I started writing actively on the web some 15 years back. As I look back today to these years gone by, I realize I have discovered a few ironies of life, a few lessons for the writer within me. Today, I want to evaluate where I am and share what I have learned over these years. But let me start with a fascinating Aesop’s fable, though — a tale about a man, his son and their hard-working donkey.
A man and his son were once walking to the market with their donkey along by their side. Neither of them was sitting on the donkey. A fellow countryman suggested, “Why don't you ride on the donkey? After all, what is it for but to ride upon, you fool?”
When the man put only the boy on the donkey, another person complained, “Look at that lazy youngster who lets his father walk. Yet, he rides.” Tired, when he got on himself, a woman scoffed, “Shame on that lazy person. He lets his poor little son plod along. Yet, he rides.”
Well, the man took his boy up before him on the donkey, and the passers-by started jeering and pointing at them. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours,” they said.
The man and boy, at last, lifted the donkey over their heads and carried him on their shoulders. They went along as all who they met laughed at them. The donkey, though, knew just one way to live — to do his thing. So, he was still flapping his legs in the air.
In short, everyone had laughed at the man and the son, whatever they did. It's an interesting tale of how criticism, if paid any heed to, would just make things worse for you. However, here's how I look at the story.
Do you know who was unaffected as the town was laughing along? Yep, the donkey. Do you know who didn't get any criticism from anyone? Yep, the donkey.
As I began writing more on the web and making it public, I realized very early on that I cannot let the criticism or the scoff that I will invariably receive from the ugly Internet affect me. I wrote on my blog. I wrote on Medium. Not only that, I shared my writings at many places, not being worried about what others will say. That was so unlike me, the introvert. But if I hadn't done so, I may have stopped writing a long time back.
Try to please everyone, and you will please no one, the saying goes. So, be a donkey, stay unaffected by the criticism and continue your creative work.
Through these 15 years, my productivity for writing has not been consistent, though. I have been super productive at times, publishing multiple posts in a week, and then there have been times when I did not post for months. I have blamed it on platforms, the editors, my lifestyle, my likings etc. But I have come to realize it is cyclic for me, these are all phases. I do want to compare two specific phases that I have enjoyed a lot.
There was a time when was I was writing fiction pretty regularly. I made it a habit, a routine to write short stories and send them to publications on Medium. I was productive, and I had fun. But for some unknown reason, I had stopped reading. I now feel I had even stopped living, unaware of events that I was surrounded by.
That did not help. And I was reminded of another phase when I wasn't churning fiction from my mind. I just narrated things happening around me, and yet I was most creative and productive then.
I wrote posts about crappy elevator logic, stupid bets, my conscious subconscious or the time when I didn't claim my spectacles because I preferred not to hurt my ego. Were these posts great? Who cares? I felt good. I could never weave a better story than what life was weaving around me.
Keep your eyes open. Some of the most amazing stories surround us. Stay inspired — because life creates better stories than a writer's pen. You just have to pay attention.
And don't ever halt for planning what you want to write. During each of these phases of my writing, I thought I knew where I wanted to take my writing to. A life journal. Fiction. Humour.
It was as if I was deciding for myself what I was allowed to write, what I would enjoy writing for the longest, or what I would be good at. That was senseless — I now know that would have never worked. But as Chris Crutchly said, hindsight's never around when you need it.
There is no point planning too much, too ahead. Just create. Do what your heart says now, without thinking where it will lead you. Don't try to connect the dots while you are planting them — a genius once said you can only do that looking backwards.
Nonetheless, there are times when I do halt. After all, life does suck every so often. It has been doing that for the past 18 months. I was taken over by boredom, and yet didn't know what I could do with all the time I had at my hands. I was living through phases that weren't comfortable. And I followed the easiest path, I stopped writing. I have done such foolhardy multiple times in these last 15 years.
Under heaven, all can see beauty as beauty,
only because there is ugliness.
Lao Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher, says while talking about the duality of life. It is so true. It's easy to forget that things will eventually improve. We begin to label things. Negative and positive. Right and wrong. Sad and happy. But, as the masters at Pixar once said, “Sometimes the only way to really appreciate joy is to experience sadness”.
Lao ends his verse with these lines.
"When the work is done, it is forgotten.
That is why it lasts forever."
Yep, don't halt. Create. Write. Get bored. Be surrounded by negative thoughts. Get bogged down by them. But don't stop writing. Don't publish them, sure. Let them lie forgotten in the pages of your diary. But write.
And definitely don't wait for the inspiration to come to you from outside. I have realized it's the worst way to get inspired to write. I read. I listen. I see. And that's when I write. I can't depend on others for inspiration. I need to seek it out.
Things tend to happen to you in life when you are not ready. So, I am always ready. I am always writing. What's written is not perfect every time. But when that one perfect thought does hit me, I am usually ready. And boy, I have written my fair share of imperfect posts. Stupid posts. When I read a few of these posts from the early days, I cringe.
I was told the tone of my posts is not right. Or the platform I am writing at is not right. Or my method of sharing is not right. But I didn't care. I was stubborn in what I wanted to write. It was OK if it came out stupid.
But you know what, at times I wish I could still be that same free self. The stupid one. I had the most fun then. I am a shadow of that person — but I have learned the lesson. It's OK to be stupid. Just be alive. I write what my mind wants me to write now. At this moment. I write what I want to read. It doesn't matter how cringe-worthy it sounds.
Be stupid. But then be playful. Be eager to learn.
Be stubborn. But then be cautious. Be friendly.
Do you know what other animal shares all these characteristics as per Wikipedia? A donkey. So be a donkey. But act. Write. Create.
I had delivered a talk with this content as part of Micro Camp 2021.
Cover Artwork by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash