Writing Is Believing
Jennie Jungyeon Heo
March 27, 2012
I am one of Diaspora Dialogues’ 2011 emerging writers. My piece “Dear Professor L,” is a creative non-fiction and will be published in TOK: Book 7. As you can tell by its title, it is written in a form of epistolary, an extended Thank-You letter to a professor who helped me understand my identity and my place as an immigrant child. She was an English professor and my first mentor who believed, “Stories are universal. They are bridges that help people connect together.” Through our relationship, I had learned an invaluable lesson and felt that it was my obligation to share this message with a bigger audience—that you are not alone. My intention was to share my personal experience and somehow show you, the reader, that stories and poetry have the power to heal the emotional wounds we carry deep within ourselves, sometimes for a very long time.
When I began writing this memoir, I made many mistakes. One of them was trying to flatter the reader by powdering my diction, trying to incorporate philosophical ideas, trying to sound professional and artsy. But soon I realized that it was never going to work. I had to admit that this was my first real attempt to write a short story, and I had to realize that the more I tried, the more I was diverging from my initial intention. So, I made a rule: honesty will be the foundation in my writing. However, because this story was purely based on recollection of memories and experiences from my past, it was difficult for me to articulate what I really meant. How can I write about memories and be completely honest at the same time?
To answer this question, I found old diaries I had written and picked several entries that were reflective and detailed. Naturally, those became the heart of my story and rendered my writing process a lot easier. Next, I went through our family photo album from the past. I picked a few photos that caught my eye, which I felt represented significant moments of our journey to Canada. Lastly, I talked to my family about this story. It was interesting how we all had different versions of the story, and it helped me figure out what part of my story was real and what was imagination. The process helped me build a real character I wanted to depict, and to find a voice that was genuine. This was the most truthful way I could think of to tell my story.
However, I was—and still am—a shy writer. I was not confident with my story at first. Quite frankly, I did not think that “Dear Professor L” was a “good story.” I overcame this insecurity while working with Olive Senior, my designated mentor at Diaspora Dialogues. She provided detailed review of my story with editorial suggestions, focused mainly on tightening the language, expression, and the flow of my story. We had many deep conversations about what it means to be a writer and what drives us to write. I remember her saying, “Nothing will happen until you start writing,” and that I should finish my story. Getting to know Olive and listening to her inspiring words were the best part of this program. She gave me the courage to take my next step—from someone who simply wanted to write, to becoming an emerging writer. I thank Diaspora Dialogues and Olive for believing in my story, and imparting that it is a story worth being heard.