Shaunta Grimes is running a Blog Your Own Book Challenge this month (and perhaps the next also). After spending a few days going back and forth on whether I should join the challenge, I finally summoned up enough courage to opt-in.
I’m going to write one post every day in August, right here on Medium, on the topic of — The Practice of Journaling for Introspection, Healing, and Achieving Goals.
But before I begin, I want to look back at the incidents that cultivated in me an interest in writing and gradually nudged me in this direction.
No Writing Experience For the First 25 Years of My Life
I’ve always loved reading but I never thought of myself as a writer in my early years. Not for the first 25 years of my life. I know it’s strange because, from what I’ve read, most writers have had a passion for writing since they are small kids. They wrote short stories and poems when they were five and good quality essays by the time they were twelve or thirteen. I can see why that’s important. Being good at writing and getting the right feedback in your formative years can go a long way in creating a solid foundation for a career in writing. It also points to an inherent passion. If you wrote when you were five, you’ve clearly got a passion for it.
My only writing experience until I was 25 was mandatory school essays and exam papers. I did write some poetry in middle school but I don’t count it as good writing. I was just stringing words together in a desperate attempt to ensure that the last word of every line rhymed with the last word of the line before it.
First Faltering Steps
The first time I was introduced to the process of writing was when I started working on the master's thesis for my Computer Science grad program. I loved the research and the coding but I hated every part of writing the thesis. Maybe it was because I had a hard time expressing myself in words. My writing was a huge incoherent blob of words with multiple themes interspersed with each other without any structure. In retrospect, I find it surprising because I wrote fairly structure and modular software.
Fortunately for me, my thesis advisor did not like sloppy work. He made sure to correct every mistake in my writing — and there were lots of them. I kicked and screamed throughout the process. I hated every moment of it, but after I had completed the thesis, I realized that I had become quite fond of writing. Today I am grateful to my advisor for something that I hated him for at that time. I also appreciate the effort he put into correcting my thesis, which I am sure was as harrowing for him to go through as it was for me to write. At this moment, I feel like folding my hands in deep gratitude to him.
At that time, he kindled in me an interest which the Universe has gently nourished for more than two decades after that to bring me to the point where I am participating in a Blog Your Own Book Challenge.
Developed an Interest in Writing After Starting Professional Work
I began my professional life with a year at a startup and then moved on to become an independent software developer.
I started with building software systems for a structural design company in Mumbai. I was a one-person team. I wrote project proposals, requirement documents, progress reports, test plans, along with the actual code for the project. Even though I did not realize it then, my interest in writing increased with every document I wrote.
Eventually, I started writing a blog on Java Development and Software Design. I also wrote an 8-page monthly newsletter on software design that I distributed to about 50 people. This was 2004 and even though everyone used email, I preferred to print and snail mail the newsletter to my readers.
It was around that time that I also started writing a personal journal. It was mainly because I needed some way to keep track of all the things I was doing: programming, teaching at a local college, corporate training, and a bit of writing. Initially, my journal was mostly a TODO list but it was also a gentle introduction to journaling.
After a year or so I started a learning journal. I made notes of all the new concepts I learned and a little FAQ, for myself, where I maintained a list of well-known solutions to everyday software issues that I dealt with. I used a private Blogspot blog for my learning journal. It’s features like tagging, categorizing, and searching were perfect for my needs.
Very soon I started writing notes about my life. Mostly because my life was going through a very stormy phase and I needed some way to write about what was happening so I could get it off my over-burdened mind. I instinctively turned to my journal. My journal evolved from a TODO list to an electronic document where I wrote how I was feeling and the problems I was dealing with. It’s a practice I have kept up till date and my journal has evolved to encompass much more of my life and thoughts.
Several years later, my professional interests took a turn towards eLearning, a concept that had been close to my heart ever since I started teaching. I tried to create an online Java Development course for which I wrote coursework, competencies, assignments, student takeaways, etc. I did not succeed with the eLearning website but my interest in the power of the Internet, for teaching, grew and in a few years I was building a startup to offer free Computer Science training using the concept of “open education”.
I still think I had a good idea. I was trying to create an open learning community where students could participate for free and create a portfolio of their work along with community credentials rather than get graded for tests. There were a few very encouraging high-points early on when individuals, colleges, and organizations showed interest in the work that I was doing. However, I was not able to make it viable and my startup was steadily going downwards. I increased my effort but still couldn’t get it to work. It was becoming a huge time and money sink and I ran the risk of becoming bankrupt if I did not do something about it soon. I did not want to take venture funding because I felt like I would lose control of the vision I had for my startup so I wanted it to be self-sustaining which, unfortunately, did not happen. So long story short, I deleted the server and the backups to save myself from what might have become a very dangerous financial situation. I wasn’t the first time I was headed towards a financial low but twice bitten I was shy for the third time.
But I’m digressing. The good part is, I did a lot of while working on my startup. I wrote essays about open learning, community credentials, the downsides of traditional education, and a lot of other things. I wrote about topics other than software development for the first time in my life. I also journaled my experiences. The highs and the lows. And the difficulties I was dealing with both professionally and personally.
Dabbling With Content Development
I eventually went back to software development to get out of the financial funk but an interest in content development was brewing at the back of my mind. After the software project ended, I decided to try my hands at content development. I wrote product white-papers for a technical startup and blogs for another tech startup. I studied content writing and also dabbled with a few ideas in technical writing, eBooks, etc. I was able to generate some revenues but not enough to keep going. For whatever reason, which I do plan to look into more deeply, I could not get it to work at that time. Even though I did not find much success in what I did, it helped me increase the range of what I wrote — which was a good thing. And I journaled through all these experiences as well as another elongated struggle with bad health and a spiraling depression.
So I Want to be a Writer
Even though I still work part-time on a freelancing software development project, I want to start writing to find an outlet for creative expression. I also want to write about journaling because my journal has been a constant companion, friend, philosopher, and guide through the thick and thin of a rather strange roller-coaster of two decades. It’s a process and a practice that I want to share with others who might also benefit from it.
Over the period of this challenge, I want to determine topics and genres that I’d like to write in, do an analysis of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and formulate a plan to address my weaknesses as well as make the most of my strengths.
Finally, I’m grateful for the many nudges that life gave and continues to give to develop my writing skills.