For a major part of my life, I never really considered myself as a writer. I always thought that any art, including writing, was a skill that only the naturally talented could take up. So, after my essay recital in school one day was followed by a classmate narrating her kickass two-pager that left mouths open, I squirmed in my bench with envy and shame. I decided then and there—writing was just not for me.

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Cut to college. They say your first heartbreak turns you into a poet, and I was no exception. Every day, I would fill the pages of a foolscap notebook (one of those that had Bollywood stars on both sides of the cover) with the shreds of my broken heart doused in blue or black ink. The ritual stopped, though, when I met someone else, and the notebooks eventually ended up with the raddiwala.

Destiny, though, had something else in store. Because of the freelance gig mentioned on my resume, even call centres were offering me positions in content writing.

My love–hate relationship with professional writing

My first brush with professional writing happened in my TYBcom days, when a reputed media conglomerate offered me a freelance opportunity. The gig resulted in my first ever published article, edited only for brevity, and a paycheque. Moreover, it made me the editor of our college magazine. But my editorial piece was apparently too colloquial. Embarrassed by the red marks all over the page, I realised the pursuit was a sheer waste of time.

My plans were set: entrance exams, MBA and a well-paying corporate life. No room for any writing. Destiny, though, had something else in store. Because of the freelance gig mentioned on my resume, even call centres were offering me positions in content writing. I didn’t want to pursue writing professionally—I knew I’d fail at it. But I had to end my job search someday, so I accepted my fate and took up a few roles nevertheless. None of them lasted for more than a few months. I still remember my first boss tearing his hair over my pieces and tossing the printouts onto the floor in disgust. In all this time, even after another heartbreak, I did absolutely no journaling whatsoever.

Things changed when I began freelance travel writing for a Bengaluru-based start-up in 2010 as a filler between my CAT and CET exams. For the first time in so many years, my writing was never panned. It actually passed muster. (Maybe it was my interest in the nature of the content.) The validation felt great, and I realised I could do this daily. Heck, I didn’t even appear for the CET! I was finally prepared to give up my MBA dream and pursue my calling full-time.

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I bagged a job with a custom-publishing enterprise. It was hectic, sometimes even stressful, but I enjoyed every bit of it. After three years of working on an array of titles—from luxury glossies to health journals to children’s magazines—I was laid off. Three months later, I found another role, this time for a renowned travel publication. The shattered confidence and unaddressed emotions from the loss of my previous job hampered my performance and led to an impostor syndrome. With time and a little motivation from my colleagues, my writing improved.

It was hectic, sometimes even stressful, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

I resumed my journaling habit, though it was sporadic. There was lots to vent about—a ticking biological clock, failed online dates, a rebound, getting over the rebound. A few months later, my sister and a coworker suggested I channeled my inner movie & TV geek to write screenplays. Initially, it was scary—I had to put my deepest, darkest, twisted thoughts into a professional-level structure, and I had never attended film school. But soon, the words started flowing, the internet and a few mentors came to my rescue, and I had found a side passion, though I haven’t got anything produced yet. I also became more regular with my journaling.

First book

The idea for PiKu & ViRu came to me in 2017, a year after my screenwriting self-study began. A series of bizarre events in the months before had left me in a dark state, and a few friends felt it was a story meant to be told. I dilly-dallied, as I wasn’t mentally or emotionally ready for this ambitious a project. The only writing I did back then was for my job and journaling, which had become imperative to my sanity and survival. It was after a hiatus that I resumed screenwriting and emailed some pitches to a friend for feedback. The alternative plot she suggested for one of my concepts was similar to my own story. I penned down a synopsis and read it aloud at an open-mike event. The judge encouraged me to realise the story into a full-length fiction novel, and then there was no looking back.

It was a crazy year of writing, rewriting, getting the manuscript beta read and professionally edited, reliving those emotions all over again, querying, rejections, and wondering whether it was all worth the sleepless nights—something I’d never experienced before. Yet, I’d never trade these moments for even a billion dollars.

Lessons

Working on PiKu & ViRu taught me that art, including writing, is much beyond a skill. It’s our unique expression, the voice of our hearts, the tears from our eyes, the freezing of precious memories, the search for elusive answers. Acceptance or rejection is simply a matter of subjectivity. Yes, you must practise writing to get better, but you don’t need an innate talent to start. All that’s required is an idea and small doses of commitment, determination and motivation. That’s it. You don’t have to push yourself to write every day. At the same time, don’t let those emotions fester for too long. Take them out on paper, and it’ll feel like a huge load lifted off your chest. Nobody wants to die with these stories in their head.

Priyanka Agarwal is a Mumbai-based author, freelance writer and copyeditor. Her first book, PiKu & ViRu: A Fan–Actor Drama, is available on Amazon. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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