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Sometimes I think I learned to write before I started speaking! Blame it on my mother, who was an English teacher and used to say, "The pen is mightier than the sword." She made us write about everything--our first day in school, the trip to the zoo, or a visit to the dentist. Sure we protested, but she always won, and we got a head start in writing.

As I grew up, I started writing about everything. Not surprisingly, I was the editor for all the magazines that we published in school and university. Eventually, I started focusing on a subject close to my heart--alternative health. My writing became the basis of the theme of my doctorate in holistic medicine.

When I approached the editors of The Star , I was offered a column on Sundays for a trial period of 1 month. The first article appeared on 28 October 1995, and I have been writing that column ever since. Over time, I have been invited to write for other publications such as magazines and Web sites.

Three years ago, I founded the International Journal of Tropical Herbs. There had been no scientific platform to document research on more than 60% of the herbal plant species in the tropics. I assembled a list of who's who in the region's herbal scene and formed the first advisory board for the journal, headed by Professor Gerard Bodeker, chair of the Commonwealth Working Group for Herbal Medicine. The journal has representation from top researchers from all the centers of herbal excellence in the world. Today, I am the managing editor of the world's first tropical herb journal. This is really a very satisfying achievement.

But I'm still writing. And the biggest challenge of my writing is staying ahead of the curve, staying fresh and exciting. I greedily "digest" at least two books every month on the latest thing in alternative health and nutrition. Another challenge is keeping the facts right so that there are credible references to whatever ideas I put forth. I've learned to negotiate the copyrights for my work and know I must respect the work of others.

As a columnist for the Sunday Star--a newspaper with more than 1 million readers--I have 1 million potential critics! In order to create a following, I need to keep my contributions coming. And, as anyone working for a weekly publication knows, deadlines are strictly observed.

Since I write on health issues, especially alternative health, readers who are sick, and those caring for someone who is very sick, regularly contact me looking for help. These are people who have not been effectively treated by conventional medicine or have suffered adverse effects from treatment. I do try to help them directly or via a network of alternative medicine practitioners I've known over the years. Choosing to reply to letters and e-mails creates a time-consuming challenge.

When do I write? Actually, my mind is always working on the coming articles. I get ideas from everywhere. However, I write only late into the night or very early in the morning when I am alone and there is no distraction. The quiet dark hours allow some the ideas that danced through my mind throughout the day to be committed to paper and, well, to my personal computer.

My advice to budding writers is the same whether you do it full-time, part-time, or pastime. Always be different. Be creative. Be original. Write with so much passion that your readers feel it. Your written work may excite readers for generations to come, so do your research. Spread your knowledge and the joy that goes along with it. Have fun. Each time you touch that keyboard or that old-fashioned pen, remember that you have the power to change the world! Are there any other better reasons to write?

By the way, my mother was right. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword!