Starting A New Book

By Javed Jahangir

Because spending the lion’s share of the last decade repeatedly banging my head on my desk was insufficient, I have decided to start work on a second novel. If you prefer the written word to have sound effects, please plug in your iPod and pick the Wagnerian crescendo of your choice at this point. For a medical opinion, I consulted Kathy Crowley, who in addition to being a terrific writer is also a medical doctor.

‘PTSD’ she said immediately, “erratic behavior is quite common after trauma.”

My own diagnosis had been the decidedly less medically specific, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, but I was grateful that there was a name for my condition.

Starting work on the new project has not been easy. There have been mood swings and bouts of depressions. Endlessly, I have fidgeted various appendages. It seemed that I had developed some sort of restless foot syndrome of the brain. Since the seed of my new project had been planted, I have wanted nothing more than to drop kick the novel I have spent years nurturing, and dive right into that twinkie of a book. Sadly, either discipline or stupidity would not permit a new venture, not until I was good and done with the first book.

After finally completing the last draft of that first book, I was actually beginning to feel okay with never wanting to fix it any more (with or without barge pole). Did it mean I was finally free to do whatever I wanted to do with my writing life – short stories, haikus, epic poems, novellas? Maybe a new novel?  But instead of clarity, it felt terribly unclear, the plot points that had tantalized me had grown murky and fungus ridden, the trail seemed lost.

How did one start something new anyway? I couldn’t quite recall from all the writing advice I had collected over the years. All I could remember was that nebulous sense of dread, of a path that never quite seems to end. I dreamt in naked Freudian terms of receiving huge boxes from IKEA, with instructions in Swedish. Plus, was I actually done with my first project? Was I really sure? Really, really sure?


After spending years with it, thinking about those characters and their stories before falling asleep, how would I cope with this weird empty-nest in my head? How could I finally jettison my imaginary people, some of whom were older than my real daughter?

But friends, begin I did. Like many of you, on a new novel. But not without the necessary gymnastics. Allow my writing journal to illustrate some of the highlights-


  • Have gathered all paper work from previous project for shredding. Too large to shred. Burned out shredder motor. Have shoved in large box.  Praying I will not have to move anytime soon.

  • That mental exercise of pushing everything off the imaginary desk to clear the mind? I have done it for real. Must find broom before wife arrives.

  • In the cleared space, made long lists of everything I have sworn I will do if I ever finish first book. Also long lists of things I will not do, like outline a novel, or write in the omniscient voice.

  • List is morphing into plot outline. Must keep writing.

  • Character sketches have started popping up, another thing I have sworn never to do, but there they are.

  • Armed with prodigious notes and outline, have decided I need a real and physical change of scene to kick start the new project. Pawned last remaining kidney to wife in exchange for a few days away at a writer’s retreat. Must buy whiskey.

  • Have made way to very old carriage house in the western most reaches of Massachusetts. Finland might not be very far from here.

  • Drank Jack Daniels nips. Tried to smoke a couple of hand-rolled cigarettes. Barfed next to antique claw-footed bathtub.

  • Walked around what is alleged to be Main Street. Saw a llama limned against a green hill. Freaked out a little. Who knows what else is back there?

  • Have run back to room. Writing has commenced.

  • Woke up to realization that I have no other purpose but to write. To re-enter, at will, this strange new world that smells suspiciously like the old house, tastes burned and sounds like an ocean. A world that feels like it is uncrumpling like a piece of paper in reverse motion. No children need to be fed, or untangled from each other’s limbs. Missing the girls.

  • Repeated wish of having 30 more days with the sort of productivity I have miraculously experienced here. This new book could be written in 30 good days.

  • Sad to leave retreat but happy to get back to noisy family. Have multiple decent chapters and engines are revving for more.

  • Back at home, sat down to write. Recalling smell of musty old house. Hear the ocean. From tiny window, can swear I saw a hummingbird flit by.

  • Appear to have found a room of very own, special for new book. What I have learned from my last book is forgotten. I must learn it all over again.

Born in Bangladesh, Javed Jahangir grew up in Abu Dhabi, Malta, Riyadh, London, New York, Pittsburgh, and Somerville MA, where he now lives. His work has appeared in various publications including LOST Magazine, LUMINA and Hacks- 10 Years On Grub Street. He has been a frequent contributor to The Daily Star, a leading English daily in Bangladesh. Jahangir has a undergraduate degree from Bard College and a graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Though he derives his primary literary motivations from the wealth of Boston’s writing scene, he considers Grub Street Writers amongst its richest. When not writing, Jahangir enjoys illustrating children’s books, is a Taekwando enthusiast and plays competitive squash. He is working on his first novel Ghost Alley, which is set in the post-postcolonial world of Bangladesh.

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