Why burn your midnight oil?
Burning Midnight Oil (Photo by Jyoti Singh on Unsplash)
Writing often makes one burn the proverbial midnight oil. It takes a lot of time, effort, and mental energy to write something that prospective readers will be interested to read. More often than not, it goes through many revisions, and even then it may be thrown into the trash bin. The writer himself (or herself) may not feel satisfied and all the effort just goes in vain.
After all that effort, a duly finished piece goes to the painful grind called “submission” to a journal or magazine. The author waits and waits, literally for Dodo — the extinct species of bird! Sometimes the whole matter goes to a dark hole; some other time, maybe after three long months, comes the bad news, “Sorry, we have to pass this on. However, we look forward to your future writing, that suits our guidelines and theme and we wish you success”. Surely, the Editor knows the best.
So, it has never been easy to become a professional writer. That said, writing full-time is a bad proposition financially too. The repeated rejections, not only set the writer back by a few hundred bucks but it could cause (it did in many circumstances) depression or psychological disorders. Girlfriends seldom like rejected writers or low-paid journalists or wannabe writers (no gender bias intended here).
“Franz Kafka lived in obscurity and died of the starvation caused by his tuberculosis. William Blake is buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. Patrick Kavanagh used to boil eggs in the kettle for dinner. By the time Herman Melville passed away in 1891, his works were out of print and he was penniless” (Arminta Wallace in The Irish Times, ‘A tale of poverty and survival: the economic reality of being a writer, July 20, 2018). Mention may be made of Emily Dickinson, Edgar Alan Poe, and John Keats, all of whom did not live well and became famous only after their death!
Only a few can make a significant amount of money, like J.K. Rowling or John Steinbeck or Stephen King among others. I have not considered being a ghostwriter or anonymous content writer on various media.
The landscape of writing and publishing has gone through profound changes in recent times. Writers do not need a typewriter nor they need to re-type a manuscript — all thanks to personal computers and the omnipresent Internet! That brings writers, thousands of them, like me, to online platforms like Medium. But the sense of bad business still prevails as it used to be in the old world. Only five per cent of writers, who are published, get paid for their work in Medium. Although articles appear regularly claiming “….Here is How I Have Made $1000 a month on Medium”, I see it as a rare event and therefore not a scientific process or procedure — that’s my conclusion. Most get paid less than a Dollar for their creation. If in doubt, please ask Dr. Mehmet Yildiz, the owner and Chief Editor of the largest publication Illumination et al in Medium.
If writing is such a bad business or profession, why get into it at all? Why burn your midnight oil? What does a writer get after all? I don’t claim I have the answer but I can share my thoughts.
I have been writing and getting published on Medium for less than a year, having published about eighteen articles, earning not a penny yet. So, why do I write? I wish I knew but there is at least one good reason I have found which I can share here.Writing Is An Arduous Task (Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash)
When I published my article “In God We Trust: Really?” https://medium.com/indian-thoughts/in-god-we-trust-really-192879390478, in Thoughts and Ideas on July 23, 2020, it evoked both Godly and not-so-Godly comments. While Jesus Salazar commented “If you don’t believe in God, it’s simple. You haven’t met him yet! Your article was very interesting, thanks for sharing”, manojit bhowmik wrote, “…there are hardcore atheists who do not need them at all starting with Maugham who threw God in the bin when He failed to cure his stammer to the present day Icon of atheism Richard Dawkins who called Him Delusion”.
The debate could not have been more lively and illuminating.
Away from the subject of God, I wrote my next article “Pakistan: Who Conceived, Who Delivered?” dealing with the genesis of the state of Pakistan — both the political process and misuse of religion and the path of violence, which was published on 13 August just before Pakistan’s Independence Day, https://firstname.lastname@example.org/pakistan-who-conceived-who-delivered-656282d0299c. The link was also shared as a post on my LinkedIn account. It has so far registered more than 418 views, drawing readers from Finland to Morocco, from New Zealand to Brazil, and from the US to UK and Australia.
History and Spirituality notwithstanding, there are mundane things like money issues, which affect me as well. Sometime in the middle of last year, I felt very disturbed, reading a news article about huge bank frauds that made gaping holes in the exchequers of many countries, particularly in Asia. The sadness and frustration nudged me to create a piece of satire — “An Inspiration to be a Billionaire”, which was published in Illumination on August 31, 2020, https://medium.com/illumination/an-inspiration-to-be-a-billionaire-pretty-quickly-c5fdc332e6c0. The article got applauds by established writers, editors, and thinkers like Dr. Michael Heng, Prof. Dr. K. R. Ranganathan, Maria Rattray, and many others. Maria wrote: “Very entertaining. If only it were all lies..” But they were not exactly lies, they were based on real-life events that happened in India in reality.
Good Luck! How many times have we heard those words wishing us success? Many of us believe that luck is something beyond our control and that it controls our success and failures in our endeavours. Having said that, I have always wondered if there is indeed something called Luck. After much introspection, I finally came up with a hypothesis and a mathematical model opposing the long-held belief, writing my story, “Who Controls Our Luck?” https://medium.com/illumination/who-controls-our-luck-26db2c2eb4b5.
Little did I expect that I would receive fierce responses through comments and e-mails, some saying, “You ought not to play with such serious subject as astrology..’ while others said that “Our destiny was settled thousands of years ago”. Another reader with the pseudonym Growth Lodge highlighted: “In the ultimate analysis, it is ‘others’ in our lives, who often are main contributors to our luck. Neither the distant planets nor evil vibrations from Satan. Nothing else”.
I was mighty pleased with the storm of opinions.
A few months later, my first short story, “One Fine Morning Death Came to Shake Hands With Me”, https://medium.com/illumination/one-fine-morning-death-came-to-shake-hands-with-me-f002efb70a68 was published in Illumination on November 5, 2020. The story got 232 applauds, (117 views on Medium and 189 views on LinkedIn so far) and a response from the Editor, Liam Ireland, who wrote, “Amazing story Biswanath. How very brave all of you. Riveting article. Well done and thank you”.
One afternoon, while taking a stroll in the park in the middle of October 2020, I felt somewhat melancholic and withdrawn, as I looked at the fallen leaves of Autumn; The thoughts led me to write the short story “The Autumn Leaves and I”, https://medium.com/illumination/the-autumn-leaves-and-i-bad47652bfc3
The editor Liam Ireland included this story in his article “Illuminating Great Writing With A Touch of Sparkle”, published on October 16, 2020. He wrote, “ What I liked was how the writer was so open about deeply personal feelings and the despair that accompanies losing a loved one. I found it ever so touching as I am sure you will”.
To me, nothing can be more rewarding than this. This story, shared on ManyStories.com was featured on January 23, 2021, and has clocked 541 views so far. The appreciation of the Editor, so many readers, and their praise is my best reward.
Following the theme of deep personal feelings, was my next — “Mother’s Hug: Do You Miss It?” https://medium.com/illumination-curated/the-mothers-hug-do-you-miss-it-bc8385012123, which was published in Illumination-Curated. The story dealt with the lasting pain of a child, who could not remember if he was ever hugged or caressed by his mother. This strange but real pain persisted even after many decades, as the child grew up to become a mature adult, The piece was included in the ‘Outstanding Stories — Vol 83’ of curated articles on February 12, 2021.
Encouraged, I continued to write two other short stories. “The Mango Tree”, https://medium.com/illumination/the-mango-tree-6081e54ec31, depicts the generosity of a mango tree against the backdrop of human cruelty. Not only more than five readers highlighted several parts of the story, but Amy Marley also wrote: “Oh, Biswanath. A lump in my throat, tears on my cheeks as they cut her branches…… A tree… so much more than “just”. Thank you for sharing your Mango Tree gifts. Thank you for being you”. Karen Madej, the Editor, wrote: “I can’t believe I’m crying for a mango tree. Another wonderful story, Biswanath. Thank you.”
What could be better rewarding than such deep feelings and adorable words? I was overwhelmed, as Karen wrote for my short story, “A Maid’s Tale” https://medium.com/illumination/a-maids-tale-poverty-kindness-and-dignity-955e3f6c022b, “You write a distressing story in a kind and dignified manner, Biswanath. Thank you for your wonderful words”.
Karen went on to publish a story titled “Weekly Wisdom from Karen” on April 2, 2021, in which she wrote, among other things, “For this distressing story from Biswanath Datta, you will need tissues. Mary is a beautiful character and her circumstances would have broken many others without her strength. Biswanath tells us Mary’s story of hardship yet never giving up”. Amy was even more sympathetic as he wrote, “So many golden layers of painfully earned insights shining here. Thanks for writing. Thanks for being you.”
To read the remaining part of the article, please visit, https://medium.com/illumination-curated/the-importance-of-being-a-writer-fc33aa7a8552
None of my stories has got viral or received a few thousand claps as yet. But I am happy with the engagement with my readers — diverse people from across our big blue marble, creating a bond I have been so lucky to have been able to establish with them. Their constant appreciation, the sheer earnestness of their responses from open hearts, and their love have enriched my experiences as a writer.
I remain indebted to all my editors, readers, and followers for such encouragement and support. And Oh! One of my regular readers, Partha Aich, recently wrote to me, “I read all your stories. …… I always try to connect the story with my life. …………….Thank you for guiding me through my life through your stories!
Endearing thoughts indeed! As a writer, what more can I expect?
I acknowledge applauds, responses, and other forms of encouragement from all my editors, readers, followers, and friends. I could not name all of them in this article but I remain thankful to each one of them.
To read my other stories, please visit email@example.com
I can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Burning Midnight Oil To Become A Writer was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.