I recently joined the youth newsletter (youth, by the way, is defined by law as someone under 35 years of age) of our church and yesterday was the first meeting I attended. In a way, it was a bit uncomfortable since the editor-in-chief had high expectations from me, me working as an editorial assistant and all, while they themselves haven’t worked in a previous publication before.
Of course that got me thinking. I did have prior experience working for a newsletter. Back in high school, I was the news editor of the school paper. And well, basically what I learned there more or less follows the typical routine in most publications; writers still don’t meet deadlines, there will always be room for editing and more editing, and doing layouts is not as easy as it seems.
But perhaps closer to the point, as a kid, I never imagined myself working for the school paper, much less pursuing a degree in Creative Writing. Honestly, I wasn’t a voracious reader when I was young. I was into video games, video games, and more video games. Perhaps the only thing that kept my reading skills alive back then was poring over video game magazines like Nintendo Power and Game Pro month after month. As for actual books, that’s really laughable. Perhaps the closest thing I came was reading the Choose Your Own Adventure line of books. When I was eleven, one of my friends got me interested in Tom Swift, the equivalent of Hardy Boys for nerdy kids (Tom Swift, by the way, is not recommended reading for would-be writers; it’s plagued with awful adverbs that’s really not in your best interest to absorb). Oh, and there was comics of the Marvel variety (and the occasional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pamphlet).
The first novel-length book that I actually finished was Jurassic Park, because I was always fascinated with dinosaurs, and the movie was about to come up then. It took me a month to finish the book, mainly because after the first few days of reading it, my Chinese teacher confiscated the book due to a misunderstanding and wasn’t returned until a few weeks later.
That’s basically the reading history of my childhood before my “teen” years. Makes you wonder why I ever pursued Creative Writing.
It all started just after summer of 1995. I was entering the last year of my grade school, grade seven, and I thought I might as well have a club or something. I mean seven years of grade school education and nothing to show for aside from the short stint as a Kab Scoout (my school’s equivalent of a pre-Boy Scout club). So I applied for the school paper. To make a long story short, I didn’t get in (although I think I did write a great poem about an egg at the time, which was one of the exams to qualify for the school paper).
One year later, I found myself in high school. Remembering my failure in grade seven to make it to the school paper, I thought what the heck. Might as well try again. I mean your first year of high school is a fresh start right? Not exactly the truest statement there is, but I did manage to get into the school paper.
Two years later, I found myself in the position of being co-news editor of the school paper. Of course this wasn’t due to any of my excellent skills as a writer. To put it bluntly, it was due to attrition. By the time I entered third year, there were four of us news writers left in my batch, and no upperclassmen in sight. One of my batchmates was being groomed to take the position of editor-in-chief, while the other one had more or less stopped showing up during our meetings. So that left me and my batchmate, Rafael. So by default, despite no training at all except what we learned on our own from the past two years as news writers, we became the de-facto news editors. Which was repeated the year after that.
So what made me take up Creative Writing as a course in college? Suffice to say, two years as news editor had honed my editing skills. Unfortunately, it only honed my editing skills for news articles. My groove was so much so into news articles that my English teacher (who was our moderator for the school paper) even commented on one of my essays that it was an essay and not a news article. My previous writing style had disappeared, and in its place was the dull, informative art of news writing.
I wanted a change of pace and wanted to “forget” the lessons I learned as a news editor, at least when it came to just plain writing. There was a feeble attempt on my part to transfer to the literary section of the school paper, but that was easily rebuffed by the rest of the editorial board (hey, I was actually good in editing news articles, especially considering a lot of our news writers then didn’t know how to write news articles [not their fault really because no one taught them how to write news articles, a very technical style of writing, at least in comparison to say, the feature article] which was thankfully remedied when we held a much-needed workshop on news writing). By the time we filed our college application sheets, I thought that I had only two possible careers to pursue: one in writing, and another in psychology.
Unfortunately, I didn’t pass the exams of the university under which I checked “psychology” as my preferred course. So Creative Writing was pretty much the default choice rather than an actual choice on my part.
Of course by then, I had become a voracious reader, as if to make up for my childhood’s lack of book-reading. I mean at the time, some of my friends were surprised that I haven’t read Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or even Dragonlance and Riftwar. Actually, the first time I bought a fantasy book was when I was in grade seven, when I first discovered the collection nightmare of fantasy books. The Shanarra series was available at our local bookstore, and me and my best friend decided to split it both ways. He’d collect the first trilogy, while I’d collect the second (it was comprised of four books and to this day, the mathematician in me wonders why they keep on calling books more than three a trilogy). Those books sustained us for one year, and then in high school, I started experimenting on other fantasy books (I found Terry Goodkind at our school library, while a friend on the Internet recommended to me Robert Jordan). Nine years later, I have more than a hundred fantasy books on my shelf (unfortunately, some of them are just plain bad, while others are pretty remarkable works) and I find myself with a degree in Creative Writing.
It’s strange how our lives change by one seemingly insignificant incident. What if I picked up a mystery novel back then, would I be a mystery fan? Or perhaps instead of applying for the school paper, I applied for the varsity. Would I be a wannabe sports-star now? It also goes to show how hard work and effort can mold a person into who he or she wants to be. I mean I was never groomed from birth to be a reader, much less a writer, nor do I see myself possessing genius abilities on both counts. I must admit, I’m not exactly outstanding in the writing department, but I’d like to think my reading skills are above average. And that’s not an inborn talent but something that was nurtured over the years.