When I was in Grade Four, I was asked by my teacher to join an on-the-spot essay writing contest. Although I didn’t have an inkling on what an “essay” was, I agreed anyway, figuring that I could just ask my Dad what it meant later. Unfortunately, I found out that my Dad was on a business trip and wouldn’t be home for several days. So instead I asked my Mom what an essay meant. She tried to explain it to me, but I couldn’t quite understand what she meant. Exasperated, she just pointed out to me an essay in one of the English textbooks we used in school. The title of the essay was “The Banana Tree.” Stupidly, I thought that the essay was “THE” essay I was supposed to write. I failed to mention to my Mom that the contest was “on-the-spot,” meaning, the theme or topic was to be given right then and there.
Long story short: I memorized the entire essay, and wrote it from memory during the essay contest, word for word. I could imagine how the judges must have laughed their hearts out when they read my essay. If I remember correctly, the topic of the contest was something on health (as it was supposedly during the celebration of Health Week or Month). I was so embarrassed.
Thus began my induction into the world of writing.
But I learned fast, and pretty soon I was joining every essay contest in school. My writing must have improved somewhat, because I also won those contests. One of my teachers noticed, and decided to train me to write news stories for the school organ. As it turned out, I had a knack for newswriting. In Grade Five, for the first time I joined the inter-school press conference and won the district level. I moved on to the division level, and finally the metro-wide young writer’s press conference. I got a fourth place in the newswriting category – which was simply beyond everyone’s expectations, especially for a novice like me. My adviser was elated; I was reaping awards for the school and naturally this made the school proud.
I continued joining writing contests in high school, although admittedly I didn’t win all the time. I was made the (unwilling but able?) editor-in-chief of the school paper, and was assigned to the boring task of writing the editorial and feature stories. I didn’t like it, and preferred to write news stories instead. One of my fondest memories was during a writing workshop where all participants were asked to write a news story about the event, i.e., the workshop itself. My story was selected amongst others, and was subsequently printed in two local newspapers the following day. Seeing my name on print made my heart swell with pride. That event notwithstanding, however, our adviser thought that newswriting was better suited to someone else in our staff and kept me in the feature-writing category in the press conferences. I tried to persuade him, to no avail. Anyway, I didn’t fare so well in this category, and only got as far as the regional level. I became disgusted and disillusioned at my poor performance in those contests. You know that feeling? Like you’re headed into a downward spiral? At the end of my senior year, it became clear to me that my calling wasn’t to be a writer. I chose to concentrate my efforts on science instead. So I took up Physics as my major in college and braced myself for a lifetime of nerdiness.
I didn’t give up writing entirely, though. I kept a journal throughout college, and it became my outlet for creative writing. I also dabbled into poetry. During this period I produced a rather lengthy, bland undergraduate thesis, followed by an even longer (and equally bland) masteral thesis, which were requirements for the course. What was surprising to me at least, was the realization that thesis-writing was almost like newswriting: a reporting of the methodology, the results, the bare facts. In a way, my training in journalism in primary and secondary schools had served its purpose.
I still write a lot nowadays, although I write mostly on technical stuffs related to my research. When inspiration strikes I sometimes write on non-technical topics (like my series of essays during my pregnancy).
Still, I long to write extensively on a wider range of topics that are outside my field of expertise. In fact, I want to write a book. Heck, even Madonna came up with her own book. I bet I could write a book if I would concentrate my efforts on it. (Well, I did write a chapter for a book, but even that is technical stuff. Hardly the kind of book that the majority of people would ever want to read.) But what topic to write on?
Anyway, I chose a different path, and heaven knows how my life would be now had I chosen to pursue a writing career instead of a science career. Still, as they say, once a writer, always a writer. It’s just another means of self-expression. But shucks, I feel so rusty after all these years of not getting enough writing “exercises.”
In the meantime, I blog. My magnum opus will probably take a longer time to hatch, but at least it’s already in the incubation period.