Trust the younger ones to ask the most difficult questions. This one is for Gen who taught me the finer points of Taylor Swift's music, and reminded me of the many reasons how writing can save a life from being mundane.
How to write well is a topic avoided by most writers because each and everyone hold a secret suspicion that their method is the least veritable way of doing it. I have read through countless manifestos stating that a certain process is best, but they'd be the first to justify that that there is no one way to write well. My take on it is that: all you need is a firm grasp on your language of choice, a topic, and a voice. Now, the first of the three can be learned (and you'd be surprised how many things somebody can teach you regardless of whether they've read LOTR or not). A topic can be given, chosen or decided upon. But it's the voice that takes forever to find and sometimes, even after finding it, you lose it and it takes another set of forever to regain it. I think I stumbled upon my voice about four years ago. I find that I write best when I'm being irreverent. When I'm connected to my topic, the words come in white heat and all I have to do is to allow myself to have fun with what I'm writing. But this is just me. Remember that I haven't taken any Literature or Creative Writing courses. I'm one of 'em home-schooled, shoot-from-the-hip ones who do not need to perfect an art, but to declare a passion.
Growing up, I have thought of taking Journalism or Comparative Literature. And I think in some other dimension, I might have had. But I decided to go another way to indulge another passion: travel. One of the earliest lessons I have learned is to write what you know and what moves you. But if you live your life inside a cardboard box, then you just don't limit your range of topics, you are also shortchanging yourself with a life unlived. So I decided to do something that will bring me in contact with the people I want to write about, a job that will open me up to new experiences, and help me understand the psychology of being human. That answers the question why I'm doing development work. It's just like how actors choose to live with melodrama --- to gain material for their acting. The way I see it, Life is my melodrama, my tragedy and comedy and everything in between, and everyday I'm enriching my material.
When Gen came to me to ask me these questions I would like to ask somebody more experienced than myself, I was actually a bit embarassed. I have no clear idea, Gen, and I am humbled by your generous words. If you are anything like me, you hesitate calling yourself a writer. Just the word in itself, it carries such a noble tone; and if used heedlessly, it takes on a colour of self-importance that is unflattering on anyone. But one of the lessons I learned too late is-- if you write, then you are. It barely matters if you have been published or not. It took me years before I got the courage to actually submit stuff and even then, only a few of them get published. It took even more time before I actually got paid for it. This makes me less published, but it doesn't make me less of a writer. Because I write everyday, and words come, everyday. So when you ask if you can be a writer, my answer is, you already are.
And to me, it doesn't even matter what you write of, because the realm of the imagination is a forgiving world. But when you do write, I hope it's about something you believe in and it's something which would make you a better person for writing it. I don't come up with smashing successes all the time. Actually, my batting average is pretty insubstantial compared to how much I have actually written. But once in a while, you stumble upon something that connects with people and those are the times you know you have made something authentic with your bare hands (or fingers). And I will leave you with my favorite words from one of my favorite (true-to-goodness, much published) author, Ursula Le Guin:
"Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.
A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper."
Gen, just keep writing.