What 2019 has taught me about becoming a better writer

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Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

If there’s one thing that has kept my head above water in 2019, it has been my writing practice. The simple act of writing even a little bit, every week, every day or even every month has helped me stay sane in a world that didn’t always allow me to the time or the space to fully make peace with the onslaught of my emotions.

Through the course of 2019, I have applied many writing devices and techniques to become better at the craft. The following are a few reflections on the lessons that have helped me the most:

  1. Writing 300 words per day — I’ve always liked being called a ‘writer’, in fact, my Instagram bio has the word ‘writer’ in it though I have never published a book, nor do I have a viral fan following on any writing platform. I’ve deemed myself to be a ‘writer’ simply because I write a little more than my friends. (And also because no one’s going to sue you for using an effusive description on an Instagram profile) It’s a pretentious thing to do and I recognize it all too well. The niggling feeling overpowered me and finally I decided to push myself to do something ‘writer-ly’. I read about a writing challenge whose rules stated that one has to write a minimum of 300 words per day. And so, I began writing 300 words per day to legitimize calling myself a ‘writer’. The 300 words didn’t have to be about a specific topic, so I wrote a whole lot of pointless drivel at first, publishing less than 20% of what I wrote as part of the 300 words challenge. But eventually, something began to change — I started to look at the 300 words exercise not as a chore but as a tether in my otherwise fast paced life. No matter what was going on, I would carve out time to write 300 words — even if the writing was bad, I was doing something that made me feel alive. I felt like I really existed and that i wasn’t just a free floating combination of molecules. Over time, this also had the benefit of making the writing process easier and I ended up writing more while being able to get into the state of flow more easily. Consistency is key with a skill like writing –you need to show up and do what needs to be done every single day. Devote yourself to your craft even if it’s for a few minutes in a day. A little goes a long way.
  • Giving myself permission to be vulnerable — I have always enjoyed writing as a form of catharsis but the idea of talking about my struggles with the world has always scared me. I always kept wrestling with the question: “Would I seem too needy/too desperate/ too tasteless/ too self-righteous/ too silly/ too whiny/… if I published this?” This year, I decided to stop asking. The truth is I know that there is nothing I can do once my work is out there in the real world for everyone to see. It’s impossible to control someone else’s opinion on my writing. The only thing I can do is drop the pretense and write the truth; write what I wish someone had written when I was going through something painful. In 2019, I gave myself permission to set my writing free, to publish even when I thought my piece wasn’t perfect or when something was a little too close to me. Believe it or not, this takes a load off the mind, you start to become fearless when you open your heart to the world through your words. It’s a bit like dusting off an old light bulb to find that it burns a lot brighter than you thought at first. Not only does being vulnerable make your writing more authentic and widen your reach to the people who need your words the most, it makes you feel brave. Very few things in the world can generate such a feeling. Writing demands courage — infusing your words with a bit of heart lends a depth to them that is very hard to fake.
  • Stopped using vanity metrics to decide the worth of my words — I have infamously refreshed the stats page on the medium every 2 minutes to check if anyone has read my latest article or if anyone has left some claps or comments. I’ve only ever felt two things from doing this — extreme joy at the thought that my words are getting attention and deep despair at zero views/likes. Each of these has caused me to behave differently when I sat down to write the next day. Praise feels good but why should it ever be the reason you write or don’t write? External validation is a tricky beast — one that shouldn’t be allowed to influence your writing process. It’s easy to write something to ‘appease the algorithm’ in the hopes of gaining ‘viral’-ness, but I ask you, what happens after that? Would you rather distort your voice as a writer just to appease a fickle piece of software than choose to bare your truth every time you write? I’ve walked both paths and come to realize that staking one’s self worth on a human construct like claps/upvotes/likes is the easiest way to sully a healthy writing practice. Never let your stats determine your worth as a writer either — you have a unique world view that only you can share, and that’s quite enough validation for you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keypad) to write and to publish.

Overall, this year I’ve learnt that writing allows you to unabashedly examine the world, and the people in it. It gives you a chance to make your own connections and tell a story that only you can see. The accounts of your misadventures at work, or your experience of a failed relationship, or the narration of a challenging phase in your life are the ink from which your quill comes to life. Writing helps you rise above the trappings of the day to day trivialities to help you to transmute the mundane into something poignant. Don’t ever forget that.

Own your words. Speak your truth. Seize 2020.

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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