Writing, Life, and My Writing Life

When I first came to study in Singapore six years ago, English was my nightmare. For me, writing English essays was similar to a direct translation exercise from Chinese to English. As a result of that misconception, I constructed awkward sentences with improper structures and funny expressions that hardly make sense. The awareness that words come in degrees and nuances was alien to me. I was so afraid of writing English, because I could anticipate that anything I wrote, no matter how much I believed they worked, would be the laughter of my classmates. The stories in my mind were much simplified since I have limited vocabularies; my characters were dull, my plots anticipatable, and my dialogues robotic.

I rediscovered the pleasure of writing in composing arguments. Singapore education system visions a nation of critical thinkers. Most essay questions in O’Level and all essay questions in A’Level are argumentative in nature. I was often asked to give opinions on some debatable claims and defend my stand. It was pretty hard, but fortunately, I did not give up. I became detail-oriented and perfection-seeking. I developed the habit of careful proof-reading. I always reminded myself to clear grammatical errors, evaluate expressions and re-think about sentence structures. Besides checking linguistic errors, I revised essay contents as well. It was almost impossible to write a perfect essay on the first attempt, and revisions were crucial and often involve drastic changes. Slowly, I was capable of writing critical essays; I even enjoy the process. Besides majoring in Mathematics, I joined University Scholars Programme in university so that I could write more inter-disciplinary critical academic essays. That world under my pen, together with those poetic images and mentally unstable princes, faded into the periphery of my life. Sometimes, I still searched for that private place where only I could find, but somehow, that place was so unfamiliar to me. I doubted whether I could produce any more sentimental phrases, not to mention that beautiful sense of loss.

I have a three-month holiday after my first year of undergraduate studies. I clearly knew that if I did not attend some activities to keep myself busy, I would end up watching movies, feasting and sleeping sixteen hours a day. I felt blessed after discovering the USP-Piper Creative Writing Course, although the course soon brought me much anxiety. During the first lesson, I could not think of any substitutions for orange because few critical essays required those vocabularies. Subsequently, I read fictions and poems full of descriptive lines that I could hardly understand. I felt confused how my classmates chose the most suitable word for every object and nuanced feeling. My own writing drafts often appeared to be boring and purposeless, just like all my English creative writings few years ago. Yet, the course reminded me of my childhood mischiefs and my inner creativity that had long been forgotten. In the past six weeks, I wrote about someone obsessed with the pink iPhone, a pagoda tree with ego issues, a post-apocalyptic thriller, and a lesbian love story. Gradually, I found that world in my writings with much nostalgia. I could not believe that I could still produce anything other than a harsh critical review. I was excited to discover my heart.

The course is well structured and gives me a formal introduction to common creative writing techniques and forms. I never thought that I would write a poem in English. I had no idea how to rhyme at all. My first English poem, titled Pagoda Tree, was little more than a breakdown of a prose, but even so, I was very excited about it. I was fascinated how deep and how nuanced a poem could be with such a small number of words. I also started writing everyday thoughts and feelings in a notebook, with pretty horrible handwriting. I found it an effective way to capture my fleeting thoughts and creative ideas that could have been expanded into a long creative prose. In that notebook, I practiced eliminating adjectives and adverbs, using precise verbs and writing dialogues with different energy levels.

I was much inspired when my instructor reminded me that suspense could only be created after I gave everything to my reader, an action similar to holding my readers’ hands as I wrote. I gradually realised that the purpose of writing is more than reflect on my experiences and glorify my unbearable reality; writing is about sharing experiences, creative thoughts, or warmth too. I have read from a literal critic that good writings move others by mind, heart or foot; he perhaps suggests that writing is both a private and a public activity. I tried to be more explicit in my references and metaphors. Instead of describing how my characters felt at a particular time, I tried to build up their feelings, just like how I pictured them in my mind. In the future, I want to expand my vocabularies further and practise showing instead of telling in my writing, both creative and critical essays. I wish to add more images instead of just information in my essays so as to hold their hands as I write.

I am still not sure how my writings will interact with all the writings in the world as a whole, but one thing I can say for sure is that I will never stop writing, be it critical essays or creative ones. I had not personally experienced any of my stories, but still, I found all inspirations in my life. For instance, after reading about the chemical weapons and refugees, I wrote the post-apocalyptic thriller, and after watching Carol, I thought that it would be interesting to write about the struggle of homosexual lovers. I realise that life is the best source of inspiration. Human minds are perhaps just so powerful that they can transcend physical limitations of the reality and elevate daily experiences, just like how I mixed up the real and the unreal. Although my stories may be too mysterious and indirect to my readers, they contain my deepest secrets and fears, as well as my love for imperfections. Creative writing sometimes feels like digging into my mind and extract the best moments before letting them shine like a neon light in a dark, lonely night or explode like a firework. It represents the human innate desire of expression. It is the place where I can find redemption, hope and eternity. I am ready and really excited to keep writing.


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