized I was "stuck", because that wasn't the way the novel was supposed to go. And I realized later again that a few characters weren't who they were supposed to be. For more than a year I was forcing them to be what others wanted them to be, even if it meant getting more positive feedback... Just like I was told how important it is to plot and draft ALL scenes beforehand. I did that... but it didn't feel right; and I felt bad for my characters and my book. So, I sulked for a while... or quite some time.

The thing is when you're reading my novel(s), I want you to feel this is actually someone's life. I, thankfully, achieved that with my debut novel. There are still some people who believe the book is somehow based on my life; but it is not. I've never even been to New York. I wanted my novel to feel like you accidentally came upon someone's diary... and all of a sudden, you have an access to someone else's world.

When you're in a writing group (or a couple of them), others will often ask you about the plot, rush it. I'm not saying you should keep writing if after completing half your novel you still have no plot. What I'm saying is you don't have to have a definite plot at first; and it's OKAY. Our lives don't have a plot, do they? We can plan all we want... but life happens, some other way.

I don't know why, but perfectly plotted novels usually feel contrived to me, and it's a major turn-off. The writer is usually paying too much attention to every word, expression, the perfect pause, the crystalline dialogue... inventing, moulding, but not creating. It's top-notch writing, but it's not for me. It's not my kind of book... or writing.

I want writing that jumps with life and spontaneity off the pages. I want to forget it's a book. I want to think it's a real life (I'm referring to fiction).

So... I decided to change things around in my current novel-in-progress. Everything I've written has made a difference, research and all that, but it doesn't have to be included in the novel. I know much more about my characters now and their world(s). I know more about my writing, and what I want to write about. Yes, what I want to write about... not what I'm expected and encouraged to write about.

I got a sign yesterday - or what I believe is one - a lovely reader gave five stars to my debut novel on GoodReads, and wrote: "It's a page turner; I couldn't put it down till I finished it."

The novel was published three and half years ago; someone still reading it and commenting on it means a lot to me. I think it all touched me because I realized this is what it's all about: the essence of the writing, whether it's "top-notch"/literary/whatever writing or not. This was my writing, all my writing, my creation.

So, my advice (to me and others) is: Write for yourself, writing can be a pain... but when you're working on and experimenting with your first draft it should bring some joy. Leave the pain for when you're revising, editing again, getting feedback, doing more editing based on the agent's advice and later editor... Leave it till then.

Never forget that it's YOUR book, your essence, your vision. Never let anyone rob you of that. You know more than anyone else; you know your characters much better. Leave the editing for later.

This must be one of the longest posts I've ever written; and this is also related to NaNoWriMo. I'm writing again... but rather slowly today.

Keep writing!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Intimidated... Are You?

I've promised a friend of mine to write about intimidated people and what to do about them, so here goes...

For several months, I've had to deal with a few intimidated-by-me people. I'm used to that; but the ones I'm referring to have been/are overly intimidated... and it seems by only me, in the group of people we all belonged to. Weird? Not really.

Long ago Sigmund Freud (and later other psychoanalysts) noted several 'ego defences' we use. When one's ego is conflicted, threatened, overwhelmed, etc., anxiety starts taking hold of it. In this case the ego needs to do something for survival. Such defence mechanisms take place unconsciously, which is why so many people aren't even aware of what is going on beneath the surface.

Successful, hard-working people intimidate... a lot. I believe many are also intimidated by mystery; the less they know about you and the less you share, the more intimidating you become. Everyone fears the unknown, after all. I'm not referring at all, of course, to abusive intimidating people (that is a topic for later).

One of these most obvious ego defence mechanisms is projection, which is attributing one's thoughts, feelings and most importantly motives to another person. An example would be someone who is capable of stealing, lying or being dishonest... who ends up accusing you of 'stealing', 'lying', or 'being dishonest'. Without crystal-clear proof/evidence, accusing you of such things says a lot about them, not you. Get my drift?

Like a person, who after creating a problem out of nowhere, wants to shift the blame on you, someone being mean to you for no reason, or accusing you of something you did not do. Because a friend, a real friend, will not suspect you of something in the first place, without asking first, without making sure, let alone accusing you, and later not apologizing for it.

What has ever happened to integrity and honesty? Beats me.

Displacement is very close to projection, but you thrust it on a different person/thing. Let's say X accused a friend of yours of lying. Your friend finds X too threatening, powerful, etc. Unable to direct their wrath towards X, they direct it towards a substitute... you or a thing. Smash a vase perhaps, or accuse you of anything... perhaps even of what X has accused them of.

This also says a lot about that person. Someone who is easily intimidated lacks confidence and self-esteem. Very often, this person 'needs to be needed' to feel superior. So, unless they are needed, they feel like they're not doing what they're supposed to do, and the lack of confidence kicks in.... big time. I have also found out (the hard way) that such people are highly judgemental and overly analytical/critical, justifying perhaps to themselves their behaviour towards you/others. They are also probably people with low social intelligence. This is different from being social, as they can be social (for them self-esteem also comes from the number of people they socialize with). Social intelligence is defined as: The ability to get along with others. It involves reading situations, confidence, self-respect, self-worth, authenticity, and empathy.

What to do about intimated-by-you people? Perhaps try and be less mysterious, if this only because of your alluring mystery. I've found that intimidated people (because of their low self-esteem) do better together since their energies and behaviours are similar. Otherwise, I just don't think you can help anyone with major self-esteem issues, unless they're willing to do something about it. Perhaps let them know how you feel... but then again a person lacking self-esteem will not respond well to that no matter how gentle you are (I know from experience). In my case, I've avoided such people completely. Other suggestions are welcome.

And if you are someone who is intimidated by others, ask yourself, why that is; only you know.