I’ve never been very good at reaching my goals unless I really want something. This has applied my whole life, to everything I’ve ever done.
If I only want it halfway, then mostly I don’t reach anywhere at all. It’s like I climb until a certain point of a mountain and just decide that this view of the little village below is good enough from this angle.It really isn’t. Maybe I’m too low, and from this vantage point, I can’t get to take the photo I want. But I like to tell myself it is.
Here I am, writing a sort of letter to myself near the end of the year. I actually made this domain 2 months ago, but I’ve let it sit here and fester because I didn’t want to decide what I wanted to do with it. Or maybe I didn’t really know?
Not that I know anything after doing nothing with it for 2 months. I had a grand plan. I was going to do something with this (build a reading community, write more stories), and I was going to start in October. I wanted to write more. I wanted to read more. I ended up doing neither.
But I am doing it now, as a promise to you and to myself. I’m going to write something at least once a week and put it up here, no matter how embarrassing it might be.
I guess that’s the first step to all this:
Back in secondary school, I knew all I ever wanted was to be a writer. I wanted to write real books (mostly so I can wave it in people’s faces and feel a little superior to them), and I did. I wrote about 50,000 words and I promptly sent it to my friends in hard copy so they could help with editing it.
Of course, those 50,000 words were terrible. It was a contemporary tale about a girl with a crush and a gay best friend for good measure. I didn’t know what story I was trying to tell, and most of the time while writing it, I was pretty crushed by the state of my friendship with a close friend.
It was catharsis, but it was not good. (Luckily for me, it was never published anywhere.)
I didn’t realise this at the time, of course. That the story was hackneyed and really a manifestation of my fantasy school life. At the time, I’d just found out about a new Creative Writing diploma that was being offered by Singapore Polytechnic. The first of its kind. I’d get to learn about storytelling, journalism, videography, the works. It was my first choice on my application sheet after getting back my O-level results.
I didn’t get in.
Long story short (we’ll get into this next time, maybe), I appealed, and I emailed, and I called to ask for an interview. I brought excerpts of the book with me (the better chapters) in my portfolio. And in the end they were kind enough to let me in.
This entire ordeal — about loving writing, about wanting to tell stories, and about wanting to learn how to get there — taught me about determination. Because if I had just given up and gone to an Engineering course or some Communications and IT course (that by the looks of it, was my second choice by default), I’d never have gotten into my diploma.
I wanted what I wanted, and it wasn’t a halfway thing. So I got there.
Which leads us to the second part of this story on how to reach your goals:
Learn When To Let Go
So I just talked about how I basically just barged my way through and talked my way into them accepting me (okay, real life didn’t turn out that dramatically, but you know what I mean). But then I started studying about writing.
(And this was the point I realised I knew nothing about writing.)
We learnt some formulaic ways of putting together a story — most notably The Heroes Journey.
And I thought this must be the holy grail. (Spoilers: I was wrong. There are other ways to tell a story.) I fit a story I thought of for class precisely into that mould, and set forth to work on it.
I think I ended up having about… 20,000 words? Of the same few chapters.
Truth is, I didn’t feel for any of the characters. I see it now, in hindsight, but I ended up beating myself over not writing this story. Every year would pass and every year I’d feel worse for letting the characters languish in my head and not turning them into words.
But my motivations were once again all wrong. I wanted it to be a bestseller. I wanted, once again, to write something I could wave in front of someone’s face.
There were some parts of that story that I still find interesting and I want to work with. But mostly… the characters were flat (because I felt like all of them were just me, just modified), and I couldn’t figure out what to do at the climax (my protagonist won’t want to kill someone, even if he is evil), and I really just wanted it to be a story with a capital S.
After about 6 years, I just didn’t think about the story anymore. I mean, I think there’s potential for it to lead somewhere. But at this point, when we’re reaching the 7 year mark, I’m not really sure where I’m going with this story. So I’m learning to let go of it.
I still feel the guilt and the shame of not finishing something (much like how I feel the shame of not finishing any project I start, like that 6 part short film project I was working on at the end of 2015).
But I think if I let it hang around any longer, I won’t be able to tell new stories.
That was what sort of happened to me. I was a writer in name. I wrote, yes, but mostly either very short terrible poems, or pieces where I described the state of my non-existent love life (at the time), or short stories with (once again) flat characters. I even published one of those short stories with flat characters.
I don’t need to tell you how bad of a decision that was that I had tried to justify as me being young and stupid. But the truth is I just wanted to be read and published (with a capital ‘P’) and wave it around at someone’s face. So even though I knew the short story was fluff and really not well written at all, I put it out there anyway. I think it got a grand total of 2.7 stars (including my own 2 stars for “effort”) on Goodreads.
And so this is what is most important when you set goals, I guess:
Know What You Really Want
I didn’t know what I really wanted when it came to writing. For so many years, it had been about waving it about in someone else’s face. Like oooh look, she’s a writer, wow, so cool, but the thing is I ended up not being a writer at all.
I’m not saying all my short stories and poetry were bad (there were some good ones), but I had lost that love I had for writing, I think. I loved it first when I was 12, when I could make things happen on paper and feel the joy of letting the words just spill out of me. It didn’t matter to me then if the story was good or bad (it was bad) or if I was going to become rich and famous from it all, or make a name in the literary scene for my country, or become the next J. K. Rowling.
None of that mattered. All that mattered is that I wanted to put pen to paper. I wanted to tell a story.
And that’s what I want to do now.
Ironically, I haven’t written in a long while. Not really, anyway. No fiction, poetry, or anecdotes have sprung out of me willingly, no stories begging to be told. But that’s what I want to do now. I want to find a new story to tell. It’s taken me a long time to get back here again, perhaps with a better understanding and a new map.
Side note: Playing Dnd really helped me get excited about just telling stories again. But that’s a story for another day.
Also published on Medium.