What does it take to be a writer? Writers will tell you that they have often been asked if writing feels like hard work. Is it a job that requires tremendous strategy or is it just sitting in a café, daydreaming gloriously as the words tend to pour out just as deftly as the tea pours from pot to teacup?
To think about it, I never really planned on becoming a writer. I think no writer plans it; they are just born with a burning desire to write, to express. I remember discovering Tinkle back in primary school. My reading journey was just beginning. I slowly graduated to Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Sidney Sheldon and Jeffery Archer. I started correcting my friend’s grammar and that’s when I knew I was slightly better at the language than most others. The Harry Potter obsession validated my love for the language.
After school I started reading Wodehouse and that blew my mind. I fell for the writing style and marvelled at the ease with which he just wrote books upon books never failing to put a smile to the reader’s face. Jeeves is still my absolute favourite. No one can till date match the kind of stiff upper lip British humour he did. I read voraciously, I took up Austen, Bronte, Manto, Niel Gaiman, Tolkien, Marquez, Atwood and many others. I found myself underlining sentences and noting down words vehemently. I was hungry to know how these sentences were formed, was there a technique or did these writers simply sit down and spill whatever came to mind? I had always written in a diary, but I was curious about writing professionally. How did one even get paid to write? Was that even a thing?
On Writing in India
After a few years of working, I can tell you that our society doesn’t place enough importance on writers and the field is tremendously undermined. When it comes to having a career as a writer, there is no clear guidance (the school curriculums do no justice to literature and especially if you did SSC – Balbharti is a shame), no respectful writers that one has access to speak or look up to and definitely no course that takes you there. A BMM degree or a BA in literature cannot be a country’s gateway into this industry. THERE HAS TO BE MORE.
‘If you want to be a writer in India, you just have to wing it.’
What enrages me even today is the lack of knowledge, the immense lack of importance given to becoming a writer and nurturing or honing their skills the same way you hone a MBA for the country. Where are the writing courses? Where are the competitive schools that churn out writers like they churn out engineers?
Where are courses that teach you how to how to write your own book, how to approach character sketches and writing plots for varied genres? That teach you to dream, imagine and write fiction in a strategic way? To handle a client brief when the clients themselves don’t know what they want from a piece of communication? Why is everything left to first-hand experience? Why do I have college kids coming up to me completely lost on what to with their desire to write? Why?
I started writing for a fashion blogger and graduated to writing for blogs, brands and agencies over the course of 3- 5 years. My reasons for writing and sticking to it have changed and developed over the years. I still feel extremely guilty for not having a writing routine or a discipline that I adhere to everyday. But hopefully that should change.
So, let’s talk about why I write? After all the frustrating thoughts, venting about the system and my utter lack of discipline, what has kept me going for all these years? I think I have romanticised writing for myself. I think there is a large part of me that detaches from the actual craft of it and just truly loves the fact that I can write. And so I do. The fact that I can put pen to paper and write up a piece that makes sense and resonates with at least a small section of this world, gives me tremendous joy on most days. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
The beauty lies in simply sitting down and churning out a few thousand words every day. It could be something absolutely banal. Something that you will look back at with utmost amusement. I re-read a lot of the writing I did around 3 years back and I feel like I don’t know that person anymore. There is so much growth, so much change that every person goes through over the course of the years that your creation from a few years back can seem very detached from how you are in the current moment. And I see that as a good thing. It’s always a sign of progress if you can objectively analyse a piece of your own work and decide what went wrong and what truly connected to the audience.
Creative writing is such a long process and a lifelong journey. There is almost never an end and improvisation is always the order of the day. I mean have you ever felt completely satisfied with something you wrote? Impossible. There will always be some scepticism or room for improvement which will keep you on your toes. And that’s a brilliant thing, I reckon. Because that’s what truly drives you to master the next piece, edit your drafts again and again or re-work a script till you can do no more. I think writing a beautifully structured feature article or a tight script requires as much technique, discipline and determination as it requires craft, skill and passion.
When I started to write for a fashion influencer for her Instagram page, I realised I need to start writing features and publish them at a place where recruiters or writers can view my work. So, I started a blog. I spent a good amount of time designing it, something I struggle with but the prospect of having my articles stacked up online motivated me extensively.
www.ditsymusings.com I named it ditsy musings because I knew I wouldn’t be writing about very “serious stuff”; I wouldn’t be speaking about politics or culture or some such OTT intellectual stuff that normally drives the headlines of a publication. I started to write and put up whatever I could, I did extensive research to find out what the lifestyle beats of major publications were writing about. I even contacted the editors and tried to get a job in most of them, but to no avail. I finally landed up in advertising as a copywriter.
On Writing for Brands
Writing for the digital medium is a whole different ball game as opposed to writing for print. Now I am not someone who has print experience but digital is much more fast-paced, requires quick turnarounds and needs you to be on your feet. When it comes to writing for brands, every brand comes with a different tonality and a voice. Mastering the art of telling a story while keeping this tonality intact is where the technique, craft and skill plays a part. While I have always felt that a large part of writing anything- be it a short copy for an Instagram caption, a feature article or a campaign headline, everything requires your gut and your instinct to aid you in the process.
If you can organically spew words onto paper and make good copy out of it, it’s only natural that writing would be easier. I rely heavily on my instinct to curate copy. I feel what flows naturally is always more relatable and connects better than copy that is curated after multiple briefs, structure, process, etc. But I may be wrong.
On Writing for the Self
The writing that I do for myself has always been restricted to a journal or a diary. When you write a blog, you are never really writing for yourself. All the trappings of a good headline, the perfect pause and “keeping it crisp” will haunt you however much you try to escape it. It’s something that becomes a part of your system once you start writing professionally. So, the diary is where one can really seek solace from these limitations.
I have scribbled nonsensical words in my diaries through out the years. While it might not give the same kind of gratification that one feels after writing a full fletched article, it gives a different kind of a relief. Almost meditative in its process. The act of writing using your hands, using pen and paper is ethereal and no kind of technology will replace that relief.
But, when one writes to make a living in 2020, the laptop is your best friend.
I feel lost on days when I don’t end up slumming it in front of my laptop. I feel the most alive when words pour out and when I have things to say, things to convey and conversations to have with people who feel about things just as intensely as I do. And that gives hope. That all is not lost yet, that there is a long way to go and a long journey to take. That there will be a million more opportunities, tremendous inspiration and countless experiences that spark the kind of writing I have always aspired to do. The kind of writing that does not always come easy, the kind that lights up the soul, rises a fire and maybe, just maybe, one day, changes the world.