Sonal’s work appears in the anthology, Friend. Follow. Text, as well as Hippocampus Magazine, Ricepaper, Literary Mama, and The New Quarterly. Her play, Everything But The Paper, was produced by Prathidhwani Drama Wing in Seattle in 2014. She serves on the prose editorial board for PRISM International, and teaches creative writing independently, for PEN’s Prison Writer Program. Sonal is completing an MFA in Creative Writing at UBC, and has studied privately with Sarah Selecky, Matthew J. Trafford, Jessica Westhead, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. She lives in Toronto.
When I first found my way back to writing, I took a prescriptivist approach. If only I could learn all the rules, I would be a writer. I went to workshops, I joined a writing group, I dutifully collected feedback, I learned some rules. I bought books on writing, I read some of them, I learned more rules. I collected writing advice, I tried and failed to follow it, and learned more rules. Eventually, I enrolled in an MFA program, and did more workshops and got more feedback and more writing advice and learned more rules.
The rules I’d learned helped me become a better writer. But they also paralyzed me. I would start a story and The Rules would be looming over my head, telling me that you can’t do this, and make sure about that, and don’t forget about the other thing, and are you sure you’re innovative and original enough? I was afraid that I would forget a rule and my story would suck. I was afraid that there were rules I didn’t know, but everyone else knew them, and so people would discover that I was a fraud. I was afraid that I wrote stupid and boring things.
And so I wouldn’t write. And then I was afraid that I wasn’t really a writer because I wasn’t writing. I was afraid that I was kidding myself.
(I’m still a little afraid I’m kidding myself. That never totally goes away.)
But what did change is realizing that The Rules aren’t commandments from some Writing Deity who will one day grant you a place in yes-you-are-legitimately-a-writer-land. The Rules are just rules. They can be broken. They exist to serve the writer’s intuition and imagination, not the other way around.
I love Story Is a State of Mind because it’s one of the few writing programs that asks you to take the brave step of trusting yourself instead of the rules. I love being a Story Is a State of Mind because I love talking through writing fears. I love encouraging writers to take creative risks. I love that moment of empathy with my writing students, where we are all a little bit afraid but discover that in this space we can be brave together.