I have always admired people who could present their thoughts in a simple yet appealing manner, so appealing that their work gets published. And so from young I dreamt of seeing my writing in print too.
My first piece appeared in a newspaper as a letter to the editor back in the early 1970s. When I first saw it, I was overjoyed! I was so elated, that I bought three copies of the newspaper and read my “masterpiece” over and over again.
As Confucius aptly described: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”, and so my writing journey started with the publication of this maiden letter.
In the 1970s and while having a full-time job, I wrote for the papers every now and then. I got my break as a parttime stringer for the sports section of a newspaper and I learnt by observing how the sub-editors effortlessly refined my draft into an exciting and persuasive piece. It made me realise that constant practice is as important as a flair for writing.
My writing passage took a break in the late 1980s as I focused on pursuing my PhD in the United States. Though I never had a flair for academic-type writing (as it appeals mainly to academicians who are in a world of their own), I gained another perspective on writing from the lens of associate and full professors.
My seven-year stint at the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) of the Prime Ministers’ Department was a game changer. My writing skills improved by leaps and bounds.
Interestingly, my big boss then was current Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. There was plenty of writing to be done this time but it was mostly of the esoteric and boring kind, at least to most people.
There were many policy and economic papers as well as memorandums to be prepared in quick turnaround time and on a regular basis.Little did I realise that I was slowly but surely fortifying my writing skills. The training was excellent as it sharpened my mind in differentiating the wheat from the chaff.
My subsequent years at the Asean Secretariat in Jakarta made me what I am today. It was a challenge to work in an international organisation comprising personnel from 10 culturally different member countries.
My earlier stint at the EPU indeed put me in an advantageous position, especially when it came to preparing urgent policy papers that could be easily understood and internalised by foreign affairs ministry officials of Asean’s 10 member countries.
I retired a few years ago and, having more time on hand, I have returned to my passion for writing. However, instead of writing on serious economic and social issues, I choose to reflect and write on life experiences, friendships, challenges, imbalances, beliefs and values – essentially, covering issues that affect the man on the street. These are, after all, the issues that really matter.
Through my writing, and with justice and fair play in mind, I attempt to be a voice for the voiceless and help those seemingly without hope. I also use my writing to address and provide resolutions to issues facing the nation on racial unity, corruption, environmental issues and social issues such as ageing gracefully.
On numerous occasions, I have been pleasantly stopped – in parks, cinema halls, the Bukit Kiara hiking trail, by the roadside, in shopping centres and even at weddings – by strangers who tell me they have read my pieces in the papers and support my views.
Such encouragement has naturally spurred me to write more. Writing now comes with a purpose. I am inspired to write to make a difference for the people. I derive great joy from writing and bringing to the forefront issues that are often discussed at the dining table.
My humble advice to those desiring to write is simple: Read widely and keep writing, even if your piece does not get printed. One fine day, it will. Your belief will take you there. The gridlock of words that are seemingly stuck in your head will soon unravel and gush out effortlessly like a river rushing to the sea! Practice, of course, makes perfect.
Next, know your target audience and their interest, so that your writing will resonate with and appeal to them. Write in a simple and reader-friendly way using words that are easily understood. This way, you will connect with your readers easily and, voilà, you will have a faithful following!
As an added advantage, take up photography as a hobby as it would go a long way in enhancing your articles. Pictures, after all, speak a thousand words.
I derive much pleasure and joy in writing. It has been a truly amazing writing journey. So purposeful and so soulful.