Time and again

Ironically enough, it's become extremely hard to write anything that I feel is heartfelt and of significant worth nowadays. I've been feeling so ever since I made writing my official career path, I think.

Funny, isn't it, since you'd think that because you're devoting more time perfecting your craft, you should be better at it and everything should come so much more naturally than it did in the past?

But this is how it's been. Regrettably too, might I add.

I revisited the old, first proper blog I ever wrote, Veritas Project, recently. It surprised me just how differently I used to write. So uninhibited. So candid.

In some ways, I wish I was back at that place and time of my life, and that I had utilised those moments more fully to revel in the emotions of that season more, to write more wholeheartedly. Because now that I am where I'm at in life, here in my 30's, there's a great difference in the things I'd write and how I'd write them.

Yet, of course, I'm not discounting the value of experience and where it has gotten me. I write now through the lens of someone who has seen more, who realises what she is capable of, and who now knows so many more precious things about the world and the seasons and rhythms of life.

Time and again, though, I keep returning to this point of contemplation that I need to put forward a more genuine version of myself whenever I write. Particularly when I blog for a wider audience, like I do here.

The difficulty here lies in the fact that having been a journalist in the not-so-distant past, my writing disciplines have been shaped to habitually involve the practice of self censorship. We do it all the time in the newsroom, although the reasons for doing so may differ each time. The words we allow to escape our keyboard are filtered: tapered down in its depth of feeling, politically correct, shifted and sorted to take on a supposedly neutral form, appealing to the average reader. Which is, in reality, probably no one.

Here in Blogdom, everyone is writing nowadays to garner as much Likes as possible. Building a band of followers that will faithfully swallow whatever you put out for them, just because they feel like you know them. You are like them.

For that is what is being peddled. Writers putting on a front of being an expert and knowing something special. Teasing readers with minimal prose, abandoning the art of it all, and replacing it with GIFs, memes, haphazardly compiled lists of things that nobody needs but everybody identifies with and wants to know about. A place where words are money, so make as much as you can, with as little beauty infused into those sentences. Because, what is the point in poetry? It is unnecessary and underappreciated.

Then there are those writers' circles, those exclusive associations formed amongst writers on social media platforms. Where writers rant and rave about the perils of the realms of publishing and lament the naivety of rookies seeking their way into the fellowship. Spouting advice like, "If your writing is rejected by publishers, it's because it's worthless. Please move along".

I somehow cannot fit into this landscape.

As it is, I already have trouble believing that I am a writer, and even more so calling myself one. And all this… this massive community of successful people before me; corporations who make profits from the words crafted by others; the formality of it all; the formatting of pages, columns, fonts; the rigours of being part of the publishing process… all of this feels stifling to me.

I want to go back to that spot where simplicity and freedom of expression were. That quiet corner in the middle of nowhere that I could sit at for as long as I needed to, use as many paragraphs and pages as I wanted, and express precisely how I feel without fear of judgment or ruthless editing.

Where it was just me and you, my darling reader.

I still want to tell my story. But (and this may be hard to believe, coming from a person with a history like mine) I am having trouble finding the right words.

Of being a storyteller

Someone asked me recently what it’s like to be journalist.

He said he was young and still figuring out what to do for his career and was curious about the profession.

Since I do actually love my job, I did my level best to tell him in a few sentences what my work was like. But looking back, I think those brief descriptions I tried to muster weren’t quite as adequate as I’d like them to be.

So I’d like to try, through this blog post, to put down in words what being a member of the media really is like.

But before I proceed, here’s a small disclaimer: this account of my experiences as a journo may differ quite significantly from that which others have faced, as I have taken the road less travelled, so to speak. I never did study journalism at university (although I had really wanted to, but that’s a story for another day), nor did I start off my foray into the working world as a writer. It’s taken some time to get to where I am today, and even this, I feel, is not quite the final destination I’m meant to arrive at yet. So take these words in, but do so with the awareness that I am probably just a rookie, and am still learning.

Now, let’s begin.

To inform and empower 

If I were to sum up what the primary duty of a journalist is, I’d say that it is tell stories. However, there is something that differentiates us journos from other writers such as the authors of a best selling novels: we tell stories that are based on facts, rather than fiction.

Aha. I’m sure some of you out there may be just about to scream bloody murder since apparently not all journos adhere to this principle very well. Yes, well, I’ll admit though that we do get our facts wrong at times (we are but human after all), but what I’m saying is that this is what we aspire to achieve. I cannot speak for those who deliberately twist facts though.

The other equally essential part of our role as reporters is that we are there to educate and inform the public.

If you put these two principles together, you basically would have the gist of what our job is about.

Now, let’s talk briefly about the implications of carrying out the two core duties of reporting which I have already mentioned.

Irregular routines  and random introductions

I’m not sure what other people actually prefer when it comes to work schedules, but I’m guessing most would like some degree of certainty. A predictable kind of routine.

Well, as journalists, we are often subjected to disruptions to our routine. Some new development could crop up on any given day, and with one word from the editor, you’d have to drop everything else you are doing and focus on getting that one particular story (usually of the breaking news variety) out.

On other so-called normal days, we still face a degree of unpredictability in our job in the sense that, for instance, we are handed out assignments just a day before. So, for example, I’d be told today that I have to attend an event in Putrajaya for a certain company’s product launch tomorrow.

Well, if you’re like me and enjoy it whenever a bit of variety is thrown into the work routine mix every so often, then I guess journalism would suit you fine.

Another thing worth mentioning is that you’ll have to get used to going out solo for most assignments. Getting a photographer to come with you is a bonus. But even then, you’re likely to only rendezvous at the venue. This is because both you and the photog would need to each have your own mode of transport to keep your own set of appointments on that same day.

Meeting new people all the time is a given, so although it’s not impossible to be an introvert and hold a job as a journalist, you do need a certain degree of boldness in going up to people and getting acquainted. And being unafraid to ask for whatever it is you need to get the job done, as bizarre as it may be. Hehe.

Writing it right 

And, of course, you cannot leave writing skills out of the equation when it comes to journalism. At the end of it all, no matter what traffic you had to endure to get across town to get your story, however tough it was coaxing someone to talk about something they’d rather not, regardless of what hour of the day it may be, you will still have to sit yourself down in front of a screen to hash out a story to be sent off to the editor’s lair.

Mind you, your job isn’t altogether done even though your draft has landed successfully in the editor’s queue.

You will next need to brace yourself for the brutal dissection of your prose and the interrogations that are likely to follow suit.

Editors (bless their dear souls, it is a tough job that they hold) will often need to ask you tons of follow up questions to clarify what exactly it was that you had meant in the paragraphs you had just crafted.

It may seem rather intimidating at first, especially since you’ll probably feel you had already done your level best to get every possible bit of information you could glean for the assignment. But somehow, mysteriously, horrendously enough, the editor will somehow manage to uncover some stone you had left unturned and ask you about it.

Not sure how other journos felt when faced with this scenario, but I always would get this sinking feeling  in my stomach and this worrisome thought that perhaps my job might be on the line should I be unable to answer my editor’s queries right away.

Well, it’s something to get used to, since it will often happen, but really, the worst that you will typically endure is a harsh scolding, but you’ll normally leave the editor’s desk with your job intact.

Just make sure that you do your best not to repeat whatever mistakes that the editor has called out, and you’ll generally be fine.

While I’m at it, I might as well say something else about writing while on the job. It’s not as much about perfect grammar and sentence structures as you think.

In journalism, it’s more about brevity and logical presentation of facts. I’m referring to news reports in this case. There are other types of writing styles that a journo will need to pick up in the course of his or her duties, of course, but that will require a bit more explaining, and I’ll leave that for another post.

So, in essence, if you have a fairly decent command of the language you’ll be reporting in, and have a functional brain that can think logically and arrange facts into neat, comprehensible sentences that the average man on the street could read and easily understand, then you have generally what it takes to write for the media.

In a nutshell

Well, there you have it, a little glimpse of what it’s like to be a journalist. There’s plenty of other details I could bring up, but so as to not be too overwhelming, these are the basic things you will face. I hope this post will help some of you out there who have been curious all this while about what journalism is really like.

And so as to make my life a little easier, I will probably refer those who ask me about my job to this post in the future. Hehe.

If for some reason you are reading this post and would like to ask me further questions about this profession, please feel free to drop me a comment 😉


Sense and censorship

I find it harder and harder to face up to my inner thoughts and emotions whenever I sit down to blog these days. It’s not the first time I’ve said it, and it probably won’t be the last.

I think back to the days when I first began blogging, way back when I was a student. I can’t recall exactly when I started being serious about blogging, but I gather it was around my second year of university.

Looking back now, I honestly don’t remember a huge chunk of what I had written, but some recurring topics do come to mind as I reflect on that season of my life.

Loneliness. Angst. Melancholic contemplations. Poetry. Elusive posts which sketch the stories of unrequited love (for which I took great pains in order to disguise the identity of the object of my affection, lest he should read any of my posts and discover, to his horror, that a moody, broody girl like me had indeed fallen hard for him).

If there was such a thing as serial blogging, perhaps I would fit the category. Aside from my regular blog which I’d faithfully fill with frequent posts, I also set up several other blogs. Some were for specific purposes (like the one I set up just for a Nanowrimo novel that I was working on) while others were just to vent (I once had an anonymous blog where I wrote to my heart’s content about several injustices in my life).

I even created one to write about things I learned on the job while I was a programmer. It was partly to serve as a public reminder of the knowledge I had gained, but I had also hoped that others might benefit from my efforts.

What a haphazard and somewhat crazy time it was then. I wrote as I pleased, with no qualms about choice of topics or words (within the limits of decency and the confines of my Christian faith, of course).

But now… how I hesitate to put words to the screen. Or even to paper. What has happened? I feel ashamed to be a writer by profession, yet be unable to write sincerely and without the feeling of being restrained.

It’s not even because I desire to broach sensitive or even controversial topics. In fact, being the peacemaker that I am, I would rather not, as I would prefer to dwell on common threads instead of points for discord.

It is just simply the fact that I keep somewhat self-censoring what I want to say. Sometimes for fear of being labelled boring. Or due to worries that I may be misunderstood or judged for my opinions and feelings.

In so doing, I am slowly finding that I have shackled myself. Whatever ounce of creativity I had has vanished into a self-inflicted dungeon of despair.

Sometimes I blame it on my career. In the pursuit of the facts and figures that a good journalistic article requires, I get the notion that I have forgotten how to daydream, how to whip up ridiculous yet intriguing fiction from the depths of my imagination.

I feel shallow as a writer now. Like I’ve lost my soul. The very essence and heartbeat that I believe is necessary to write good prose.

To be honest, I am somewhat disappointed. While I do a job that I love every day, I find that I have allowed my writing output to be dictated by deadlines and KPIs.

I started wanting… dreaming of writing from the heart with the ambition of entertaining and, if I’m lucky enough, even inspiring a reader or two. But have I deviated from that course?

There are so many battles to be fought out there and many have clamoured for my attention. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword, so surely that brands us writers as warriors of some sort.

But what am i fighting for? Must I even engage in wars of any sort? Can I not just find a cosy little corner and tuck myself away there to write as I please?

These are things that keep me silent when I could be speaking. Awake when I should be sleeping.

I want to say things that matter, words that are worth their weight in gold, that have the power to turn hearts of stone to flesh and bring life where death had before resided. And so I hesitate and wait for that immaculate moment where words in my head string together into neat, little sentences and clear purpose bleeds into the rhymes and metaphors that I craft.

And in my foolishness, I let the stories I could be writing lie abandoned and wasted while time marches on without any promise of second chances.

I still wrestle with these things. I hope someday there will come a resolution.