The quest to be a better writer
Back in high school, I struggled with English. Not because I was bad at it — but because I was stuck in between being great and being bad. I was, as the teacher consistently marked, a B grade essay writer.
I was mediocre.
No matter how hard I tried, I would always get back the same grade. It didn’t matter how many drafts or how many hours I willingly slaved at an essay, I just could not lift myself beyond a B.
So one day, I decided to approach the teacher.
“You need more oomph,” she told me.
She couldn’t quite describe what it meant succinctly. She just kept repeating “oomph” as if the essence of the word would magically make sense to me.
The magical meaning of “oomph”
It took me a while to understand but after years of reflection, what she really meant was personality and voice.
There was a girl in my class that consistently got A+ for all her work. Her name was Karlie. The other girls secretly called her a bitch behind her back because of how opinionated and vocal she can be. It didn’t help that the teachers liked her for it too.
At the time, I never really understood why Karlie was secretly hated so much. She was always nice to me. I knew she had strong opinions about almost everything — politics, books she read, shows she watched, boys she talked to. She was selective in her choices of people and the words she spoke.
Karlie was a force of her own creation. She had a voice and she knew how to project it into writing.
Back in high school, I existed with a feeble voice. I was like a small candle flame that could be extinguished at any moment. I didn’t have original thoughts of my own. Or rather, I struggled to come up with any.
I was too afraid to think beyond what I thought would make my teacher, parents, and friends happy. At one point I wished I was more like Karlie — brave, opinionated and full of words.
Shifting my personality
I grew up in a passive household. My mother would always hush me, especially if I spoke my thoughts beyond the privacy of our relationship. It was alright for me to speak with her, just not with anyone else. Whether I liked it or not, I always had to agree with what the other person is saying — especially if she was also present and the other person is somehow important in her mind.
My dad would always speak his mind but would quickly get chided by my mother when we got home or made it to the car.
Her fear of rejection rubbed off on me. I meandered through my teens and early twenties fearful of what others thought of me. I adopted the habit of being dishonest with myself.
After I moved out, I was free to experiment with the idea of rejection. I put myself up to get hurt. It was a bid to feel something — anything.
What it means to be genuine
During the beginning of my 9–5 career, I worked for a startup with a team that seemed genuinely interested in growth and learning.
It was exactly what I wanted. But a year into the game, the boss sold the company and sides had to be picked. There was some drama and I had the choice of following my boss into the unknown or continue with the new company into the unknown.
I chose the later for financial security and job prospects.
Almost 4 years later, the company no longer exists and on my final day, I felt drained, overworked and completely dead. Yet there were 2 people that made the entire experience worthwhile — one being my former manager and the other was my junior developer.
They’re the kind of people that will forgive you even if you’ve somehow messed up. In fact, they’re the kind of people that will volunteer a helping hand even if you didn’t ask for it. There was pureness about them. No lies. No games. No holding back. You could be whatever you wanted to be without offending them.
It took a bit of experimenting, a bit of disappointing others, a bit of wit and a bit of offending. When I began to take chances on how I interact with people, I began to flourish as a person.
Playing it safe didn’t allow me to grow. It kept me stagnant on the annoying B grade essays. When I began to take risks, I began to understand the meaning of oomph. But most importantly of all, I began to understand why Karlie is the way she is.
She was secretly hated because she didn’t go with the flow. In fact, she was miles ahead of everyone else because she had thoughts of her own. Everyone else was still trying to figure it all out. Everyone else was a collection of everyone else’s voices and thoughts. Karlie, however, she was her own voice.
Oomph. Noun. Informal. The quality of being exciting, energetic, or sexually attractive.
It turns out you can’t be exciting and different by being the same as everyone else. When you blend in with the crowd and struggle to exist beyond tropes and norms, it becomes harder to write something with personality.
You can’t write about something you don’t understand. Your readers will know.
Over these past years, I’ve allowed myself to experience a range of emotions and situations that my mother curated out of my youth in the name of love. I’ve been heartbroken. I’ve said mean things. I’ve traveled from one end of the spectrum to the other side when it comes to political correctness. I’m discovering what I truly like and dislike, what my limits are and where my morals lie. I’m discovering and uncovering the person I am and the person I want to be.
My quest to become a better writer is helping me be the real me.