What does it mean to be a writer?
1 Million Words Later
During my teenage years and back in my early twenties, I dreamed of being a writer. I wrote in every possible pocket of time I had — between classes, on trains, at home up until the wee hours of the night.
I had dreams of grandeur, of making it big, of book tours and signings for the tales I wrote but no one to ready my stuff. I had no audience, no readers, no viewers. It was just me and the computer.
I would churn out novels and short stories. I would scour Reddit threads for writing advice from people who were barely writers themselves. I would share my tales in hopes of getting a follow for follow. It was a toxic space to be in — everyone out just to get readers but not really reading themselves.
I stopped writing at aged 24 when the fame and fortune didn’t roll right into my lap — all because I wasn’t the rare success story I hoped to be. I moved from the fictional world of fantasy into the non-fiction life of reality.
I got a job. I didn’t go back to school. I worked from dusk ’til dawn for projects to be delivered — some weeks passing by with only a few hours of sleep.
Then I accidentally had a baby.
I picked up the digital pen and started writing, on a whim and desire to let out the bottled up emotions inside me. I had no intentions of starting a blog or to write consistently. I just needed to write and put it somewhere where people could see it.
I didn’t want to put it on Facebook because I didn’t want the obligatory likes and pats on the back from people I knew. I didn’t want to start a blog because by the time I finished tinkering, the words would have escaped me. I wanted to be in a space where people genuinely liked my writing.
I chose Medium because they have a no frills editor — nothing to distract me from what’s really important and that is my words. It was just a blank page. No fancy headers. No tinkering with font sizes. No highlights or special colors.
I hit publish with no intention of getting any viewers. I was a no name writer with zero following. I didn’t expect anything from it and it was in that moment everything exploded.
When you’ve got zero readers and suddenly five find their way to your story, it’s a powerful morale boost to keep writing. When you’re not writing for money or recognition, the pressures of ‘success’ gets lifted and you’re free to craft and create.
Writing for the love of writing
During the year, I rollercoastered my way through obsessing over my stats and quitting. I would give up for a few weeks but always gravitated back to let out some digital ink.
Watching your stats grow can be addictive but also highly toxic to your sense of self when it falls. When you get use to having readers and no one suddenly even clicks to view your latest writing, it can be demoralizing. You begin to question yourself and your abilities as a writer.
When you start writing for the numbers, the way you write changes. You begin to produce more to keep up with a self created rat race. You start observing click bait titles and viral listicles. Your writing begins to morph into a generic series of paraphrased lists of reasons to do something. You begin to lose sight of what’s important and become just another ‘writer’.
Every now and then I slip into this trap.
Those stories are unlisted now. Recently, I’ve been writing with 2 rules
- does it benefit me as a person?
- does it give my readers real value?
These 2 rules are enough to remind to write for the love of writing, not writing for the sake of writing. I wasted my time doing the latter during my teens and early twenties. As I’m nearing my thirties, I’m not making the same mistakes again.
When no one reads your writing
It happens every now and then but I keep writing anyway. I’ve come to accept that not every story I write is going to be a big hit.
I tell myself not to worry about the algorithm, stats and retweets. Success is a by-product of consistent quality.
I write because I want to write.
I write because I have something to say.
I write because while writing is not exactly my day job, I enjoy the process of putting my brain out as written words.
More than 1 million words later in the form of old novels, lost Word Docs in some dusty corner of my Documents folder and Medium stories, I don’t think I can call myself a writer just yet but I have aspirations to be one.
I write can write a lot, that’s for sure. But I want to be the type of writer that produces consistent quality content — not content for the sake of content. To do this, I need to consciously work on ignoring the numbers and put quality first.