I have always been a freelance writer. It sounds like a menial job. One, because it has the word ‘free’ in it. Also, there is not much respect for writers in this country. Moreover, most people believe that it does not take special skills to be a writer. You can always pursue it with a ‘proper’ job. I have faced all these judgements and despite that I chose to be a full-time freelance writer.
While I wrote for a few digital platforms here and there, I wrote primarily for television. That was another dagger in the writing CV because of the content TV produces time and again. While I was happy being a TV writer, people around me judged the occupation and even looked down upon it.
While we can understand the marketing dynamics of reasons for this kind of content in another blog, why I did TV was primarily because of the money it offered. Most people are unaware but TV pays its writers handsomely.
A dialogue writer on TV can easily earn between Rs.10,000- Rs.25,000 per episode and there are 20 episodes in a daily show. The story and screenplay writer get paid even more. And the more well-known you are in the circle, the better you get paid.
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So, I was writing for a TV show when my son turned 14 months old. He had just learned to run all over the place and between the unpredictability of TV and the demands of my child, I decided to quit TV writing. I decided to look after my son, solely and completely for at least a year until he was ready to go to play school.
I loved it. For exactly one week. Two months of looking after my son 24×7 made me want to scream because I was exhausted; fulfilling another person’s needs, not meeting my own needs at all – emotional, physical or intellectual. Earlier, at least I had my work to fall back on but now there was nothing.
I decided to go out every Saturday to spend time with myself. I went to a coffee shop, carried a book with me, tried to read it but failed because my mind was at home with my child. I then decided to shop at a store, bought a lovely shrug and came back home after spending a few thousand rupees and feeling totally dissatisfied.
But that one day out with myself, suddenly gave me an idea.
There was this book I had started writing two years ago before my son was born. Why not try and finish this book over weekends when the child’s father was at home? The idea suddenly brought a spark of joy in my heart and that’s how I knew I really wanted to do this.
I went back home and announced my decision, not leaving any room for question or doubt. I couldn’t wait for the week to finish because the next weekend I was going to write that book. The weekend arrived and I went out for four hours on a Saturday. On Sunday, I went for six. All I did was sit in a coffee shop and wrote – putting word after word after word. It was like walking, but in my mind.
The things that happened when I did this:
- For the first time in my life, I demanded time for my writing. So far, I hadn’t been able to do that. I was writing around other things in my life instead of doing other things in my life around writing. No one took my writing seriously because I did not take my writing seriously. I did not draw boundaries around the time I spent on my writing. I never fiercely guarded this time that was so sacred and so precious. The moment I demanded the support I needed, I got it.
- The time spent with my son during weekdays became precious and mindful. I was not angry, tired or impatient with him. The fact that I had my weekend to look forward to – that I had a sense of purpose in my life that belonged only to me – made me happy and calmer from within.
- While sitting in the café, writing my book, I did not think even once about how my son is doing. I was so engrossed with the writing that I became one with it. I did not know whether I was writing the book or the book was writing me.
- I wrote the book because I wanted to do this. I did not write with the aim of publishing. Or with the aim of someone else reading it. I just wrote because I wanted to tell a story. Yes, my money from my TV writing helped me compensate for not earning money during this time. But even if I did not have the money, the anxiety of being at home, not fulfilling my purpose would have added to the frustration that many new mothers go through.
In 5 straight weekends, I finished writing the first draft of my novel. It was middle grade fiction – marketing terms that publishing uses but for me, it was the story I wanted to tell. When I put the last word of the last chapter, I broke down in the coffee shop not knowing who to share my happiness with because I had just proven to myself that I could write a book. Who cares if it was good or bad. I had managed to write a story in 30,000 words and I had never felt more fulfilled in my life.
Along with nurturing my son, I had nurtured my soul by doing what it directed me to do. I want to say the book went on to become a bestseller. It has been 5 years since I wrote that book, but to be honest, it has still not seen the light of the day.
I sent it to publishers and got many rejections. I waited for 6 months for publishers to respond, often reminding them about my manuscript. Sometimes I did not even get answers. And the times I did receive answers, it was usually a ‘Sorry. Your manuscript does not fit with our list this year.’
Strangely, none of this disheartened me. Because I had found the elixir within me to survive – the joy of writing for myself. A year passed. I kept writing off and on for other platforms. But what that book had done was factor in, my weekend time to write. I showed up on that coffee shop desk every weekend without fail. There was suddenly a confidence in my writing that wasn’t there before. An authenticity and a self-awareness that was missing earlier. The world did not know it then. But I knew I was a writer.
A few months later, I had another idea for another book. Just one line – It’s 2028. In a drought ridden world, a ten-year-old girl makes it rain for the entire world.
It was time for my son to enroll in a playschool. Every day, after dropping him off to a playschool, I went to the same coffee shop and wrote every day for two hours. I did not talk to anyone. I did not entertain anyone during this time. I guarded my writing fort like a tigress and finished the first draft within two months. I sent the book to an international competition in London where it was selected as the Top 20 among children’s fiction by a debut author.
That gave me hope. And soon Penguin India Random House published my book THE LITTLE RAINMAKER last year in August and my dream of becoming a published author came true after 7 years of its inception. None of this would have happened had I not written that first book. None of that would have happened if I had not taken a break after becoming a mother.
You can follow my journey with the book on my FaceBook page and my Instagram account.
But what happened after giving birth to my child was nothing less than magical.
- I went through a phase of immense self-doubt and depression trying to understand the changes that my body went through and now the changes of my mind. What did I want from myself and my life? What do I truly want to do? What is my heart’s desire? These are questions that most of us are scared to answer. But thanks to motherhood, I was forced to pause and look at myself in the mirror.
- It made me realise that a career break is not necessarily a bad thing. The love, the respect and abundance that has come into my life just through one book is a story I want to tell everyone again and again. Becoming a parent involves introspection. It’s another matter that we give birth to children and rush back to a rat race because we think stopping is detrimental to our growth. We forget that while stagnation is not always stability, movement is also not always growth. Which direction are you going in? Ask yourself.
- Perhaps, this maternity break has been given to you to reflect upon your choices in life. About your priorities. About how much you have listened to your parents, your partner, your society and how little you have listened to yourself.
A child comes into your life to show you a path of learning. If you are open to receiving that knowledge, you will learn. All children are creative. Then how come as adults we lose that creativity. Rediscover the child in you with your own child and who knows, perhaps it will set you on a path of new discoveries and joy.
You might be going through a tough phase – unable to go back to the job you were doing before your child. Or you might be thinking of taking a ‘lesser’ job just to get back on the career ladder. Or struggling to even find a job after a long career break.
Take this break as an opportunity to rediscover yourself. Sometimes, stability is overrated. It is the chaos of a storm that ultimately clears what we don’t need and leaves that in our lives that is precious and what can be more precious than being on a journey to discover yourself.