I remember harbouring a dream of writing for a magazine. In fact, I remember the exact article that prompted me to sign up for a Writer’s Bureau course. It was an FHM Magazine article, and it introduced me to the world of creative non-fiction, much like the stuff I publish on my blog.
It was then that I’d realise how words could be manipulated to evoke emotion. I starkly remember the sentence ‘One hour later and the airport lights were a thing of the past.’ The turn of phrase blew my mind, and since that day, I begun to aspire to the ways of wordsmithery.
The FHM story also centred around a feeble writer whose editor tasked him to an amateur boxing bout. And it’s after this piece was published that I’d realised how I’d inadvertently got published in a magazine, writing in a genre I once aspired to.
It’s a fitting ending for this chapter of my life, because if there’s any piece I wish to reach out to budding writers with, it’d be Way of the Pehalwan. Maybe I’d inspire a frustrated English teacher, or perhaps a backpacker aspiring to be a digital nomad; either way, I do hope I influence someone the way that FHM article influenced me.
Back In Time
Let me take you back to my hairdressing days, when I had barely graduated school and was assisting senior stylist Tim in a perm. It was my first chemical job, and when Tim held the client’s hair two inches off her roots, I thought he’d meant ‘apply chemical here’ instead of ‘leave this part out’.
My first chemical job promptly turned into a crash course in conflict management, because Tim proceeded to have a fit, screaming at me to fix the problem. I told him that perhaps he shouldn’t have spent the last half hour watching Chinese soaps in the pantry, which was promptly followed by a chemical bowl flung at my face.
Upon my return, the client asked if everything was all right—she’d probably heard the ruckus—to which I replied, “Everything’s just peachy.”
Was it a futile effort in making her feel better? Yes. Could I have said something more normal, like “Yeah” or “Yup”? Probably. Maybe I’m just predisposed to saying stupid shit when stressed.
The client’s hair turned out all right in the end, but Tim never did let go. He told me that I’d never be a successful stylist, and that I’d never excel in hairdressing. He critiqued everything I did—I held the dryer wrong, I stood crooked, I smiled too much, I took too long to give haircuts.
And I believed him. For years, while my peers went on to owning their own salons, I’d still be trudging along as a junior stylist, doing nothing else but help out in menial tasks.
Years later, I’d get my break in another salon as a senior stylist, and I’d quickly find out that Tim was right. I did smile too much. I did take too much time on haircuts. But you know what? People actually loved me for it.
The following two years would be the best time I’d ever have in the hairdressing industry. I met so many great people who actually treated me with respect, and while I did have my fair share of trial and error, there was nobody to tell me what I could and couldn’t do, and as a result, grew much more than all my previous years combined.
History Repeats Itself
Almost five years into my publishing career (two of which I’ve spent travel writing), I begun to see the same patterns. I was told how my work lacked a certain pizzazz, and that there was much room for improvement. I was told that my choice of the word ‘retreat’ instead of ‘escape’, or forgetting the recipe of my cocktail—in a story about Japanese geographical history—was the reason why I wasn’t getting a raise.
And they were probably right.
In the final months of my career, I did a quick calculation of what was on the horizon of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, and found that there wasn’t much to look forward to beyond a USD50 increment every two years. That very same week, I met a couple of managers of a tech startup who told me that they enjoyed my work, and that I’d have freedom to express myself within constraints of their company’s vision.
It was then I realised that perhaps I was working for the wrong people. Maybe it’s not so much the level of my craft, but the synergy between writer and manager. So that’s why I left travel writing to be a copywriter.
Was it the best thing to do? That’s what I’m about to find out. No matter what happens from here on out, I’m glad I decided to take the chance, instead of letting the opportunity slip by.
I’d like to think that I’ve made the right choice, because I feel more alive lately, and I’ve been waking up with more vigour too. Heck, I’ve even begun writing blog posts again.
Is everything going to be all right?
Perhaps. In fact, everything’s going to be just peachy.
2 thoughts on “NON FICTION: I Really Should Insert A Title, But Then You Wouldn’t Read It”
Reading this article, made me realize what a “thick skin” a writer must have, as the only way to improve is to hear constructive criticism. (and apply it accordingly) However, sometimes it’s not so constructive, yet sometimes one might really strive for excellence when they hear the brutality of it – this reminded me of what models must face when they are a size zero and are told they are too fat, or they don’t smile or give the proper look / state of whatever, or how the actor must feel – you’re not what we’re looking for you’re too this or too that or not enough this/that. Could you imagine practicing facial expression in the mirror?
I’m glad I’m just writing for fun and more of a personal/chatty blog. It’s relaxing when you’re not slaving and worrying about being fired for using the wrong word. (or in your case not receiving a raise for choice of the word ‘retreat’ instead of ‘escape’)
Receiving critique is nerve-wracking indeed! But since writing is so subjective, I think having an editor that appreciates your style (grammatical mistakes aside) is key to a smooth workflow.
I mean, I wouldn’t mind getting an earful for using an en dash instead of the em, but when the feedback is ‘not pretty enough’, what else am I to do?
Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts Sandi!
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