In my favourite series till date, One Tree Hill, Peyton Sawyer asks Lucas Scott a question.
“When all your life’s dreams come true, who would you want to be standing beside you?”
It was the turning point of their relationship when Lucas finally figured that he wanted her. I didn’t know that that question would also be the turning point in my life.
One evening, over a stale pitcher of beer during a pub-hopping session, my best friend and I tried to answer this question. She said to me that she would want her partner to be beside her. I said that I’d want to be alone.
My answer, on one hand, was quite liberated, quasi self-actualized and strong. On the other hand, it was downright pretentious.
My explanation was simple: There hasn’t been anyone with me every step of the way. No one but me will ever know the number of times I have fallen and how deeply I have gashed. How then can anyone but me celebrate my victory at its peak if they don’t know what that victory means? — Which they wouldn’t if they didn’t know exactly how harsh the climb had been.
My friend being the kind human she is, didn’t take offense. She applauded my honesty and said that my answer made complete sense. And I guess it did. But there was just one problem.
If I would have kept climbing that way, I would never reach any point where that celebration would be due. The answer to that question would always remain a hypothetical one.
But that’s my story in reverse. I understood that answer only after I lived it.
I have been writing publicly for close to five years now. The first three years, I wrote without a plan or direction. I wrote thinking that readers, followers, and recognition would come my way eventually. I wrote often, I never slacked, but I got nowhere.
When I began my first real job in 2016, I began to take my writing more seriously. I continued to blog alongside everything I wrote for work, and I began to start submitting my work to a couple of other publications.
The first time my work was accepted into Thought Catalog, my closest friends were as excited as I was. Every one of them shared my work and many told their other friends about me. Some of their friends shared it too. It was my first taste of some form of success. But I wasn’t about to learn my answers so soon.
Although it felt amazing to see a ton of people read my work, like it, comment on it and share it, to me, the success factor was that “I made it into such a popular publication!”
That was what made me happier than anything else. And I thought that that’s how it should be. I should aim to write for myself, and my markers of success would be when publications, editors and renown writers acknowledged my work.
As time went by, Thought Catalog accepted a few more of my articles. Most of these pieces were work that I had already shared on my blog which got no response there. But when a publication took it up, people including my friends seemed to take it serious enough to read and share it. This began to irk me. Did they need a big publication to validate my work for them to take me seriously? Didn’t they have more faith in me than that?
I failed to see the hypocrisy in my thoughts. If my personal markers of success were publications taking up my work, how could, and why should anyone else’s definition of it be the slightest bit different?
2016 came to a close on a high note. A piece I had written for my blog got good views and I hoped this meant that 2017 had bigger plans for me.
It did. But the plans were nothing like I expected. The plans were in fact, taking everything I ever thought about my writing journey and turning it upside down. Or downside up. I think the second one would be more astute.
The first few months of 2017 were some of the most horrible months in my life. I couldn’t even think of writing. It was actually the first time since 2013 that I didn’t think of writing. I was too busy trying to figure out how to get through the days and move past heartache.
It took me close to three months to sit down to write. When I finally did, I approached the screen blank, not knowing what to expect. I was there because something had pulled me and put me in front of my laptop. That something may have been what I call my inner voice, or what some of you call the forces of the universe or the guidance of God.
I wrote. I wrote like I never did before. With a kind of honesty that was new to me. I laid myself bare on a screen and spoke about things that I feared I, as a writer, should never think or feel. I wasn’t thinking, I just bled. After that day, I didn’t stop bleeding words.
There was so much pain stored in every cell of mine, and so much love in my fiber, I didn’t know how to let it all out in any other way but through my words. So I wrote, and I wrote and I wrote.
I began to start submitting my work to publications again (something I had stopped doing after the first half of 2016). When some of it was accepted, I began to notice the people who were reading my work, speaking to me about it, and sharing it with their circles. I didn’t care that they needed a publication to read my work. I only wanted them to read it.
With every word, every article and every story that I wrote, I found myself healing a little more. When someone complimented me, I paused to remind myself that I don’t only write for myself. I write because my words have the power to heal people. It healed me, didn’t it? I had to believe that it could heal others too. So I stopped taking the compliments awkwardly and began to embrace them as the fuel I needed to keep moving on.
I began to understand that this wasn’t my journey alone. This may be my journey, but if no one read my work, and I kept creating art for art’s sake, nowhere was pretty much as far as I’d ever go.
I have always thought that I was above asking people personally to read my work.
Why? If I was good enough they would come to find my words, I’d think. Anything else would have been tacky and beneath my pride.
But towards the second half of 2017, I realised that every single story I ever wrote was about people I loved and people who loved me. Fiction, personal essay, self-help, or poetry, it was all them. They were my life’s work and my life’s worth. And to think that I only needed them in stories but not otherwise was the most foolish thought that I could ever have!
So I reached out to a dozen of my closest friends and asked them if they could support my work. I made a little speech about why I needed them to help and promised them that I wouldn’t write too much, lest it became annoying. Every one of them agreed and said that I was an idiot for not having asked in the four years before.
“Just tell me what to do!” was the statement that pretty much made me realise what a blasted prick I had been throughout.
And they helped me. Every last one of them. They recommended my work when I sent it to them, liked it, shared it when I asked them to and many times even when I didn’t. They found publications for me to submit my work on, helped me with proofreading and feedback, suggested titles for my pieces, and shared my work with people who they thought would enjoy it.
More people have read my work in this year than in all the previous years combined. Ten times more. And it didn’t happen because I got lucky. Or decided to work hard. Or finally understood the written word much better.
It happened only because today when I arrive, I don’t arrive alone. I have an army of people who love and support me standing beside me. And I finally know my real answer to Peyton’s question.
Every single victory worth celebrating came to me this year, only because I decided to stop trying to do it on my own. I know that every friend and family member close to me will celebrate my victories now. It doesn’t matter if they know all the details of the downfalls.
What matters is that they know that I have tried because I allowed them to become a part of the journey. And the victory wouldn’t have been half as sweet if I had no one to share it with.
So to each of you, thank you.
And to everyone who has read, and continues to read and support me, thank you.