Publish

In Josh Spector’s article titled How to Improve Your Writing in Six Steps, the sixth step is to Publish. 

“Publishing forces you to stare down your insecurities and summon the courage to put your creation into the world,” he writes.

It’s one of the hardest steps for me. 

As a writer, I experience a lot of self-doubt. If I don’t hit publish, there’s always an urge to go back and tweak, and tweak. It never feels good enough. 

This was one of the reasons I used to do Write Club sessions. 30 minutes to write anything you want based on a prompt means that you have no space for self-doubt. The only thing you can do is focus on the task at hand. 

Having been a working writer for about 10 years now, I’ve realised that the self-doubt is not always substantiated. Being paid to write means that there are deadlines and whether I judge a piece to be good enough or not, it has to be submitted. 

Often, it’s not as bad as I think it is. And if the published version isn’t good enough, it’s a reminder for me to keep striving to do better. 

Like any craft, the learning never ends.

Competition

I’ve always been competitive. But I’m learning, that the competition is not external. The person I should keep trying to beat is myself. 

What does winning against someone else mean if I know that I could have done better? 

In the podcast Conversations with Tyler, Sam Altman says, “If you compete with other people, you end up in this mimetic trap, and you sort of play this tournament, and if you win, you lose.”

It’s a way of competing that I’ve never liked. When I was running my previous ecommerce business, this was how we saw the competition. It was a zero-sum game and was one of the reasons I didn’t like how the business was being conducted.

Even when we were “winning”, it felt like we were always looking behind. 

I wanted better. I wanted more.

…if you’re competing with yourself, and all you’re trying to do is — for the own self-satisfaction and for also the impact you have on the world and the duty you feel to do that — be the best possible version you can, there is no limit to how far that can drive someone to perform.

– Sam Altman

Because the thing is, if you’re constantly looking behind, how can you pull even further forward?

Sansa

As I caught up on the latest season of Game of Thrones, I started thinking about the character that I like the best now. It was surprising, even to me, that Sansa was my top pick.

When I first started reading the books years ago, Sansa was the worst. She gave me the constant feeling of wanting to slap someone. So naive, so starry-eyed.

And now I wonder if my rage was because of how much of my past self I saw in her. I have been naive. I have been starry-eyed. I have wished for things to be fairy tale-like. Sansa was the parts of myself I didn’t like.

Throughout the series, Sansa suffers. Even more in the TV series, compared to the books, I think (I started watching at season 6).

And yet, after it’s all over, instead of continuing to see herself as a victim, she chooses to see her suffering as something that has made her stronger.

When I started finally started watching the TV series, Sansa is back at Winterfell with Jon, and she is no longer the same girl.

In episode four of the latest season, Sansa has a conversation with the Hound, who tells her that she would have “been safe” if she had left King’s Landing with him.

“Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life,” she says.

She’s become tougher, without being hard. She’s now a lot more cunning, without being bitter.

She’s a true player in the game now. And I’d be happy to even be a little like her.

Relationships

“How do you get a community?” A friend asked via Whatsapp.

He’d asked me whether I would choose a job that paid less and had a good working team vs a less stressful job that paid more but required mostly working alone.

“Personally, I’d pick the latter,” I told him. “I enjoy working alone.”

While it can get lonely, there are always ways to find people to discuss things with. For freelancers and remote workers, it’s important to have a community (to stay sane).

I’ll admit that I’m not the most sociable person. But my answer to the question “how do I get a community” is reach out, provide value.

Your community doesn’t need to be huge. In fact, I’ve found that building stronger ties with a smaller group of people can be more valuable.

It takes less than five minutes to make an introduction. A quick conversation to understand a person’s pain point doesn’t take long. A meet-up once in a year is a great way to reconnect and is a small amount of time compared to a lot of other things that we might do (eg. binge watching Ozark).

To build true relationships, the major investment is time.

Email

I spent some time today catching up on emails. With multiple email addresses and loads of emails in each one, email as a communication tool can sometimes be challenging for me (less challenging than chat though, which is why I prefer long and detailed emails).

And yet, I love emails.

Josh Spector, who runs one of my favourite newsletters tweeted, “Your email inbox has the potential to be a better feed than your social media feeds.”

This has been true for me. 

These days, instead of sharing on FB, I try to share via email. I’ve found that it’s more personal and because it’s private and less instant, you can have a deeper (and longer) conversation about the shared topic. 

I’ve also found that it’s a much more gratifying way to spend my time, compared to scrolling through my social media feeds. 

The emails I receive are sometimes educational, containing links to other amazing articles available on the World Wide Web, or tips on how to script a podcast or write scripts in Google Sheets. 

Other times, they’re long missives on life or work or philosophy. And these are the ones I open most often. They feed my soul and inspire me to do better. Perhaps it’s because I already like reading, and words have always been the way to my heart. 

And strangely, although it’s not a Group or a forum, there’s still a sense of community that comes with reading these emails. It’s comforting to know that there are real people, doing real things, writing real things. And that there are real people — people just like me — reading these emails, perhaps feeling the things that I feel. 

It makes me feel less lonely. 

PS. Speaking of loneliness, the latest email from The Adventures of Furochan is about how loneliness and solitude are similar, but different. It was a beautiful piece to read.

Bravery

When it comes to the eighth season of Game of Thrones, the part I’ve been enjoying the most is the show writers’ breakdown of the episode.

As a writer who’s been mostly working with the text medium, these breakdowns are great way for me to learn more about how to write for the screen. Like audio formats, it’s a whole different medium and engages the senses in a different way.

For example, the entire third episode — which is about 80 minutes long — is a war scene and these can get boring. How does a writer create a narrative, develop characters, evoke emotion throughout?

Prior to watching the episode, I read the reviews (Yes, I do this. I love spoilers.) and most didn’t have too positive things to say. I went in with low expectations, and in fact, struggled to stay focused.

And yet, I realised that it’s easy to criticise. It’s far more difficult to create.

When I think about all the work that the writers, the director, the entire crew put in to create this epic battle that the whole series has been leading up to, I am grateful.

Art and entertainment like this would not exist if it wasn’t for the people who were brave enough to take it on.

Stories like these would not exist if writers didn’t write them.

Heat

The moment the warmth of the air touches my skin, my body starts to feel more like itself again.

While most people in Malaysia might be happy to get away from the heat, I actually dread going anywhere that’s not tropical, that’s not humid.

Although I enjoyed Seoul, the weather was a challenge for me. Physically. Only a week or so and my legs are covered in mysterious bruises. My skin acts up in unfamiliar ways.

I was glad to be back in Kuala Lumpur. To feel the air on my skin, warm and heavy with moisture.

“I’m a dragon,” I say to people, as a way of explanation.

When I was living in Melbourne, I could spend up to a week without leaving the house, bundling myself up in warm clothing, staying under the covers. I even did this during spring when I spent a week in Apollo Bay. 19 degrees with sun was not “nice weather” for me.

When visiting my brother in London, I spent a lot of time curled up in his armchair reading, eating chocolate digestives with Earl Grey tea. That was my idea of a proper cold weather holiday – spent indoors.

Home is where the heart is, yes. But for me, home is also where the heat is.