a multi-part series of questions by my partner, @launshae
What are your earliest memories of when you first started writing for yourself?
I kept a physical journal when I was 8 or 9. I was a very sad kid with unspeakable feelings – feelings I could not confide in anyone in my life, so the journal was an outlet I desperately needed. I think I stopped journaling as a teen, which was a mistake on hindsight.
Digitally, I started “weblogging” when I was 19-20. There was a free software called greymatter which I installed on my website. I mentioned the software because back then (around year 2000) it was not easy to create a blog. So it was the free software that enabled my writing.
If you’re referring to writing for myself versus an audience – I guess I’ve always written for myself. Back then it was difficult to get traffic, so no one would read your blog unless you invite some friends to do so. For many years I was on Livejournal, and there were strangers who would follow you. But the primary mode of Livejournal was like its name: a journal – so people would write very personal posts instead of the commercial-markety posts we see these days. I still miss it a lot.
I did try for writing for an audience for a while maybe in the mid 2010s, but I realised I quickly lost myself. I didn’t feel good after writing those because to write for a general audience the writing has to be inevitably diluted, so eventually I stopped.
Though I write primarily for myself, I also write in hope for resonance. Ironically I think one has to write for themselves if they want true resonance.
How has your writing evolved since?
I am not sure if the way I write has evolved – it has always been sit there and the words will spill out, most of the time. I as a person has transformed greatly, so has my range of interests, hence the content of the writing has evolved due to the width and depth of my interests and how they intersect. Language wise it may have devolved a little, I don’t attempt to write well anymore. I just try to write as directly from my consciousness as possible. I realised sometimes all it matters is that the writing is accessible.
Was there a time in your life where you didn’t write?
I can barely remember writing much during my teenage years, with the exception of school work and some love letters. Like I mentioned above, it was a huge mistake on hindsight. I was just too busy trying to keep afloat. Writing would have helped tremendously.
How is it that you never seem to run out of things to write? Where do all these ideas and thoughts come from?
I do consciously run out of things to write. But since I’ve committed to writing every Sunday since 2013 – there were periods when I could not be regular or I experimented with a difference cadence – sometimes I just sit down and start writing. It could literally be a journal-like entry, like what has happened in the past week since I’d last published, and/or what has been weighing on my mind. Since my mind is weighed perpetually, I have countless worries and anxieties I can write about. It is just whether I am afraid to sound repetitive – which I was at times, but now I don’t. I realised my public journal is a public documentation of the state of my mind, so if my mind is repetitive then the published outcome would be repetitive.
Other than writing about my anxieties, everything else is from the stuff I consume: mainly books. So the more diverse my reading is, the more complex my writing becomes. It ebbs and flows though. There are times when I don’t have the mind space to read, and my writing becomes more mundane. Which is not a bad thing, depending how we see it.
What is your writing setup like, in terms of tools, space?
I have a standing desk and a mechanical keyboard. Some days when I want to protect my eyes or write in a distraction-free environment I use an e-ink tablet instead with a mechanical keyboard. I really love typing on the mechanical keyboard. Some days I don’t feel well so I write on the sofa. Most of my drafts are these days written at our dining table because it is spacious and quiet in the wee hours of the morning. But I finish them on the sofa in the living room or at the standing desk in the study.
Do you write when inspiration hits, or do you have some form of a routine?
I used to write when inspiration hits, which as you get older and busier and perhaps more boring as a person you’d realise inspiration is difficult to come by. So since 2013 I simply write every Sunday. But if inspiration hits me every now and then I’ll note it down somewhere and still write on the Sunday, unless it is a complex post which I may write in multiple sittings throughout the week.
How do you decide if it should be a note, journal or essay?
Notes are newish on my website. It is a format I included because there were shorter, more stream-of-consciousness type of stuff I felt didn’t warrant an entire post on the journal. Sometimes I just want to share my excitement or wonder about a link.
Due to the history of my journal – it makes me feel like there must be a certain weight and meatiness to what I publish there, so the notes section gives me the space and permission to post everything else that doesn’t fit. It is also the meaning and interpretation of those words I guess: what does someone think when they come across the word “journal” versus “note” versus “essay”? “Notes” are usually scribbled down without much thought, so I decide something is a note when I don’t want to think too much about it.
Journal entries are usually way longer in actual word count – but I have known myself to write a really long note, so the differentiating factor is whether I want to put more thought into the actual writing. Journal entries come from a deeper level of my consciousness.
Essays and journal entries are quite grey. I wanted the essay section to have more serious pieces – pieces that are truly carefully thought-out and perhaps researched, with proper references, and multiple rounds of editing etc. There were pieces which were done that way – very untypical of me actually. But my journal entries became more complex in recent years and they started becoming more essay-like. I have been thinking whether to just fold them into one, but somehow I still feel like there should be some separation? Ideally the journal entries are more time-sensitive, like the writing is more relevant nearer to the time of publishing, whereas the ideas in an essay are more timeless.
I guess I spend too much time thinking about these things. But the general idea is that when people click into those sections, they know what to expect in terms of complexity. And they can choose to read a never-ending stream of those things uninterrupted without noise from a different dimension of writing.
How long does it normally take to write something up?
It could be anytime from twenty minutes to multiple weeks. So far I haven’t written anything that took months, yet. Or years? The posts on my interactive experiments probably took the most effort.
I notice that you have been supplementing your writing with your own illustrations and diagrams for a number of years, but more so in the recent months. Why did you decide to do so?
I realised I do enjoy the meditative process of illustration. But in general, I will add an image to the post only if it adds to the content overall. I still refrain from doing it simply because of grabbing attention. Most of the time if I add an image, it is because I believe it helps to explain the message of the post visually in the shortest time possible. There are certain ideas that do not come across as well in words no matter how much you try.
Take one of my favourite pieces. I was trying to explain how much more richer would life be if it constitutes a wide variety of experiences, like a tapestry (this was before I discovered Carole King). This was what I wrote:
The past year, I have been learning to look at my life as a piece of fabric. I do not wish to be an expensive, coveted piece of silk or cashmere, but rather a weathered, multi-textured pieced-together patchwork.– How to leave a safe existence
But the thing with metaphors is that it is subject to interpretation and limited to one’s imagination and experiences. So I take the work out and illustrate it as starkly as possible:
I don’t like adding images for the sake of attention, but I must admit it is a very powerful way of communicating. However I do believe the reverse is also true, there are some ideas and concepts that will do better with words versus any imagery. A beautiful poem, for example.
To answer the original question: I think I consciously avoided adding images previously because I didn’t want to participate towards the algorithms of social media or people’s inattention. But I gradually overcame my own bias and did what I think was best for the post. There are posts which I don’t actually want images because I think they can distract from the content. Then there are some sundays when I can barely finish the words, so I don’t have the energy to think about imagery.
This is an on-going experiment by my partner @launshae, and will probably be published in a multi-part series. Let us know in the comments if you have any feedback or any questions you want answered!