I used to write and speak crappy English. When I was 5, I read Alice in the Wonderland to an older lady who was kind enough to babysit/play with me.
Me: Alice and her seester.
Nice lady: No, sister. Not seester.
Nice lady: Sister.
With enough practice and correction from teachers and my father, my English slowly improved. I began to enjoy writing to express myself, and more importantly, reading other people’s thoughts. I read everything and anything without judgment.
This meant that while I was lucky enough to be exposed to different ideas when I was younger, it did mean that I read my fair share of trashy stuff like gossip rags or blogs. That’s where I learned un-politically correct views and sayings. One moment I’m not proud of was my liberal use of “tranny”, which I picked up from a popular blog. On hindsight, not all reading materials were good for my value system. I should have stayed far away from it.
Back then, teenagers wanted to go pro in sports. Nowadays, teenagers want to go pro in esports! The dream is to get paid to play video games.
In my leisure time, I read, wrote diaries, stories, and even fake news. My dream was to get paid to write.
Not a journalist
As time passed, my desire to become a journalist left me. While I still enjoyed reading, I couldn’t imagine writing for any papers in Singapore. I also didn’t think I was good enough to write for any publication.
After sitting for the A-levels, I decided to do a business degree. It seemed the most sensible thing to do given that I wasn’t sure what the job prospects were like in Singapore if I took a degree in literature. I wasn’t fond of getting a communications degree since that’s not about entirely about stories or writing.
I do not regret doing my business degree at all. I see a university education as a way to broaden my perspective and to try things I’m bad at – like finance and understanding how the mysterious capitalist system works.
Secretly, I really wanted a shot at earning big bucks which I quickly realized was not going to happen after Year 1. 💸
It turned out that I became deeply interested in market research once I understood what it entailed. Market research provided me a way of writing a narrative about consumers from data. This helped me become more comfortable with business models, numbers, and graphs and diagrams. And it proves helpful when I have to understand media analytics now.
Market research provided me a way of writing a narrative about consumers from data.
Thankfully, in my free time in university, I also managed to take up some modules in literature. These were mentally and labor intensive modules with tons of readings which definitely helped me to appreciate people who major in literature.
I fear literature majors – they’ve either taken a gamble with their potential careers or they know what they’re going to do with their degree (which is even more terrifying). And they know how to wield words like a weapon to create change. You should fear them.
When I graduated, I decided that I wanted to try something related to business but more exciting than market research. I enjoyed market research very much and spinning a story out of data insights. But I thought I had youth on my side to try something else out first.
My first job worked out as I gained life experience, but eventually, I learned that I didn’t have any marketable skills after more than a year. This made me reconsider writing for a living.
A moment that profoundly changed my views on a career was when I watched a Korean TV show. No matter how well the amateur singers sang, they could never sound better than professional singers at a karaoke. It was then I realized the difference between being a pro and just being really good.
Amateur singers followed the vocal guides well and sang into the microphone. Professionals understood the song, the music, and the machine. They blended in with tinny voices to create a work of vocal art for us to enjoy.
As vocalists, they are chained to their career choice and their art. But this commitment distinguishes them in this sphere and gives them an actual opportunity to become the very best.
It was then I realized the difference between being a pro and just being really good.
I wondered what would my profession be. I wanted to be able to create something that makes people go, “Aha! You must do this for a living!”
I wanted to do something that seemingly effortlessly and quickly, but with intention and seasoned practice. I wanted to commit to doing something over and over again, such that one day, I could say that I’m good at it.
I wanted to be able to create something that makes people go, “Aha! You must do this for a living!”
That was when I decided to make content my living.
My life changed the moment I committed to writing for my whole life. To go “pro”, like athletes, I have to be paid for my writing.
I made a conscious choice to pivot to a content-based role and actively sought out opportunities in publications.
I think I stumbled upon my writing job half by submitting a decent writing test, and half by sheer dumb luck. I was not qualified based on experience to be a writer or an editor, but my employers took a leap of faith with me.
And that’s how I went “pro”.
To end this off, here’s what I took away from my journey.
1. Read, read, read. But do think critically about the material, such as the author’s intentions and the message behind the words.
2. It’s still a profession. You need to be good and that’s just to qualify for a job. To thrive, you’ll need a really good grasp of the language. The best copy editors and writers I know spend time poring over things like commas and phrases. It takes a passion for language and a respect for the writing profession enough to care about these little details.
3. You don’t need a relevant degree. While I strongly encourage people to go for their dreams, it does help to have different skill sets. For example, market research helps me to understand media analytics. Just spend more time weaving it all together.
4. You’ll have to take the plunge and commit to this as a career. I also accept that I may never earn big bucks.
5. At the end of the day, it’s a job. I had to do a writing test to prove that I met the requirements of the job. And if I write badly I’m going to get fired. Having a business degree also helped me to understand the demands of my job quickly. It’s not all about the writing. Work is equally about the machine that supports the publication.
6. Have great editors. I get schooled on a daily basis – from my article angles to my English. But I love it because I love my job and I love writing. And best of all, I pick up editing skills along the way.
I leave you Harper Lee’s wise words. I admire her work and her modesty. It’s humbling to know that all she aspired to was to do the best she could with her God-given talent. She wanted to “leave some record of… small-town middle-class southern life.” All she wanted to be was “the Jane Austen of south Alabama.”
“It takes time and patience and effort to turn out a work of art, and few people seem willing to go all the way. I see a great deal of sloppiness and I deplore it. I think writers today are too easily pleased with their work. This is sad. There’s no substitute for struggling, if a struggle is needed, to make an English sentence as beautiful as it should be.”