Creativity - Pornography For A Writer

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

- Stephen King

Esteemed writing expert, Natalie Goldberg says, “Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experiences, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this ‘composting’.”

Don’t sit down and think, “Today I am going to write a bestselling book.” That thought alone will freeze you up. Don’t have expectations, just think, “Today I am going to write whatever is on my mind”…and just go at it. Let go of all your hang-ups when you write. Try a simple beginning with simple words to express what you have inside. It won’t begin smoothly and you have to allow yourself to be awkward in the beginning. Just let it flow.

Let me share with you a few tricks I have done in the past to nudge myself along:

1. I schedule a nice meal at the end of the day as a reward. I’m a foodie and this motivates me to sit at my desk and work hard so that I can fully enjoy my sumptuous dinner, knowing that I truly deserved it.

2. I wake up in the morning, go for a class of invigorating yoga and return recharged and ready to hammer at my keyboard. In fact, writing is similar to meditation. The more you are in touch with your mind - your main writing tool, the better you will be in your writing. Writing gives you confidence and trains you to wake up.

3. I tell everyone that I am busy writing this week so that no one calls or distracts me from the task at hand. Yup, major hibernation mode activated!

4. I read all the books I can find about the topic I’m supposed to write about. Usually, I’ll get inspired and then be on the roll.

5. I use my social media to practice my writing. Whether it is posting on Instagram or Facebook, I try to write something witty to caption my photos, update my status or post comments. I also read and follow people who write well. Two Instagrammers I like are foodie Joycelyn Shu (@joycelynshu) whose lush food descriptions and photos always send me to the kitchen looking for snacks as well as radio DJ Rosalyn Lee (@heyrozz) who put thought into each post and marry self-deprecating wit with poignant messages.

Basically, if you want to be a good writer, you need to do three things: Read a lot, listen well and deeply, and write a lot. And don’t think too much. If you read good books, good books will come out of you when you write. Maybe it won’t be that easy, but usually, if you want something, go to the source. That’s why I have rounded up experts in their field, to share their writing tips. Start taking notes now…

 The Fiction Writer: Begin Inside

Low Kay Hwa.JPG

Low Kay Hwa has written twelve novels and is currently pursuing his English & Literature degree on a part-time basis. His books have been listed in various bookstores bestsellers lists and also in The Sunday Times list. His title I is the runner-up for POPULAR Readers' Choice Awards 2013.

1. How did you get into writing?

I have always known that I wanted to be a writer since I was a boy; and when I turned thirteen, I told myself that I was “old” enough to be a “real” writer. I sent a manuscript to all the publishers in Singapore and was rejected by all of them. Although I was demoralised, I continued to write, and I blamed myself for writing stories that were not good enough. As mIRC was popular then, I made a few friends on the Internet and sent them the stories I had written. One of my Internet friends was very interested; so much so that she insisted on reading a chapter a day. That was when I acquired my first “serious” reader, and set a period to write on a daily basis.

2. Did you always know that you were going to write? What were the signs?

I have always been fascinated with creating stories since I was young. When I was seven, I wrote short stories for my brother to read, but I did not know whether he read them even when he said so. One of the days, he praised me for using the word “dash” instead of “run”, and in retrospect that was the first compliment I received that motivated me.

As I started school, my teachers would often pin my compositions on the notice board. A few times, my teachers even read my compositions to the class. While I appeared indifferent, I was proud of what I had achieved.

By fourteen, I had about five to six Internet friends who looked forward to my new chapter every week. During one of my secondary three projects, I wrote a 40,000-word novel and submitted it in a floppy disk. My form teacher was so impressed that she told me she would submit my story to a publisher friend of hers (but I did not hear from her again as she was posted out).

3. Describe how you felt when you had your first book out.

I was speechless. Literally. I merely stared at the title and my name - after all, I had written countless stories and this was the first time it was professionally printed.

4. Why do you choose to go set up a Goody Books, your publishing company?

When I was seventeen, I tried sending another manuscript to the publishers in Singapore. I was approached by a vanity publisher and he said that I had to pay in order to get published. As I could not afford the fees but was still determined to see my story in print, I agreed on an installment plan.
After I had paid half of the total amount, I received the books and they were ready for sale. I was told that I could sell 1,000 copies in a year; to my surprise, when I got back the first sales report six months later, I sold less than ten books.

During the six months when I was waiting for the sales report (it doesn’t take that long now), I had written another story. Seeing that print was not going to work, I uploaded every single chapter of my new story online, and went to online forums to get people to read it.
Surprisingly, people read the entire story and apparently still requested to buy the book (when there was no print version yet then). Seeing the demand spiking up, I got a few friends to help me with the cover design and improve the website, and printed twenty copies at $10.00 per copy and sell them at $10.90 per copy. I would go to MRT stations to meet up with my customers. Essentially, it was a loss since I had to travel, but it did not matter because it is a writer’s dream is to be read and appreciated.

When the first twenty books were sold within a few days (due to the backlog of interest), I printed another twenty copies, then another twenty copies until one day, I decided to print at a larger quantity on a lower price (offset printing). However, without the funds to do so, I decided to look for printers and ask them whether I could pay later. I had no company and was only seventeen then. To my surprise, a printer agreed to print for me and I had to pay only after thirty days upon receipt of the books (which, of course, now I know is merely the basic business term of Net 30). I agreed, and during that thirty days, I was meeting more than four customers a day.

When I broke even, I realised that print book did work; and so, I started Goody Books. Every new book is now profitable. Currently, my books are distributed widely in bookstores and are no longer sold direct.

5. Any advice for budding authors?

Never give up; there will always be many setbacks. The major obstacle is usually the lack of real readers (friends and family members don’t count!); that demoralises a writer greatly. To overcome that, just set a period to write every day. It is going to be a marathon, but like any marathon, pain is temporary and pride is forever. It is the intangible achievement that is sweet.

6. Why do you choose to write fiction?

An actor acts. A painter paints. I like creating stories, so I write fiction. 

7. How does one write fiction? Any advice?

While I do not know how others write, mine is a long process: I have to plan the plot, do primary research to ensure that my plot works, develop the characters, fuse the characters into the plot, write the story, revise, do secondary research and revise a lot more times.
If there were universal advice for any aspiring fiction writer, it would be this: Be obsessed with the characters. My characters are so alive to me that I know exactly how they will react to almost anything.

8. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

Yes, of course. Usually, I stop writing and take a rest, but I tell myself that I will go back to writing within ten minutes. If not, I will skip that scene. If a certain amount of time is allocated to writing, I will ensure that I do nothing except writing or resting.

9. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite books and authors?

As I aim to be better every day, the thing that inspires me is my mirror; for I can see, every passing day, that today has been better than yesterday for all the effort I have made. Seizing the day is one of my main values in life.

I like Jodi Picoult and Nicolas Sparks. However, my favourite books are The Time Traveler's Wife, My Sister's Keeper and Veronika Decides to Die. Amazingly simple premises with deep, complicated plots; and of course, great characters.

10. What is a day in the life of a fiction author like?

Usually solitary; depending on what stage of writing I am at, I am always just in front of the computer. The sounds I hear are merely loud music to bring me closer to the story.

During research stage, however, I get to interact with many people. For example, during the secondary research stage for For That Day, I was going to National University Hospital almost every day for one month to speak to the people there.

11. Why did you choose to e-publish and do you have any tips?

It is not exactly a “choice”; to me, it is simply something that occurs in the industry, and I have to adapt to market changes. My research shows that the market share for e-books in genre fiction is way higher than the overall e-book industry. Therefore, like any business adapting to market change, my books are now available in both print and e-version.

My tip is that it does not matter what platform your content is, be it in print or in digital format: every single author or publisher is selling content, and not selling sheets of paper with ink. If your content is not good enough, it does not matter what or where the platform is.

12. You even scored a bestseller on Kobo Books, an e-retailer of books, can you share with us how you did that?

Well, it just occurred. It is just like getting into the bestsellers list in national newspaper and bookstores; you merely hope you get in, and once you get in, you take a picture, tell your friends who do not care about it and life goes on.

13. Have you ever done a book proposal for a publisher. If yes, do you mind sharing it?

Yes, when I was thirteen and seventeen - and that meant it was more than ten years ago! Now, everything should be different. Back then, it was the traditional way of sending via snail mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope.

The Non-Fiction Writer: Tell Stories


Gerrie Lim is the author of seven books which reflect his ongoing interests in various aspects of modern sociology and popular culture, though he remains best known for his books on the sex industry, best exemplified by Invisible Trade, In Lust We Trust, and Singapore Rebel: Searching for Annabel Chong. He also writes for magazines about wine and spirits as well as architecture and design, and was previously based in Los Angeles but now lives in Hong Kong.

1. How did you get into writing?

I’ve been asked this question a million times and I always say it’s a long story. The short version is this: I started out as a newspaper reporter for a lark, just to see if I could do it, and realized I liked the idea of writing for a living and learned I was actually good at it.

2. Did you always know that you were going to write? What were the signs?

No, I did not, it just sort of happened after I finished my undergrad studies and was wondering what to do next, which turned out to be grad school in 1984 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where I did a Master’s in Print Journalism. We all had to serve internships with magazines and I saw that I had a knack for feature writing. The only signs were that I started receiving more and more work, which I took as meaning I was on the right path, but I have to add that I was fortunate in that I had very good editors who served as mentors to me.

3. Describe how you got your first book deal.

My first book was somewhat unusual – it was a collection of my magazine work called Inside the Outsider and it was essentially my pop culture writing anthology with an emphasis on my interviews with rock stars, culled from my years as a rock critic in Los Angeles. BigO magazine was starting a book imprint and they wanted this to be the first book they would publish under the BigO Books label, and that’s how it basically happened.  I didn’t have to write a proposal or anything, it was like a done deal, which did not prepare me for the future years and how much harder it was going to be to secure a publishing contract!

4. Why do you choose to go with a traditional publisher? What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Self-publishing is for losers who can’t get a “real” deal with an actual publishing house. I never recommend that route to people who ask about this. I realise some do this because it’s the only way they can get published but, even if they really are good writers and merely victims of unfortunate circumstance, the public perception will be that nobody else wants them so they had to do it on their own.  

5. Why do you choose to write non-fiction, in particular, stories about the sex industry?

Quite honestly, because I have tried writing fiction and I am just unable to do it well. I just don’t have the skills sets for it. The late Warren Zevon, one of my musical heroes, said to me once when I asked him about whether he would ever write a novel: “No. Graham Greene writes novels. I don’t.” And he also told me: “The thing is, you can’t just be enthusiastic. You have to actually be good.” That pretty much summarises it for me, too.

The sex industry has always intrigued me, from my impressionable teenage years -- starting from the mere fact that even softcore pornography isn’t legally allowed in Singapore, which later enabled me to gloat when I started writing for Playboy magazine in 1987 and later Penthouse in 1999 – but, more acutely, I have the ability to address issues pertaining to the sex industry that most people can’t, especially men who usually hide behind a façade of machismo. I have also been told I am able to somehow gain the trust of people, so they’ll tell me things they don’t usually reveal to other people. That is still the strongest gift I have as an interviewer – empathy and compassion are crucial tools to have, especially with people who are intuitively distrustful of strangers -- and it all works like a charm when you’re dealing with sex workers, porn directors, escort agency madams, and the like. I could tell you stories you wouldn’t believe.

6. How does one choose a topic to write and go about doing it? Any tips?

They say you should write from what you know, which I think is true, but I also tell people to heed the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald who said: “You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.” Meaning, many people want to say things but most are unable to articulate their thoughts in writing and also don’t really have anything substantial to say. When someone comes to me with a writing topic or story idea, the first question to always ask is: “Who cares?”

7. What is your worst mistake as a writer and how did you get over it?

I can’t tell you that one because I am saving it for my next book. ;-)

8. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

Yes, of course, but not often. When it happens, the worst thing you can do is keep obsessing about it. Just put the work aside and go do something else and come back to it later. A clear mind is conducive to good work.

9. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite books and authors?

As Ann Herold, who was one of the editors at the Los Angeles Times and one of my journalism professors, once told me: “I am entertained by good writing.” That remains the case. I think what inspires me is when someone has a unique point of view and can express it well and isn’t afraid to be contrarian and funny or ironic in the process.

The list of authors is long and varied but I did my Master’s thesis at USC on Joan Didion’s essay writing, and her book The White Album was what first made me want to be a writer. I even gave her a copy of the dissertation later, in person, but I have no clue whether she ever read it or not.

10. What is a day in the life of a non-fiction author like?

It depends on the day. And on how much magazine writing I have to do, the stuff to pay the bills, which is also good for self-discipline since I actually like having to write to deadline. I work from home and enjoy it immensely, mainly because I find it easy to stay focused when most people would see themselves being distracted. I don’t ingest anything when I am writing, despite all the legends about Hemingway drinking when he wrote, because that itself is a distraction. My approach is austere and Zen, and I drink and get drunk later. I'll have music going in the background if I'm just line-editing or proof-reading. My best work hours are from mid-afternoon till late into the night - there's a "sweet spot" I hit between 10 pm and 2 am, and I have no idea why.

The Poet: Dig Deep


Cyril Wong is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, one volume of short-stories, and a novel. His last book was a collection of love poems about coming to terms with the end of a relationship, After You (Math Paper Press 2013).

1. Did you always know that you were going to write? What were the signs? 

Only during my National Service did I realise that I had the urge to write; I was writing short pieces in a notebook about my family and regarding personal relationships in general. It was the first sign that I had begun to compose poetry.

2. Describe how you got your first book deal.

Through submission to various publishers, many of whom rejected my manuscript, I was able to find acceptance with just one publisher to begin with.

3. Why do you choose to go with a traditional publisher? What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

Self-publishing: It's just too much work and I was, and still am, a rather lazy person in publicising or pushing out my own work. As such, self-publishing had never occurred to me.

4. What are the key factors of to your success and has the success of your books changed your life in any way?

Success is relative: success to me has meant being read by the right audience, so "commercial success" or success linked to a mass appeal has never appealed to me. Only when I found that I was appealing to other poets and readers of poetry did I realise I had achieved success of some sort. In any case, any kind of success never affected my life in a profound way; the only change I found was that I was invited to literary and arts festivals across the world to read and perform my poetry, which could be exhausting but also provided interesting learning experiences, especially when I got to meet other like-minded poets.

5. What is the best piece of writing advice you received from someone or read somewhere?

Avoid fitting in with the establishment (I created this advice all on my own; various other friends have said the same thing in numerous ways to me, confirming my own private belief that the norm is often oppressive and hegemonic and detrimental to one's meaningful construction of self-identity.)

 6. Why do you choose to write erotica?

I don't really write erotica as a norm. Some of my poems are erotic, but that's really about it.

7. How does one write erotica? Any tips?

Be truthful. That's just it.

8. Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get over it?

I just don't let myself get frustrated because of it. There is always something else to do if one is unable to write.

9. What inspires you and what are some of your favourite books and authors?

Music inspires me. Anger inspires me. Poets like Lewis Warsh and Dennis Cooper inspire me. Any philosophical text by Jiddu Krishnamurti inspires me.

 10. What is a typical work/writing day for you?

I don't have one. When a poem or story comes to me on any particular day, I just wait till night time when I will bang it out on my laptop for an hour or more before I go to bed.

11. Have you ever done a book proposal for a publisher. If yes, do you mind sharing it?

No, I have never done so. I don't even know what that entails. Usually publishers are the ones who suggest ideas to me (e.g., Transit Lounge in Australia once suggested that I put together an anthology of adult fairy-tales for them - and I simply wrote the book for this publisher.)

Back when I was researching for my first book, Boss Of Me, I followed Timothy Ferriss’ advice of interviewing experts to create my book. At least if no one knew who I was, they would read my book because of the prolific people inside! Even then, I still had the seemingly Herculean task of hunting down and interviewing 20 top (and busy) movers and shakers in Singapore. Luckily, thanks to Google and some diligent sleuthing, I was able to contact my choice interviewees. To be honest, not everyone that I approached said yes, however the ones that did were generous enough to refer some of their own luminary friends to me. All in all, it was a soul-affirming experience – I got to meet many of my idols, boosted the networth of my network by a gazillion times and the icing on top of the cake – my book written by Pearlin ‘Nobody’ Siow, became a bestseller!

Postscript: Here are Erica Jong’s (one of my fave authors!) Twenty One Rules For Writers:

1. Have faith – not cynicism.

2. Dare to dream.

3. Take your mind off publication.

4. Write for joy.

5. Get the reader to turn the page.

6. Forget politics (let your real politics shine through).

7. Forget intellect.

8. Forget ego.

9. Be a beginner.

10. Accept change.

11. Don’t think your mind needs altering.

12. Don’t expect approval for telling the truth.

13. Use everything.

14. Remember that writing is dangerous if it’s any good.

15. Let sex (the body, the physical world) in!

16. Forget critics.

17. Tell your truth, not the world’s.

18. Remember to be earthbound.

19. Remember to be wild!

20. Write for the child (in yourself and others).

21. There are no rules.

Do they resonate with you?