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Writing My Debut Novel ‘Dreamcatcher’ and What Art Means to Me

Rosheena Zehra writes about her debut novel, Dreamcatcher, and her philosophy of writing that led to the story.

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I have worked on three significant writing projects in thelast five years (two of them now published), and all three have been about madness. I wonder if this should disturb me.

Looking back, a pattern emerges because my first piece of writing at the age of eleven was a collection of four short horror stories. With this in mind, it isn’t quite so surprising that in 2011, I decided to write Dreamcatcher.

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The theme of the story is repression, clinical depression and the consequent madness of the protagonist. It is strange that I wrote it during one of the happiest phases of my life. I was just out of a period of clinical depression; it was years after writing Dreamcatcher that I realized that I had subjected myself to repression in a manner quite similar to my protagonist. But perhaps that’s where the (definitely unconscious) autobiographical influences end.

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Rosheena Zehra writes about her debut novel, Dreamcatcher, and her philosophy of writing that led to the story.
It took me years to convince myself that Dreamcatcher should be published, that it is ready to see the light of day. (Photo: Paritosh Anand)
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Dreamcatcher, you see, is a fairly disturbing story – in line with my philosophy of writing. Art has to shock, shake you out of the stupor of inertia, stagnation. Art has to make one think.

Writing is born out of thinking, obsessing. It’s made of all-nighters and skipped meals. You stay up all night obsessing over characters. Their dilemmas are your dilemmas. Say hi to writer’s cramps and blocks, your new best friends, because by now your real-life friends have already screamed and run away.

For me, writing isn’t just about words and story-telling, about dreams and fairy tales. It’s about thoughts and changes and reforms that shake the very core of existence. Writing, like all other art forms, is about taking one closer to the truth, if there is any at all to be found in this world.

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But how can writing, which is a portrait of borrowed features from all those before me and all those yet to come, lead one to the truth? The words formed by my hand are driven by the emotions behind them.

Am I not a Woolf in that moment – pouring out the deepest conflicts of my mind? Am I not a Plath, nursing a crippled heart? Or am I not a Hemingway, fighting my inner demons? Who am I when I raise my hand one more time to portray a Lady Macbeth’s madness or a Poe’s nightmare?

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Rosheena Zehra writes about her debut novel, Dreamcatcher, and her philosophy of writing that led to the story.
Art has to shock, shake you out of the stupor of inertia, stagnation. Art has to make you think. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb/The Quint)
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As I grappled with these questions, somewhere along the way Dreamcatcher happened. In face of these struggles, it seems writing the book is the easiest part of the process.

Telling yourself, “I will get published” is the sentence that opens the doors to Hell. Besides, who wants to read about madness, right? However, one fine day, StoryMirror came along and proved me wrong by deciding to publish my book.

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Rosheena Zehra writes about her debut novel, Dreamcatcher, and her philosophy of writing that led to the story.
Writing, like all other art forms, is about taking you closer to the truth, if there be one at all to be found in this world. (Photo: Sanjoy Deb/The Quint)
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Now that the book is complete, a publisher has been found and everything seems to be in order, it’s time for the essential part – the biggest obstacle that any artist (if I am qualified to call myself that) has to overcome: themselves. It took me years to convince myself that Dreamcatcher should be published; that it is ready to see the light of day.

Sometimes, I still wonder if that was the right decision. But this is an on-going struggle and at the end of the day I will just have to learn to live with it. Having said that, it seems that attempts to call off a book-launch an hour before the decided time are perfectly normal.

But why should I put myself through the struggle and panic and anxiety, you might ask. Because you begin by writing one word after another and right when you blink, it’s a sentence, which is part of a paragraph, which is part of a chapter which is part of your debut novel – and that, right there, is the answer.

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Topics:  Fiction Writing   Words   Writing 

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