If I could, I would write a ballad like Richard Siken. Maybe a worthy description of my room that spans for over 4 pages like Kafka. Or write beautifully long sentences like Arundhati Roy. Or a memorable fiction like Ray Bradbury. Or maybe I’d talk about terror like Stephen King when he said, “Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute.”
Why? Writing like me is never satisfactory. My monologues are nowhere as poetic as Savannah Brown’s. My prose lacks depth. I have no sense of rhyme and meter. While I may never be as great as any of them, ever, I still hold a thought dear to myself. One thing every decent writer has talked about is finding their own voice. Some find it in their adolescence out of sheer brilliance. Some work to the bone for it. I’m certainly not in the first category. But hey, I know a bunch of really good writers in the second one.
Benjamin Labatut, the writer of When we cease to understand the world, has arguably produced one of the best works of literature till date. I’ve never seen a book that reads as if you’re on a trip. It’s like Nyquil on paper. It took him a lot of time. I know writers who wrote 10 flop books by the time they were 30, only to have their 11th be a critically-acclaimed bestseller.
This process in the writing world is usually known as paying your dues. But no one really talks about this as much as they should. What does it mean to pay your dues to a craft? How do you make a tangible sacrifice to the abstract? When do you know if you’ve done enough? Clearly not through numbers. There’s no magic formula or a hidden number shared amongst a cult of the world’s best writers. But it’s still the most perpetuated sound advice given to young writers. Put in the work, pay your dues, start with the next one.
When you compare it with the objectivity of other professions, you almost never get any clear action steps. And I think lately, I’m beginning to understand why. Most jobs require some amount of creativity and ingenuity, but a big chunk of the job — still — remains repetitive to a fault. A bunch of Redditors have programmed workflows to completely automate their WFH jobs for months without anyone getting a single hint about it. Writing, or art, on the other hand, is on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. It’s about taking your unique perspective and reinventing a part of the language to fit it in.
The good writers imitate the greats. The greats create things from scratch. What does it take to be great, though? Is it something that you have to be born with? Or is it something that can be nurtured as a skill over time? There’s a huge debate about this. The work of a true genius feels effortless, groundbreaking, and paradigm altering. The work of a seasoned one never quite gets the same concentration of fame, barring a few. A clear observation can be made. Creative output is rewarded in different hierarchies. When the quality feels the same, the next metric of superiority comes to speed, which isn’t right.
In fact, I would argue that a seasoned professional who has earned his bones, will almost always contribute to the field more than a genius who may burn too bright and quick. The savants get humbled at every turn of their journey, which is what drives them to find companions, and generally be more empathetic to the young enthusiasts who are starting out in their shoes. Their overall impact, then, becomes dispersed from their literary work to the overall, intangible impact that they have on the craft.
Another thing about savants, they start detaching themselves from the outcome after a point in time. They become engrossed in the act of creation of itself. So much so that they become a kind of indestructible stoic when it comes to their work. A lot of them lead lives of unwavering discipline amidst the strife of daily life. Some of them start writing early in the morning while the others write on every napkin and a scrap paper when the inspiration strikes. Showing up everyday becomes a part of their identity, it becomes who they are and the art starts manifesting itself through their identity itself.
While losing yourself in your work completely may not be the antidote to a happy life. Losing track of time while doing it, is a realistic aim all of us can have. What am I learning from all of this? I’m slowly telling myself that the outcome may not get better for weeks, months, and years to come. In these moments, I like to remind myself of the feeling that I feel right now. My fingers racing to the next letter as my legs sit still as I try to make sense of an internal anxiety that I’ve been carrying for the longest time. Most of my writing time is spent like this, in complete calm, quiet, and one-ness with myself. Even if I don’t make a bestseller one day, I think chasing this feeling is more than worth it. For the rest of my life.