WHAT MY FIRST BOOK MADE ME REALISE
Is that I’m not sure if I know how to do anything else apart from writing. And hell! I don’t even know anymore if I know how to write!
I’ve been on a bit of a zen trip the last few years. A lot of introspection, a lot of yoga, a lot of just staring out of the window, trying to figure out that now that I am here on earth, just what the hell am I supposed to do? I moved out of what I called a ‘rat-race’ in Mumbai and moved into a much busier life in the relatively quiet small town of Mysore (yes, quite paradoxically, I got busier after I decided to go zen). I got into organic farming, and I got roped into running a bookstore. Quite idyllic. And the first year, I didn’t even thing about writing. I was just happy. I was running a salad bar.
But then the worm in my brain started wriggling. Write, it said. It has been so long. Sure, you’re getting reading done that you haven’t in a decade, despite having the least amount of free time you’ve ever had. But write, dammit! Write. I wish I could tell you that I tried to ignore it. Nuh-uh. I didn’t. To be honest, I was happy that the worm was back. I was starting to wonder if my whole writing thing was just a farce. If it was something that I had just dreamed up for myself. Perhaps, I was starting to think, that, writing is not what I was made for. Perhaps I was made to just run a bookstore. Perhaps, I thought, I was one of those who read a lot and didn’t write. And nothing wrong with that, is there?
But then the worm came back, with it’s little nagging voice. And I was more than happy to listen to it. I spent the rest of the year struggling to write, juggling my schedule, losing my peace of mind. I’ve never really struggled to write like that. That’s not to say I’ve never had trouble writing. I always have. But I have always had a clarity of mind while writing. My troubles have always been technical. Find ing a certain synonym, having a sentence gel seamlessly with another, that sort of stuff. This time it was different. I was wracked with self doubt. Sure, the desire was there again. But could I even write? For the first time in my life, I had no idea. I had spent close to ten years calling myself a writer. I had spent ten years trying to make a living off my writing. And I had failed miserably. So could I call myself a good writer? I had no effing idea. And to be honest, I still don’t.
How do you know if you are a good writer? Does your gut tell you so? Or do others? But couldn’t they be wrong? Couldn’t your gut be wrong? Of course it can. The whole world and its gut could tell you you’re the next Dostoyevsky and they could all be wrong. And that is exactly what makes that such a dangerous thought. You cannot doubt your skill. For doubt it enough, and it will disappear. And it will take you down with it.
But yesterday, something happened. I received my first book in my hand. It was a surreal moment. Absolutely unreal. I knew it was coming. Of course I knew it was coming. I, Siyahi, Amaryllis, we had all worked towards this moment for the last five years! Everyone and their grandmother knew it was coming. And god knows I had spent the last five years telling everyone I met that I had written a book and it was soon to be out. It was on the weight of that book that I called myself a writer. But it doesn’t matter, you know. It doesn’t matter that you know. That moment you hold it for the first time — it’s not from this world. That feeling is something else altogether. It’s not even the feeling of achievement. There’s no sense of ‘I did it’. Not even pride. No, none of that. Perhaps what could come closest to describing it is love. Pure, unadulterated love. And not that passionate type either. That calm, quiet and settled type of love. The kind of love that doesn’t need to prove itself. The kind that is just there, existing.
And a lot of things suddenly became clear to me. I had been going about it entirely the wrong way. There is no need to that I am a good writer. There never was. There was no need to make a living off it either (as I had been obsessed with for a while then). Everyone else was right, actually. I shouldn’t try to make a living off it. For me, that is not what writing can be based upon. Not for any superlative grand reasons. But, in fact, for a very simple one.
I had been using public approval and monetary approval to judge my writing. And I was doing that simply because I was too scared to take an honest look at it myself. I was scared of finding out that something I had invested so much into, emotionally, might prove to be baseless. And so I was looking at the world to tell me that I was wrong. I was waiting for the whole goddam world to tell me that I was a brilliant writer, the next Shakespeare. And how stupid is that really? And how, seriously, ego-driven is that?
Why should the world tell me I am good enough or not, right? I can just hear you nodding away. But you know what? I realized something else also along with that. Why should it even matter if I am a good enough writer or not? Sure, it matters when it comes to book sales. It matters when you are reading something I have written. If what I have written is not good enough, you will not read it. In fact, you should not read it! So, yes, there are plenty of avenues where it does matter, and it should matter! But why should it matter to me? I write. And all that should matter to me is whether I am enjoying it or not. All that should matter to me is whether it makes me happy or not. All that should matter to me is whether it lightens my load or not. If not, I should just drop it. Burdens are never worth carrying. Especially mental burdens. So it was in that moment (funny how the best epiphanies happen either in the shower or when you’re driving. This one was when I was driving, if you’re interested), that I decided that I would just write. I would just write, write and write. And I would put it out there. Simply because I wanted to.
It is funny how the brain works. All this theorizing helps me write, and it helps me write freely, free of judgement, from myself and from others. But it does not help me answer one crucial question — if all I want is happiness, some peace of mind, why the hell do I write? Why do I not tackle that happiness, that peace of mind directly? That is easier said than done. It doesn’t quite work that way, does it?
And that is a question I have absolutely no answer to. To be entirely honest, I’m not even sure I want to. Not just at the moment, at least. Not just now. For now, I need to write. I need to create. And that is what my first book has taught me.