“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Today we are delighted to welcome back to the blog Roshani Chokshi, the author of the excellent The Star-Touched Queen< /em>, The Vishakanya’s Choice to talk about the inspiration to finish the recently released A Crown of Wishes.
I could go for days about my inspiration to startThe Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes were born out of the same wellspring of hope…to tug into the light the stories I knew from childhood. To revisit famous Hindu epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and try to honor their settings and teachings.
To start a story feels innocent. It’s lovely and new. It’s a lace of snowflakes on flowers. Swift and delicate. It fills you with urgency to bottle up this feeling and get thee to a laptop/notebook/writing apparatus of choice because Ah, Fate, there is a story within you!
But that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about the inspiration to finish something.
A couple months after The Star-Touched Queen debuted, I was sitting on my couch sobbing with my gallon of Talenti Ice-cream (I tried to eat the healthy Halo ice-cream, but at the time my stomach was like: “we wants the fat cream, precious! we wants it!”) and staring at yet another draft of A Crown of Wishes. I was broken.
I was trying to find time to write while traveling non-stop. I couldn’t finish reading a book. I felt skewered by reviews*, and most of all ashamed at what I suspected was ungratefulness. Every single day, I was confronted with the idea that I was supposed to be happy. Everything I’d dreamed of happening for my debut had happened…so why couldn’t I write?
I’d like to preface this next part by saying that this is how I, personally, felt inspired to finish a story. It’s not an instruction manual. In fact, if anyone ever tries to tell you “how to write” (even lovingly) you should scream: “THE CROCODILE GOD HAS AWAKENED WITHIN ME! RUN BEFORE I MUST CONSUME YOU!” And if that doesn’t make that person high-tail it out of there, my only conclusion is that this person is non-plussed because this has happened to you before and it’s chill. (Either way, I’m a little jealous.)
In the past, having the inspiration to finish came from places of panic or fury. In 2014, I was starting law school. I felt this sinking pressure in my chest that if I committed to that path, I would never be able to give writing a chance**. And so I wrote. And as I wrote and found critique partners and discovered non-shittacular corners of the Internet where I made friends (fwends!!! twoo fwends!) I encountered a new criticism: claim. I heard “you’re only half-Indian, should you be telling those stories?” My answer: Fuck you. Diaspora is a strange lens. It muddles ties to heritage, but it does not cut off their existence. I may have been exposed to my cultural traditions in a different way from native-born Indians or Filipinos, but it wasn’t any less mine. And so I wrote. In the spring of 2015, The Star-Touched Queen sold. I was elated. I was so elated I nearly got hit by a car running out of my Contracts class because my agent’s email subject line was just: CALL ME ASAP. Then I got edits! Which were magical because here, finally, was the direction I needed…but then the panic came. What if this entire publishing house was twiddling their thumbs and whispering: “Maybe we were impulsive…” I had to prove it to them that I could take this direction and fly. And so I wrote.
You catch the pattern. Rosh panics. Rosh writes. Rosh gets furious. Rosh morphs into Level 3 Dragon Mage…and writes.
So when I got to this point last year, I felt as though I had nothing left. Fumes weren’t enough. Fuming wasn’t enough.
And, as I reread my draft for the umpteenth time, I felt like the story wasn’t enough either. I could see the right story somewhere in all that muddledness. It felt like looking at something beneath a pane of water. And I didn’t know if I could reach for it.
Before the pressure and the hope, I used to write just for the sake of writing. I think all writers need that drive to create even if it’s creating in a vacuum. If you don’t have it, there’s something soulless in your work. For me, pressure (mostly internal) had gotten to the point where I was thinking about the monetary value of a page of writing. I’d try to rally myself the old way: “You want to eat, don’t you?” Writing felt joyless. I used to dream of writing for a living, only to find that somewhere along the way I lost wanting to live for writing.
I found that once more. But it was painful. I had to pluck every voice from my head. I had to write for the sake of the story and not for anything else.
Honor your voice. Honor your story.
That was my rallying cry, and it became the soul of A Crown of Wishes. At its core, A Crown of Wishes is a story about the power of stories. In writing it, I found joy and, honestly, peace. That the story itself was inspiration and reason enough to finish.
Now, with release day right around the corner, I still keep that rallying cry close inside me. And I remember it every time I feel blocked. I’m writing for myself. I’m writing to honor my voice. I’m writing to honor this story.
*reading reviews is up to you! For me, it was terrifying enough having to put my voice out there and then when it got thrown in my face, I thought I was choking. Now, I’m a little more distanced to it. I’ll sometimes ask friends to send me a mix so I can get a feel for a book’s response, and also a sense of what to look out for critically in my next project.
**That was my personal panic speaking. Obviously, you can do any profession and still write prolifically. SO MANY WRITERS WENT TO LAW SCHOOL. Ken Liu, Kat Howard, etc. etc. You are not a “less serious” writer for balancing another job. You are a writer the second you declare yourself to be one. Even if it’s only in your head right before you fall asleep.
Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, “The Star Maiden,” was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.