Do you admire people's way of writing or their ability to connect to you or inspired by their writing discipline?
There was a time when I used to read an article from somebody I knew. I would react like, "This is something I was thinking too, I could write better, What's so great about it. Looks like I have read it somewhere," or I would compare it with writers whom I admire and dismiss it out of jealousy. My own opinion was everyone could blog if they choose to, and it's just that they choose not to write. I have told many people I know that they should start writing articles/columns. They were inspiring leaders with great communication skills, brilliant insights, and subject matter experts in their own rights, not to forget that most people paid attention to them in organisation/industry settings. However, they never ventured into writing anything, and I always wondered why. Today, I reflect on my own writing journey, excuse the narcissism, and 'Gyan' if you detect them. Please read all the "we" as "I."
Once I started to write for my own catharsis, I realised the challenges of writing and publishing. Much of it is in our imagination of who we are and a fear of rejection from people we 'mostly' don't know.
People whom we know are expected to like and share.
This battle is with the unknown critic becomes the devil in mind and keeps us in the inertia mode. If you want your writing to be accepted/praised by every person who is close to you, like your spouse, friends, relatives, siblings, bosses, peers, or reportees, you may never be able to get out of your shell.
Many of us also struggle with the people whom we know and what they say about us. One of the first pieces I wrote I emailed to my sister, an English Lecturer at Bangalore University. She frowned at my language and refused to edit such a poorly written post. So, out of low self-esteem, I halted my intent to publish for 6 more months, but I kept writing to please myself.
Our own perception of who we are in our eyes and the professional role also gives us the leverage to express. I wonder why I never chose to write till I reached a particular stage of my career. Yes, forums like Linkedin made it easy and also brought the necessary competitive juices to write. But, I wonder if we will initiate our writing efforts until we feel we have the power of expression. Much of it is not our experience but how we perceive our career progression and positioning in our professional setting (call it the role/title). Our self-image is also frozen in time or fixed to the extent that it won't free us to write what we think. And there will be people imposing on you what to write if you confide in them about your desire to blog, and what they advise may not be something you want to express at all. What if you want to review movies, aren't there so many already? The only suggestion I initially got was to write about leadership, and it did not inspire me to write for the next 3 months. I felt leadership as a theme did not connect with me.
It goes without saying that we all want to write about things that possibly hasn't been written about before. We desire our theme/content/style to be unique, and that hunt, I have experienced it to be a non-starter. Until I wrote for the first 12 months, I did not know where I was headed. It took a long time for me to realize what I liked writing and what was truly me. I also think one can pick a space and go deep into it. When I picked workplace dynamics or water cooler discussions as my dominant theme, I wasn't sure if I could explore so many areas for so long. But, every day, a new trigger, a unique experience at the workplace, kept feeding me. Some of my pieces were frowned at by my bosses/colleagues and I conveniently ignored them.
Not everyone can blog with freedom. Most of us work in enterprise settings, and there is a need to balance the image and organization identity. Employers also won't like you to take a stance or be critical of things they can't explain to their PR team.
"LinkedIn and social media are a distraction, we want you to focus on the business and customers," said one of my bosses once; "We don't want you to be arguing with an idiot on social media and put our marketing team on tenterhooks all along" he concluded.
I quickly realised that being 'liked' internally for your performance is far important than the likes and traffic you generate outside. Moreover, To stop feeling the guilt that I was using organization time for my pleasure, I started my day an hour early for writing and made sure I blogged as soon as my flight took off during travel. Additionally, As much as organizations like their leaders to get the branding mileage for contributing to social media, they aren't prepared for any criticism that can come out of that. I am sure you wouldn't have missed the all sweet, only positive, diabetic posts of leaders from large enterprises and avoided sensitive topics even if they write! On the other hand, you must have observed CXOs being more open and articulate about issues once they have turned entrepreneurs!
One mindset we need to have for serious writing is to wear a narcissist hat. Yes, I would like to believe that we all have sufficient doses of it, and only some of us can comfortably bring it on externally. The day we can shift that in our mind, the ghosts in our head will disappear, and it will give us relative freedom to express. This is easier said than done unless you are born with that gene! You will be afraid of criticism, and in the absence of even minor doses of narcissism, the publish button will never get clicked.
Another fear psychosis that a semi-narcissist will avoid is that of failure. In the world of likes, comments, and traffic what if nobody reads what you write?
In the first 6 months, I started publishing, hardly 200 people read my posts, and I wanted to stop publishing. That's why you need a good circle of friends, relatives, your reportees whom you can nudge to give you that initial encouragement. I know it feels odd. But, if you are in a leadership role, your team becomes obliged to click the 'like' button on your post. Can you imagine how awkward it would be for your team members to be active on social media and not like/comment/share your posts? If they still exist, they are brave people, and if you allow them to be, you are the most magnanimous.
The famously described writer's block is overrated. I would like to believe that once we choose our space (industry, domain, jokes, movie reviews, experiences, quotes, copy & paste), it is about discipline and routine. I think it is like going to the gym or dieting. Unless it's not part of your daily routine, you can't expect any change to your body. Similarly, for writing to become part of you, one needs to turn up almost daily. If you can write for an hour daily on your chosen space, it will become your muscle memory. In a few months/years, you can even sit at your work desk and write whatever you like, believe me, just like that. Yes, it needs you to maintain journals, do research, and everything you get or expect when you read insightful articles written by your favorite authors.
Discipline and routines are your enemies or friends if you want to take writing seriously. Or it would be best if you were so famous that people are waiting to read your opinions which all of us have in plenty.
I read somewhere "Writing is 10% skill, 40% hard work, and 50% crippling self-doubt.”
As always, I hope you read this article with a pinch of salt!
Kamal is the Co-Founder of Xpheno, a specialist talent solutions company that offers direct hire, IT staff augmentation and engineering professional services. Xpheno brings people and companies together, to contribute to the creation of high-performing specialist workforce. Kamal holds a Bachelor degree in Microbiology from Bangalore University.