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The story of a storyteller

By MAIA MARQUEZ, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 26, 2024 5:00 am

In the sixth grade, my English teacher asked us to write an essay on where we would be in 10 years’ time. I quickly (and admittedly quite excitedly) drafted a piece on how I had just started my career as a writer, telling stories about I don’t know what.

As I giddily let the words flow, I scrapped the idea just as quickly, not even finishing my first draft. I wasn’t a writer; no one would associate me with being a wordsmith. I was class president and I was on the badminton varsity team. That’s who I was—that’s what people knew me for.

And so I tore off the page and wrote a different story altogether. In my new, albeit less-exciting piece, I wrote about how I was playing for the national team and coaching young athletes, instilling in them the discipline I believe I had in me. It fit well with my current narrative: At the time, I was training with my team for regionals every day after class, while also reading the dictionary during breaks as I was set to represent my school in the national spelling bee that same week. Having to keep my grades up was just the cherry on top.

While I lived up to the stereotype of the grade-conscious Asian, I wasn’t happy when I got a good grade on my essay. I wasn’t at all proud of what I had written, of the “me” I thought I would become.

If I go back in time and talk to my 12-year-old self, will she be proud of who I am today?

That moment served as the first of my many rude awakenings: Who was I, really? But I never let myself get lost in that thought, having so many things going on in my life. After all, it was just a stupid assignment, not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The years went by and I began to lose interest in the sport I’d been playing for most of my life. The more I played it, the more I felt I wasn’t me. I half-heartedly stayed on the team all throughout high school, then used going to college as an excuse to give up the sport completely.

My first job vibes: surrounded by words, typing away in my creative space

While I was pursuing a course I liked, college gave me little clarity, if at all, on what I would do after. But one of my favorite college experiences, which I initially took on because it would look good on my résumé, was spending a semester abroad. There, I felt myself blossom into something different: someone so fiercely independent and open to the world around her. I took in and savored each experience, finding ways to relive each one as much as I wanted to, in whatever way I could.

In a casual conversation with an international friend, she randomly said, “I like the way you talk. The way you tell stories makes me feel like I’m home.” That moment felt so big—I was 6,500 miles away from my home, and she, 5,600 miles away from hers. I thought, what a wonderful feeling it was to make someone feel something beautiful through your words and stories!

Navigating my writing journey, one word at a time

I went through the program and didn’t think much about what she’d said. I came back home, coursed through senior year, and graduated. Fresh out of college, my friends started getting jobs left and right, and I knew it wasn’t really in my place to be picky, but I was.

I distinctly remember a job posting that started with, “Do you like telling stories?” and was immediately drawn to it. It was a content position for a lifestyle brand that didn’t require previous writing experience. I applied. Long story short, my first job was as a copywriter, and I survived.

For three and a half years, despite working alongside very nurturing co-copywriters and editors, I knew they were all better than me. They all had writing backgrounds. I was okay with that—they never made me feel I was any less than them, and it was a welcome learning experience for me.

Learning and growing with my writing mentors

Yet, I still never had it in me to call myself a writer. It took me back to that feeling of throwing out my unfinished first draft in the sixth grade. Because to me, no matter how many years I’d keep writing, I knew I would never measure up to how long they’ve all been at it. No matter how good I’d get, they’d always be ahead.

When I left that first job in 2020, I got a spot to regularly write for a local publication, got numerous freelance clients for writing projects, and was even hired as a copywriting consultant for a then up-and-coming fitness app. The icing on the cake was landing a full-time copywriting role for a global brand.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, a tito of mine asked what I did for a living. Hesitantly, awkwardly, shyly, I said, “I’m a writer.” In an unexpected turn of events, his eyes lit up and he said, “You know I really admire writers. It takes skill to be one—you have to be creative and you have to be smart. Not everyone could do it.”

Capturing the joy of writer's milestones

I felt special. From then, it finally hit me to be confident enough to say, “I’m a writer.”

Though I know I’m surrounded by many talented wordsmiths, I now realize their shine never dulls mine, nor will mine ever dull theirs. We’re all just learning from each other—immortalizing feelings and experiences through our words, in hopes that others feel and experience them, too. In the end, we’re all just telling stories together.

So maybe I’m still not as much a writer as my writer friends and colleagues. And maybe it took a little longer than I would’ve liked for me to figure it out. But at least now I can say, a little longer than 10 years after, I’m finally living the life I want. I’m finally living a life that’s me.

I’m finally healing my inner child by fulfilling the seemingly long-shot dream she’d (sub)consciously worked so hard towards. And I hope my 12-year-old self is proud.