On Being, Becoming, and Writing

Discovering one’s voice amidst the noise

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

One of the things I loved about having my own blog in the early 2000s was the feeling that I was writing in a journal. As a result, I wrote some really vulnerable things. On Medium, I feel like I’m writing “for an audience”, which is not even true since many of my articles are not read by that many people.

When I was writing in my own blog, I didn’t care about grammar, form, or even if my content was interesting.

Hell, I didn’t even think of my writing as “content”. I was just sharing what I felt, knew, and thought.

However, ever since I started writing on Medium, I have subconsciously started thinking about what kinds of articles would make me popular. I have even caught myself imitating successful writers (with thousands of followers), in the hopes that some of their success rubs off.

However, my writing started to feel dishonest even to me.

One of the things I value the most in my favourite writers is a ‘baring-the-soul’ kind of honesty. That’s the thing that moves me. I had lost that in my own writing. Thinking about my followers, strangely, instilled fear, and fear obfuscated the truth.

After a wonderful conversation with a wonderful friend, I figured out that having my own “corner of the internet”, as she put it, would probably help me write honestly again. I could just quietly wonder out loud about this world, and my internal world.

I wanted to answer the question: what kind of art, writing, music, philosophy am I moved by?.

Austin Kleon says

To be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.” To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

I simply couldn’t clearly articulate what I was *interested* in. It was a tangled mess of words and ideas, but I didn’t have clarity about what I liked as a patron anymore, and that’s what I set out to discover.

On Notion, I started making a list of creatives (mostly writers, but also musicians and philosophers) whose works move me deeply. I picked Notion to write in because it offers a ton of flexibility in terms of the types of content a page could have. I can also easily publish any of those pages.

Once I had The List, I set about copying quotes, passages, and links to the work of people I admire. Anything that made me go “aha!” or “wow!” went under their names. Again, I was just trying to figure out what I found interesting.

This turned out to be a wonderful exercise, because

1. Firstly, it helped me crystallize to myself what, and who, I was interested in listening to/reading.

2. Secondly, reflecting on the ideas of my favourite creators helped me discover the human qualities I value.

Just like Maria Popova’s BrainPickings (now Marginalian), I would like my online space to be a record of the things I wonder about.

“An attempt to make sense of humanity’s common record”, as she says

Like Pico Iyer, I too derive joy and a sense of adventure from going ‘Nowhere’. Like Austin Kleon, I would like to show up every day at my desk to create something.. anything.. with my hands, without screens! Like Ross Gay, I would like to observe and acknowledge the everyday delights of life, and write about them.

Through this process, I wasn’t just discovering my voice as a writer, but was figuring out how to be. I needed to understand my being and becoming before I could ‘find my voice’ as a writer.

I am an Indian woman, and my influences are bound to be different from those of my largely white and largely male peer group at work. While my social media feeds were filled with quotes by Ryan Holiday and Adam Grant, I was pleasantly surprised to find the list of people I looked up to, to be a bit more colourful.

Making this list was important to me because I was beginning to feel like I couldn’t hear my own thoughts amidst the Adam Grant quotes, and the homogeneity of the Silicon Valley tech culture that I was a part of. Perhaps that’s what was turning me into a tired creator with nothing original to say.

Ashwini’s list of heroes documented in Notion
image belongs to the author
image belongs to the author

Austin Kleon says:

“You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.”

I agree.

It is easy to drown out our own selves, interests, and passions in the cacophony of social media. The List helped me break free from Instagram therapist quotes. Instead, when faced with a dilemma or a roadblock, I was subconsciously rifling through wisdom from my artistic guides:
“how would Maria Popova respond to this?” or “what kinds of questions would Krista ask now?”.

Anytime I read something beautiful, I wrote and wondered about it in “my corner of the internet”. Writing this way, without being constrained by form, length, or scrutiny, left me free to be interested. I have a long way to go, but I am beginning to understand my being and becoming by following what I love.

As a woman in her 30s who has always listened to her parents, relatives, bosses, instead of herself, this is new to me.

As I write my thoughts now, I am aware that I’m digressing. Some might find this article meandering. But, recounting the wisdom of my heroes made me realize that I want to meander.

Popova meanders.

Pico Iyer does too.

Rebecca Solnit specifically says:

There are subjects you can better understand through analogy, context, parallels, the view from the distance, rather than via direct and dogged pursuit.

Medium is about direct and dogged pursuit.

Here are 5 Ways to be Happy. Read these 9 Books to be the Best Product Manager.

But, what if I don’t have the answers? Is simply wondering not valuable enough?

I am a human trying to figure out this messy, scary, unbearably beautiful life, and I want to do what Solnit suggests in her essay In Praise of the Meander.

Why not understand by analogy, decenter the narrative, seek patterns of resemblance in parallel, explore the terrain rather than cutting a swathe through it? Why not meander and see what lies alongside?

Get a glimpse into my meandering mind here.

To you, reader, I wish authenticity in being, and a beautiful becoming.

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Ashwini Sriram

Ashwini Sriram

I'm a product manager from Chennai living in San Francisco. I enjoy writing about product management, books, food, and people.