Why We Do What We Do: English Literature with Creative Writing

Hi friends, welcome back to A Life Changing Read. Hopefully mid-semester stress hasn’t affected you too much. If it has and you’re feeling dreadful and doubtful about your purpose in your field of study, don’t feel like you’re alone because I wonder that too sometimes, even when I’m not at the brink of a mental breakdown. What if I hadn’t decided to pursue Creative Writing? Yes, Nottingham offers English with Creative Writing as a course. And that got me curious about my coursemates — why did they apply for this course, what does writing mean to them and what is it all about? So, I asked them. And hopefully — whichever course you’re in — this will inspire you to think about your course and appreciate it more, while gaining a little insight into the minds of creative writing students.


Johann Cheong

For Johann, writing has always been a part of his life. He enjoyed reading classics and comics as a kid and it shaped some of his interests growing up. He dabbled in creative writing during his O-levels, when his teacher encouraged the class to write creatively. The main reason why he pursued creative writing is because his parents, being literary folks themselves, have always considered him gifted with language and supported his choice. He does consider himself a writer and has written two prose works that he’s quite proud of (while humbly lamenting their mediocrity). However, unlike most writers who have a lot to say and do it often through writing, he has never felt that constant need to express himself. But when he really has to, this doesn’t feel unnatural. He tends to be only motivated to write for assignments, but he’s working past that to take on writing projects outside of his creative writing submissions.

Johann expressed that he is still of two minds about the course. On one hand, he believes that people should write only when they’re comfortable and when they feel that they have to write a certain piece; it’s not something that can be approached like other subjects. At the same time, that’s what makes the course unique. As a writer and a reader, creative writing will not only tell people about their preferences as well as their strengths and weaknesses but it also allows people to learn more about themselves. Even if one doesn’t improve as a writer, they will improve as a person in terms of how they define themselves. As of now, he’s still unsure of how seriously he takes writing, but he knows he enjoys it.

 It is on a wet afternoon that I walk by her house for the first time in many years.


Eugene Ng

When Eugene studied pure sciences in A-levels, he had the intention to pursue Medicine. But he soon decided against it, when he had trouble coping with the coursework during pre-university. For a while, he was unsure of what to do and had to go over other possible courses before English caught his attention. He went for Creative Writing because it was something more familiar to him, having written little adventure stories with his friends during secondary school. He also enjoys reading; especially fantasy novels during secondary school days.

Since his plan to do Medicine fell through, his mindset when entering the Creative Writing course was to make the best out of it. And true enough, he is enjoying it because it’s fun,  it’s challenging and it’s something that he had never thought of doing. The course made him a lot more critical about the way he writes and reads other people’s works. And it made him appreciate the little things in life, because every little thing has its own story.

I return to the embrace
of a churning sea.


Nafisa Tabassum

Like Eugene, Nafisa also did A-levels in Science and if she hadn’t pursued Creative Writing she would have gone into Medicine or Chemical Engineering. Because she did so well in Science, people said doing Creative Writing would be a waste (like how her brother encouraged her to be a writer but discouraged her from pursuing English). However, she realised that Creative Writing is the only field that she is willing to commit to, having always wanted to be a writer since fifth grade. She started writing from as young as she could remember, and had a teacher who encouraged her to become a writer. However, she felt afraid to admit this in school because of the lack of representation; it was such different career choice that many people ostracised it.

The effect that books had on her also made her want to be a writer. She had a strong relationship with books since young, taking life lessons from the books she read. She saw the writer’s power in affecting their readers with various narrative techniques, and she fell in love with that art. She believes playing with words was what she was born to do. Without writing, she would feel like a lesser person; it gave her pleasure in a way science never could. Before enrolling in UNMC, she had never met others like herself who are equally passionate and invested in writing — it is a liberating experience for her and she feels right where she belongs.

Now I drink and drink
as I am swept away
in the relentless stream
that always flows one way.


Ooi Yining

Yining started writing and drawing comics when she was eight, and consistently produced them as a hobby until she was eighteen, when she started writing prose instead because she didn’t have time to draw anymore. At eighteen, she also decided to pursue writing because she has always liked being a storyteller, and inventing stories from her wild imagination. Her inspiration comes from daily life. She takes something rather ordinary, gives it a new scenario, builds a new setting and eventually creates a whole new world out of it.

She had the ideas but she lacked the technique, that’s why she needed this course. She realised that deepening her knowledge of the language and learning the craft would help her convey her ideas better, and this has really has helped her improve. Her parents immediately understood why she signed up for Creative Writing, because of her strong interest since young.

The insertion point on my blank word document was blinking at a slow pace. It reminded me that hands clapping worked the same way. Fast clapping indicates a sincere blessing, otherwise meant to be an act of ridicule.


Chloe Lim

For two years, Chloe pushed herself through med school, before she finally dropped out and switched to Creative Writing due to personal reasons. Unlike Yining’s parents, her parents were initially rather disappointed, although they knew the whole while that she didn’t like studying medicine and have now made their peace with it.

She recalls her three ambitions during Primary One: an astronaut, a singer or a writer. She was aware of her love for writing since young, and used to write stories in Mandarin. She only started writing in English when she entered secondary school, but eventually stopped at sixteen because she didn’t think her ambition would bring her anywhere. During her first semester of Creative Writing, she found it very hard to pick up writing again.

But she has since gone into the habit again and has written a couple of short stories and countless poems. She prefers writing tragedies that are inspired by events that happen around her, and things that personally happened to her. She also loves reading and writing psychological thrillers, because not only does it make the readers think, it also makes the author and the characters think a lot. Writing used to just be a form of self expression and healing for her to tie up loose ends in life, but nowadays it has become a matter of enjoyment as well.

There’s no time as wasted
as those playing charades
to shallow minds
and insincere eyes.


Suzanne Ong

Suzanne used to read (still does) a lot of young-adult novels and started writing fanfiction when she was in her teens. As her writing evolved, she progressed to create her own characters and carried on writing prose until she started the course, where she branched out into poetry. Despite having written for so many years, she is still excited about creative writing. Whether it be prose or poetry, her inspiration comes internally, from things she feels strongly about, or from events that occur in her life. She claims to be bad at expressing herself in everyday life, but does so more comfortably when penning it down. Hence, her writing material tends to be really personal — things she would not normally say out loud. As befitting her writing style, she loves reading real and genuine stories. To her, writing is a means of figuring oneself out.

The flames dance, dance, dance to the beat of every passing second, every bit of travesty. Ember red, and brown, and grey, and black, and smoke. I’m telling you now when I can’t see your face anymore, what I should’ve said before all that’s left is a crane lying dead on the floor.


Puteri Yasmin

Yasmin was intent on doing science throughout her secondary school years, but halfway through Form 5 she questioned her choices. She had liked reading and writing poems from a young age, and had always had a vision of becoming a writer. However, that vision died in secondary school.

She eventually came to the realisation that she was more passionate about English. At a mere six years old, she started writing her own nursery rhymes. Later in life, she tried writing stories but it wasn’t quite her forte so she is comfortable with poetry for now. At ten, she continued reading but stopped writing at the same time she started getting into science. There was nothing from then until Form 3, when she slowly started again. Presently, she’s still fascinated by science but she’s not interested in pursuing it as a career and doesn’t regret her decision one bit.

Her inspiration comes from other people; she writes for other people. When she listens to people’s problems, she channels that voice as the voice in her poetry and sometimes she talks to that voice through her poetry. This year, she started channeling material internally from her own voice and experiences. Just like Suzanne, she has always a hard time expressing herself through speech so she channels it into her writing instead. While studying Creative Writing, she enjoyed inspecting the development of literature over the years. She also wants to improve her writing through this course, because her dream is to get published.

In your ocean trench body,
I am the wreckage.
The mess you ached for,
The slipshod dialect in your poetry.

I think it is truly commendable to see a group of people, whom I am fortunate enough to call coursemates, following their childhood dream with such passion and joy. In closing, the question I pose to you is: have you followed your dreams? 


Love, Jon.

Creative writing student. "People like me / walk the earth with half shut eyes. / People like me / see the ground through our palms."


  • October 31, 2015


    This is one of my favourite articles on Ignite.You did a great job representing us, Jon! <3

  • October 31, 2015

    Jonathan Sim

    Thanks Nafisa! Blessed to be able to work alongside people like you. <3

  • October 31, 2015


    Great read! Loved learning everyone’s stories. Wonderful job at capturing that personal feel.