Thank You For This W: 1000 Followers
Distilling what I learned from 2020 and life’s fragile balance
If you’re here for the takeaways, just read the text in bold.
“If you woke up tomorrow and knew you only had 10 years left to live, what would you stop doing?” — Jim Collins
Back when I was a frugal college student at NIT Trichy, India, I spent a good portion of my four years at the local theatre. English films were usually played on the smallest screen they had, fitting 66 movie-goers at a time. I remember how loud the screams were during a Marvel movie so I know 66 is no small number.
And 1000 is over 15 times that. Thank you.
A year ago, I set out on a writing journey, one that I hoped would shape my future. And it has, in ways I had never imagined. Putting thoughts into words gives one an unrivaled sense of clarity. Shreya Pattar once said that hobbies are mood & situation-dependent while one’s passion is pursued in spite of moods and situations. I can’t help but agree.
There is no sense of dreaming when your hands aren’t riddled with calluses (those bits roughened by friction).
If you want one major takeaway from my experience, it would be this: consistency is everything. I’ve got my pieces into some incredible publications whose articles reach millions every day. Some of them even featured on news sites. Not every article will land. For every piece that did well in terms of reach, several lie forgotten. But each one of them helped me hone my writing.
2020 taught me that life is about throwing as many darts as you can into the dark.
2020 changed everything
“We all make choices but in the end, our choices make us.” — Andrew Ryan, Bioshock
The final semester of my four-year engineering degree was supposed to be amazing. And it was, for the first three months of 2020. With a greatly lightened academic burden, I felt like Goku when his training turtle shell had been lifted.
Trips, club meetings, and food outings went from seasoning my college days to becoming the main dish. A friend and I even had a countdown timer set to maximize the fun we could have. I built castles in the air with assumptions that I took for granted. We had no idea what 2020 had in store for us.
The emerging COVID-19 pandemic gnawed away at the ebbing lifelines of society. We were sent to our homes like zoo animals shipped to a wildlife preserve. But just as Madagascar’s penguins hijacked the ship and shoved back at the winds of fate, so too did I vow to shift my sails. But four walls were little comfort when the daily 9-to-5 had come to a standstill.
After a heated discussion with my creative writing professor, I decided to work as an engineer and pursue writing on the side. His words still ring in my ears.
“If you wanted to write a novel, you’d have written one by now.”
He didn’t mean that I had to rush things. The professor understood that I was someone who played it safe and would not pen a novel until I was ready. And until then, a conventional job was a better bet. Trying to keep the fire in my heart alive would serve as a test of endurance for what I intended to write. As luck would have it, I got a placement offer from a reputed engineering firm. Serving two masters was a safe choice but arriving at the crossroads is inevitable. But that day is not today.
2020 had me dealing with a wounded friendship as well. With bodies lining up outside our doors, the rickety balance between my life and society at large crumbled. My inability to solve either problem led me to pour every ounce of energy inward. I became an overcharged battery that dispelled it all in the only way I could: writing.
Fighting tirelessly for what I wanted didn’t come naturally to me. And a gap year isn’t a phrase commonly uttered in an Indian household. A year of uncertainty shuffled the cards I had been dealt. I ended up getting them both.
A lucky(?) break
“Imma flex like I brought the gym along.” — Fez Williams
It’s easy to arrive at a destination and say that the trials were worth it. But in a graph charted backward, there are dozens of dots that were erased to give one an illusion of smooth sailing. And I had plenty of initial virtual pimples that I had to embrace. While I did have the luxury of being an editor for a content team in my college, writing as an individual was an altogether different experience. A tiring yet profitable year-long stint as a website copywriter made me realize that it was the creative aspect that I craved for. And that’s where Medium came in.
My first month as a writer was one of bizarre experiments. I focused way too much on numbers and ended up on Facebook engagement pods and writer groups that cared little for my work. I tinkered with Grammarly and Canva (thank you!) with the latter leading me into a rabbit hole of visual design. As for the writing itself, I stumbled about in the dark. A 30-day writing challenge made me realize two important things:
- If you have to pick between quantity and quality, pick quantity (surprise). Constantly iterating on a piece means little if you don’t put it out there.
- You can’t write 30 terrible pieces in a row. Publishing your work makes it open to criticism, letting you learn from your mistakes.
With every piece, I inched closer to defining my writing style and a voice that suited me. I began to chip away at the daunting wall of starting an article. I ended up penning pieces about everything from murder hornets to somber poems. And yes, the latter was influenced by how 2020 treated the world.
It took me a while to niche down to something I was good at. My earlier work wasn’t bad. Some of those lines still mean a great deal to me. But those pieces lacked a sense of direction. I decided to pivot towards something I loved: the intersection of technology and videogames. Instead of instantly hitting publish, I learned that multiple revisions and cutting out fluff by murdering your darlings made for crisp content. Adding sources and a list for further reading bolstered my credibility as a writer. Collabs with fellow writers and artists helped both us and our audiences. Penning pieces about the finest medium of expression opened up a world of possibilities. First came the rejections.
Next came the little wins.
Comments trickled in. The first negative comment gave me a sense of accomplishment. It meant that my writing was worth a damn. James Burns accepted a piece into Superjump, Medium’s most active gaming publication. His support gave me the confidence to double down on my dream and share my work on different platforms (cue the car salesman). And fellow writers over at the Superjump Discord chat provided a safe haven for discussions of all kinds. The sting of rejections stopped bothering me. And the wins grew both in size and number.
Manifesting the future
“The years start coming and they don’t stop coming.” — Smash Mouth
Chronicling the advances in videogames led me to pursue even more opportunities. It also served as a time capsule of a time when I didn’t have to worry about grades or a job. Eventually, I made it into some of Medium’s biggest publications. But my biggest wins came in the form of interviewing the industry’s finest, the minds behind iconic studios BioWare and id Software.
Soon, I began to store ideas and kickstart a piece without any inertia, achieving a flow state in a matter of minutes. Training my writing muscle and cutting off distractions drastically reduced the time it took to pen articles. A decluttered desk and a schedule helped too (breaks are divine). And with even more initiatives (games and guides, hopefully) and reviews lined up, it’s safe to say that I’m better off today than I was a year ago.
I didn’t earn a cent from Medium but I gained a priceless sense of fulfillment.
I haven’t forgotten why I’ve started. The gears have been grinding in the background to manifest a saga based on Arabian mythology. In addition to two unpublished novellas (rejections aplenty), I’ve also spent the last year reading an obscene amount of fantasy novels. I don’t feel guilty about consuming content since I get to pass it off as research. With all due respect, I’m not going to give a launch date and pull a George R. R. Martin on you. All I’m saying is that Orijinns is happening. Someday.
As for monetizing my work, it can wait. I’ll think about it once I have something of considerable value to offer, something that could compete with Netflix and Instagram for your time. Making sense of the world through writing has made me thankful for all the little things that make my day.
If you’ve made it this far, know that I am grateful for your presence. You’re the reason why I’m here and I can’t wait to see where we go from here. Thanks for everything.
Here’s to doing what we love and a future of fulfillment.