You remember slam books, right? Those slim, rectangular journals your friends would ask you to fill up, typically on the last day of class before school closed for session break? They would have forms with questions about your sun sign, hobbies, chosen travel destination, favourite food, best friend, dream job and things like that. I remember filling a bunch of them in my teen years, taking time to write honest and innovative answers each time someone handed me their slam book (yes, I took it very seriously, no regrets). A lot of my answers changed over the years (favourite food changed from Fried Hilsa to Chicken Biriyani to Crispy Lotus Stem; best friend changed from.. no maybe I shouldn’t go there). But one answer remained the same. Under dream job, I always put ‘Writer’.
Back then, being a writer meant being a writer of literature. English and Bengali literature classes were the ones I enjoyed most- I wrote poems, essays, musings, travelogues. I sent my writing for publication here and there (not to brag, but some did get picked up), and I kept hoarding notebooks (especially ones with fabric covers – Bandhani, Kantha Stitch, Khesh, Tie Dye – you name it). I decided to pursue English Literature in college, which is when my relationship with writing became more complicated.
I was reading a diverse range of writing, and beginning to doubt myself more and more. Five years later with a B.A. and M.A. in English in my pocket and a total dissolution of my faith in myself as a writer, I opted for another Master of Media Arts. By the time I was done, I realized that literature was my home turf after all, and I still wanted to be a writer.
“Why did you study media art then?” “Why did you give up your writing habit?” “Do you think you’ll ever make up for the time you lost?” The voices in my head were loud and cruel. They told me that my dream job was out of reach, that I’d made a mess of my abilities, and that it was too late to do anything about it. I still kept applying to writer jobs, even though I didn’t want to “sell stuff through my writing” as I put it. The bigger issue was that I didn’t have any experience in this kind of writing, and felt no motivation to upskill.
Eventually, cosmic forces (or the LinkedIn algorithm – maybe they’re one and the same), brought me to Hachi Bee. As Bee’s ‘Storyteller’, I began writing about company culture. Self-doubt plagued me before and during each submission, only to be diminished by Karina’s constant encouragement and meticulous feedback. I found it a little easier to believe that I could still write.
Five months on, I daresay I’ve learnt a few things about writing itself:
On Creative Writing and Content Writing
In today’s world, creative writing doesn’t just mean poetry/fiction/drama/screenplay. Content writing IS creative writing. B2B writing IS creative writing. B2C writing IS creative writing. Inbound marketing strategies thrive on creative thinking and storytelling. The demarcation between creative writing and content writing is a fallacy that obstructs many writers from making full use of a wide array of writing strategies from different genres. I used to think that I knew nothing about writing for client organisations. But now that I’m getting into it, I find that there are many elements you can choose from an existing creative writing practice and implement in content writing contexts. At the end of the day, you are trying to tell a story – be it about a magical queendom or a pharmaceutical company.
Writing can be taught
OK, this one is a little controversial. Until a couple of years ago, I believed that writing is like singing – you either have the voice or you don’t. But now I don’t think it’s so black and white. Yes, you’d have to have a fundamental sense of language and its rules if you want to write, but there are ways in which you can teach yourself to evolve as a writer. Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content is one such resource. When Karina first recommended it to me, the English Lit snob in me scoffed at the phrase “Everybody Writes” (But should they? Quipped the snarkiest voice in my head). After reading the book, I realize that writing is less about your innate abilities and more about your love for labour. You work at it, bit by bit, day by day, and the process becomes your prize. That process includes reading books and newsletters, taking courses, going back to your own writing and trying to study it objectively, and writing – every single day.
Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary process
I can’t work if I’m not alone. When I sit down to write, I like to close my door and draw the curtains, creating a dark, cave-like atmosphere that worries my family (“She doesn’t get enough sun!”). This is what I need when I have to concentrate on something – pin drop silence, palpable stillness and absolute isolation. But in the past few months, I’ve learnt that writing can be a collaborative process. That doesn’t mean I have to write with someone (this is still a nightmare scenario for me), but I can be open to feedback and edits from other writers whose work I admire. Having my work edited or commented on does not feel intrusive – it feels enriching. Working for a company that helps businesses navigate customer joy (I love that phrase!), I grew to understand that to yield the best results for our clients, we need to work with others to produce content that responds to all their needs.
I could go on and on about writing as a practice and a craft (a few weeks ago, I spent half an hour using metaphors to describe my writing process to my therapist, true story), which is something I never thought I would be doing at the beginning of this year. At Bee, I feel inspired to write more, write better and eventually wade into the previously-and-still-daunting-to-me waters of business writing and technical writing.
I also want to keep writing about all sorts of interesting stuff on Just One Thing, a newsletter we recently launched (a directory of birdsong recordings from around the globe, an archive of New York City restaurant menus, an immersive web experience that takes you into a ‘secret garden’ of family stories told by Black women, and many more).
That’s the thing about writing – no matter what you’re writing, you’re putting a piece of yourself in it. At Bee, I learnt that I don’t have to let go of that, even if I’m not writing “literature” per se. All writing is literature, and all literature is creative. We tell stories, and if you write stories (well), you’re a writer.
It’s the second half of 2022 – I can finally say – yes, I am a writer, and Bee helped get me here.
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