How I started writing, and how I stopped.

If you are here. Thank you for caring enough to read my story. It’s not particularly special, but I want it to be one of hope.

When I was around 11, I started writing alternative endings to stories. I tried to bottle up the feelings that Chinese dramas gave me into words, and it felt really good to make stuff up and see it take form in black letters on a Word document. I scanned the library shelves for stories about romance and girls who were like me, but back then, there were so few of them. Even if diversity is not where it should be in publishing right now, huge strides have been made. I imagine how I would’ve felt as a child with the rich selection that we have now. I would’ve lived in the library.

I started in fanfiction like many others, then progressed to original fiction. I had some decent readership on Fictionpress, but I wasn’t like some of the other incredible authors who had thousands of reviews. There was a magic to their work that was lacking from mine. Whenever I got any positive review, I treated it like a morsel of a Michelin meal. I savored every single word and marveled in the joy that it gave me. I started writing with an audience in mind, the excitement of being able to share my work driving me to finish chapters. I clutched onto themes and concepts that I thought would bring me more reviewers. That reliance was heartbreaking when I would wait in anticipation after posting each chapter and only see a handful of reviews trickle in. Yes, positive reviews brought me to astronomic highs. But silence crushed me. I left a trail of unfinished stories behind me. I couldn’t finish anything because I stopped believing in anything I’d started.

I had plenty of short stories that I shared with people I knew. They would read it because I’d browbeat them into it, and they’d say a few nice things. I attended a creative writing workshop one summer in high school, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. My peers and teacher complimented how developed my voice was, and I knew I had a strong grasp of grammar and language. I wasn’t so confident as to think I could publish a book, but I did think I was good enough to get into a creative writing minor.

I was wrong on that account. We had to submit writing samples to be considered for creative writing courses, and I submitted to three different classes. I remember rushing to the English building and excitedly running my eyes over the short lists of names under each class. Then looking over it a second time, a third time. Thinking there must have been a mistake. How had I not gotten into a single class?

I emailed one of the professors and asked for feedback. To my surprise, she replied with a detailed critique of the first page of my writing sample. There wasn’t a single good thing she said about it. I think it was the first time in my life that I was told that my writing was just not good, and it destroyed me. I don’t remember the feedback anymore–I even went back to my email to search for it–but any trace of that email is gone. I must have deleted everything, including the sent email, out of sheer shame and embarrassment. After that, I took a long break from writing. What was the point? I wasn’t even good enough to get into a class where I’d actually be able to work on it and be taught how to make it better. Being an author was my dream, but that professor’s feedback made me think that I did not have the skill or talent to make it a reality.

I stopped writing. I couldn’t do it without feeling like I was putting my efforts into a futile thing. Sometimes I dwell on how much I could’ve improved my craft in the years I spent thinking it was not good enough.

My next post will be about how I found it in me to give writing a try again. The primary motivators? A pandemic and an author I admire saying to keep writing and keep trying.

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