You know, whenever I do these speech events, I speak of ideology. I speak of abstract concepts and try to build tangibles out of them. These concepts might come from personal experiences, but they’re not about me. They’re just free-floating ideas I try to collate. So, when the team asked me to come here and speak about my work, I was a little stumped. It’s odd, for a poet, to speak about herself after writing so much. There comes a point when there is a schism in how you look at yourself as a person versus as a creator and bridging them both takes a certain amount of self reflection…and that’s not a pleasant experience. When you write, sometimes you find yourself writing about what your audience wants to read. When you write, often, you stop identifying with what you write. You snap back, of course, and promise yourself you will never fall into the trap of pandering again…till you do. It’s a constant cycle of learning, unlearning, relearning till you reach a point where you think…hey ‘Hey, maybe I’ve managed to balance these two expectations’ and ‘hey, maybe my work can be appreciated and remain relevant to my context.’
I haven’t reached there yet. Definitely not. There are days when I wake up and think, ‘well, today’s the day everyone realizes that I’ve been pulling off a very intricate fraud.’ There are days when I think…why am I doing this? What do I get out of writing poetry? Why do I put bits of myself out, consolidate my perspective, and wait for people to judge it? Seems rather counterintuitive, no? Instead of trying to protect yourself, you actively lower your defenses and override your sense of self-preservation. You actively search for critique, and you constantly straddle the fine line between hating what you write, and being unwarrantedly defensive about it. It’s not easy to be unbiased about what you write. Of course, people older, wiser, and more experienced than I am can do it, because they’ve honed their ability to disassociate from their work long enough to perceive it as a third party. I haven’t. I’m young, and stupid, and often half grown-I might know the technicalities of writing, but sometimes the crux of it is lost.
And somehow, between all this doubt, both self inflicted and from external sources, confusion, and chaos…I managed to write a book. I’m not sure how it happened. Every time I pick up a copy and flip through it, I’m like ‘woah! A book! A book I wrote?!’ it’s brilliant, because I’m always surprised that I could manage to sit down and actually create something so tangible and real. It’s a wonder that doesn’t cease, because as I wrote the book, it wrote parts of me. I’m not the person I was when I printed out 150 sheets of poetry and sent them off to the only publisher I wanted to work with. Each draft of the book, and there were 8, mind you, became drafts of me. I learned so much by reading what I wrote, by delving into the space I was when I wrote that, and by stepping back and analyzing how someone else would read it. Writing a book is, in equal parts, a creating a journey for your reader, and going on a really strange one yourself.
As I was on this journey, I stumbled a lot. I definitely made a lot of mistakes. But I learned a lot. I learned so much, in so many fragmented, wondrous ways. So I today, I’m going to give you something that took me nearly two, now three, years to collect.
These are the 10 lessons writing my book gave to me:
1. Trust yourself. You can’t doubt every word you write, you can’t hate everything you create. When you wake up in the morning, look into the mirror and find courage to write about what you truly believe in. never stop writing because of doubt. If you feel like you’re faltering, write through the doubt, write about it, if nothing else. Your number one resource is you. Make sure you never second guess it.
2. Respect your work. It’s very easy to dismiss your own work as something lesser than what it is. It’s also very easy to not realize the scope of what you’re achieving because you’re so focused on the next poem, the next book, the next project, the next photo series…whatever. Sometimes you need to step back, look at the body of your work, and say ‘hey, I’m actually pretty happy with what I’ve done now.’
3. Never delete. You know, now it’s easy to get rid of what you’re writing, clicking, creating. It’s very easy to keep your finger on that backspace button and just letting that particular train of thought dissipate because you don’t know where it’s going. Stop. The half-baked idea of today can germinate into your best work tomorrow. Stop deleting. Go back to those ideas days and weeks and months later. Use them. Make your creativity self-sustaining.
4. Find critics you trust. Mine were my closest friends and my mother. She edited my entire book with me. Remember that a critic isn’t someone who’s ‘mean’ to you. Ample people can be mean to you. Actively search for people who call you out on your bullshit, and give you some constructive feedback about where, and how, you’re going wrong.
5. Don’t always listen to the critics. Counterintuitive, isn’t it? That you spend so much time looking for someone who can critique you, but then you don’t pay heed to them. But sometimes, just sometimes, you need to let your gut instinct take over and you need to go ahead with that stupidly sappy poem, or that ludicrously ambitious project. You have literally nothing to lose, I promise.
6. Edit. I hate editing. I hate it, so much, because what once looked like a near perfect poem, or article, or short story, becomes this little bouquet of mistakes. I think of how I could’ve written better, or done more research, or generally just a better creator. When I say ‘edit’, I mean edit yourself. Position yourself as the consumer of your work, and see how it impacts a person without the internal context you have.
7. Adapt. Do not, under any circumstance, be afraid of change. This is something that tends to happen. You find your little corner, and you decide ‘yes, this is what I clearly CAN create, so I’m going to limit myself to this’. You basically position yourself as a creative boulder against an unending, unrelenting river of ideas and inspirations. They bombard you with possibilities, but you stay still. But you know what rivers do to rocks? They beat them down till they’re smooth, and often, incapable of disruption. As a creator, your goal in life is to disrupt existing narratives and to create new ones. The only way to do that? Learn. Evolve. Try out new things that make you uncomfortable. If you write about love, write about politics. If you think you only understand sport, work with economic. We have the capacity to learn and unlearn and relearn at the swipe of a screen. It’s a good time to create. So go ahead, take risks.
8. Humility. as much as I like to believe that I know everything, I don’t. and that’s okay. I’m young, right? So are you. Have enough humility in your to put your ego aside, accept that there are people with more experience around you, and learn from them, when I say learn, I don’t mean copy. I mean observe. Understand where they went wrong, and understand where you’re going right- I assure you, you are. But knowing the plausible pitfalls and paths can help you, right? So whenever you enter a conversation with someone you think you may learn from, do so with complete humility. Do so with the idea of learning and growing. This will take practice. We’re a brash, cocky generation. But try it, you might find yourself learning some amazing things.
9. Make mistakes. Make mistakes. Make lots and lots of them. Write terrible poetry. click the most hackneyed of pictures. Write the most cringeworthy music. But do it. Making mistakes is usually how you learn. Making mistakes is what you have to do because mistakes pile up like a little ladder, and you can climb them to your next destination. By allowing yourself the express permission to make the most grievous of mistakes, you’re allowing yourself permission to try new things, to experiment and explore, and to do all this with no fear of failure. Mistakes lead to masterpieces.
10. Love what you do. Love what you do. Love it in a complete, passionate way. Love it till it absorbs and consumes you, and nourishes you in return too. Bukowski said ‘find what you love and let it kill you;. I disagree. Find what you love and let it flourish under your hands. Derive pleasure, joy, happiness from what you do. Escape melancholy by creating, don’t drown yourself in it. It’s easy to create about sadness, anger, and hate. It’s a lot more difficult to infuse positivity in what you make. It takes practice and a dogged determination to be honest and kind to your work.
This may come off as the ‘11th lesson’, but this is probably the most important one. You could just imbibe this, and the rest will follow.
Be kind. Be kind to your work. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your detractors and to your support systems. Be kind enough to look at your peers as a community, not as competition. Be kind to your drawbacks, and definitely be kind to your strengths. It’s very easy to be hard. This world makes you so. It’s attacking you from every direction and worming its way through your defenses till you feel like the only option you have, is to he harsh and brutal. You don’t. You need to actively endeavor to be softer, kinder, gentler than what the world expects of you. You can create out of negative emotions, but that creativity is unstable, and unsustainable. Learn how to channel the happiness inherent in you. Revel in your power as a creator. Soak in the shine of your own words. Please, go ahead, and make magic.