Learning who you are.
I’ve been reading, rather sipping, from this delightful little book called Release the Bats by DBC Pierre. Here is one paragraph that gave me pause:
There are writers who have yet to write a word who will go on to write masterpieces. There are writers who have yet to write a word and never will, but who could have gone on to write masterpieces. There are writers who have begun one of the classics of our time who will be conquered by fear and never finish it. there are some who will finish the book 15 years after it is relevant. There are some who will write acceptable books but no more. There are some who will burn with certainty that writing is their calling and then write twelve volumes of crap. There are some who are railway lovers and whole detailed love of railways will delight railway lovers everywhere. There are some clever people who will write a good book and find that it is enough.
Like all good writing, these words festered into my brain.
Long ago, when I’d started on this writing journey, I’d made a promise to myself that my writing takes precedence over everything else. If I have an idea, I’ll write it down—and if the idea wants to stretch, expand, grow, evolve, I’ll let the pen strokes guide me, right then and there. This promise has served me well for many, many years and I have captured much, and the ideas have borne fruit in the shape of stories, articles and all the other pieces I’ve written. Yet, every year this promise gets harder and harder to maintain. Life happens and the more I want to be at my desk, the further it got.
Last month has been topsy turvy at best and there came a point where I stopped. I stopped creating. Oh, I continued with my work, I kept the machine that brought money to my coffers running (which is writing) but I stopped creating for myself. I stopped writing things down, diving into the idea rabbit hole wily nily like I always did with no thought or caution. It had to be done. It’s been over 10 years now since I’ve been writing everyday and this was the first time since that I stopped. Cold turkey.
I did this for two reasons:
I’ve taken on more projects than I can chew and I’ve been drowning in work. I know the arguments for having a work-life balance, but as I’ve alluded to in my previous newsletter, all of this work is toward a bigger goal. A much bigger dream.
I needed a pause to re-align myself with what I want rather than what the world wants. This, I think is a far bigger reason than the first. But I didn’t know it when I started.
If you follow me on Instagram, I’d also taken a break from creating there as well. Instagram, for me, began as a creative outlet for photography. I’m no photographer, but I’m a hobbyist. I enjoy clicking pictures, capturing the moment. There is something about a still moment captured in time. I enjoy it and it feeds me creatively.
But the world does not stay still like a photograph.
Instagram is no longer an image platform but a place for videos. Reels have taken over. While I love consuming them, creating them is not for me. Moving pictures don’t inspire me the way a still picture does. In the war between movement and moment, I cheer for the underdog, the moment to stay still and maybe, survive.
During this pause, I realised how trying to create what I did not want was hurting me. It took time, it took effort and I did it for all the wrong reasons: Followers, engagement, work the algorithm. And it felt hollow. I was creatively starved despite putting out things that people seemed to want to consume. It wasn’t me. Not authentically me. I was a caricature of who I was, but in the fog of creation, you don’t get to see yourself clearly.
I’ve decided I’ll no longer attempt to make videos on that platform, despite the algorithm’s little pats on my head for a video or a reel. Nope. That dopamine hit is not worth price, the toll on my soul. I’ll stick to words and still life.
Doing what you want is far harder than most people give it credit. I realised this after my last article was published. I’d been blogging about my Apple gadgets for a while and they have been bringing in decent money too. My strategy was simple: write about these things because no one else was—not from India at least. There were videos but many, like me, preferred to read. So I wrote. But writing, above all else, comes from a place of honesty. The articles I wrote to please the algorithm never did well. I wasn’t connecting with the people just the machine. And it’s the people who I wanted to connect with. Isn’t that what writing is all about? Connecting with others?
Out of ideas one day, I pivoted and wrote something I wanted to. It seemed to resonate with people and I had quite enjoyed writing it too. And then came the clincher: the one article I wrote recently asking people NOT to write a book blew up. It was something I wanted to write. I’ve not been promoting things over the last month but that article exploded and how. It’s raked in more money than all my tech articles together and it still continues to go strong. I’m surprised, humbled and learnt my lesson.
I was so focused on increasing my follower count that I forgot about actually writing things that mattered. Creating things that mattered. Not to anyone else but to me. When you do that, when you create things for yourself you put in it parts of yourself, little glimmers of who you are underneath all the pretty words and pictures we hide behind. And that part is what helps forge a connection with others if you choose to put what you’ve created out there into the wide wide world.
Long, long ago, I’d read an article about how creators need to create a tribe for themselves. Humanity has evolved from the Stone Age to this new AI Age but the core hasn’t changed. We all need our tribes and until a few months ago, I thought that anyone and everyone should be allowed inside. Get my follower count to crazy numbers, that’ll bring the fame or success or whatever it is we are trying to seek to fill that hollow space inside us. But I had it all wrong. The numbers don’t matter. Tribes are not built on numbers—that’s a mob. Tribes are built on trust. That’s what I want to focus on.
I’m going to restart creating and feeding the machine again. But my focus is on building trust with my tribe, my friends, and those who choose to give me their valuable time. And the only way I can build trust is to be true to who I am and not what the algorithm demands from me.
It’s time to make a new promise to myself: To not follow the trends and do what I want to. Because trends are fleeting but we, in ourselves, remain for as long as we live. When I look at that list of writers that DBC Pierre lists out, I know now which one I am.
I have only one recommendation for you today.
Listen to Neil Gaiman’s story “An Office Job” on the Moth podcast. It’s a 6 minute long episode and I promise you you won’t be disappointed. There is a interview with him as well, if you are so inclined.
Like I said, I haven’t really been creating anything. Though I’ll link the article I wrote here again if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet. The second article in this series is coming in June.
Next month’s newsletter should be filled with updates, if all goes as per plan.
Words to Leave with You
“There is a permanent amnesia planted in us, which just as we keep forgetting our dreams, we sometimes keep on forgetting our reality.” - Issac Bashevis Singer
You’re reading a newsletter by Akshay Gajria. This newsletter is delivered to your inbox on the 30th of every month. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram. If you found what you read helpful, you can consider tipping him by buying me a cup of tea (or three) here or buying his ebook (linked below). Tea is his writing fuel of choice. You can learn more about his work at akshaygajria.com