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Wednesday November 21, 2012

Celebrating the 10th year of writing a column

PEOPLE often ask me how I came to do what I am doing.

Essentially, regardless of whether it is TV, radio or print, I am just doing exactly what my teachers used to tell my mother (rather dispairingly) on report card days — talk.

When it comes to print, the most valuable lesson I have learned from BRATs — Bright Roving Annoying Teenager — a young journalist programme with The Star which I joined when I was 16, was that talking well came before writing well.

If you talked well, people respond. If people respond, you have got a great story on your hands and it is with this story that your writing comes alive.

So thankfully, the one habit that I can’t seem to shake is asking questions and that turned out to be handy.

Speaking to people and hearing their stories is amazing, but the ability to then share the feelings of excitement or inspiration with others is the best part of it all.

After all, there is a lot more pleasure when you get to share that pleasure with others.

When I went to Melbourne to start my degree, the then-editor of StarMetro, Tan Ju Eng, asked if I wanted to contribute fortnightly to the column Tale of Two Cities.

I remember talking about it with my mom. I told her, “I am not a writer or a journalist”.

I was studying International Trade and Finance and it was worlds apart from taking responsibility for a column.

It was scary, I remember, writing for The Star. I was 19 years old and had no idea if what I wrote about was interesting or compelling.

For the first six months, I would send every article to my mom just so she could give me feedback before I submitted it.

My mom was neither a journalist nor a writer. What she was though, was incredibly supportive. She also believed that one can’t go wrong when speaking, writing and communciating from the heart.

It was because of her faith, and my editor’s, that I went ahead and put my thoughts to paper. Writing for Tale of Two Cities was the beginning of an incredible journey that I had never expected to take.

Columnists would know that the level of intimacy that goes into writing a column is a deep one. Writing a column meant that not only was I sharing the stories, conversations or experiences of people who have inspired me, I was also telling stories of my own.

I was 19 when I started. I am now 29 years old. It has been 10 years of growing up with this column and all who reads it; from Tale of Two Cities, Watchamacallit to Sights & Sounds.

People also often ask me if I ever run out of things to write about. “Where do you get inspiration from?”

You know how when you have a really good conversation with someone and it just never ends? That is how I feel about writing a column.

It is like having a perpetual conversation with the world – often times in my head. It starts with a thought and it grows into a debate, with attention to the pros and cons, before it settles into a theme or topic.

I write the way that I have been brought up – to think before speaking, to put myself in other people’s shoes and to never be afraid to look or sound silly, as long as I am genuine.

It is never about being objective to the point of not giving an opinion, but it is also not about giving an opinion to the point of not being able to see the other perspective.

It is not about being politically correct to the point of censoring my thoughts, but it is also not about simply expressing a view without being respectful or sensitive.

For me, the process of writing an article is a magical one. I have lost count of the number of times where I start off an article with a firm opinion in mind and then realised that in the process of writing out my thoughts, I have opened up a few other possibilities that I never considered before.

It is a very educational and humbling process, one that makes me acutely aware that no matter how ‘right’ I think I am, there are always a few other ways of looking at things.

The clarity that comes writing an article every fortnightly for the past 10 years is something that I have come to depend on and look forward to.

My mom says that my voice in the way I write has slowly changed. From the teenage years of 19 to a married woman of 29, I have done a my fair share of growing up.

From romance, family and friends to work, ambitions and dreams — the themes I write about are similar but the perspective is always changing, in line with new experiences and realisations.

It has been one of the most rewarding things to be able to share my joys, mistakes and lessons with my readers.

Thank you for reading and for emailing me with your thoughts, opinions and feedback. It still gives me such a thrill and a little jolt of surprise when someone tells me they read my column.

Here is to another 10 years of a journey with no destination.

n As a television and radio host/founder of XO Productions, Xandria draws inspiration from the people she meets and believes that everyone has a story to tell. Her book, “Love, Work & Everything in Between” is a compilation of her column articles from 2007 to 2009 and is available at all major bookstores. Catch her on Talk of the Town, the Breakfast Show on Capital FM 88.9 every Monday-Friday at 6am to 10am.