Starting on a job has made me revisit my notion of writing. This was a subject that had occupied a lot of my mindspace when studying journalism at the (under)graduate level. A journalist is keenly aware that the fruits of her writing are not her own. And I don’t mean the Barthes’ the-author-is-dead-esque sense of alienation from one’s writing. I mean the mundane realisation that writing is part of the job, and like the other parts, must be aligned to suit the employer’s need. The sub-editor will change the words, break the sentence, add punctuation, or even throw out a paragraph. Your thoughts will make way for an ad. I still remember the first word an editor changed in my story. I prided myself on stories that required no changes. And then, the word ‘idyllic’ was replaced by ‘relaxed’.
But these thoughts receded into the background once I came to TISS. In a sense, all my writing there was personal. The word limits allowed for a free run of verbosity. And while there was limited choice in the selection of topics to write on, I could spin it any way I wanted. Sure, you had to ‘attribute’ and ‘cite’, but that’s one thing I quickly learnt: with JSTOR at your service, you can justify and make any opinion sound reasoned and widely supported.
Last week, after a long time, I had occasion to write something to suit someone else’s parameters. And I found it strangely difficult to let go of the work. The subject wasn’t even opinion based, it was purely descriptive. But the piece came back to me for edits four times and I winced each time. That evening, I gave the matter some thought and decided it was like jetlag – my mental compass was yet to adjust to the new (again) landscape of professional writing. I’ve settled into it since.
And that made me wonder: now that I’m more or less certain of doing this for the next couple of years, isn’t there the risk of becoming so dispassionate about all writing that I lose my possessive side of personal writing? The amount I write for myself pales in comparison to what I’ll be churning out professionally. I shudder to think of the day when I don’t feel fiercely attached to what I write. It is a strange feeling. You don’t know you have it until someone comes along trying to change what you wrote. You never know how invested you are in your work till you run the risk of losing it. And to me, even the slightest change makes my writing, not mine.
Whose is it then?