I always wanted to write. I don’t know why. The earliest memories of my childhood days go back to the time when I was pestering my parents to buy me books, color pencils, drawing sheets, and pens – lots of them! I must have had hundreds of pens – different colors, different types, ink pens, ball pens, sketch pens – you name them and I had them. Later, when I was a little older, I took up this habit of journaling – I was never consistent, but it was something that I always looked forward to. A fresh sheet of paper, my new pens, and my thoughts – nothing could beat that feeling. Till now, the smell of ink on paper is one of my greatest love.

Later in life, when I owned a laptop, I gravitated towards typing on Microsoft Word, and eventually, albeit begrudgingly I caved into the convenience of auto-correct, spell check, copy and paste, but pretty journals and pens still remain my weaknesses. My mom always pushed me to write – anything, everything – regular stuff, everyday happenings, random thoughts. She told me to write a few words every day. ” Think when you are older and you reflect back on all these writings, your writings will offer you a new perspective – of who you were, and how far you have come”. I liked the idea, but never stuck to it. In fact, I still struggle with writing every day. But, the love was there. The desire was there – quietly needling me to do something about it. And when the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. presented itself, I didn’t have any second thoughts. This is what I always wanted to do. Think, write, and get paid for it? What can be better than this? And so, I resigned from my job and became a student again. This was in 2009. 

The first year was a haze. I don’t recall much of it. Second year onward, I earnestly started researching, and writing. I remember my first “paper”. I shared it with the faculty and other doctoral students. I was excited, proud, and looking forward to all the appreciation I would receive. The feedback was brutal. My writing was too flowery, my sentences too loose, my logic too flawed, and my paper was too long! I thought I could write, but the reality of the feedback was a jolt. I wish I could say this was a one-off instance, but no, the story repeated itself in some form or the other. After this feedback, writing for me became a chore, it was stressful and gave me anxiety. Any review emails were a painful reminder of how terrible I was! 

But then, all was not bad. There was for sure some constructive feedback. A few good men and women took the time to give me constructive feedback and pointed me to the right resources. And it was their positive words that gave me hope. And so I trudged along. I read a lot of papers, and a lot of books, and scoured the internet to understand how to write better. I went to writing classes, and tutorials, paid others to proofread my work, and basically kept at it. It was a slow and painful process, to say the least. To give you an idea – A standard academic article is 10,000 words long and you have to tell a really compelling story so that you are among the 10% of papers that are accepted in a respectable journal (1% if you consider the top journals in a field, say marketing, or finance). 

And so you write. The 1st draft may take 3 months to a year. And then you revise it based on feedback from your committee or supervisor, and then you refine it some more until it’s good enough for submission. If you are lucky, you don’t get rejected in the 1st round of revision, but the reviewers generally give you somewhere around 2- 5 pages of feedback, some of which are brutal. You take some time to process the feedback, and then you work on the revisions, which could take another 6 months. Depending on how good or terrible a job you have done, this process can drag on a few more times. Giving up midway is not an option, because you have worked so hard for it. So, how can you give up, when the prize is in sight?  Eventually, if you did what you were supposed to do, after a couple of years, and multiple rounds of revision, you get an email – that your paper is accepted. And all you feel is a sense of enormous relief, that you don’t have to revise the paper for the 100th time.

And then you start again – on another project and repeat!

When I started – and five to seven years after that, I used to face multiple rejections. I was not able to publish much. Each paper was a disaster and required plenty of effort and multiple rounds of revision and even after that, I did not manage to publish in some of the better journals. Every revision was like pulling teeth. But then I kept chipping at it. Looking back I feel, the only reason I managed to publish a few papers was by sheer will. I did not give up, just kept at it.

Something shifted during my second Ph.D. For a change, I had a very supportive supervisor. He pointed out my errors, worked with me, and literally held my hands during painful revisions. We worked together, sometimes till midnight, exchanging emails and meeting last-minute deadlines. I recall being exhausted, but all of it was so exhilarating! And so we wrote – a lot! Sure, not all papers were successful, but we did publish some great pieces! Some papers were even accepted right away, with no revisions! I remember waking up early in the mornings and writing – sometimes words just poured out, and sometimes I struggled, but it all worked out. It was as if I had cracked a code – and all the puzzle pieces just fit! I remember a year when I had five hits. Starting from one publication in five years, to five in one year, life had made a U-turn. 

I am not an expert at writing. I struggle. I am not prolific. I have more bad days than good. In short, it’s painful. But, I believe, this is the story of anyone who has ever tried to do anything worthwhile. It’s never easy. People try. They fail. But what separates the best from the rest is the decision to go on. To keep at it. Of course, a little help in the form of a guru, a mentor, or a teacher can accelerate the process, but then you are one who has to go through the transformation. I read Swamiji’s post on meditation, life, and everything else. One of the recent ones is on resistance. One thing that strikes me every time I read his posts, is the ‘effort’. If you want to be a successful CEO, an accomplished swimmer, or a good writer – put in 10,000 hours of dedicated effort. That’s it. There is no shortcut. 

And it’s true. Not just writing, this applies to every aspect of life. Anyone who is good at anything is because they worked at it. They slogged at it when everyone else had given up. Sure, some are gifted, but for mere mortals like me, the key to success is those 10,000 hours that they put into – a lot of pain. So, for anyone reading this post, my only advice is, to just.do.it. And do some more. And some more. Invest your blood, sweat, and tears, and you can achieve your goals. 

Signing off!