All posts by Ayesha Siddiqui


by Ayesha Siddiqui

Outdoors where I live there is an overgrown orange tree. The tree has likely not been pruned in many years, judging by the amount of growth on the branches, the offshoots like spiderwebs, crisscrossed limbs holding an overabundance of oranges that fall to the earth too soon or too late, the fruit collected never ready.

Once I volunteered to prune trees in a garden. An arborist led us through determining what to remove, finding the nodes, and the angle to cut away anything no longer serving the tree. We removed competing branches and sliced back anything beyond the most promising nodes. Whenever we’d ask if the tree had been trimmed back enough, the arborist would tell us to cut even more, to keep going, that it was good for the tree.

I could compare editing to pruning. I suppose that’s the most logical connection. But when I think of pruning it is not the words themselves, it is the very essence of what makes you write.

On a tree, nodes are the quiet and often hidden places where so much life begins. Offshoots form, leaves grow, flowers bloom. Nodes contain wisdom to help the tree heal and maintain its structure.

Our relationship to writing grows and evolves differently with each season in life. Perhaps we write for relief, then for understanding, then for exploring, or sentiment, or at times the reason is just a giant question mark. Sometimes others tell us why we write. It gets so muddled after a while, the tangled branches becoming so thick we can no longer reach our own nodes.

When the path forward is too overgrown to see, walk back along your own branches, back towards the first nodes of promise that made you do this to begin with: the story you wanted to tell, the thing you’ll probably never stop writing about, when a stranger told you something kind about your work and they meant it. Prune yourself until it feels simple again.

This is your art, and it is correct.

Setting, my favorite character

by Ayesha Siddiqui

Lately I’ve been steeping in the details of setting. The shocking cold of a marble floor even in the height of summer, the joy of lightning bugs on their first flight of the season as the sticky humidity holds you up and the sun departs, the sound of a call to prayer, the song of cicadas in the morning dew. Give me the plays and the fiction where the setting is alive. Characters find themselves being pulled along in ways they don’t even realize by mother nature or guided by the house they’re in. Give me tiny apartments and big sprawling spans of memories. Give me snowstorms and shaking your boots out when you finally get inside, trying to solve your own existence in a room with a leaking roof, marshes and office break rooms. Setting is so alive, buzzing before a character ever enters the room and sets the plot in motion. As my own writing has shifted more towards the world of sci-fi and occasionally the absurd, the idea of creating settings that can quickly transport the reader to the world we’re now inhabiting with little information matters a great deal. Do my characters know where they are? Do I (let’s be honest…sometimes I don’t)?

For a long time I lamented the fact that I only seemed to have a default setting in my writing: mother nature. But this is what tugs at me in my core: the earth, the ground, the water. Sometimes nature  is lashing out with storms, or sometimes she is peaceful outdoors, or sometimes I am imagining her far into the future in a world where everything has become unbearably hot. 

Setting is one of those beautiful things in writing that lingers somehow both close and far outside ourselves. It is not an idea, or evocative of how we want to make an audience feel, it is something that looms larger than what we can truly understand. It shapes humans who grow up in it. It makes others feel like they’ll never belong. It brings out our worst (have you ever spent a summer in the Southeast without air conditioning?) and our best (have you ever watched your neighbor shovel the driveway of the elderly person next door for an entire winter?) We are so small in the grand existence of things. So much of conflict in storytelling comes from humans trying to create some sort of control over their lives in spite of the setting they’re in. And I guess that’s the great illusion: to think we have some control. So when the setting promptly arrives, whispering to you of the surroundings and the temperature on your skin, just know, it was probably around long before you were.

Taking the pressure off

by Ayesha Siddiqui

You just aren’t feeling it. You haven’t been feeling it for a while. The desire to make something, to put words on a page, what used to have you springing out of bed in the morning and into the imaginary lives of people you’ve never met left a long time ago.

Or perhaps you still remain diligent, sitting down every day to try, but nothing comes out. You set yourself on deadlines, to page minimums, to word minimums, to morning pages, to If You Just Wrote Every Day For Ten Minutes to FIVE GOOD IDEAS and still: nothing.

The more I write, the more I realize that sometimes, and perhaps often, there is going to be nothing.

It’s foreign, at first, to not be working on something. When the bills were paid, and the day job was done, and the kitchen was cleaned, there was always the next moment of dialogue, the revision, the next thing until now.

What are you working on? And the answer is truthfully: nothing. Maybe you know the feeling that comes next: I Have Nothing Left Right Now! But nothing is still something. Nothing is an absence.

I think writers spend so much time tormenting ourselves about the writing that we forget that for many of us, it’s going to happen no matter what. Writing is cellular. Natural. If a dancer puts away their worn in ballet shoes and puts them back on again one day the body may be stiff, but the form is never forgotten.

If we were alive before written words existed we would have found a way to tell stories anyway, just like our ancients did. You would have been the one drawing in the sand or painting on the walls of the cave. Being a writer never had to do only with the output and for the love of god can we stop with the self-imposed word limits per day if they start to make us miserable?

This advice, I suppose, is to myself more than anyone on how to continue when you are in a state of absence: pick what you like from the world around you and repeat until the absence no longer exists. Do this for as long as it takes. Pick old Western movies and bestselling romance novels, pick wildflowers that spill over onto the sidewalks on the streets. Pick only what delights you until you find the way back to the words again. Even absence can be rich, and it is calling to you.