My Writing Journey: How it Began [Part 1]

My name is Stephanie Chen and I am a 2nd generation Taiwanese American. Like many of my peers, I followed a prescribed path towards success: studied hard, got good grades, went to an Ivy League college. I studied finance and after graduation, started a job at a top-tier investment bank. I then joined an investment fund, where I eventually became a partner. However, if you had asked me when I was in the 6th grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said “a writer”. In early 2017, a post on this very website took me down the path to following that dream. In just a few short months, it felt as though my life had changed completely. Follow me on my journey–the new challenges, the overwhelming uncertainties, the small, but cumulative successes–to becoming a published author.

It started with a challenge. I had been living in Singapore with my husband and two kids for the past four and a half years, with personal goals of, besides raising the children, learning Mandarin, improving my golf game, and finding a second career for myself. It was harder than it seemed. I had been making slow progress on the first two items, but the last one hadn’t even gotten off the start line.

I was having lunch with a friend of mine, a fellow American, who asked if I was planning on going back to my old job if and when we returned to the US. I was still working for the fund part-time, so it likely would not be that difficult to return, in some capacity. I answered that I was hoping to find something else and she asked why I hadn’t yet–it had been over four years, after all. I had a litany of excuses–work, kids, studying, etc. She threw down the challenge to start doing something, anything, right now, no more excuses.

So I did it, I started writing.

That day, in fact. I had seen a post by TaiwaneseAmerican.org calling for submissions for a Millennial Taiwanese American anthology with a central theme of “liminality,” or in-betweenness. It seemed perfect for me–a Taiwanese American living in Singapore; although, I didn’t identify with being a millennial, having being born just on the cusp of Gen X and Y, but was hoping that maybe that point wasn’t mandatory.

I wrote a short story, at least, the start of one–about a group of Taiwanese-American couples living in Singapore going out to dinner. I realized the 2,000-word limit didn’t leave much room for long, descriptive paragraphs of the background scenery. After toiling for two days, I finished a first draft, sent it to my friend and held my breath. It was a Friday, and by Sunday, when I didn’t hear back from her, I messaged her anxiously. Had she read it and hated it?

Her response was tepid; she said she was excited that I had actually written something, but the actual writing itself–well, a little meh. At the end of the reply she even suggested I take an online writing class. I revised the story, adding a bit of drama, and sent it back to her. While I was waiting for comments, I started another piece, this one an essay about perceptions of race and nationality in Singapore.

After finishing both submissions, I felt I still had more in me–I started jotting down notes for different essays about my experiences living abroad; it quickly turned into an outline of a novel, a fictionalized memoir of our life in Singapore. I sketched out four main characters, the major plot themes and conflicts, and let the words flow.

I wrote every spare minute I had, in between school drop-offs, field trip chaperoning, my regular golf games, and the odd work meeting. In the evenings, after the kids went to bed, instead of plopping down on the couch next to my husband and watching Netflix as per the usual, I wrote, staying up past 1 a.m. on most nights. I had always thought I was a person who needed at least nine hours of sleep at night, even seeing a specialist a few years ago because I felt “tired all the time”, but it turns out, I just needed a good enough reason to stay awake.

After I started writing, I finally understood what people meant when they said, “Find a career that you would be happy doing even if you weren’t getting paid for it.” (When I was working at my old job, I used to think, “That’s utterly ridiculous. Who would work if they weren’t getting paid?”)

After a frenzied five weeks, I had finished. It was rough, but there it was: a novel, 72,000 words, 32 chapters plus an epilogue, formatted according to the experts on the internet, with my name on the cover.

Now what?

Thanks for reading, and following me on this journey. Comments and questions are also welcome. For those of you who have experienced a career change, tell me about it–how did you go about it? If you’re thinking about it but haven’t yet–what’s stopping you?

One Response to “My Writing Journey: How it Began [Part 1]”

  1. Jenny Lin

    You’re my hero Steph! Living the dream.

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