The problem with emulating “good writing”

It wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that I have an unhealthy, borderline abusive relationship with blogs and, by extension, writing. Over the years, I have created numerous blogs (note not blog posts, just me making an account on every blogging website ever), and to be honest, I don't really have a lot of content there that I can even read now. I think this also comes from the fact that I treat writing more as a therapy, trying to negotiate with my thoughts and battling between writing something substantial vs just writing about writing. Don't even get me started on how many times I have just written about writing, and then there are a couple of posts that are strictly about how I always write about writing.

My relationship with reading.

When I was eight, my parents decided to move to Hyderbad from Beed. (a small city in the state of Maharastra) At this point, I didn't know a single word of English. Apart from the ones that commonly get used with Marathi, mostly the greetings. This didn't seem intimidating because I didn't fear failure or even know the concept of insecurity when I was eight. I had one summer to catch up to the kids who had been educated in this language, and I would constantly imagine myself speaking this language. While trying to learn it, I made noises that I thought would sound like the words in English and said them out loud to my pigeons, who patiently listened. They didn't care if the words were correct or existed in the dictionary. My pigeons were honestly my first and the best champions.

However, I failed miserably trying to learn this language. When I was supposed to be admitted to a new school, I spoke entirely Hindi. The one thing that led the principal to give me a shot was my enthusiasm to learn. Not just learn the language but absolutely anything at all. I think my parents being doctors, also played a large part in this shot, but the principal did mention that she could only give me three months to catch up to my peers, and if I couldn't do that, unfortunately, she would have to rethink me attending the school.

I tried everything in my power to learn; I went to the library and picked up any random book that I could think of and tried to repeat and read aloud the phrases trying to make sense of it. Two weeks later, when one of the teachers asked a question about evaporation, I raised my hand and answered the question in very broken, grammatically incorrect English. I knew that trying was better than sitting quietly, and when I was done, not just the teacher but the entire class stood up, clapping. All the kids might not realise this, but this amount of encouragement for just trying was overwhelming. I knew at that point that if people around me were proud of me for just doing the bare minimum, then I couldn't let them down. I took part in every competition where I had to speak, taking me to a storytelling competition. Having read a lot of books and with the help of the librarian who helped me translate everything to help with comprehension, I was ready with a story. However, that wasn't enough, I still wasn't at a point where I would consider myself a good speaker, so I did the next best thing I could think of: give something else to make this experience immersive. I made sock puppets hoping they would express the narrative better than my newfound knowledge of this language.

To my surprise, I won the first prize, and when the principal heard of this, she couldn't have been prouder. She announced this in front of the whole school, explaining the entire story. This was my peak at eight, and things went downhill from there.

From this point onwards, my relationship with reading wasn't just about escapism, but reading was a bridge between my current world and the world I would end up striving really hard to reach. Reading was something I thought could get me through any obstacle in life. The drive to improve didn't last long when I moved back to Pune three years later. The new school I was part of didn't give a damn about self-improvement but rather just doing the bare minimum. I missed my old school immensely; I was lonely and bullied and started reading purely for escapism.

I started regressing in terms of everything, even when I wasn't at my peak. Everyone around me didn't care because even my bare minimum was considered above average. There was no incentive(sometimes even penalised) for me or others to focus on pushing me to be better. So I stayed there, floating through mediocrity, without the motivation to go against the tides.

Years later, my first boyfriend would say something to me that deeply hurt my perception of myself. He said, “for someone who reads a lot, you do sound like a villager when it comes to speaking”. This wasn't just an attack on my speech, but also even questioned if I even read. At this point, reading wasn't just my emotional crutch but the one thing that was keeping me afloat amid the worst period of my life. From this point on, how I looked at reading and writing became almost toxic. I was critical of anything I spoke or wrote. I was driven by insecurity and noticed every little thing these “cool kids” said and tried to incorporate that. I was obsessive trying to be better, but this obsession wasn't to improve myself but just to replicate to just fit into this world. I wanted to be taken seriously, so I tried to emulate the people who everyone took seriously.

Till very recently, I followed the same model but in a much more subtle way. I had developed a very high standard for the quality of writing in the literature that I read. I looked at sentences and thought about how the author even managed to string that words together that make you feel the emotion in such a clear way. I ended up just picking these lines and then putting them in the context I wanted. I tore down these proses into segments and tried to analyse them. I was no better than GPT3 at writing a blog based on some examples. Somehow, it never felt right. When I read most of the things I wrote, I couldn't help but be disappointed.

What writing isn't

It took me a long while to understand that writing isn't about stringing words together to make beautiful phrases that sound magical. Writing isn't about vanity. Writing isn't about trying to fit into a circle of people who judge you based on the most superficial things. Writing is like the sock puppets I made as a kid, a way to make others feel and understand the story in the most immersive way possible. If I pick up any book that I loved in the past, I wouldn't say that I love it because “the words are right”, but instead, the story was so captivating that I even forgot I was reading words. Good writing is invisible; you slowly forget that these are just words on paper, and you can hear the author reading these to you as you fall deeper and deeper into the world they've created. You start to listen to each character; you can smell the air and imagine yourself standing next to them.

The issue with emulating is that you forget words are meant for comprehension; they are your guide to a story that someone is trying to tell you. They inform you of things you didn't know before. They are a bridge between the current world and the world you strive to reach.

This is why I have decided to give this blog a soft reboot. I don't want to write about things that I believe would make me sound “cool”. Honestly, I don't want to write for the sake of vanity anymore. I want to write about things I really want to express and tell. I want to go back to my sock puppets, focusing on telling a story and not emulating.

What do you think, will I make it?

How to improve the way I write and think about writing.

Changing the way I read :

Reading is still one of the most crucial parts for me to write better, but the way I analyse the text I am reading needs some changes. Instead of breaking down each sentence to understand the words, I can look at the bigger picture. What makes this writing so entrancing? How are the concepts glued together to make it seamless? What are the stylistic choices the writer has made, and why it couldn't have been written any other way?

Focusing on the narrative:

Arron Sorkin, one of the scriptwriters I admire, mentions that to have a compelling story, there needs to be a situation and intent that drives the plot forward. Even though I am not writing a plot for a TV show, this advice feels crucial. The difference between an existential monologue that has no point, the narrative needs to have intent. The narrative is essential for anything to be a compelling read, and explaining my motivation is something I can incorporate into my writing.

Review and Editing.

Most blogs, books, and prose that I love to read have gone through a rigorous review and editing process. No matter how brutal, getting honest feedback can help one understand the flaws in the written content. Writing is a solitary task, and you tend not to see how others would read the stuff you have written. This creates an echo chamber where you cannot pinpoint why things aren't flowing as you imagined. I will focus heavily on asking for feedback and not being scared of how the first draft of something will be perceived.

The rush of jumping to the end:

I am an impatient person, and this reflects in my writing. I tend to view writing as something to be done in one sitting and rush towards finishing the blog as soon as possible. This is highly damaging as I end up skipping a lot of parts. Sitting on an article for longer than an hour and thinking about the missing pieces can be helpful for me to improve the way I write.

Where do I go from here?

One of the things I need to resist is writing yet another piece on writing. This metagame has gotten too old, and instead of hyper-focusing on writing, I should start writing. I want to write about things that I feel strongly about and get away from the loop of writing for the sake of writing.

I want to write things that I can return to years later and not feel compelled to delete them. I want to write without worrying about vanity and how this affects my perception.