Home Creative writing Gen Y Speaks: I Didn’t Realize My Dream of Writing a Novel, But I’m No Longer Afraid of Failure

Gen Y Speaks: I Didn’t Realize My Dream of Writing a Novel, But I’m No Longer Afraid of Failure


I will fail.

Usually when we walk into something – an interview, a job, an exam – we don’t think about failure. We want to believe that we will succeed.

I had the same conviction when I decided to become a writer.

It was in 2017. I, then 20 years old, was in national service. My operational readiness date (ORD) was a few months away and I was thinking about what I wanted to do next.

Why not be a writer?

I had always been interested in stories; read them, and also watch them in the anime. But I also liked to invent stories.

They kept me busy during class at school, and the habit persisted. Once, to pass the guard hours, I imagined a story where a Muggle somehow got into Hogwarts. My conclusion was painful, but it was fun.

I had never thought of becoming a writer before, but when I did, it just made sense. If I could imagine a story, surely I could write one too.

We often talk about “safety nets”, a plan B in the event of a glitch. So I set up a plan B, too.

After my ORD, I enrolled in college the same year. It was my backup. My plan A, my goal, was to publish a novel before I graduated.

It seemed like a great plan. From where I was, I couldn’t see how it could go wrong.


But as soon as I entered college, I began to see warning signs that I would fail.

First of all, I had no training in writing. My family members were engineers, lawyers, doctors and businessmen. Beyond essays for exams, I had no other writing experience.

My fellow undergraduates were also dubious. Singaporeans are not creative. They said it like a curse, as if it were our destiny, a fatality.

Even the teachers hesitated. In the first semester, I took a module on Singaporean literature. After a lecture, I asked the professor if it was possible to be a full-time writer in Singapore.

With a sad smile, he told me it was difficult. There wasn’t a lot of market for it.

I ignored them and moved on. I’ve attended creative writing workshops and Google writing tips – lessons from published writers. I fundamentally believed that I couldn’t fail.

Looking back now, that was naive. Even arrogant. But that was how I felt.

The years passed in the blink of an eye. But my characters, they were inconsistent. My plots were a tangled mess. I wrote drafts, but always found them lacking. In the end, they were thrown away.

In April 2021, I completed my final exams. Graduation was a few months away, but I didn’t have anything close to a completed novel.

I was doomed.


Once my exams were over, I gave up.

It may be true. Maybe I’m not creative enough.

I stopped writing. I thought there were more important things. I needed to repay my tuition loan. I needed to find a job.

The pandemic was rumbling. Everyone wanted a stable job. When I met friends, we only talked about that.

I was also looking for – submitting CVs, doing tests. These went well. But during the interviews, I stumbled. There was a question I couldn’t answer.

“So what else did you do in college?” »

I was working to publish a novel. But where was the proof? I had no portfolio, nothing published. All I had was four years of unfinished drafts, locked away in a folder I couldn’t bear to look at.

My job search continued. In October, I went on stage to receive my diploma. What should have been a moment of pride was instead a moment of crushing defeat. I listened to my friends talking about their new jobs, and I had little to show.

I felt useless. Everyone around me was working.

I only had a file full of failures.


Even then, the file remained on my computer.

In November, I turned 25. But there was no party. I had missed another interview, this one for the position of lecturer.

I collapsed and cried. I was tired of failing. I wanted to do something else, but no matter how much I thought, only one thing came to mind.

To write.

So for the first time in six months, I opened the file and went through my drafts, my “failures”.

Why did I want to become a writer?

I started wondering, trying to remember why. I went back to the stories I had read and watched for the first time.

What I found was this.

To be hooked by a character’s story is to see their life from their point of view. It is seeing a perspective that is not ours, and that is transformative.

You start paying attention to things in places you never noticed before.