As we approach the final days of the year, I find myself reflecting on the past. This past year has been a whirlwind and it has left me out of breath. There have been a lot of good and bad experiences, some of which will make for good stories in the future. But as I sat thinking about my year, one thing struck me – I had not written in a long time. Or rather, I had not written well.
I’ve always had a romantic idea of being a writer. The idea of writing in an isolated farmhouse in the middle of Nebraska, during the winter looking out at the snow covered corn fields. Secluding yourself to produce something that will have the publishers and magazines calling. Something that people can read and enjoy, read and remember. I admit, my romantic imagination of writing is banal and boring. Bottom line is, I’ve always loved to write.
When I came to the University of Toronto in 2011, my brother who was studying Engineering at the time warned me about the campus atmosphere. That it can be terribly isolating, so it’s best to find something outside of class that you can occupy your time with. So I reached out to the campus newspaper and began writing comment pieces. I continue writing for much of my years at U of T.
Then in May of 2014, I became President of a campus students’ union. Taking on this role has changed my life and I do not regret it for one second. That said, it also introduced me to stresses that I had never really experienced before and this had an impact on my writing. For one thing, I had a lot less time available to write, so I was writing less. But my writing was also consistently mediocre, it would be like listening to a broken record play.
I’ve always seen writing as a method of storytelling. No matter whether your piece is a work of fiction or not, fundamentally a writer is trying to convey a message to their reader. My best writing has always been tied to the emotional labour I put into it. I write the best when I’m relating either my personal experiences or the experiences of others that I can relate to. And that became a problem. If your writing is tied to your emotional labour, what happens when you become emotionally exhausted? I found that when I did get the chance to write, I would tap into an energy of frustration that I channeled into my writing. I used the stresses of student politics as my inspiration and that produced pieces that sounded similar and had the same narrative running through them. I simply did not have the energy to write about anything else at the time.
That is not to say that writing about what frustrates you is a bad thing. Writing can often be cathartic and allows you to release pent up emotions. It became a problem for me when those frustrations were occupying too much space. I could not write about anything else and when I did – it frankly sucked. My academic work was also not garnering me any rave reviews. I found myself asking whether or not I would produce anything good anymore.
Fast forward to the present. I’ve begun a new journey this break, a journey to rediscover my voice in my writing. This will be a long journey that will undoubtedly produce many drafts, many cups of coffee and many nights looking at blank screens. It is about learning how to put myself in everything I write, every story I write without allowing my inspiration to be based purely on my emotional labour. I hope to be able to tell many stories and write many different things, while keeping a sense of myself embedded in the words I write. Part of this journey of course, involves taking better care of myself as well.
This is a journey that begins now, not in a farmhouse in Nebraska, but in a suburb in Toronto and one that I hope will carry on into the new year inshallah.
And I hope you’ll come along for the ride.