The realisation began in 1998, when I read my first Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms, at age 20. I had always seen myself as a good writer, editing school magazines, writing radio scripts, getting reviews published in the Times of India, reasonably well read. My favourite writer was Rushdie and my favourite book was Midnight's Children. I was drawn to the verbose, the use of descriptive visual imagery. Let's look at how I would describe getting drenched in the cold rain...
"The grey clouds darkened into black, bringing the dreariness of night into day. Drops of ice fell from the sky, sharp as needles, gradually at first, and then all around me as I walked, stinging my face, getting under my skin and into my bones, until the cold around me became something I carried like a dark cloud within me".
Then I read Hemingway and realised I could have just said "As I walked, it began raining. A cold dark rain that left me frozen and alone".
I couldn't bring myself to write with honesty, with a lack of awareness of an audience, without feeling the need to impress. So I stopped writing. Not one piece for a decade. I built a company. Then another. I told everyone I'm a business guy, not a creative guy.
Last year I wrote again. Two pieces. A poem on Shillong and a piece on Grunge. I wrote both from the heart and in the moment. I loved both pieces. I shared them with a few people who seemed to love them as well. I was inspired to write again. I had things to say, thoughts to share, a need to express myself. This was in February. I didn't write a single word for the rest of the year.
Two weeks ago I was asked by The Northeast Today to write a piece on what it meant to me to grow up as a North Easterner. I agreed but procrastinated until I had a day to submit my piece. With a deadline looming and no time to think, I wrote again. A piece that wasn't the hagiographic ode to an idyllic paradise I thought I would write, but something far more raw and brutal and honest.
And in the process I learnt and understood what held me back.
I realised that I need to stop writing for an audience, even if that audience is myself. That not every piece needs to have a literary quality, that not every thought needs to be expressed with beauty and originality. That writing is not just about the words, but sometimes just about thoughts. That even my thoughts don't need to impress anyone. That my writing is just a way of capturing my life, my thoughts, my feelings at different points in time, no different from how a photograph captures a moment, a verbal record of a moment or feeling in time rather than a visual one. Just like the best photographs are not the ones where everyone is dressed well and smiling perfectly, but something more real and honest and intimate, so too with writing.
So here I am. A decade later. No more dressing up my words. A failed writer. But a writer again.