This post was originally published at rochizalani.com
I wrote my first poem when I was 10 at the back of a 2-year old unused dated diary my father got as a gift from work. I remember using red pens and decorative headings to scribble “beautifully”, not a care in the world if what I am writing makes any sense.
At 10, I didn’t know what I was getting into as I returned day after day to fill the page with more neat red ink. At (almost) 22, I can’t be more thankful that the little version of me didn’t care if what she’s writing is “any good”.
My journey with writing begins (and is always intricately woven) with my journey in reading. As it so happens, I also picked up my first novel by Chetan Bhagat (guilty) at 10. I’d be slightly embarrassed to admit that Three Mistakes Of My Life is my introduction to literary fiction and author inspiration, but (sigh) it is what it is.
Seeing my interest in reading, my brother encouraged me to read The Alchemist (which I tell people is the “first-ever” book I read, so, shh). The more books I read (no matter how crappy they seem now), the more I itched to write. I found it nothing short of magic that books are written by actual people – like you, like me, like everyone else.
But for the longest time, I was (what I call) an “inspiration-only” writer. I wrote when some creative genie came through and let me steal his idea to doodle on the paper. Luckily for me, that genie visited often, at least in the beginning. It also made me write a novella at 14 (with my brother’s push to write 3000 words daily) deeply “inspired” by Harry Potter and Superman.
But soon enough, I started to care if my writing is valuable, good enough, or worth sharing. And that is when writers begin to suck more than they already do and keep staring at the blinking cursor or wincing blank page. This is also when writers deem every other thing that is not writing a priority – do the dishes first, buy the groceries and write post that, maybe if you get up early you’ll write better, you should go for a walk to catch the sunset-inspiration, etc.
The only thing that piled up for a few years were excuses (the notebooks heap contained only 4).
Writing turned from something-I-enjoy-doing-with-no-inhibitions into something-I-need-to-be-excellent-at-but-can’t. I began to dread completing a poem. The number of pages I wrote was equal to the number of people I met in 2020.
It was also the fact that a wannabe-poet who hasn’t read even 30 poems can’t be good at writing poetry. All those things they say about “having it in you” and “talent” and “creativity is inherently present” is bullshit. Creating art of any form is hard work. You need to put in the hours, you need to know what else is out there, you need to accept how bad you are, and from there you can begin to weave a road to progress.
I realized at 18 what I should’ve known since I was 14: “Inspiration” is a lousy, unreliable, lazy teacher. I discarded it.
I began to hunt for writing jobs that I can juggle with college and that can “teach me how to write” while I also make pocket money and feel as if “I am making real progress to my career in writing”. None of those things happened. They were a mirage.
I don’t deny that I did eat some extra pizzas from the few nickels I made. And I was also taught how to write, but “writing that can sell and land you your next client” not the “writing for life” that I was intending to learn.
But frustrated with the stupid writing I have to do to make a buck, I began writing for myself (and that is lesson #1 on “how to write for learning life”). I dedicated 20 minutes to it daily, without fail. I also made it a habit to read at least one poem daily, with its analysis and all. I didn’t always write, write:
Was this satisfactory? No. I made writing a mere “job” and reading poems a “task” and whatever you do, never limit your art to any of those things. If your art form exists only so you can cross one thing off your to-do list and feel “accomplished”, it will provide you with 0/infinite fulfillment it has the potential to provide.
On the external, it did look like progress. I was making enough to buy a decent phone out of my expanded pocket money and landing 2x clients than before. But internally, I knew (you always know these things), that this is not what writing is for.
I don’t know how it happened. I wish I could transcribe a series of engaging linear events that led me to fall in love with writing and tell you step-1 to step-5 as neatly as my beginner notebooks. But I don’t know how it happened.
I just remember noticing one day at 19 the same itching desire I used to have at ages 11 and 12 to go home and just write. I noticed stumbling onto one of my old notebooks that I don’t care about “neatness” anymore and scribble maniacally like my life depends on it. I can’t recall the first time I realized that I am most irritable when I haven’t written. I knew not when my diaries became the home of my deepest insecurities, wildest questions, and flowers I find beautiful:
How am I reciting my favorite poems like prayer and doing courses on Walt Whitman when a year or two ago I struggled to read one poem a day? When did I start not caring if my writing has external validation and began sharing it ferociously with no apprehension? How are there 4 notebooks filled in a month now when just a few years ago the blank page was a nightmare to behold every day for 20 minutes?
I don’t know, dear reader. All I know is I don’t remember a time in my life when words weren’t in my life. All I know is that I think in sentences and feel a deep sorrow for the ones that fade from memory before I could jot them down. All I know is that I can sit still for hours and hours only when I’m with words. All I know is that writing is how I make sense of the world and I don’t have a choice in the matter. All I know is that the person who did the most right by me is my 10-year old self that wrote her first poem in bright red ink (and the brother who said, uhm, read this instead).