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Here I go again

  

I have a love-hate relationship with writing opinion columns.

The pressure to conjure something insightful to write about every two weeks can be overbearing. As much as I try to be introspective, there are only so many profound thoughts that come to mind in such a short period and even fewer that are worth elaborating on with a thousand words.

Even when I do come up with interesting ideas, the process of developing them is an enormous undertaking that siphons precious time away from other important commitments. The pressure is manageable at first, but creeps up stealthily and explodes when classes and extracurriculars are in full swing. It doesn’t help that I am a perfectionist who takes forever to decide between synonyms that are basically identical and revises the same sentence over and over again until I am completely satisfied with the way it reads. The same perfectionist tendencies plunge me into a spiral of self-reproach when I am forced to let writing take a backseat to more pressing responsibilities.

Above all, subjecting my honest revelations to public scrutiny and critique is nerve-wracking. As much as I try to stay true to myself, self-censorship is always lurking in the shadows. It is difficult to resist the temptation to base my work’s worth on external validation. I always worry if the topics I write about are relatable and relevant, and fret over whether my writing style is appealing or engaging enough. Occasionally, my pieces are showered with generous compliments, but these stem from serendipitous flashes of inspiration that come and go as they please, offering only temporary reprieve from prolonged dry spells. With the bar raised so high, it can be disheartening when subsequent pieces are met with less enthusiasm.

Yet, here I am again, writing for the Chronicle for the third semester in a row, with no intention to let the curtains fall anytime soon. 

Did I just set myself up for another semester of stressful weekend grinds? Probably. 

Are these my masochistic tendencies at play? Possibly. 

Do I regret my decision, though? Absolutely not. 

As infuriating and exasperating as writing can be, sometimes even to the point of evoking tears, it is powerfully cathartic. Some people holler their frustrations into their pillows; others practice mindful meditation. I bang my pent-up emotions out on the keyboard. Putting abstract and nebulous ideas into words is always a struggle. But it helps me to take a step back and disengage from the chaos. By processing my thoughts and emotions over and over again until I find the right words to encapsulate them, I gain clarity and relief. 

Writing occupies my mind as much as it declutters it. The fortnightly deadlines keep me introspective and observant, always on the lookout for fresh inspiration for my next piece, both within and around me. While I used to go through the motions of life mindlessly, indifferent to their significance in the larger scheme of things, the drive to write has evoked more thoughtful perspectives. I find myself constantly reflecting as I go about my day, thinking about why I do the things I do and the takeaways I’ve gleaned from them. I have gone from having little concern for the happenings around me to paying attention to the minutest of details, constantly in search of something interesting or insightful to document. 

Writing is also my art form, my creative outlet. I relish the challenge of orchestrating my words and sentences into a cohesive symphony. I have fun experimenting with different writing styles and navigating the delicate balance between rhythm, phonology and semantics. The idea that writing in prose should subtract from its poeticism strikes me as ridiculous, and even more so, the notion that factual writing should be less imaginative than fiction.

In some sense, my attachment to writing is sentimental rather than rational. When I was hanging by a thread during a tumultuous gap year, writing was a coping mechanism that I relied on to straighten out my thoughts and emotions. Writing made the mundane seem more interesting than it was and primed me to find interest in the mundane. It took me to places and mental states I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach, offering the temporary escape from reality that I so desperately needed. It has become so deeply ingrained in my routine that my life would feel empty without it.

And so, here I go again, ushering in yet another semester of writing for the Chronicle, with new stories to tell and experiences to share. This time, no longer shackled by my overthinking tendencies, I will be brutally honest if I must and less afraid to infuse my writing with more personality. I will keep the writing process light-hearted and cathartic so it doesn’t devolve into a dreaded chore or graded assignment. My writing doesn’t have to be perfect (and it probably never will be in the eyes of others), and that’s okay. 

Valerie Tan is a Pratt second-year. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays.

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