Essays: Why I write

I know I’m not in a minority when I say that writing, especially something that is personal or creative, is something I like to think I’m good at. Let me try to describe my journey in discovering writing.

My earliest experiences with learning how to write are blurry memories of learning to form the fine cursive typeface with clumsy fingers. I remember writing several pages of hand-smudged alphabets, with columns demarcated to count the number of times I had written the letter on a page. In retrospect it was obviously not a neat effort, but I remember them as tedious hours spent toiling over what I thought then was the most boring thing imaginable. An expanding vocabulary supported by a grammatical infrastructure finally allowed me to render bigger ideas. “The cat is eating an apple”, and other such mundane statements were the my first profound steps into the writing world.

My experience with writing evolved into something more intimate when I discovered that my mother kept a diary. She described it to me as having a friend that I could always confide in; nobody would ever open the book and read it. Or perhaps, someday in the future I would like to read it and imagine how life was then. I didn’t fully understand the emotional value of a diary until years later. But I didn’t want to be left out of an activity that my mother adhered to with an almost religious diligence. So I acquired a blue spiral-bound notebook which had a rather ostentatiously large flower on the front cover and one of my innumerable grubby pencils, and started to write.

My school teachers would complain that I never dated my work in class, so it was harder for them to correct. Starting a diary was the first time I realized that dates helped differentiate one day’s experiences from the next. Some of my earlier entries are spectacularly banal and short. To summarize almost 30 pages worth of graphite scrawl, I had written about what happened in school, what interested me in class, what I ate, what my friends said and what I watched on TV. I didn’t have any other experiences to write about. I didn’t know many of the words which could encapsulate my ideas. However, my family always encouraged me to keep writing, even when I had run out of words. I suspect that they wanted to improve my then-terrible handwriting rather than improve my ability to generate meaningful content.

Two major changes started to simultaneously unfold in my life which made writing a more dominant activity. My parents took on jobs which made them transfer homes frequently and I had finally exhausted my voracious appetite for reading.

As the only child of working parents, I have had to change cities and schools just as frequently as I had to change homes. I would often worry that I wouldn’t be able to make friends or find the same comfortable niche that I had found in the friends that I had left behind. Then my diary transformed into an immense source of support. It had slowly become the sole repository of misery, awe, frustration and surprise that I could always return to without feeling criticized for having expressing my deepest fears or desires.

As puberty dawned, emotions and interpersonal relationships grew in complexity and in several heated arguments, I found that writing about the situation allowed me to pause and reflect about the regrettable awkward response. My many journals have enabled me to survive some of the emotionally toughest moments of my life. Even reading the old entries helps me uncover unhealthy recurring trends in my mental and social make-up as well as revisit the fond memories of the past. Even though I had an immense emotional investment in my personal writing, I didn’t feel confident enough to present my work to an audience. This tied into the other propellant of writing into my life: my love for stories.

I had been an avid consumer of stories ever since I could hear them. As a reader, I could be locked up inside a library and I would have finished several sections of novels in a span of a few hours. I had been blessed with a large collection of books of all sorts from my parents, but I still maintain an abiding affinity for science fiction over other genres. When my parents went travelling and I was alone at home, I would read of wonderful, fantastic worlds with remarkable beings and inconceivable rules. The many exotic planets I have visited with equally many robot companions have been larger than life. Their esoteric stories moved me so deeply that I couldn’t wait for more.

Even though the stories are infinite, my access to them was limited and eventually I came to the point of satiety where every story seemed predictable. After months of frequent trips to the bookstore and surprisingly unsatisfactory results, I decided to create the very same stories that I would like to consume. Writing was no longer a personal outlet. It was now my substitute for entertainment. I will not deny that trying to portray characters, render atmospheres and describe people was difficult. Initially, most of my stories were autobiographical because I was attempting to replicate the process of my emotional expression in terms of other characters struggling with their inner turmoil. Then I tried to imitate the techniques that I had savored from my beloved masters in the field and my stories grew to various shades of life, and perhaps color.

I was very surprised with the feedback that I received on my extremely modest efforts. My readership grew, I started a blog and I joined the school magazine editorial. My community of readers expanded and I was exposed to several other brilliant ideas and techniques of writing that I had never discovered before, such as the impact of a short lonely sentence standing away from a paragraph.

Times changed.

As a third year undergraduate engineering student, my experience with writing was last formally altered by the first year English requirement course. It was a course designed to teach academic writing, specifically thesis papers. I was under the mistaken assumption that this was going to be an easy process for me (as I was familiar with some of the ideas and concepts of writing).

It was during this semester that I struggled through all the stereotypical maladies of the writer. I became acquainted with a formidable writers block, the exhaustive process of searching for bibliographies and the all-encompassing loneliness of yet another rewrite on a weekend when I had three other problem-sets due and all my friends were out in the city. This course had almost made me develop an anathema towards writing and hearing the words “enjoy” and “weekend” in the same sentence.

I also had the singular good fortune of being assigned a terribly thorough yet endearing editor, who did his job very well and continued to push me to make better sense of the ideas in my head and on my papers. It was perhaps this process of soul-searching and intense contemplation of words and articles that made me respect my writing enough to churn out words from the abyss of fatigue. The bleak moments were borne out by the moments of incredible, incomparable joy when my meager efforts were recognized.

As I have grown up with my writing, I have discovered that perfecting it is indeed a process instead of a final destination. I have joined this course to discover the other unexplored avenues of where my writing can take me and to interact with a larger community of people who are perhaps are striving for similar goals. As my essay obviously shows, the emotional attachment that I place on writing is perhaps a strong motivator and I’m sure there’s validated research that has been done on the therapeutic properties of writing, but more importantly, it has been the enforced regularity which has brought me familiarity with my writing. My relationship with writing may be old but perhaps it is something that is truly, in my mother’s words, “a lifelong companion.”

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