On How To Be A Writer

You know how these days begin. You’ve been conditioned to get up at a respectable hour, make your way through the hustle of the city, to a workspace that some revere, some despise, most seek out as an escape from the banality of life, a certain sense of control to the daily routine, a certain confidence that comes with knowing what’s expected of you. Most bloom under direction, some, shrivel and die. I was, needless to say, a part of the latter.

Back when I used to do my copywriting gig, countless hours would be spent in front of the computer. I knew every hashtag trending in the country, every headline misspelt in the national dailies, every pointless stand-up comedy act and every pop-culture spin-off, the Internet seemed like a gateway to an alternate reality. A reality that was as consuming as it was debilitating, as revealing as it was stifling, the internet was where I was – for the cheap thrills and the quick opinions, for the celebratory public moments and brooding private ones, and I was surfing every website, every blog post, every re-tweet for ideas. For inspiration. Till I realized what I was doing wrong. Instead of being out there, traveling, talking to people, listening to their stories, experiencing how love and hate happen, how excitement can lead to hysteria, how can the seemingly normal person can have an extraordinary story, the most innocuous interaction can give way to metro ride revelations, I realized what I was doing wrong traversing the length and breadth of the cities I’d lived in, the number of people I’d disregarded growing up, the boys I’d chased and the nights I’d spent blacked out, conversations I tuned out of, and days I’d spent disconnected with everything outside of me – so caught up in the idea of myself, I realized what I was doing wrong while I (very arrogantly, I might add) proclaimed to being a writer, I wasn’t paying attention to anything outside of me. And, after countless days of frustration, routines that began with re-arranging the furniture in my room, scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook newsfeed, googling the first item on the search engine list, I decided to write on how to go about breathing life into an ostensibly dying art – on how to be a writer.

Don’t play it safe with your writing. Writing isn’t a form of therapy – this is where my general contempt for book reading clubs, writing groups, blogs that read like ‘Dear Diary’ journals comes in … I have nothing against writing as a form of self-expression but one of the biggest hurdles I face trying to condense a series of thoughts into coherence is that no, writing isn’t a letter to myself, it isn’t an outpour of emotion stemming from maybe the month’s PMS or the extra sugar in my morning cup of latte, no. Writing, I realized as I poured over essays of some of the strongest writers I’ve heard, in our age and otherwise, was a form of art. Art that shapes and influences opinion. And, nothing could have validated my theory better than the incident where one of my all time favourite journalists, a stalwart of balanced and conscientious journalism wrote a Pro-Isreal article amidst the genocide (insert politically correct word here) that the country had perpetrated on one of its weaker, dependent neighbours recently; an article that, for all intents and purposes, not only condoned what was largely being perceived as a mass act of murder but also justified it in the process. The problem with having a way with words is that, it is more often that not, misused. Be it love letters you don’t mean, or press releases for things that don’t happen, justifying the processes that don’t exist, to political propaganda that makes and breaks reigns. The problem with people who’re good with words is that you can write people and situations in and out of your lives, can always support what you don’t mean and celebrate what you do. It’s a heady, intoxicating power that I’ve barely made my own peace with. I’ve always been wary of people who refer to themselves as writers – mid conversation the other day, I drew a parallel between the act of calling oneself a writer and the act of writing, almost like the line between masturbation and the act of sex. The former, largely satisfying, but mostly always tinged with a pang of selfishness and shame. Something just more humane, more humbling, more flawed in the latter. Which brings me to my next point – be unafraid of being flawed. Some days, your pieces would read far less interesting than descriptions on back of cereal boxes, and on luckier days, they would read like an exercise in self sabotage. But, there would be days, maybe when you’re down enough inebriation or all the clichéd conspiracies about inspiration would fall into place and you’d write something really special. Really honest. And, that would read better than any witty status update you could have churned out for Facebook likes and the “human nature jazz,” as somebody I know once called it. There are days where the creative process would just seem like the deep end of the nearest bottle, but there will be days you’d excuse yourself out of a dinner, or be up till 4 am because you “just needed to pen this down.”

At the outset of this little gamble that I decided to take with my life a few months back someone once told me that, “writing is what it is. It’ll come to you when it does.” There was a point, between classes and tutorials and exams and boys and the hustle of a new job and the grind of the old one that I believed that, but what I believed more once I actually got down to doing it that any creative process required the kind of discipline that isn’t talked about enough. Whether it’s the discipline of waking up at reasonable hour, or not giving into your insomnia, or sitting in front of a blank page knowing that till 5 pm is what you have to cram those 3000 words in, it really is discipline that was dictating what I chose to with my decision. And, then there are days of utter listlessness. Everybody I know, at least, is familiar with these. Where the day just seems perfect to watch your favourite film, take a few more smoke breaks than your lungs should allow you, where the trusty chillum is closer than any pen could be, and distractions a phone call away. Now, some people are adept at these days; they sail through them, confident in their lack of direction. I used to have the hardest time letting time pass. Blame it on time-regulated life in the big city, or the perceived value of the lack of it, I would judge myself if I let a few hours pass away without getting anything productive done. This was before I joined advertising and I realized that pretending to look busy in front of a computer screen in the name of work, a tab open for every Facebook tab lest your boss walked in, I was better off just well, not working. Or, letting myself not work. A proper night’s sleep took on a new meaning as I woke up with more clarity with what to do with my day than I ever had before, I stopped drowning my evenings and consequently, my thoughts in alcohol, I allowed myself the luxury of time. Time to think, mull over, first drafts time and again – time, as many love putting it, to waste.

And, the biggest realization so far, has been an ability to not take yourself too seriously while writing. An ability to laugh at yourself and your work – an ability to not get too swayed by emotion or too inundated by rationale, the balance between opinion and perspective, between preaching and practicing. Writing, has almost been an exercise in self-meditation, an ability to view oneself through the eyes of the world – something we do through our lives, everyday, through our platforms of social media or our circle of our friends. Writing, for all the finished manuscripts and the articles limited by their word limit, remains being a work in progress.


5 thoughts on “On How To Be A Writer

  1. Blunt and true Alina! Nice work. The psychotherapists here are getting their patients here to write – and I mean handwrite – poetry. And some of the thoughts that are being produced may be at times twisted yet profound.

    Liked by 1 person

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