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How a terrible teenage poem taught me a lifelong lesson | Nikesh Shukla

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Aged 16, I wanted to scream in happiness that my poem had been chosen for an anthology. All I had to do was accept the terms and send £45 (plus £5 p&p)

This is my origin story: when I was a teenager I wrote terrible poetry. Like really bad. Worse than yours, I bet. A lot of it about how every little thing reminds me that we’re all going to die one day. I wrote collections and collections of these poems, thinking one day I would have my moment. I named one collection, ironically, The Eternal Optimist.

In 1996, I found an advert for the International Poetry Competition. I was 16 years old and ready for my poetry to be unleashed on the world. Not only was it a competition with a cash prize, but it was poetry, which I wrote, and international. This was my ticket to becoming world renowned. I submitted a poem called Trail of Thought. If you ever wrote bad poetry as a teenager, you’ll have written something like it. In the poem, I went for a walk and noticed small poignant things in nature, and each one reminded me that we were all going to die one day.

The months waiting for the anthology were excruciating. I hit some sort of writer’s block

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