The hows and whys of writing

Yo guys!

Sorry for not blogging lately but I managed to invite Ms Ju-Lyn, who was featured in the TODAY newspaper sometime ago on her self-publishing endeavours, to pen her thoughts on writing. Quite insightful. =3

So have a good read.


Hello, how are you?

A few months back I received an email from moon to share on my experiences of writing and self-publishing a book. I was excited to find a community of like-minded Singaporeans and flattered to be asked to write an article. I asked her what I should write about, and she said pretty much anything. Then I asked her how long should the article be. Then she said it’s pretty much up to me. It’s been hard trying to decide what to focus on – writing and/or self-publishing, to me, is very complicated. So, I thought perhaps I could share broadly about how it’s complicated. It is, perhaps, something that I wish I sorted out for myself earlier, and I hope that the brief outline that follows will be helpful to you.

To me, writing (or whatever it is that I want to do) is at least complicated in two aspects. Firstly, there’s the technical aspect of doing things – the “HOW” of getting things done. How to write, what to write, when to write… How to spell a certain word, what is grammatically correct… How to work what software, what is typography, how to design the cover, what shall I put on the cover… and the list goes on and on. Effort must be dedicated to researching, studying/learning, doing, reviewing or editing… I had wanted to do everything myself (including writing to laying out to publicity) because I wanted to have control over all these details, it was important to know what I needed to learn so that I could do what I wanted to do… and how much time and effort each phase (e.g. learning, training, doing phases) would take so that I can allocate my time and energy accordingly.

The second aspect is the psychological or philosophical aspect of things – the “WHY” and reason behind wanting to get things done. In some ways, I think this aspect is often less considered, although it is as important as technical competency, if not more important. This is simply because I could have used the time I spent on writing to do many other things. Similarly, everyone could spend his efforts on doing anything, for example, on doing other things, like studying harder, or doing something for his parents. Why do I want to spend the effort to edit my stories again and again and again, when it gets boring and tedious and trying? Why do I want to do what I want to do? Why do I write?

Understanding this was important to sustain my self-motivation. And even though I always gave different answers to different people asking me about my self-publishing project, it helps when I have the real reasons and motivation firmly establish in my mind. This also prevents me from being hurled into a whirlpool of self-doubt whenever someone asks about what I’m up to, having given up a cushy job, facing zero security with no income, etc.

I recommend putting together a “scrap-book” of why you do what you want to do, so that it’s convenient when you need reminding. It also helped me to have explained my motivations clearly to my closest friends and family members, so that they could better appreciate my pursuit, and helped to remind me, or at least, don’t question me too much.

On this, I recommend reading “Why I write” by George Orwell. You can probably find the full text online or neatly summarized in wiki. Broadly, Orwell discussed 4 motives behind writing and it can kind of get philosophical. Whilst Orwell’s personal reasons did not always apply exactly to me, I generally related to the 4 motives and it greatly helped me organise for myself “why I write”.

In this way, I should think that every individual would have to figure it out for himself, why he writes, or why she draws, or acts, or dances, or become a lawyer or teacher, or whatever it is that he does or wants to do. This is because everyone is different and have differing background, etc, thus everyone’s motivation differs. Which brings me to my next point, writing, to me, is very personal and that it’s SO personal that it complicates things even further. (This is something that I really wish to have been warned about earlier.)

Say for example, taking in other’s criticism or feedback on my work. Because it’s personal, I can’t help emotionally reacting to these inputs and feel bad or upset or happy or proud, and my emotional and psychological reactions would affect how I might assess the criticisms and applying them constructively. On bad days, my psychological reactions to my work – whether I’m good enough to write or not, blah blah – it can even hinder me from writing altogether.

But say then, on the other hand, if I didn’t take my writing personally at all, i.e. I took it totally from the objective point of view, then would I take other people’s opinion or feedback more easily and improve my competencies faster? Yet if I didn’t take my writing personally, then what would I be writing for and what’s the point of improving anything?

Ugh, so how?

I don’t know of a better way, but I try to balance when to treat my writing personally and when to be objective. For example, I treat it personally when I must motivate myself (or put my personal point of view into my stories, but that’s calls for a different discussion). I treat it objectively when I must critique and edit my work, and I find it helps pushing towards higher standards. And this balancing-personal-or-objective-act is difficult. For myself, it demands more self-control, self-awareness, and self-discipline than is required to overcome all the technical complexities combined together.

And I suspect if I didn’t harness the power of how writing is personal, then I wouldn’t have enough energy to complete my project. If I don’t manage to keep it tame, I would not have the energy or self-confidence to continue writing (find my stuff on meakfreak). Aside, I think “You’ve got mail”, the movie starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, illustrates the difference between taking something personally, or not, quite well.

Okay, I hope my sharing helps.