In 2001, when I first began writing essays and sending it to local magazines in the San Francisco Bay Area where I lived, I existed in a state of alternating excitement and dread, unsure if my writing was good enough for local print publications such as the San Jose Mercury News and digital ones like Pacific News. I wrote about current events, locally and in the world, things that affected me and stimulated me to write. Personal opinions, ruminations, essays about life, very different from the objective data-driven report writing that I did at work.
With rock-solid educational qualifications and years of training, I was proud to call myself a scientist. But when it came to creative writing, I had no such credentials. Rejections were the norm. Whenever I received an acceptance, I felt a thrill of pleasure, but I still hesitated to call myself a writer. Over time I learnt to push aside the impostor syndrome that used to overwhelm me in the early days.
My first long-term writing assignment came at a momentous time in my life. I was moving back to India, after spending almost 14 years in the USA. The editor of India Currents, the popular Indian-American magazine in California, had been receptive to some of my early, sporadic writing, including some fiction pieces.
When I offered to write a monthly column on the topic of returning to India, he generously agreed. Thus was born Roundtrip, a chronicle of a reverse migration journey from America to India, essays on the adventures of resettlement by a returning non-resident Indian.
Although I gave up writing for several years after that initial burst, I have always been grateful to India Currents for my first break as a writer. And after a gap of almost ten years, when I picked up the pen, I approached India Currents again. The editor had changed, but the reception was still warm. And thus began my second foray into writing.
Much about my life had changed in the intervening years but the joy of stringing together words, of making sense of the randomness of life through the act of writing, remained the same. Despite my reluctance to participate on social media, I could not deny its impact on how content is created and distributed. I took up writing with greater vigor, knowing that my words could reach a larger audience.
I submitted to other magazines in the US, including The Straits Times newspaper in Singapore, where I now live. And I took baby steps towards creating an author platform that is still in its infancy, including this website.
Every published article bolsters my confidence. Every comment from a reader, every shared post, every new email from a stranger who is moved by my words encourages me to write more.
I consider writing to be a selfish act, one that requires me to withdraw from my myriad responsibilities and focus inwards to get the words out. But connecting with readers has put in motion a virtuous cycle. Gratification comes not just from completing a piece to my personal satisfaction but also from hearing from readers.
And if that isn’t enough, a day like today comes along when an award comes my way.
The mission of the San Francisco Press Club, a professional journalism organization serving the Greater Bay Area is to encourage excellence in journalism by providing training, grants, scholarships and recognition for professionals and students in the Greater Bay Area. Their mission is driven by a belief in the First Amendment, integrity in reporting, and the essential role of journalism in a democracy.
Their annual awards ceremony, usually held in November was held online this time.
Seeing my name on the list of award winners on the Digital Media; Feature Story section of the San Francisco Press Club, 2020 awards brought me a quiet sense of satisfaction for having stayed with writing all these years.
The two essays that were nominated
Like amateur athletes who compete in the Olympics, being an amateur writer doesn’t make me an inferior one. Like all skills, writing can be honed by practise, by focus, by attention.
Even without the award, I know I love to write. With the award, others can see it too.