Let's Talk About It: Writing through my obsessions

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 5:01pm


Illustration by Rabab Jafri


I was recently tapping away at my keyboard keys writing an article I was not feeling passionate about. This was deeper than a few bad weeks of writing. I recently felt the same way about my poetry, but learned to build my confidence in writing poems through a workshop class last fall semester.

Every week I would write — even on days I did not feel I could keep writing — and when I did, I discovered something new about the way I think. On the first day of my poetry workshop, I walked in and told my professor I was worried about becoming known as the “Muslim poet” in class because I write frequently about religion. What she replied with stuck with me. She explained that it is your obsession that chooses you, and you must write through your obsessions even if it feels like you are writing the same poem twice. From then on, I saw the poems we read in a much different light, watching my peers write through their obsessions while I tried to write through mine.

I find myself often falling into the trap of focusing on being productive to perfection, forgetting that some of the greatest thinkers in history began by working on improving themselves before sharing their ideas with the world. And so, as I wrote through my poems, they revealed to me why I had started writing and why I had stopped. I started writing poetry as a means of telling stories to counter common stereotypical narratives that frustrated me. I wrote as soon as I saw a news headline I did not agree with or when I wanted to put the ideas behind my own choices into words that would resonate with other people. This connection was invigorating for me and gave me a confidence I never had before.

I stopped writing poetry when I started feeling like I was repeating myself, but I learned to stop fearing how my words would be perceived before they even reached the page. I started to treat writing as a process of discovery instead of right or wrong.

And yet, so often when people do an act that is a process instead of something polished, we stop ourselves from doing the very things that keep us going. We put pressure on ourselves to be perfect, to create an image to uphold over social media or for our friends, or even people we have never met. We do not allow ourselves to fail and focus on the end result of everything that we do. We focus on becoming a “brand” instead of just a person trying to figure out what they want to do in this life that’s ever-changing.

I realized the problems I was having in my writing were the same ones I was having elsewhere in my life. Instead of focusing on the present, on what I wanted to write in this moment, I started to focus on myself as a writer 10 or 50 steps from now. To be mindful and present is an accomplishment in and of itself, and one that is too often overlooked.