Monday, January 25, 2010

Being a Writer: Focusing On Something Other Than Fear by Avantika

Whenever people say to me, “I am too scared to do what you did,” I am always amused. I smile and give a cryptic answer like, “Well … that’s life, I suppose.” Then, if the conversation continues and I’m asked to explain a little more, I change the focus of the tale and tell them the about race car drivers: it is said that when you are behind the wheel of a race car, one of the first lessons you learn is that you need to focus on where you’re going, not the fear. So, when the car begins to spin, you must control yourself and not turn to look at the wall that you’re sure you’re heading towards. Instead, you must focus all your attention on where you want to go. I always end the story with, “That’s what I did. I focused on where I wanted to go.”

I’d say, about half of the people I tell this story to understand what I’m saying and the other half smile politely and walk away. Which category do you fall into?

Perhaps, for this first post, I can go a little deeper into how I came to focus on where I am now - I'll tell you the story of how I became a full-time home-based writer and a secret about how little I really knew.

Many years ago, when being a writer was still just a dream, someone accused me of having a crisis. Others liked to call it a breakdown while others called it a premature mid-life crisis. The doctors called it hormonal imbalance as my hair was dropping and I put on a lot of weight. My friends thought it was because I was a recluse and did not go out often; they said I was ‘lonely.’ I called it ‘a moment of clarity’. The best way to describe it, I suppose, is to imagine you’re walking down a street. Then, you reach a junction and would like to cross the road. Only, you have to stop because the traffic lights have turned red.

This was my red light: I was working on a file and my task was to make sure that all the documents were in order to proceed with the order for sale of a property the bank was foreclosing. As I looked through the file, I saw that this ‘defaulter’ – a person my bosses had labelled as a terrible man who had had the audacity to borrow money from them and not pay back – was a 65-year-old man. He had written a letter to us. In his neat cursive handwriting, he told us his story: he had mortgaged his dream home and used the money to bring back his daughter who had been severely abused by her husband in India. His last sentence read: If you take away my home, I might as well commit suicide. I’m just asking for some time to find some money.

My heart sank. I was aware that this man could be lying to us but something about that letter touched me. This was what I decided: if he is telling a lie, then let it be on his conscience. If he was telling the truth, then I would still do my job but I would never let it be on my conscience that I made this man lose his house. I prepared the documents and sent them back to the bosses with a highlighted note that it is they who should decide whether or not we proceed to take legal action against this man.

When I closed the file, a vision of my life stretched out before me: year after year, in the same windowless office cubicle, beginning each day at the office wondering whether my job was going to be the next on the chopping board and constantly trying to cover my back so that my colleagues did not back-stab me. I knew I wanted much more from life than that. I dreamed of having time to be with people I love and not worrying that I would not have a job to come back to if I took three weeks off to look after my aged parent in the hospital. I knew I had to leave.

It took a few months of careful financial planning and some luck (at least that’s how I’ve decided to classify what the back-stabbing colleague did to me), before I gave up completely and walked away from the glamorous corporate world. The night I walked out of the office for the last time, I had a celebratory drink with some friends and slept peacefully for the first time in years.

Within a month of quitting my job, I had bought a few ‘how to write’ books, invested in a computer, set up the phone line and internet connection and was ready to write. I wrote furiously and was quite proud of the stories I shared them with family and friends. They all liked the tales and said I should think about compiling them into a collection. I was so excited.

I contacted my friend, a reporter, and asked for her help. She said to me, “You know, there is a new publisher in town. They’re looking for books and things to publish. Maybe you’d like to send your stuff to them?”

I nodded at appropriate moments throughout the conversation, not wanting to look stupid. But, inside, I was wondering, “What is a publisher?” How ‘raw’ I was in this industry!

Very fast, I learnt that there is a huge difference between writing and publishing your writing. Since then, many years have passed. Much of my writing has been published both on the internet and print medial. I’ve learnt to swallow my pride and accept constructive criticism and cast aside destructive ones. I’ve also learnt that the art to good writing is endless re-writing and made many friends along the way.

Am I scared that I don’t have a fixed income? Certainly! There are days when I wonder if I’ll ever make enough money to change my thirteen-year-old, manual-geared, car. I have to think twice about whether I can afford to go to places like DELicious cafĂ© in Bangsar Village II more than twice a month. I’ve learnt to let others pay for my drinks. Certainly, I’m in no way rolling in cash right now. But, at the very least, my hair has stopped dropping. Now, if only I could control the weight gain …