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How to love your creative self 

By MAE COYIUTO, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 06, 2023 5:00 am

I had my first byline during the summer before my senior year of high school. 

One of my very first pieces was a profile on my close friend. When it came out on the newspaper, we both wondered if the article would be considered less official if people knew we did the interview in her bedroom with me taking notes on my assignment notebook.

Pretty soon, writing became “my thing”—and came with expectations I struggled living up to. I got asked about writing essays, book recommendations, my thoughts on *insert title of literary novel here*. A guy once took me a to a bookstore because he assumed I’d be into books. I felt his judgment when I picked up To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before instead of his strongly recommended Infinite Jest.

When I got to college, I didn’t think twice about signing up for a creative writing class. It felt like something I was expected to do. On our first meeting, the professor explained that the class was structured like a workshop. Every week, we would go around and critique one another’s pages.

We were asked to introduce ourselves by sharing what type of chapters we were working on. One by one, people described their ideas, the inspiration behind their work, writers they wanted to emulate. And that whole time, I kept thinking, wow everyone here has something way more meaningful to say than I do.

Writing became so much of my personality but I had no idea if I actually knew how to write anymore.

The stuff I liked writing were love stories set in high school, not provoking pieces that reflected on the state of the world or the nature of humanity. The thought of sharing my work with people there made me spiral—and I decided to drop the class the next day. I kept rationalizing that it didn’t fit my schedule or that it didn’t make sense with my current course load. The plain truth was, I was scared.

While all this was happening, I was also way behind on my deadlines with Young STAR. The editor at the time kept following up on the article I was supposed to submit for my column. No matter how many nights I stayed up staring at my computer, I couldn’t get myself to write.

There was one night in particular that stood out. I was in my dorm room sitting at my desk, my lamp the only light on while my roommate was sound asleep. And still, no words were coming.

Writing became so much of my personality but I had no idea if I actually knew how to write anymore. It came to a point where the relief of finishing an article or story far eclipsed any joy I felt writing it. I thought that I didn’t deserve to have been given this opportunity. I didn’t deserve to have this platform. I didn’t deserve to keep trying to write. And so that’s exactly what I did—I stopped trying.

For the next three years, I wrote research papers, essays, but none of my writing was creative. Then my senior year came, and it was suddenly the last time I was registering for classes. I was wrapping up my major requirements, my thesis, but I kept going back to the writing seminar that still had a slot open.

It was just me and one other student. Our professor, an author I looked up to, said we’d exchange chapters of our work and spend each class discussing them. Maybe it was because I was older or was more detached from writing, but knowing that someone else was going to read my work felt less daunting.

Even though both my professor and classmate were inclined towards literary fiction, they treated my drafted love story with respect. They analyzed the themes I was using, gave notes on what worked and what didn’t work. I was always so worried that my stories didn’t pass for “actual writing” that I became the first one to count them out.

I honestly don’t know if I’d still be pursuing a creative career if I didn’t get the chance to write back in high school.

Overcoming imposter syndrome was a little trickier when it came to Young STAR. A little over two years ago, I was offered the position to be the newest editor. I had always admired the platform deeply but it couldn’t be an automatic yes for me. I mean, how could I guide writers when I struggled as a contributor? 

But the past two years were the most fulfilled I’ve felt as a creative. Even over a pandemic, I got to connect with writers and artists around the country. I read articles that made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think differently. I had the privilege of seeing a piece from the pitch to the final draft, and witnessing the many ways a writer can grow. When I came back to the publication that gave me my first byline, I also had the privilege of giving new writers their first byline too.

One of the photos I have saved on my phone is a quote from an interview with Pachinko writer Min Jin Lee. “When I write, I think of my younger sister who thinks I’m wonderful,” she said. “I find it helpful to think of a kind, loving person who values me.”

On my hardest writing days, I find myself thinking of YS. I think about the brilliant high school student we found in our submissions inbox, the intern who saw their work get published for the first time, the contributor who decided to apply for a writing program, the team who pushed for bold and honest content throughout this election year. I may not have a younger sister, but this became the space where my creative self felt most valued and inspired.

I honestly don’t know if I’d still be pursuing a creative career if I didn’t get the chance to write back in high school. That’s the beauty of youth publications—for a lot of us, they’re the first spaces that validate our voices and show us we matter. As someone who spent the last few years working with college students and fresh grads, I can attest that there’s so much to learn from the younger generation.

Echoing Min Jin Lee, I hope that you, whoever’s reading this, will try to be gentle and kind to your creative self. In a world full of critics, it’s unfair for you to be your harshest one.