I wrote my first poem somewhere between the ages of 12 and 13, though it was more a rhyme than anything else, as I tended to focus on making sure each line ended with the same sound. And then I wrote my first missive not long after that, titled “Big is beautiful”. Yes, you guessed right. I was a fat kid dealing with all the self-esteem issues that come with that. It certainly didn’t help that I had a sister who was beautiful in every way that I wanted to be. But I digress.
Back to writing in my teens. I remember filling several “higher education” notebooks with poem after story after opinion piece and at the time, even though I thought it would be nice to share my writing with the rest of the world, I never thought I would. It just didn’t seem plausible that I would write anything that anyone would want to read, much less enjoy or take something away from.
But, write I did. Whenever I was sad, I would write. When I was happy, I would write. When I was bored, I would write. Writing became for me a source of joy, of peace. It became my friend and my companion. Writing was who I told all the things I was afraid to tell anyone. It was who I explained things to that others did not understand. Writing was my ticket out of the normal, and often difficult world and into a safe place where I could really be myself. Until I shared it.
And it opened up a whole new meaning of what it is to write.
As I shared my writing with first one person and then another, I realized that they enjoyed reading it, cos they smiled a lot and laughed out loud sometimes. And it occurred to me that I could make people smile and/or laugh with what I write.
Sometimes, they would tell me how profound they found something I had written, and how it helped them look at a situation differently, and it occurred to me that I could teach people something with what I write.
Other times, they would tell me how they were going to do something differently or stop doing something altogether because of what I had written, and it occurred to me that I could inspire and encourage people with what I write.
So why all this preamble?
As a writer, you have a responsibility to yourself – to be true to yourself. To stand for (and write about) the things you believe in, the things you love, the things you wonder and worry about; To express yourself in the way that you know how, honestly and genuinely. You have a responsibility to enjoy your writing – it should never be a chore. And writers out there would know that you can’t force stuff out when you write. Otherwise it doesn’t feel as good (and in most cases, it doesn’t read as well). So you must make sure when you write, it means something to you; that when you finish, you can look at your work and think ‘I enjoyed writing that’.
But you also have a responsibility to the people that read your work. Not unless you’re not writing to share. You must understand the power that you wield in that pen/keyboard, the power to touch lives, to change thoughts, to lift spirits, to heal wounds, to enlighten minds. Because the truth is, someone might read what you have written and it could change their lives. For the better. Or for the worse (God forbid!).
When people write, I imagine that there’s a reason they write. Of course, it’s in response to an itch, to a niggling idea, a budding story, a worrisome topic. But ultimately, there’s a reason for putting those thoughts down on ‘paper’; there’s a purpose. I often ask myself what do I hope to achieve with my writing? How do I want people to feel after reading what I’ve written? Is my write-up or story or poetry funny? Will it make people laugh? Will they learn something from it, does it give them a useful perspective from which to view the subject? Can it drive them to action, help them make a change in their way of life? Will it make them feel better? Or worse? In other words, what is the purpose of what I’m writing?
And that right there, is where the nobility, and indeed the responsibility of writing lies – in its purpose.
You can write for yourself, to make you feel better, to air your views, to practice your play on words. But if you are writing for it to be shared, then think of the people who will read. Be genuine, because people can tell when you’re not. Be considerate – not everyone will agree with what you’ve written or see it in the same way. Be open to criticism – don’t write in a way that discourages people from giving their opinion. Be careful – with your choice of words; don’t disparage any group/type of persons. Weave a beautiful story, a compelling plot; write a beautiful ode, or a sad one. Put in the effort to make it a brilliant piece, cos otherwise it’s really not worth doing it.
Just like I write when I’m sad, happy, bored e.t.c, people also read for the very same reasons. And they just might be reading your stuff. So you better make it worth their while.