September 12, 2017

I came here to Write; I left with a Family.


I’ve never nurtured any dreams.

I never had any answers for the oft-asked conversation stretchers: what’s your dream, your dream vacation, dream partner, dream life? Sometimes I would just smile; sometimes I would be honest and say I don’t have any.

I’m a realist. I don’t have dreams. I have goals.

I started reading elephant journal around five years ago. It was different from what I was normally used to reading. They wanted to change the world, thought by thought, person by person. Today I know their philosophy: to be of benefit to others and our world. That’s pretty cool!

The style of writing on the site started to grow on me. It resonated with my intrinsic being. I remained a passive reader for a couple of years. I loved the environmental and health-focused articles, even astrology sometimes. But the articles about relationships, physical and emotional, still made me uncomfortable. Although raised in a progressive family, I felt restrained by the social conditioning of the still-traditional Indian society.

Yet, as my own relationships played out in unexpected ways, I started to see the honesty conveyed through the articles. I felt as if it were my life events and feelings the author was writing about. It was uncannily relatable.

I got addicted to elephant journal. Three articles a day were just not enough. I committed to them and bought a membership.

And then I started to dream.

I got bold. I wanted to write like the authors who wrote for them. I wanted to be able to tell a story so engaging that the reader is disappointed that it ever had to end.

But creative writing is not my forte. If you want a serious, well-researched opinion piece, or a dry goal-oriented analysis of a corporate strategy, I’m your girl. But a story, where I might have to share my vulnerable experiences, express my feelings? That was just not me. Also, I seriously believed that I didn’t have the skills to write a creative piece, especially in a way where my words could engage the reader. I had nothing interesting to say.

So, it became a dream.

Another year passed. My amazing boss and mentor, Alka, convinced me that I did have a creative streak in me. I trusted her, and summoned courage to enroll in a creative writing course. It was bland and basic. I didn’t learn much. And yet, it was a landmark event in my writing journey. In one of the mandatory assignments, I had to write a children’s story, the litmus test of creativity and imagination (I wanted to skip that class, it horrified me so much!). I surprised myself, and the mental block was gone forever.

That didn’t, however, mean that words were flowing through my pen. But my dream was turning into a goal, and that was something I knew how to navigate.

I got more ambitious; it wasn’t just my dream anymore to write like the elephant journal authors, but to be one myself. I decided to join the Elephant Academy, learn their insider secrets, get some real creative writing skills, and then maybe I could write well enough to be published by them.

Life had other plans. I met a guy, a nomadic climber, and I abandoned my city life for the woods. Literally. We would spend months living in forests and cliffs, sleeping in caves, rain shelters, and our car, bathing in rivers and waterfalls, cooking on wood, and sometimes foraging too.

Three months of connectivity for the Academy? I didn’t even have electricity. I didn’t sleep at the same location more than two nights. I kept writing to the elephant team that I’d join the next session and the next. This continued for two years.

And finally, it’s my last day of my Academy today. And it’s been quite a journey.

So, let’s see what they had to offer and what I actually learned from their four modules: social media, journalism ethics, writing, and editing.

1) Social Media:

I remember Waylon’s words from the first session: “You can write a great piece but it’s not of benefit if you don’t have any readers.”

Makes sense.

Enter social media skills. Informative, useful, necessary module. I pushed my limits with their social media challenge.

My takeaway: Hire someone as soon as you can afford to, or enlist that young social media savvy cousin of yours.

2) Journalism:

Nostalgic. For a few weeks, I went back to the time when I was an activist and believed that the goal of my life was to work for social change. And then it brought me back to reality, reminded me why I had stopped following news, and moved to an alternate lifestyle.

My takeaway: Journalism was my past. I understand the importance of facts, but my way to bring about change has now changed. And I’m okay with it.

3) Writing:

The most awaited module, finally. We had interesting sessions—meditation and writing, interviews with published authors and experienced editors, weekly writing prompts. Good. Engaging. Different.

My takeaway: No one can teach you how to write or how to write better. It’s your own journey.

4) Editing:

Honestly, I was enjoying Mexico—scuba-diving, hitch-hiking, jumping from trees into 100 meters deep cenotes, and exploring vegan haunts for most of the duration of this module. I did keep up though, and was reassured that my editing skills were moving along fine, as I’d been professionally editing for a few years now.

My takeaway: Learning doesn’t have to be a burden. Life happens, accept it. Enjoy it. Don’t lose track of your goals, but leave the guilt out.

Those were the skills I learned, or not. But along this journey with the Elephant Academy, I did pick up a few valuable life lessons, which I feel will have long-lasting effects on my personal evolution and my relationship with life.

There is a story behind each of these, but for now, I’ll just list them out:

>> Procrastination: after some 20 odd years of suffering, I’m in rehab, courtesy of the elephant journal team.

>> Perfectionism: it is a futile, self-serving but ultimately stress-inducing indulgence. Let go. Just write and submit.

>> Observation: I haven’t been so awake or aware even in sensory stimulating surroundings. Now, everything speaks to me. I have a bunch of notes, waiting to be turned into articles.

>> Presence: the only way to be true to yourself and others.

>> Self-help:  the journey with Elephant Academy gave me the time and the space to practice these with supportive guidance.

But the two biggest treasures I take away are:

>> A community in which I feel I belong. Being a loner who prefers solitude instead of society, it has been a gift to discover a community of peers, mentors, and friends.

>> A cardinal rule for writing for elephant journal: don’t use the word “very.” This simple rule is the biggest thing that has helped my writing. The fingers still type out the word occasionally, but then that’s why the backspace key exists.



Interested in Elephant Academy? Learn more here.


Author: Sukriti Chopra
Image: Elephant Journal Instagram
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Taia Butler

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