In Conversation: Malaika Gilani

In 2016 Malaika Gilani published her first poetry collection: Untold Journeys. She was seventeen. This year she has been a part of the global anthology, I Bared My Chest, comprising of 21 phenomenal women telling their stories. Recently I had the chance to interview this Melbourne-based poet and talk about inspiration, writing advice, and poetry.  

 

Could you give us a brief overview of your current published poetic work? What are its themes and what would you like your audience to know before reading it?

 
Untold Journeys is about everyday life. Things we all experience: friendship, family, body issues, and so much more. There is at least one poem in there that you can connect with. If the poems aren’t giving advice then they are there to show you that whatever you are going through, you are not alone. Someone is going through the exact same thing too.

 
What was it like publishing a poetry collection at seventeen?

 
It was amazing to be doing something that not many people have done. However, there have been rejections because I am too young and inexperienced. But who cares, life is all about the good. If we start focusing on the negatives then we won’t be able to live at all. I’ve loved it. The support from my family and friends has been a huge part of how I got here. They help me stay humble and enjoy this experience at the same time.

 
What inspires you to create poetry?

 
People, their experiences, and their lives.

 

If you could sum up what you would like your poetry to evoke what would you say?

 
You are not alone. We are all going through the same things. In the end, it’s the things within us that make us more alike than we will ever know.

 

Could you tell me a bit about I Bared My Chest? What was it like working with and collaborating with other artists to create this anthology?

 

You could say it was an interview of 21 authors in book form. All participants were given a series of questions to answer, to show people someone else has gone through the same thing as you and to show people that artists are not [all] geniuses. We are [people] like everyone else, anyone can achieve what we have.

It was amazing to work with people who are so much more experienced than I am. I learnt so much from them and was in awe of how wonderful and cooperative they were. Most importantly, I realised we were all normal humans – we disagreed, we celebrated, we got sad and angry and happy.

 
Have there been any books/authors/poets that have deeply inspired you? If so, what are they?

 
Sue Lawson and Jackie French.

Sue came to my school once when I was in year nine and has been in contact with me since. And Jackie is such an amazing and inspiring lady. I contacted her to review Untold Journeys and she has been a huge part of my life since. I email her and she instantly replies, giving me advice and encouragement.

 
What advice would you give to other poets and writers?

 
Rejections make you want it more. It makes everything more meaningful too. I appreciate my work and others’ so much more now because I know what hardships we all have to go through.

 

What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

 
If we start focusing on the negatives then we won’t be able to live at all.

 
Are there any upcoming projects that we can be excited for?

 
For now, I am on hold. I am starting university, so I am going to focus on that for now. However, once I am done with my psychology degree I will think about whether or not I still want to focus on writing and continue my writing journey.

 


Gilani’s book is available for purchase on Amazon and you can follow her journey on both Facebook and Instagram.

 


Interview by Georgina Banfield.

Restarting Your Creativity: Part III

PART THREE: FINDING MOTIVATION

Some advice I was given (and tried my best to follow) is to write something, anything every single day. Writing is like sport, and like any sport you need to practice to get good. Sometimes this might be a few thousand words, sometimes a paragraph or a sentence or even a single word. Everyone works in different ways but the surest and strongest way to get started is to do just that. Start. And everything starts somewhere.

These are some ways in which you can find your motivation today!

1.) Clean your workspace

It sounds counter-productive and sometimes it is. If your workspace isn’t how you want it, it might put you off for days, weeks, or even months. Clean it. Tidy it. Make sure it’s not a distraction.

2.) Set yourself a challenge

As with finding time, challenges can be very handy to motivate you. If you need to get 3,000 words done by Friday and you have a friend holding you to it, you’re not going to want to disappoint that friend. Generally you have an understanding of your own working ability so it is up to you to set yourself a goal or challenge that you will realistically meet. If you are a slow writer you might aim for 500 words or a page a day, or if you’re a quick writer a few thousand words might not be too ambitious. But a challenge that works for you won’t necessarily work for everyone.

 

3.) Enter a competition

Competitions give you deadlines not just for a word count but for a polished copy of whatever it is you’re writing. Working towards this deadline, in theory, means working towards a deadline of at least one week ahead and then taking the time to edit thoroughly before submission. Even if you don’t end up entering your work you put the time and effort into creating it.

4.) Ask a friend or family member to read your work

This would also appear on a lot of lists of what not to do. But in the end you want to be motivated right? You want to hear about how much talent you have and how wonderful you are. So get someone who loves you to read your work and bask in their praise. Hopefully, if you push on, people who don’t know you will also want to praise you.

5.) Tell someone about your writing

In telling someone about your project you’re making it real. They might remember and ask you how the writing is coming along. Plus, if you’re talking about it you’re thinking about it, and if you’re thinking about it you’re working on it. Don’t worry if it comes to nothing or if you switch from one project to another, just keep voicing those ideas.

6.) Read good books

Writers are always encouraged to be constantly reading. The advantage of this is you’re surrounding yourself with good writing, which encourages you to also produce good writing. As I mentioned in Rediscovering your Inspiration, reading something that provokes you (in a good or bad way) is also helpful. It encourages you to do better and to respond to the work. The caution here of course is to let yourself read bad books, but not bad writing. Bad books make you want to do better (and destroy your faith in humanity), but bad writing is just… bad.

7.) Read literary magazines

Find out what’s going on in the writing world and stay in touch with it. Know it’s where you belong and stay there. You might write highly experimental literary fiction and find places like The Lifted Brow and (increasingly) Voiceworks a great comfort. Or you might prefer Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, or Overland, there are plenty of literary magazines out there. You might even just want to stay up to date with Tulpa Magazine (we have a newsletter, you should sign up!). Whatever you decide to do, keep literary magazines in mind—we certainly have plenty to offer. Tulpa is currently free to read, and other places (if you don’t want to pay subscription fees) are generally available in your library.

8.) Stop reading

Yes I am contradicting my earlier point. If you’re like me (constantly reading) you might find that this motivates you to write. You’re so used to being in a story that you need to write just to get back into the zone. You’ll be desperate to finish your project just so that you can escape back into a good book.

9.) Have a plan

Some writers are pantsers and some are planners. Know which one you are and how much planning you need to have done in order to succeed. If you’re a pantser hold on tight to your idea, sit down, and start writing. If you’re a planner, like me, you might want to have a highly detailed plan and over-write the hell out of your piece. As long as it works for you it works!

10.) Have a write-in

You might work best on your own but there is seriously nothing like writing with others. Hearing other keyboards going, pens scraping paper, having the occasional chat and talking about your work is always a wonderful experience. I’ve personally found this can also work well with visual artists because you’re all doing something creative and losing yourself in your work in the same way. Writers SA run a write-in called TWELVE each quarter where you spend twelve hours working on a creative project. Alternately Simone Corletto and Mhairi Tocher run a regular virtual write-in called the YA Jungle which you are welcome to follow along with. To find out more check out their website.

One of the biggest things I would like for you to take from my Restarting Your Creativity series is that you are more than capable of writing. You can finish your project. You can find the time, inspiration, and motivation to fulfill your goals. There are so many things you can do to get yourself ready to write but the easiest and most effective thing to do is to just sit down and write. Make the time, get inspired, and get motivated.


Art by Rhianna Carr

Words by Kayla Gaskell

Kayla Gaskell is an Adelaide based writer and reviewer whose work has appeared in Empire Times, Readplus, Buzzcuts, Where’s Pluto, and now Tulpa.

 

OTHER PARTS IN THIS SERIES:

Part I: Finding the Time to Write

Part II: Rediscovering your Inspiration

 

Restarting Your Creativity: Part I

Make the time, get inspired, and get motivated!

In my experience, any writer needs three main things: time, motivation, and inspiration. Sometimes one, two, or all of those things are hard to come by. So if you’re struggling to find any of those three things, I’ve complied some suggestions for how to restart your creativity!

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PART ONE: FINDING THE TIME TO WRITE

Finding time to write has been a struggle the older (and more responsible) I get. Throughout the last few years it’s been work, study, and family commitments draining my creative time—not to mention attempting to have some semblance of a social life. So, in this busy, fast-paced world how did I find the time to write creatively? Well honestly, sometimes I didn’t. And that doesn’t make me (or you) any less of a writer.

So, what can you do to find time?

1.) Wake up early

This might sound like a no-brainer but how many of us, particularly in the colder months, are willing to drag ourselves out of bed a half hour earlier to write? I’ve tried this one and while it does work, you’ve got to be able to maintain that motivation.

2.) Make time to write, and protect it at all costs

If you have dedicated writing time you’ve got less excuses to not write. You might work in the morning, in the afternoon, or at night. Whatever works for you. But it is important to work out what time of day works and make time to write then, if possible. I’ve known writers who have writing days and seem to be entirely productive and if you can do that, great. It sounds like an ideal arrangement, but it doesn’t work for everyone. And if it doesn’t work for you that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. You just need to think about how you work best. So once you’ve picked out your time, make yourself unavailable. Turn off your phone, make no plans, and don’t take any visitors. You’ve got the rest of your life for that!

3.) Have a writing ritual

If you don’t have a specific time to write, have a ritual. Have a shower, go for a run, make a cup of coffee. You might even have a specific pen you only use for your writing or a specific cup/mug you use only when you’re writing. All these little things come together and remind you that THIS IS WHEN YOU WRITE.

4.) Join a writing group, or alternately, start your own

Having gone through a creative writing degree I’ve learned the importance of surrounding yourself with other writers. You all want to be the best writer you can be and get the work done—why not motivate each other with cups of tea (or coffee), encouragement, and the soundtrack of computer keys clacking? This can be with another writer or a handful of people. If you don’t have any writers to turn to try students or artists. Anyone that requires the same concentration as you and can encourage you to be productive (but not distract you too much).

5.) Go on a writer’s retreat

This isn’t something I’ve ever done but it sounds like a good idea right? Get away from the chaos for a week or two and just write. There are plenty of writer retreats around, you can even make your own if you want. Go by yourself or with other writing buddies and spend days writing and nights discussing your work. Plus, if you’re on a writing retreat you might not have to explain yourself if and when you start talking aloud to your characters!

6.) Set yourself writing goals

This one in particular works for me. Usually I’ll set a word count to be completed each day or over a number of days (depending on the project) and I won’t sleep until I’ve reached it, even if it’s not my best work—why? Because you can always edit later. When doing this I write each day’s word count in my diary and keep track of any words that I owe myself (if I didn’t hit my word count on a given day).

7.) Leave the house

If you can’t concentrate on pumping out those words at home why not go somewhere else? A library or a coffee shop or a friend’s place. Coffee shops are good for two reasons, the first is coffee, and the second is people watching—which can be a great source of inspiration.. Libraries are usually peaceful places to write, with a variety of atmospheres. And if you go to a friend’s place you get to steal their wifi, tea and coffee, and it counts as “being social”.

8.) Always carry a notebook

It’s a cliché to say “you never know when inspiration will hit” but it’s also true. Having a notebook with you might scream “I AM A WRITER” to some people. You might have to explain yourself to people on the bus or on the train, you’ll always have somewhere to write down anything that comes to mind. This might be a line, a snippet of a poem, or even the outline for the next Harry Potter. Although if you’re aiming to be the next JK you’ve got a fair amount of competition.

I won’t ever claim to be a writing expert. I doubt anyone truly would—and if they did I’d advise you not to trust them. These are just some ways you might be able to make time in your daily life to write. Some things will work, some things won’t. Sometimes you’ll be too tired. Sometimes you’ll be too busy. Just remember, while you’re thinking up excuses you’re wasting time. So, get out the pen and paper, switch on your laptop, and get writing!


Art by Rhianna Carr

Words by Kayla Gaskell

Kayla Gaskell is an Adelaide based writer and reviewer whose work has appeared in Empire Times, Readplus, Buzzcuts, Where’s Pluto, and now Tulpa.