Writers’ Guild Anthology ‘19: Look Upon the Past (Perfect)

By Wong Zi Yang (19A01D) and Tay Jing Xuan (20S03C)

“You’ll be fine!” Chester (19A01C) assured Rachel (19S07C) as she did one last recital of her lines. The hour leading up to the Writers’ Guild Anthology Launch was charged with an atmosphere of anticipation and anxiety. Shuffling around fixing their boards, doing sound tests, and practising their lines one final time, each member was acutely aware of the fact that almost half a year of hard work (and sometimes procrastination) would cumulate in these two hours. The result was one 266-page anthology, themed “Past Perfect”.

A quick Google search of the anthology’s theme—”Past Perfect”—would lead you to websites teaching you about the grammatical tense. Writers’ Guild had revealed in an interview that they were considering continuing the punctuation theme from last year’s anthology (the comma), but “eventually decided that punctuation would get really overdone a few batches down the road”. Keeping in line with the idea of the past, this anthology also gives a nod to previous batches of Writers’ Guild members before them. At the same time,

This anthology goes past the arbitrary front that is “perfection”—rather, it explores what exists prior to a state of perfection, the journey to becoming perfect, and what lies beyond “perfection”, examining the fractured kaleidoscope of possibilities and permutations.

Writers’ Guild, foreword

Writers’ Guild has always been about open, creative expression and synthesising the skills of each member to create one cohesive piece. This year, their openness was taken to new heights: sharing the process of writing, editing and compiling the stories. The event itself began with a skit detailing the struggles of Writers’ Guild in the process of creating the anthology and preparing for the launch which, evidently, was filled with difficulties. Procrastination, disagreements and an overall lack of commitment were just the start of the problems plaguing the development process, impeding progress as infighting ensued.

The Editing Committee mired in infighting. From left: Chester Ong Zheng Jie (19A01C), Nicole Chan Yan Rong (19S05A), and Fang Xinzhe (19A01D).

As stress and other commitments built up, Guild work took even greater steps into the shadows. With time passing and the deadline slowly approaching, indignation, frustration and desperation compounded as members went about their business apathetically. Unable to further tolerate their bad attitude, the Chairperson Tiara Qistina Tho (19S06C) exploded in anger and confronted her batchmates with a flurry of rage and obscenities, shocking them enough into getting their act together (in a later interview, Tiara explained that the actual rant did not contain obscenities and was more of a cry for help than anything: “the resolution bit was almost entirely fabricated”).

The idea of the skit itself was drawn from a point of chaos, branching from the original idea we had of giving the audience a purely behind-the-scenes look through individual exhibitions. This, indeed, was derived from an emergency meeting the Exco conducted with the batch after coming to terms with the fact that the previous idea was already a failure before we had even begun work on it.

Tristan Zen Tan (19S06A)
Frustration culminates in an angry rant at the members, riling them up into finally working together. From left: Ong Jing Ting (19A01D), Hasanah d/o Haja Mydin (19S03P), Fang Xinzhe (19A01D), Tristan Zen Tan (behind Fang Xinzhe) (19S06A), Shannon Law (19S06G), Nicole Chan (19S05A), Amelia Ong (19A13A), and Tiara Qistina Tho (19S06C).

Exhibitions

What’s an anthology without getting to know the story behind each piece? This may be what Writers’ Guild 2019 considered as they decided to stand out from other batches by introducing booths allowing each writer to showcase their arduous journey of writing. Personalised boards detailing each writer’s experience lined the Mini LT, revealing the hard work they had invested into their stories. A quick glance at them told us the tale of how two members made a grand total of 446 edits on one piece, another of an intense process of mistake mitigation, plot rejection and brainstorming in writing historical fiction, and a rather cleverly hidden uncensored version of a scrapped political piece.

For us, the anthology was a pretty individual effort—our own stories, our own decisions. So I guess the anthology this year is special because of the pieces inside it… everything in launch was designed to be as brutally honest as possible.

Tiara Qistina Tho (19S06C)

Proud members stood by their boards between performances, ready to explain their pieces to anyone interested. Chester, sporting a bright grin on his face, told fascinated attendees of how his piece had been, rather sadly, censored, since it ran afoul of one of the infamous out-of-bounds (OB) markers. Stuck on his board was a clear file filled with drafts of blacked-out words, phrases and even entire sentences. “But,” he said, removing the file to present a QR code to awestruck listeners, “you can read the uncensored one here if you want.”

Chester, sadly silenced, decided to strike back with his not-so-sad-or-secret QR code.

On the other side of the room, Nicole Chan (19S05A) described how she had struggled with coming up with a story based off writing prompts retrieved online, only to write a story synthesising elements from two separate prompts. Presenting her failed drafts like proud scars of war, Nicole enthusiastically told audience members of ideas that were considered and scrapped. “The quote down there is from my editor”, she laughed as she pointed to a phrase at the bottom of her board that read: ‘godly procrastination is a BIG MOOD’.

Nicole showing her board to audience members. A picture speaks a thousand words, and sometimes actually has a thousand words.

Monologue (by Goh Ling Shan Rachel)

After getting to know each writer’s story in crafting their piece, launch-goers were treated to a monologue by Rachel. While everyone is aware of the challenges encountered in the process of writing (something Writers’ Guild has to deal with on a regular basis), what’s less well-known are the inner workings of the interest-group-turned-CCA. She shared about the times their Exco tried to make members arrive punctually by pushing the reporting time half an hour earlier, how they had revised scripts over and over till no one was sure which version they were on, and how a mutiny had unfolded some time over the past year, garnering mirthful laughter from the audience.

However, not everything was joyous and funny. Rachel touched on the more sensitive topics surrounding Writers’ Guild, how it was ridiculous that even its own members looked down upon it. “Because the idea of being last is so ingrained in us, we are so bloody good at being last,” she shared. At the worst of times, members didn’t put in effort, sessions were dry, and people were unmotivated. But banded together as a CCA, they pushed on with the anthology launch as their end goal and managed to make everything work out in the end—with the success of the launch as sound testimony.

Spoken word poetry: I Choose (by Hasanah and Shannon)

The first of the spoken poetry performances was a reading of I Choose by Hasanah d/o Haja Mydin (19S03P) and Shannon Law (19S06G). If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then it could be said that a person is shaped by the choices they make. Do you choose to smile or frown at your reflection in the mirror? Do you find yourself ugly or beautiful? Do your flaws make you feel special or insecure, unique or a loser? Hasanah weighs in on her interpretation of “past perfect” with her poem, I Choose. The poem itself utilises “choices” as a central theme: there are breaks at certain points in the text, and each blank will have one word above and below it. Depending on which word the reader uses to fill in the blanks, the poem takes on an entirely different meaning. As Hasanah began reading the poem, Shannon took over as the reading reached the first blank; Hasanah took over once the reading reached the next blank, and the pattern continued. Reciting in sync with Shannon, the reading demonstrated how the journey to becoming perfect is shaped by choices: the options you take determine whether you are satisfied or frustrated with your life.

Spoken word poetry: Liquid Gold (by Chester Ong)

Next was a performance by Chester Ong, reading Liquid Gold by Shannon Law. The poem chronicles the souring of the relationship between the speaker and a loved one through their daily routine of drinking coffee: the shattering of the ceramic mug represents the cracks in their relationship, slowly morphing what once began as a daily moment of quiet intimacy into something toxic to both parties. As the warmth of the coffee faded, so did their love; a fact that the speaker did not reflect upon until the loved one left. The reading did the poem justice, conveying the raw and poignant feelings hidden underneath the words: a perfect reading of a well-written poem reminiscing about the past.

Chester reads Liquid Gold: Because somewhere along the way, our too-sweet coffee bled sour notes.


Performance: In My Mind and Bruise, written and performed by Rachelle Chua (19A01B)

Creative writing isn’t all about ink on notebooks and pixels on the screen—sometimes, manuscript paper and a guitar get roped into the scene too. Rachelle Chua (19A01B) decided to add a little twist to her contribution by writing not one, but two songs to perform during the launch and wow the audience with profound lyrics and smooth, virtuoso guitar playing.

Bruise was performed first, a smooth introduction to the pain of love. The speaker, having had her heart broken in the past, is scared of having it hurt again. Who would risk suffering a second time even if it meant opening up to someone once more? She would. And in Bruise’s quiet offers to let the other into her mind in exchange for them noticing her true self, she begs them over and over to “take [their] time, don’t just skim right through [her]”. Agonising as love might be, she is willing to suffer that all over again, and this song truly conveys the message that love can give one courage to wholeheartedly open up to and trust another person.

In My Mind’s soft pleas for the other to stay and be kept safe with her were sung beautifully, in an almost breathless voice with a firm grip on its raw emotion. If your lover left you while you were drowning under the tide, how would your scrapbook of life ever be completed? No one can bear to think of such a tragedy befalling them, and neither can the speaker. So she chooses to persuade them to stay, talking about all the things—”crowned king and queen in a palace, safely swathed in a cable car, a never ending Ferris wheel ride”—they could have together, only if they stayed in her mind.

The anthology launch ended off successfully with the audience leaving with their “exit fee” (the anthology book) in hand. It was not perfect; nothing ever is. However, as the anthology may reveal to us, we should not be so fixated on the concept of perfection: the journey towards perfection ought to be our main focus.

Repertoire

  • I Choose
    • Written by Hasanah d/o Haja Mydin (19S03P)
    • Performed by Hasanah d/o Haja Mydin (19S03P) and Shannon Law (19S06G)
  • Liquid Gold
    • Written by Shannon Law and (19S06G) performed by Chester Ong (19A01C)
  • In my Mind
    • Written and performed by Rachelle Chua (19A01B)
  • Bruise
    • Written and performed by Rachelle Chua (19A01B)

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