turning inwards: the true north

What does your inner voice tell you about your art and life when you shut out the clamour of other people's opinions?

turning inwards: the true north
Photo by ali hamada on Unsplash

I'm a little terrified of saying this out loud, but in all these years of writing I keep coming back to this one undeniable truth: that I have to listen to my own voice and my own wisdom over the clamour of others' loud opinions.

This sounds like sane advice, one that I shouldn't be worried of stating out loud, but what my inner voice is telling me is that reading and writing stories help me improve my craft far more than any courses or workshops or motivational videos out there.

And so I'm making this decision to turn away from all discussion 'about' writing to focus on the writing itself.

Let me explain this a little more.

At around this time last year, I quit social media.

I have since recreated my account over on Instagram just to maintain a presence on the Internet in case someone goes looking for me. (And a long-lost friend did reach out and reconnect over the holidays, so that turned out to be a grand decision anyway!)

I rarely head over to Instagram though, I don't even have the app on my phone, so I'm happy to maintain this minimal presence without much engagement.

The reason I quit social media was because in the months preceding that decision, I used to mindlessly make my way to FB — even before I'd realize it, my fingers would type face... and auto-fill would do the rest.

Once there, I'd check my feed, check any updates on the different writers' groups I was part of, and I'd leave only once I was satisfied there wasn't any important, life-shattering update and discussions on it that I may have missed out on.

It was a very mindless and time-consuming act. 5 minutes of FB inevitably meant 1 hour, even if there was nothing remotely interesting going on.

Even after I deleted my accounts, my fingers would automatically type face... when I opened the browser. It took a few days to overcome that habit.

I find myself in a similar pattern now.

  1. Every morning, I check the blogs of certain writers I follow. Most days, there's nothing interesting. On occasion, there may be a nugget of wisdom. But in anticipation of those rare nuggets, I keep heading over to their websites with daily regularity. When there's nothing new — or just promotional info — I come back feeling a little deflated, more lonely than before, and definitely less confident about sitting down and writing.
  2. There was another writer as well whose blog I used to follow religiously. Until one day, I dared to express an opinion he didn't like and he blasted me in a response comment, then went on to write a post the next day deriding my opinion at great length. Naturally, I went there one last time to say something along the lines of "My words were misconstrued. Perhaps this is too limiting a medium to discuss this topic at length." I never went back. There's no excuse for treating another human being meanly.
  3. I also used to check email every so often with a little desperate addiction, until I decided to put off doing until the afternoon. Still, there are many days when I reach for the phone or check email to make sure I haven't missed anything important.
  4. Off late, I've been spending a lot of time on YouTube, with great longing, waiting for an author I follow to post a new video on one of their two channels. They do post once a week on both of their channels, and their videos are great. But truth be told, after I've spent 30—40 minutes watching their videos, I don't feel any more good or certain about my process. In fact, I just feel sad at the time I could have spent writing or reading instead.

So these are just a few examples of the kinds of addictions that have crept into my days in lieu of social media.

I don't regret the time I spend reading a good book. Of course, when that reading time comes at the expense of writing time, then it doesn't feel good.

It's the same with writing workshops or classes.

  1. A lot of the technicalities discussed just go over my head.
  2. Or I can understand them in the context in which the instructor is explaining them but then I fail to see/apply the same rules/suggestions to my own work in progress.
  3. And then I come across a great book in which none of these rules are followed and that book turned out to be amazing anyway. When someone asked this question of a very senior and successful writer I used to follow, the latter's response was "Clearly that author did something that kept you hooked. Study them and see what they did. Remember there are no rules in writing." Well, if there are no rules, then what are instructors trying to teach?
  4. In many workshops, the only feedback I've received has been something along the lines of "This is great. You understood the concepts well and were able to apply them in the assignment." That again leaves me with little clues as to what to do when I'm on my own.
  5. Then I look at the books I wrote before I got into doing workshops and classes, and see that many have 4-star or 5-star reviews!

Given these contradictions, I keep coming to the same conclusion over and over again. That all I need to do is sit down and write.

It's an art. It's subjective. Some may like it. Some may not.

There is no formula to ensure that my next book will have the same effect on readers that my previous book did.

Even if I did write exactly the same way every single time (although I have no way of analytically describing how I write, so there's no way to tell if I replicated something or not the second time around), people change all the time. Their interests and maybe even the amount of time they have to spend on reading change all the time.

Heck, I don't read the same kinds of books all the time. Even if an author has 20—30 books in a series, I don't necessarily read all of them.

Writing and reading are such capricious things, how can we nail them down with the precision of a mathematical formula?

Yet, I'm terrified.

I've decided to only focus on writing my words and publishing my works. Instead of spending time on others' wisdom and opinions, on their experiences, on their views of the industry and how it's changing, on how they approach their craft, I'm really better off spending my time writing to learn more about myself, my work and my process and reading to learn more about storytelling alongside.

I suspect the reason they share their insights too is to clarify their own world-view of this life and work they find themselves in the midst of.

I definitely feel scared to turn away from all this because I still worry there may be some magic pill on the outside that I'd find if only I kept looking.

Like how I used to scroll through FaceBook. Or check email. Or check other writers' blogs to learn what worked for them and wonder and hope their processes would work for me too.

It's scary to let go of this addiction. What if, unmoored, I drift away into a darkness of my own making?

But staying addicted hasn't been helpful either. So maybe it's time to think differently.

For many months now, every time I introduce myself as an author to people I meet, I'd add a disclaimer that it just feels like an indulgence, a hobby I'm squandering my time on, because it doesn't seem to be yielding any monetary results.

Sorry, dear writing, for the kinds of dismissive words I've used about you. That was only my own insecurity speaking.

It's not an indulgence. It's not a hobby. It's a way of spending my precious, limited time on earth in a way that fulfils my soul.

And given that my time is limited anyway, aren't I better off tending to my soul and creating my words instead of scourging for a false sense of fulfillment, that too only temporary, in other's words?

I am still uncertain. But just because I'm uncertain, doesn't mean I'm wrong.

To borrow from a phrase I heard recently, "Make a decision, and make it the right one!"

So this is what I've decided.

To focus on writing my stories, publishing them, and trying out ways to reach new audiences.

To cut out the voices and opinions of others 'about' writing and their process. To trust my own self when it comes to the art and craft of writing.

It's as simple as that. If only I can remember to not get distracted. If only I can remember to pull myself back on to my path whenever I get distracted.

That's pretty much the definition of living an intentional life, isn't it?

If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

The late monk said the above in the context of compassion. I think it applies to pretty much anything we wish to do intentionally and consciously.

There. Now that I've written this down and given myself the gift of disentanglement and clarity, I can set out on my path.

I wish for you too the same clarity of vision that will keep you true to yourself and keep bringing you back to the path you're on. Much love!