How To Beat Writer’s Block Like A Boss

My previous blog post was all about where I get my ideas from so I thought it only fitting to address the problem of what to do when you’re lacking inspiration to get those very ideas written out. Writer’s block is a common foe to us wordsmiths and also, one of the trickiest to overcome. Or so we choose to believe. So how do we go from Exhibit A to B?

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There are a few ways to remedy the infamous block, ones that have proven quite effective for me in the past. Here are a few general things to try when you get stuck.

  • Distract yourself from the distractions: Focus on your writing and writing only. Often times, writer’s block stems from having too many things on your mind that keeps you from finding the space and correct mood to get the words flowing. In that case, get all those prior engagements done with and create a distraction-free zone for yourself. That might require a little more discipline, especially if you have a lot on your plate from work or uni. Create a routine that works for you and stick to it.

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  • Take a break: If you’ve got the time write but you’ve been sitting there, trying to muster up the words to start your next big hit for over an hour – stop. Stop right there. Forcing yourself to get the words out never works because of that big bad P word – PRESSURE. It ain’t good for your heart and it certainly ain’t good for your writer’s soul. Take a moment to leave the words that won’t come out and go out for a walk, play with your pet, listen to your favorite music or make a good cup of hot chocolate (or whatever floats your boat). You might already have the space to write but it certainly shouldn’t feel like a prison.
  • Stimulation is key to get the ball rolling: The innuendo-lover in me is trying so hard to keep her comments to herself but this point is pretty important. Maybe you’re completely in the zone but you just don’t know where to start. In which case, engaging yourself with sources of inspiration could be your solution. Read a book by your favorite writer or watch a TV show or movie in the same genre as the piece you’re working on. Talk to your friends and family and gather ideas from them too. Interacting with the environment around you can often help visualize what you want to do with your work.
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If you’re stuck on a particular scene or can’t seem to get around a certain development in your story, there are a few more writing-specific solutions that you can try out.

  • Rewrite the scene from another character’s POV: I was stuck on a scene where my protagonist comes face to face with the villain for the first time and no matter what I wrote, the interaction between the two just came out chunky and weird. It felt so off. I was so focused on capturing her emotions, I realized what was missing was his part of the formula. So, I re-wrote the scene from villain’s POV and it helped me discover exactly what I needed to fill in the missing parts of the equation. Although that didn’t make the final cut for the story, it helped me get over the speed-bump. If you feel there’s a missing element somewhere, try and find it.

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  • Hit backspace till you’re comfortable to start again: Let’s say you’ve written the first page of your new chapter but you’re finding yourself unable to keep going. Everything was going well right up to that point. Try cutting something out and rewriting that part in different words to get back your flow. Maybe the last paragraph or two, or even the entire page. I guarantee you, your second rewrite will beat your first. It’s like trying on new pants. You just need to find the right fit.
  • Pull a Leo: And by this, of course I’m referring to the one and only Mr. DiCaprio. He’s infamous for his method acting and dedication to stay in character (Django Unchained anyone?). Try and get into your character’s shoes. Live a day of your life and approach everything the way you think your character would, see it through their eyes. Just don’t go extreme and kill anyone or uh…rub a gash oozing your blood over someone’s face. Nothing that’ll get you arrested, basically.
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And if all else fails:

  • DO ABSOLUTELY           .

(Get it? No?)

Do nothing, my friends. 

Sometimes, you just gotta wait it out. If you’re not feeling up to writing at that very moment, it’s absolutely fine. You should allow yourself to suck once in a while. We all need some time to rekindle the flames and if that means giving yourself some time off from the written word, do it.

You might think I’m contradicting everything I’ve said so far but trust me, if there’s a block that none of the above solutions can solve, it’s probably something a little bigger than you think. Got a personal problem? Are you stressed out from work? Did you watch Infinity War and find yourself unable to come to terms with reality after that ending (I feel you on this one)?

Give yourself a break and get back at it when you can but this doesn’t mean you can:

  • use self-pity as an excuse to get nothing done if it’s something you can address
  • procrastinate away because ‘you’re just waiting for your Eureka! moment’
  • find reasons not to get over it

The best solution to own writer’s block is simply: to write. 

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There’s no one out there who can write the way you do – so go. Don’t try to do perfect, just do you.

Be your own muse. 

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Where Do I Get My Ideas?

From everything and everywhere.

^^ That would be my answer in its vaguest form, but honestly – there’s not much more to say.

Growing up, I had this little jar which I proudly dubbed ‘The Imagination Sanctuary’ consisting of story ideas I came up with on the go scribbled onto bits of paper which were then neatly rolled up and placed inside. Whenever I felt like working on a new project, I would reach in and grab a chit, and get to work.

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A little Jack Sparrow never gets old. 

Over time, the jar was tossed and replaced by a Word Doc spanning several pages. Not nearly as magical, but it did the job and continues to be sanctum to hundreds (I’m not kidding) of novel ideas I’ve come up with – ranging from fantasy to sci-fi to romance and even childrens’ books. Whether I get them all written out is another story.

I draw inspiration from everything I see on a day to day basis and leave my brain to do the rest of the work. A lot of my stories are imaginings I concocted while being bored out of my mind in the middle of a lecture in school.

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Others are rooted in dreams I’ve had that I jotted down the moment I woke up so I wouldn’t forget the potential they had to be written out. One of my sci-fi story ideas consisting of an alien invasion and intergalactic characters with special abilities was spun from a visit to the dentist and my lack of fondness for modern medical equipment.

So there’s absolutely no restriction on where inspiration can strike from. Although I do have a few tips on how to cultivate a more ‘idea-friendly’ environment for yourself apart from the ones I’ve already mentioned:

Knock yourself out with bingeing on TV shows and movies: this can do wonders. What better way to gain inspiration than from successful and entertaining productions that have engaging characters and good scripts (I hope)?

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Read, read, read: consume the written word like nothing else before it. I used to read a  lot as a kid (the luxury of time having robbed me blind of this satisfaction now). Read genres you love, classic and well acclaimed writers to see why they’re so good and new ones to discover what’s happening in the genre as of late. I’m heavily influenced by the books I read and it helped me become better at the genre I dabble in.

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Your social circles: a lot of the oddball humor and witty dialogues that come out of my characters are directly in relation to my interactions with my close friends and parents. I even based Helena, a supporting character in my story The Closer off of my best friend. It helps to observe the people in your life. After all, your characters are human too. (Or not in case you’re writing about shiny blood-sucking vampires or something. In which case, I sincerely hope yours will be more interesting.)

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The news and whatever’s up in the real world: fun fact –  Suzanne Collins came up with The Hunger Games when she was flicking between two channels; one showing some reality tv show similar to The Bachelor and the other broadcasting latest news about the Iraq War. She fused the two together and BOOM: a worldwide literary sensation was born. Of course, she had to squeeze in a-looot of work in the middle somewhere.

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Writing communities really do help: I talked in detail about this in my previous blog post but being part of one can boost thinking levels to a whole other planet. You get to mingle with writers in similar genres and absorb feedback and criticism on your writing. This not only helps you grow more ideas but improve as a writer too.

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And to save the day if all else fails, Google it: this is self explanatory but a search engine that can produce an endless list of helpful resources is pretty much a modern day magical wizard substituting as one’s muse (except it’s really no magic here but next-level algorithms and mathsy stuff).

In short, like I said at the start, I get my ideas from everything and everywhere. It’s really just a matter of paying more attention and being receptive to your surroundings. Heck, the next time you’re at the bus stop or in a cafe somewhere, I dare you to eavesdrop a little on the conversations people are having around you. There’s bound to be a hidden gem somewhere.

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Why Writing Online is the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

I remember having a conversation with a classmate once back when NaNoWriMo was happening. She asked me how I manage to write so much while still managing to ‘be a nerd’. She was under the misguided notion that writers get into the zone by isolating themselves from the outside world, locking themselves up in a room and punching in words into their keyboards. Maybe some writers do that (the 1% I bet you) but that definitely does not apply to me. If at all, my writing has grown immensely over the years by doing the exact opposite.

/flash-back begins/

July 9, 2009 – 12 year old Beatrice returns home from school and settles into browsing her Facebook feed (she was super interested in the mechanisms of social media back then *cough* especially MSN messenger *cough*). She notices a cute little advertisement to the right corner of the page for a writing community called ‘Protagonize’ and decided to explore and give it a shot. Little did she know it would change her life f.o.r.e.v.er.

/flash-back ends/

I am not being dramatic

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Joining Protagonize did change my life for the better. I was on the younger end of the writers on  the site but talking, collaborating and sharing my work on the community did wonders for it. Comparing and contrasting my writing from the pre-Protagonize-era versus when it really started to boom on the community, it’s pretty clear how much I’ve improved.

Unfortunately, the community shut down June of last year. It was difficult, to say the least, to bid farewell to that small but golden corner of the Internet that I’d come to call home. My time on the community spanned eight years of friendships formed, collaborations entered into with fellow writers and literary adventures I’ll never forget. I will always treasure Protagonize for what it was and still continues to mean to me.

Since then, I’ve migrated to Wattpad , another writing community much larger in scale than Protagonize was with millions of readers and writers. Wattpad is great, especially in terms of finding a marketing base and target reader segment due to its size, but I feel it doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the magic of what Protagonize was. Nevertheless, being part of an online writing community is always something you can do to step up your writing skills.

Why?

  • You have a platform to showcase your work and meet like-minded writers and readers that can help cultivate your skills.
  • Constructive criticism is necessary to grow, as tough as it may be to hear. Getting feedback from other writers and reviewers can help you nurture your weaknesses into strengths.
  • It’ll discipline you. Once you get a steady base of readers expecting updates from the other side of the world, you’ll be more motivated to keep the words flowing and it can help establish a routine which could be just what you need to keep your writing intact.
  • You’ll have inspiration in abundance that can help keep writer’s block at bay. When you’re not busy writing, you’re reading other people’s work. This can help form ideas for your own stories and get the ball rolling again!
  • Friendships are formed. I met some of the most amazing people online on Protagonize and Wattpad – some of them very dear to my heart. We became writing partners and collaboration buddies and not only is it fun, it helps you grow and pitch ideas off one another.

The evolution of writing communities has also led to a new wave of self-published authors. Writing online helped me find the confidence to publish my first book, A Midnight Reverie and is the very reason I’ve embarked upon the journey of publishing my second.  You get a support system and you find a place to share your writing. It only gets better from there.

I still believe because of Protagonize – in who I am, not just as a writer, but as a person. If you’re a writer, I urge you to join an online writing community. There are so many to choose from but once you find the perfect fit, there’s no going back.

My Next Step – The Closer

The last blog post I made was on New Year’s day. It’s crazy how much time has flown since then but also to see how far I’ve come in the matter of just four months. I completed my undergraduate degree in March, went on an amazing trip to Kashmir with my parents (it was literally Heaven on Earth and the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen), turned 21 and now I’m getting ready to begin ‘adulting’ with the impending start of a corporate job a week from now.

*le gasp*

It’s all very exciting and nerve-wracking, really. Knowing that the next era of my life is about to begin and this time I’d have no cushion to fall back on called ‘education’ or ‘school/university life’. Apart from my plans on this front, I’ve also started to think about what I want to achieve writing-wise. I have three completed stories, all worthy enough of being sent to a publisher with just a little bit of polishing (in my humble-but-dangerously-confident opinion that is) but it is one particular story of mine that I plan to revamp to perfection: The Closer.

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I am dubbed the ‘Queen of Romance’ by fellow writer-friends. I’d like to think I ‘major’ in writing love stories (if that were even possible). It’s been the genre I’ve focused on since I was a kid. But The Closer was quite different from what I’d written so far. For a start, I wrote it cause of a dare I received from my best friend who bet I could write a sexy, adult love story that could put Fifty Shades to shame (let’s just say she wasn’t a fan of that series). I was terrified. R-rated territory was new to me. But I took on the challenge and had fun with it and produced my best piece of writing in the process: a comedic, sensual and utterly sexy story. I gathered the nerve to publish it on the online writing community I was a part of – Wattpad. My updates started to slow as life caught up to me.

Having been on hiatus for a long time, I decided to make a come-back a couple days ago and was surprised by the popularity that my published work had garnered over the past couple months. My inactivity on the site had translated to an ignorance of just how much the story had blown up online. As of yesterday, it crossed 500K reads.

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That’s right! My baby’s got over 500,000 reads

I dedicated some time to reading through all the comments on the chapters and couldn’t believe the viewership it had gained. People from all over the world were reading my book. It was crazy!

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Hooooly shizzles.

Some praised my writing style, loved my characters and were rather vocal about it. Others disagreed with plot twists and constructively critiqued some of the character development. I had personal messages and posts from readers who told me they were inspired by my book and they couldn’t believe it wasn’t published already. One fellow Wattpader even went so far as to tell me I was the sole reason she joined the site. I was awestruck and still am to be honest.

Never had I imagined a story I’d started writing on a simple dare from a friend would develop into something so big. There’s potential here and I want to do something with it.

Rereading the first draft, I’ve identified a bunch of plot-holes, character inconsistencies and some elements that require serious touch-ups. I’m essentially doing a re-write and changing the entire conflict in the novel which lacks a lot of back-bone in the version uploaded on Wattpad. I plan on getting the second draft as close to literary perfection as possible, forming it into a manuscript and sending it off to various publishers.

I did a little research and they take a minimum of 6 months to merely review the manuscript and get back with an acceptance/rejection letter. And that’s if they’re feeling nice. That’s a whole lot of waiting so I better get to cracking on this novel.

The challenge? Oh, only the regular. Finishing off my CIMA certification, juggling work when it begins with my (non-existent) social life and just about managing to eat, sleep and survive through all of it. But a little voice in my head said: ‘once you identify something that can open a door for you: you have to pursue it, no matter how difficult the path’.

The Closer is going to be tough to get published in a lot of ways – regarding the actual process of rewriting and editing it as well as the cultural conflicts and ‘image’ that it might put across to some of my personal contacts that I wish to publish an adult book (more on this later). But I’ve got a hell lot of determination and even more support from my readers to do this.

So it’s time to get to writing!

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2k18: An Atypical New Year’s

I woke up this morning to a buzzing somewhere near my ear. It went on for a couple seconds then paused before returning with a persistence that forced me to crack an eye open only to wince immediately. My phone screen lit up the darkness of the room and the top corner of the screen read 7:15 a.m. It was too early. But of course the concept of ‘too early’ is lost on New Year’s Day, the first day of the year where several souls promise to start fresh, bright and early. However, this does not apply to me – the queen of procrastination. I simply shut off my phone, rolled over and went back to a blissful sleep.

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Me, pretty much. (Not my work though but you should check out Cassandra Calin’s comics here if you haven’t already seen her work!)

My Instagram and Facebook feed were flooded with updates of people partying their way into the New Year. It was nice seeing everyone having fun but for the remainder of the night, I shut off my phone and lay in bed, binge-watching Gintama and sneaking in some midnight snacks, all the while selectively ignoring the loud shouts and celebratory fireworks from the streets.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against New Year’s and the whole idea of ending one chapter and starting another with a blank page waiting to be filled. Some people dig that and I respect their opinions. But personally, I’ve grown out of the phase of New Year festivities and making resolutions. And here’s why.

New Year’s often goes hand in hand with starting another 365 days of your life with a blank slate. I’m all in for that but time and time again, I’ve seen friends and people around me misinterpret the idea of a ‘new beginning’ and in the place of fresh starts, create ‘new excuses’ to run away from their problems. Heck, I’ve done it myself.

Yes. It is a new year and yes, it is an opportunity. But yesterday’s demons aren’t going to vanish overnight and rather than try to get rid of them or forget them all together, why not try to find new ways to handle them instead?

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Leave behind the past in a healthy manner, the things that don’t make you happy. Leave behind the negativity, the things that aren’t worth your time, the relationships that have taken more of you away than given you what you deserve. Leave behind the doubts, the hate, the jealousy. Throw out all the bad and in its place, make space for a renewed sense of hope.

Yet never forget the person you are today is because of all those experiences.  Wear ’em like armor and march forward into the future, shouldering the memories of what has already passed but carrying the confidence of someone ready to face just about anything  life can throw their way.

As for resolutions, I think they’re utter hogwash. You can yell at me but nothing you say will change my mind. Why wait an entire year to make a change in your life when you could start any day? Anyone committed to actually making a difference in their life would start pronto. Yes, January 1st is the symbolic start of a new chapter but the journey of change doesn’t follow the same calendar. It has its own clock: your clock. 

People get so pumped up about their New Year’s resolutions and it’s all fun and good for a while before it fizzes out after a week or two, a month at the most, the reasons often being: ‘life happened’ or ‘who am I kidding? I set the bar too high!’

‘Resolution’…the word carries weight. Let’s not make it lose it’s meaning. It shouldn’t just be a temporary, 24-hour buzz that simmers away with the mind-numbing effect of the alcohol from the New Year’s party-bash. It should be a fire, fueled by determination, that burns through the entire 365 days of the next year. And for the people that actually set resolutions and follow them through, kudos to you.

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In a nutshell, I believe that I don’t have to wait an entire year for a new beginning. Every single day is a new beginning and anyone who wants to really change something about their life would see it as such. My yearly resolution is usually “become a better version of yourself”. To improve. But this year, I’ve decided to scrap that one off too.

I want to have 365 New Year’s celebrations packed into 2018. I want to soldier through the hardships and win the tough battles. But I also want to lose from time to time so I don’t forget what it means to pick myself off the ground and learn to fight again. I will remember the thorns of the past year but not let it scare me from healing, if only to have my heart bleed once more. Every single day will be a new beginning and I simply wish to live each one.

So let’s all raise our glasses (or in my case, mug of hot cocoa) to the year that’s ended; here’s to all the tears of both joy and sadness, to the nights we’ll never forget, to the companions that have stuck by our side and to the ones that may have strayed. Here’s to the dreams we conquered and the ones we didn’t, to the madness we created; to the stolen kisses, the broken hearts and to the people that we’ve become. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 31st of December or the 18th of April.

Yesterday’s ending will always be today’s beginning – but the journey and how we decide to get there lays in our hands.

Start it right.

An Abundance of Tea (#munnardiaries)

Our last day in Munnar was spent exploring the very essence (in a both figurative and literal sense) of what the popular hill-station stood for: tea.

I had spent the entirety of my stay surrounded and awed by the beautiful landscapes, my awe rocketing when I had come to the realisation that it was made up of tea plantations. It seemed like almost every turn around the corner sported a chaiwala or tiny stores selling varieties of tea leaves for excited tourists and locals alike.

I’ve been an avid consumer of tea since I was a kid. It started off with my obsession for Lipton in third grade, when afternoon snacks constituted of the famous Yellow Label bag and Rich Tea biscuits. I started exploring new flavors with ginger, cardamom and peppermint before settling on my constant go-to concoction of classic green tea now; healthy and soul nourishing.

But never had I stopped to question how the steaming cup of goodness actually came to be. Not until our last-day visit to the TATA Tea Museum at Munnar, that is.

The Tea Museum gave me a glimpse into just how much work goes into producing tea for us to happily consume. Machines of different kinds were spread out across the room, all serving their own purpose in the bigger process.

The first thing that greeted us in the room was a line of inter-connected machines with boards on each one reading ‘1st cut’ to ‘4th cut’. Raw, freshly picked tea leaves were put together into the first and we watched as the machines sifted, cut, and finely ground the leaves into tea dust at the end of the line.

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From start…

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…to finish.

But that wasn’t all.

Following the ‘cutting’ process, the minced tea leaves are left to dry in a huge, rather scary-looking machine that heats up to 104 degrees. Call me irrational but I didn’t step anywhere near that hunk of metal, happy enough to witness the magic from a safe distance away.

Around the room, there were informative posters on the benefits of consuming tea with a special focus on green tea. Highly informative but mostly disregarded by the people there who were more absorbed by the age-old machinery around us.

The connecting room to the exhibition had a small stall where people lined up to have a small cup of healthy green tea minus the sugar, honey, or sweet goodness they were used to. Mom, dad and I all got our own cups but having gotten used to the bitter taste, we didn’t so much as flinch while drinking it. It was amusing to see others, though, who were new to the taste make faces and cringe before discarding their cup, still half-full. One look and I knew they weren’t so keen on experimenting with green anymore.

The merchandise shop was filled with tourists, all stocking up on bags of tea leaves. There were so many varieties on the shelves with generous offers like ‘buy three and get two free’. And I watched happily as my mom tossed box after box of green tea leaves that would easily last us a year into our shopping cart before wheeling the way toward the till. Of course, we also got our fair share of other types as well.

What can I say? Indians are suckers for good offers.

And thus, our trip to Munnar came to a flourishing end.

We went back to the hotel, gathered up our things and had a final photo-shoot in the beautiful outdoor garden. I said my goodbyes to the hill-station with a smile on my face and bags of tea in the backseat. I had something to look forward to trying once I got back home after all.

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I’m not quite sure when my next trip will be. Life has got me booked for the rest of the year but I do hope adventure will come knocking at my door. Perhaps, another hill-station to explore like Coorg, or a thrill-ride with friends to WonderLa.

Until then, I have my memories preserved in these diaries to keep me happy and a whole lot of tea to give me company. I think this catchy slogan captures it all perfectly.

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Greater Heights (#munnardiaries)

We started off the next day, bright and early, with a number of places visit on our itinerary.

First stop – Mattupetty Dam. The infamous dam is known for being one of the most essential sources of power for the state of Kerala through its conservation of water for hydroelectricity. The tiny travel pamphlet I had on me also stated that it was a common visiting ground for elephants. Unfortunately, we didn’t bump into any at our time there but again, the view of the landscape and the large body of water proved its magnificence.

Next up was Top Station! The drive to the highest point on Munnar took a while but the cool air coupled with the nature that surrounded us made it a beautiful journey. Luckily for us, despite the telltale signs of rainfall in the sky, the view waiting for us at Top Point was not at all shrouded by the clouds.

1700 meters high, it felt close enough to touch the heavens. Sometimes, you visit places and see things that’ll never quite leave you. That’s what Top Station was like. It wasn’t just the spectacular view that etched a permanent picture in my mind but that feeling of being so faraway from…everything, far enough to liberate me from everything that was waiting down on Earth.

Mom, dad and I spent a good hour there before the growling of our stomachs got the better of us and we decided to head back to town to grab lunch.

On our way back, we made a brief stop at the infamous Echo Point. As its name would suggest, the river bank carries with it the natural phenomenon of an echo coming back to those who shout their lungs out at the spot. There was an abundance of greenery, as expected, with the lake in the middle and tall trees surrounding the forest on the other side.

It was crowded too, with families and kids standing near the edge of the bank and screaming their names, waiting with bated breath to hear their voice echo back to them. I wish I could say I’d shouted something too but I had settled for watching the others do it with a smile on my face.

And of course, without fail, we took a few more pictures there too.

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I think what I took away most from that day wasn’t just the hundreds of photographs or the aesthetic pleasure of witnessing nature at its finest. But the weightlessness of just being.

Living in the city, amidst the rush of life as a university student and surrounded by throngs of people that all have an agenda of their own, I am forced to move along with the crowd and toward a future that I am both excited and scared for. But at that moment, I didn’t feel any of that.

All I did was simply…exist. And sometimes, we need to take a step back and realize what a blessing that is in and of itself.