Father’s Day letter to my daughter: How do you write a book? One word at a time

Fulfilment lies on the road that forks away from the fear of failure.

As you navigate your way through teenage, you’ll often find yourself frustrated, unhappy with something you can’t even put a finger on. It’s not that what you have isn’t good; you simply want more. You’ll feel this at various stages of your life. Recognise it for what it is: the search for meaning.

But meaning doesn’t lie in a promotion, a salary hike, a good job or even a great exam result. It lies in going after what you truly want. But, all too often, we put it off. We don’t have the time or the energy; we spend too much time planning and laying down a precise roadmap, calculating what it would take from us. But, deep down, it’s just us being afraid to start.

I learned this in the latter part of 2016. For years, I had nurtured a secret dream to write a book, but I never got around to it. I was afraid that people would laugh at me. I didn’t trust my ability. I feared being viewed as a wannabe, I feared rejection, I feared not being able to translate my vision into words. Simply put, I feared failure.

Writing the novella was as much an exercise in pitting myself against fear as it was about the words. Truth be told, I didn’t have the full story in mind when I started, just the beginning and a hazy, half-formed idea. I simply put my head down and kept writing. And as I did, the story unfolded – in my heart more than in my mind. It was an uncomfortable, tumultuous feeling to have something inside me struggling to break out. Characters, dialogue, imagery, tragedy, heartbreak and euphoria took their time to pour out, but eventually they did. The final word was written, the last edit was done, the final design touches were made and the manuscript was uploaded. And my dream was fulfilled.

Because the aspiration was to write a book and not achieve any material benefits, I decided to donate the proceeds to charity. That I learned from you. I haven’t forgotten how you saved money all year and gave it to an orphanage. I don’t talk much about it, but it was inspiring. As I often joke, when I grow up I want to be like you.

But, back to the book. Or, more importantly, what writing it taught me.

First of all, I learned that possibilities are never out of reach. Not everyone can leave behind home and career to chase a dream (I couldn’t, though I hope you do), but maybe you can do a little every day that will eventually add up to it. Sometimes, I wrote merely 200 words a day, 1,000 on others. But I made sure I wrote – EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Before I knew it, two months later, I had a novella.

This required a change in mindset. I decided I wouldn’t play safe anymore –because it isn’t always safe.

The fact is, no matter what choice you make, there will always be naysayers and those who don’t approve. So, go for what means something to you and forget everyone else. Don’t be afraid to take help either. I had great backup and inspiration; I knew there was someone to lean on always. I pray you have that too.

Remember, happiness isn’t just achieving a goal. The joy lies in the pursuit of it. Now, if this sounds straight out of the Bhagwad Gita, that’s because it is. You see, writing was the happiness, not the book.

So, don’t be afraid of change. When in doubt, barrel on. Doubt is the oxygen of failure, so use it to constantly assess your progress but never let the commas turn into full stops.

As you press on, dogged and sometimes despondent, you will find yourself thinking better. The process will take over, fine-tuning your thoughts and giving birth to ideas. You will find yourself digging deep, tapping into your own and others’ experiences, and finding solutions where you thought none existed. It’s liberating.

And don’t be afraid to take a break, walk away for a moment to view your work with a critical eye and change the approach. Like with any road trip, detours are part of the journey.

You see, Sadiyah, talent without perseverance is meaningless and you’re way, way, way, way stronger than you believe.

In the end, we all just want to make a difference while we’re around and to be remembered after we’re gone. We’re all trying to script stories that stay alive, the ones that break and heal hearts, change lives, and lend meaning to our time here.

So, script the story of your dreams in all their crumpled, messy, stunning glory. Let the book write you.

PS: I love you.

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