How Three Accidents Created A Writer
Writing is similar to alchemy. Western alchemy, if you remember, has been closely connected with Hermeticism, a philosophical system that traces its roots to Hermes Trismegistus.
In alchemy there is an attempt to transmute the profane into the profound, to turn lead into gold. It’s more mystical ambition is to unite the microcosm with the macrocosm through symbolism.
While alchemy over time evolved into chemistry, writing evolved into a way to bend time and close the gap between centuries of thought. While alchemists manipulated materials to serve as symbols for spiritual transformation, writers manipulated their personal experiences to pursue spiritual transformation.
I’ve always loved words. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember. In fact, I remember, as a child fascinated by how my mother would be able to stare at pieces of bound paper. As she lay on her pillow in bed, I used to open up books as well and stare at them, pretending that I was reading, too. This amused her and she ruffled my curly hair, but I would pretend to be irritated, as if my preoccupation had been interrupted.
In school, I won awards for my poems and essays, but I never really learned how to write a decent sentence until I went to college. My imaginative ramblings, more than any obvious skill, were the main reason for my kudos.
Three accidental events initiated my evolution into a writer.
After high school and before college, my mother sent me to a typing school to get me out of the house. While I was bored at the time by the mechanical repetition of it and more interested in the pretty and studious girls typing diligently in the same room, I later came to appreciate those three short months as more useful than all my previous years in school.
Then in college, I found an old typewriter abandoned in the closet of a house that I was renting in my second semester.
The third event that shaped my writing career was finding an abandoned book on rhetoric when I was part of the cleaning crew that remodeled the dorm rooms during the summer vacations.
The combination of these three things, changed my raw enthusiasm for literature into the opportunity to shape words into ideas and ideas into stories and essays.
My English Professor, Dr. Sig Shwartz, would take me out for coffee after classes and we would discuss philosophy and literature. Under his mentorship, I read Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sarte, Albert Camus, Jorge Luis Borges, and Henry Miller.
I spent most of my college years writing furious existential essays. I liked the aphorisms of Nietzsche, the irony of Sarte, the lyricism of Camus, the golden sadness of Borges, and the rebellion of Miller. I imagined that I had incarnated as an amalgam of all of them.
I vividly remember the evening when Ray Bradbury visited our college. He appeared to be from another world. An Olympian demi-god, similar to Prometheus, who had descended down to the plains to share the rhapsody of his inner fire.
His opening words were that writing began when an unknown human being stepped out of his cave, looked at the mysterious world around him and the immense sky teeming with stars above him, then walked back in and began the first act of writing, painting images on his cave wall by firelight. In those days, I imagined publication to be akin to knighthood. I assumed that a published writer was the highest possible achievement.
Consequently, I used my History degree to secure jobs as a freelance journalist.
My first published story was about a girl who needed donations to have a kidney operation. My article in a national magazine created a stream of donations for her. It was a thrill watching my aunt’s face as we sat in the patio of a restaurant and she read my first published article. I immediately got goosebumps after she read the article and stared at me in astonishment and said, “How in the world did you learn how to write?”
Once I broke into print, it was increasingly easier to get published often. Then, one day, I wrote a book. I awoke from a vivid dream about a crippled girl who believed in miracles and learned how to walk. I spent three weeks writing intensely. Since, at that time, I was completely naïve about book publishing, I walked into a publishing house, asked to see an editor and presented my book. The editor looked astonished, but at that time, I didn’t even know that one is supposed to find an agent and create a marketing package. However, she was very gracious about it, set it aside and promised to read it.
Two months later, I signed my first book contract.
Now you understand why, in a world where most people seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my writing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of rebellion.
In closing, I’d like to share with you a few short steps, on how to go from a completely blank, clueless state of mind to shaping an article or a story.
One, set your intention. For example, my intention in writing this particular article was: “I intend to write a nostalgic account of my writing experience to encourage others who have the same interest.”
Two, muse about what you want to write. I reflected on creativity and self-expression.
Three, write in free-form. Just write without thinking. Retire your inner editor.
Four, take a break. I decided to clean up my home office.
Five, write another draft.
Six, take another break. I went into the kitchen and washed dishes. As I was doing this, the thought came to me that writing was as mystical an experience as alchemy, and it aspired to the same magic, inner transformation.
Seven, write the final draft (if possible). Sometimes, of course, it takes several drafts.
Saleem Rana is a psychotherapist in Denver, Colorado. If you're up to the challenge and want to create the kind of freedom and lifestyle you truly deserve - starting now - then get his free book from