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Writing is equivalent to walking down a street naked

I once got caught cheating in a final examination.

In the year nine maths exam, our examiner from the goodness of her heart gave us five minutes to help each other. The whole room burst into talking. Girls helped each other by giving hints or showing how they had solved certain sums.

I was stuck on an equation. I asked the girl ahead of me who had already solved it. She was one of the brightest students in the class and was tipped to top. She told me the answer in a roundabout way which didn’t make sense. Watching me struggle and five minutes coming to an end the examiner quickly held out her paper for me to have a quick glance. That was enough for me to solve the equation.

The next day, I was summoned to the principal’s room. The other girl had reported what had happened. I received a slap on the face and a warning, the humiliation of which stayed with me for the rest of my life.

Even topping the school and district the next two consecutive years and beating the girl who was tipped to top twice by a vast margin didn’t wash away the shame I felt.

When I first wrote about the incident in a writing class, I felt I was exposing my soul. Yet this is exactly what I had signed up for by choosing to become a writer.

Many aspiring writers do not understand the price they need to pay for the vocation they had chosen. They think writing is an art of putting words on paper. A craft of creating stories by putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But writing is a commitment to one’s soul.

You need to make three commitments to yourself before you embark on the journey to becoming a writer: Commitment to show:

  • Courage
  • Honesty
  • Perspective

Writing takes courage

Neil Gaiman, one of the most revered writer of our times, was not prepared to reveal anything about himself when he started writing. He didn’t want to be judged. He didn’t want people reading any of his stories to know who he was. If you haven’t read any of his work, many of his books could be described as weird. Then one day he realized,

“…as a writer, you had to be willing to do the equivalent of walking down a street naked. You had to be able to show too much of yourself. You had to be just a little bit more honest than you were comfortable with.”

Neil Gaiman in Masterclass

This is what the readers want to see. They want to see your soul. They want you to spill your authentic self onto the page. And that takes courage. A lot many people want to tell their stories but lack the courage to bring them forth.

So the first pact you make with yourself – As a writer, I shall nurture my courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within me.

Writing demands honesty

Telling a story is one thing, telling an authentic story is another. A fake story is dispelled like fake news even if it is fiction. In fact, fiction needs to be as truthful as non-fiction. Just like a patient needs to be honest with his doctor, a writer needs to be honest with its readers. Writing that titillates because of its shock value breaks readers’ trust and comes to haunt its writer as it did to James Frey who fell from grace for fabricating certain details in his memoir A Million Little Pieces.

At the same time, honesty is not tell-all and reveal-everything and washing your dirty laundry in public. Rather it is a combination of accuracy, sincerity, compassion and truth. Every story contains a snapshot of its creator. You need to give your honest one to your readers.

Your second pact with yourself is – My stories will be a reflection of my honesty.

Writing requires a perspective

If you don’t have a viewpoint, if you are too scared to upset people, if you rather walk in the middle of the road, you should not take up writing a vocation. People want to read your writing because they want to hear your perspective. As a writer, you need to provide a voice to what you are thinking, and by default what others are thinking.

Most people can’t articulate their thoughts and look up to the writers to put words to their feeling. Writers have the responsibility of setting the tone and mood of a generation. That can be done without ruffling some feathers and upsetting a few people. Give your readers what they want: a story with personality and authenticity.

Your third pact with yourself – I shall use my writing as a platform to share my perspective and opinions truthfully and boldly.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

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