It’s been a long time since I’ve written for myself. So much so that whenever I get asked about my writing, I can’t help but to feel a tinge of guilt and embarrassment.
2017 has been a far bumpier ride than I hoped it’d be. After completing my Master’s in Creative Writing, I came home to Malaysia eager to get back into the workforce. I applied, and got hired, at a well-known advertising agency in the span of a few weeks. This was great news to me, because my degree came with its fair share of bills and I wanted to get right on to paying them.
My time at this agency was brief, but the ruthless highs and lows proved to be an eye-opener. It was here that I learned how to appreciate the art of brevity even more, which I guess was inevitable when my own words and ideas were constantly getting chopped up to pieces (the tagline needs to be punchier! And shorter!!). It was also here that I met all sorts of colourful characters – rough, irregularly-shaped and memorable.
Was the work satisfying? Well… yes, in some ways. Working in advertising gave me the opportunity to write and ideate for over 20 brands, an opportunity I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
There’s a lot to write about, but it’s hard to begin.
A great deal of rejection happens. When you fail at being smart, funny, informative or direct, you know. Maybe it’s your manager that tells you. Or the clients. Or the suits. Worse still, another writer. Or, you know, that crippling self-doubt that takes over during the hellish hours of the night.
When you brainstorm, be prepared for awkward silences directed at your ideas. Be prepared to direct similar silences to others. But when things get desperate, suddenly every idea can turn salvageable. Be prepared to form a certain special kinship with other creatives over this type of shared struggle.
4pm meetings will start at 8. You’ll drive bleary-eyed past midnight and you’ll live in sweats and cotton shirts. You’ll soon realize that dressing as a creative means dressing as how you would, first thing out of bed. And that’s perfectly okay. Some days it’s nice to be surrounded by rumpled hair and the smell of cigarettes. Some days, not so much.
When acceptance over your ideas and your words happen, the elation you’ll feel, however short-lived, will fuel you. Seeing your words on billboards and ads around town will fuel you.
They say teamwork is key and that’s especially true in advertising. Without the suits, without a good designer or an art director or your creative head, all your words and your ideas are nothing. You’ll see that whatever good presentation skills you have will come a long way. You’ll learn that people get pissy over Oxford commas and missing out a hyphen by accident. Never miss out a hyphen by accident. There is no room for accidents.
And on some days, you’ll wonder if creativity must translate to not having a structure. You’ll notice that advertising requires you to mostly be angry, hungry, well-spent. This is because it needs all of your energy, which in turn you’ll give because your ego wouldn’t want to cower in the presence of other well-fed egos.
But I’ve done my time and I’ve moved on.
My current job is still in the area of copywriting, but on the client’s end this time. Without meaning to, I somehow managed to find myself in this line of work. In one way or another, I managed to sway my life decisions towards the direction of being a writer. Be it ad copy, press releases, speeches, or stories, I’ve somehow survived this far doing something I genuinely care about as my bread and butter. For this, I am grateful. To be fair, the term ‘writer’ still makes me heady. It makes me feel presumptuous to refer myself by that coveted title when there’s still a long way to go. But eh, I do feel proud about making it through thick and thin the way I have so far.
I’d be lying to say that these jobs don’t give me writer’s fatigue and that they don’t affect my own writing. It’s much easier to write for brands than for myself. For brands, it’s not about what I like. Instead, there are given restrictions and guidelines to work around. But when I find myself facing my own blank page at the end of a workday, the possibilities can suddenly feel vast and foreign. What do I like? And how do I begin to separate my work voice with my own? Where does it end, where does it begin?
But I try, or at least want to. Maybe it’s just the part of getting older where things don’t have the same sense of wonderment to them or I just get tired a lot easier. On days when I feel jaded by my surroundings, I can’t help but wish that I have the same eager naivety I had years ago. Decisions just feel a lot more measured these days and time feels like a privilege that’s not always mine to own.