I’m a bad writer. I use clichés and too many rhetorical questions. I write about myself. I write about frivolous topics that have no hard “newsworthiness”. I don’t write everyday. I don’t write with the audience in mind. I basically go against all the ‘rules’ that I learnt in a five-year journalism degree.
I’ve always loved writing. I got my first journal at around four or five years old, but I distinctly remember regularly recording my thoughts at the age of eight. It took me five years to fill that journal. Since then, I’ve probably written about two dozen (my 20s alone have needed at least ten of them).
It surprises me that I even wanted to go to university to study writing. I hated high school English, being a mixture of literature analysis and creative writing. I couldn’t understand why writing about “what the blue curtains represent” mattered so much. I cringed all the way through my final year creative writing story, recognising how lame and uncomfortable my creative writing skills were.
What I’ve always been good at is writing in a way that’s simple and easy to understand. I don’t see the point of all these nice and flowery descriptive words when it’s completely unnecessary. In that way, I’ve always been a pragmatist. And from this lens, it makes sense that I wanted to study journalism – a no fluff approach to directly translating the facts to the people.
Yet, it was university where I lost my confidence in my writing. Wasn’t this the institution where I was supposed to allow my writing skills to develop and flourish? Wasn’t I meant to find and carve out my distinctive voice? Whilst I did master the art of research and writing a good essay, creatively I was stifled; I took on the rules of “what makes good writing” (well, according to university lecturers) as dogma and consequently judged myself for wanting to write anything different.
The more technical the process of writing became, the more I felt lost in what the hell to write about. Low self-esteem doesn’t help too. Coming from a high school which was ranked one of the lowest of the state in terms of academic performance, I was suddenly thrust into an environment where everyone was the cream of the crop, who had gone to private schools or gotten atars of 99.95. I was a fraud; I got in by default through a special pathway my careers advisor was able to nominate me for (I only had to get 70 to get into the course which required a 95).
Writing about yourself is a big no-no, unless it connects to some broader story and universalising theme. But the content for my writing ALWAYS comes from direct and personal experience. I sound clunky, archaic, and awkward writing about topics I have no direct relation to. Ironically, this probably does fit into the advice to “write about what you know”. Well, all I know is my feelings and experiences, and every time I come to write, that’s what naturally wants to pour out onto the page.
Since graduating university, it’s been a process of reconfiguring and de-conditioning myself from the writing rules which don’t resonate with me, or aren’t conducive to encouraging me to write. Being paralysed by fear because I can’t write in the way that I was taught was “good” doesn’t help anybody, and certainly not myself. I’m learning to enjoy writing again, through the process of blogging and writing about myself in my narcissistic millennial-gazing ways (I joke, also I’m technically Gen Z).
I genuinely thought I didn’t have anything to write about. The truth was, I was so fixated on what to pitch to publications or trying to understand what readers would want to read that I felt blank and overwhelmed. When I would find an idea, I would research it exhaustively and then loose steam and interest almost immediately. Why couldn’t I commit to finishing an article idea? It was because it went against my natural writing inclinations. Yes, having good grammar and writing legibly and coherently will always be an important writing skill one needs to develop. But there are different kinds of writers. There are different methods of writing. This is my own method. Educational institutions tried to stamp it out of me, but I will always return back to it.
I used to shy away from labeling myself as a “writer” because I didn’t fit the parameters of what I thought classified a professional writer. But I’m here to tell you this: you are a writer if you love to write. If you think about writing as much as I do, I guarantee you’re a writer. Do not let other people tell you what you should or shouldn’t write about. Everyone has a unique expression and preferred topics they wish to discuss in writing. None of it is ever off-limits.
So with all that being said, what is it that you want to write about? This is your permission slip to go ahead and write it.
image: Charles Etoroma