Is Writing Viable, and Other Questions: Answered

A: “You’ll never make it as a writer, mark my words. You will never succeed.”

B: “You should be more involved in your son’s studies instead of doing this. You only care about your own success. You’re selfish.”

C: “You sit home all day writing stories? How many copies must you sell for this to become a viable career?”

D: “The theme is too continental, the spelling is too American, the premise is too international.”

Since I made the announcement about my book deal(s), I’ve received overwhelming support that’s really touched and humbled me. Most people who’ve been around since the start of my publishing journey are aware that I worked very hard on these projects, especially the sequel. But many who reached out were also curious if “being a writer” would be as smooth-sailing as I made it appear. “You make it look effortless,” one said.

Really? I thought. I have to confess that hearing such remarks made me reflect on my writing journey, even way back before Tea in Pajamas, when I was just a young girl who was hungry to write anything and to get a byline in any publication.

I don’t think many people know that I wanted to be a journalist when younger. Unfortunately I didn’t do well enough in my A-Levels to get into a certain course at a certain local university (the only communications degree available at the time). And so I got my B.A. degree in Sociology and European Studies (which I don’t regret one iota) and took a “we shall see” approach when it came to writing as a full-time job.

A was a magazine editor who’d taken a look at some press releases I’d written and thought I had a flair for writing. I was 23, fresh out of uni, and working at a PR company until I could find an opening in the media industry. When she offered me a freelance gig to write an F&B listing in her magazine, I was ecstatic. All I needed was a pseudonym and an Internet search engine, right? That’s what I thought anyway. Unfortunately, Google back then wasn’t what it is today, and I had not thought to fact-check contact information with an alternative directory. When the article was printed, readers had apparently called in to the magazine to complain about a few wrong phone numbers, which made A as editor look bad (and me like a complete noob). I received her call in the middle of a work day and sat through a venom-laced tirade about my unprofessionalism, her regret at trusting me in the first place, my idiocy, and how I was never ever going to make it as a writer—not on her watch anyway.

Even though I proved her wrong by going on to write for several magazines after that encounter, I took special care never to apply for any opening at the company she worked for. That deep sense of shame stuck with me throughout my brief stint in magazine journalism, and always made me feel as if I were an imposter pretending I could write.

As it turned out, my zest for a journalism career burned out pretty quickly when I realized I didn’t enjoy churning out copy about things I didn’t particularly care for, nor interviewing personalities I wouldn’t even read about, let alone talk to. The disconnect I felt from the only passion I’d ever known made me both confused and depressed. That’s when I made the choice to step back from writing. Perhaps that’s why I went into editing after that (it’s still what I do today).

Writing Tea in Pajamas was my coping mechanism when trying to come out of some disordered behaviors around eating, exercise and body image. It was the first time I was writing something I wasn’t commissioned to, and to be able to do so on my own terms, with no deadlines or no expectations, was liberating to say the least. Through this creative outlet, I found my groove again.

But not everybody gets why it’s so important to me.

Such as B.

B is a family member who never could and still cannot understand why I write if it’s not a 9-to-5 job that pays the bills. To her, any time away from work should be purposefully devoted to ensuring my children excel at school. Because I don’t have it in my DNA to be a Tiger Mum (believe me, I’ve tried), my parenting skills are regularly called into question. The fact that I would take things further by nurturing my own passion is entirely inconceivable—selfish, even. Growing up, all I ever wanted was for B to be proud of me. But as a 38-year-old grown woman, I’m finally ready to let go of my need for her validation to feel like I’m “enough.” I suppose at some point I woke up to the truth that if I don’t believe that I’m enough, then I’ll never be.

And we have C, who represents how some people react when they first hear I’m an author. I get that the whole idea of writing can seem shrouded in mystery, but come on. Firstly, I don’t “sit home all day” churning out content like someone would have a marathon Netflix session—I write whenever I can. More importantly, stories aren’t conjured from thin air: a lot of thought and prep goes into anything I put out—even on this site. Next, I have no idea how many sales I have to make in order for “this” to become viable because the truth is, I’m writing because I want to, and not because I need to. If I ever gave up my day job to write full-time, maybe I’d start seeing writing as a career and consider if it’s viable, but something tells me I’m not going to enjoy it if it becomes a job. You know what I mean?

I understand where D (who stands for a few publishing insiders) is coming from. I can recognize immediately what is unsaid because I’d thought about it even before the words were uttered. I’m a Chinese Singaporean author: what business do I have writing a story about Caucasian or mixed race characters in a European-esque setting, doing very strange things that are far removed from my own country and culture? Plus this US spelling of “pajamas”? Nobody will get it.

These are all valid points, and I get it 100%. But the whole spirit of Tea in Pajamas is about breaking the mold—drinking coffee out of a teacup and wearing PJs in the middle of the afternoon, and going against the grain. Who cares if it doesn’t play by the rules? As for my race and ethnicity, I never believed it prevented me from telling a good story, though if that’s a problem for readers, I can only hope they are a minority. My point is, if I ever wanted to write a novel about Singapore and Singaporeans, I would. What I wouldn’t do is try to change a story into something it’s not.

But notwithstanding remarks in the likes of A, B, C and D, I acknowledge that I’ve been very blessed in this writing journey. I remember each and everyone (friends, booksellers, schools) who opened doors of opportunity for me when they could’ve just as easily shut them in my face. And I’m so grateful for my small but supportive community of friends and readers who are my cheerleaders in this mostly-lonely endeavor that is writing.

In the sea of noise, things are far from smooth-sailing. Most times, I struggle just to stay adrift and not lose sight of my end goal which, for a long time, I’d believed was publication. Lately, however, I think that’s changed.

I just wanna keep on writing.

Photo: Pinterest

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What Now?: Impostor Syndrome Is Real

Image via Pinterest

Second in my #WhatNow? series chronicling life after publication, is an unfortunate condition called “Impostor Syndrome.”

Wikipedia calls it a concept describing someone who’s unable to internalize their accomplishments and feels a persistent fear for being exposed as a fraud. This Fast Company article talks about the five types of people most susceptible to it, and this piece from The Guardian calls it a confidence-sapping form of anxiety which only grows more acute when one achieves more external success.

Well, not to get into semantics or anything, but since Tea in Pajamas was published, this whole people will soon find out you’re useless monologue has been playing out in my mind ad nauseum.

Despite all evidence to show the book’s been generally well received, I keep undercutting and downplaying my success (even writing the word ‘success’ gives me the heebie jeebies) to all and anyone who’d even think to praise it.

Typically included in my litany of self-abuse is the strong assertion that I’m in fact not a writer—and that my sequel’s gonna expose me for the fraud that I am—as well as the fixed idea that no one in the literary community would ever take me seriously because I self-published.

That’s pretty harsh, wouldn’t you call it? And that voice sounds suspiciously like the lizard/dragon creature from a time not so long ago. In my ED recovery, I found that the tried-and-true way of getting it to shut up and get lost is first to tell it to do that, and next do the exact opposite of what it claims you can never do.

It’s a pity, therefore, that have I haven’t exactly been standing up to the negative mind chatter. Instead, I’ve been pleading “writer’s block” and “lack of time” — legit reasons by themselves — when for the most part, I’ve been passively allowing it to get to me.

When Tea in Pajamas was published, I truly thought the hardest part was over. I didn’t even begin to imagine the weight of pressure I’d put on myself for producing a sequel that would do the first book/my readers/myself justice.

On the whole, most people felt the first book was a light-hearted read, but a good number also shared with me their desire to see a heavier hand in the adventure sequences. And the sequel needs to and absolutely will have that, but I’m also not gonna  throw in a bunch of dragons, knights, and wizards for the sake of it. My present challenge is injecting the right amount of adventure, mystery, fantasy, and—dare I say—darkness, without jeopardizing authenticity or distracting from the essence of the storyline. And it’s tricky and time-consuming, and boy does it take quite a bit of guts to pull off!

I am now five and a half chapters in, and maybe that might appear to be the midway mark, but we’re only just moving into the crux of things. A lot is going on both in the sequel and in my head, and Impostor Syndrome sure doesn’t make it a smooth ride.

Will it all be worth it?, I often wonder. What does this book want to achieve? Do I have anything to prove by writing it? Wouldn’t it all be easier to just be happy that I published Tea in Pajamas and left it at that?

It is my earnest hope that in calling out Impostor Syndrome for what it is, I am taking my first steps toward recognizing the problem and finding a way to move forward constructively. God knows the number of times I’ve taken the mental diatribes at face value and seriously considered aborting the sequel and shutting down this website altogether.

And yet something has always kept me from doing that.

As I finish up this post, I’m thinking of the odd possibility that the voice behind Impostor Syndrome is right—that I’m not a real writer and I’m only trying to pass off as one. That I’d be shunned and ridiculed by real publishers, and my sequel would be an embarrassing legacy long after I’ve passed on.

And actually I think… so what? Even if I produced a laughably awful sequel—though I’m working hard to diminish that possibility!—I’ll know at least I bothered to try when I could’ve easily called it a day. And I have yet to meet an author who was hauled into prison for bad writing.

Perhaps at the end of the day, writer or no, I’m OK with just being someone who loves to write. Is writing easy? No. Will I get there? I don’t know.

But do I consider it my honor and privilege to breathe life into another world and bunch of characters I’ve grown to know and love deeply?

Yes absolutely.

What Now?: Three Things I’ve Learned Post-Publication

Last Christmas, we did a “Teys in Pajamas” photoshoot to celebrate TIP turning one. Photo by Eadwine Lay of Plush Photography.

It’s been almost two years since Tea in Pajamas was first published, and what a ride it’s been! Today’s post will the first in a series entitled #WhatNow?, in which I document personal insights from my post-publication and sequel-writing journey.

A basic premise: I thought I’d learned plenty from the road toward publication, but in all seriousness, it’s the post-publication journey that’s kicking my ass. Throw into the mix the grand endeavor to write a sequel one can only hope will live up to the first, if not outdo it, and things get even trickier.

To even begin to describe what I mean, here are three major lessons I’ve learned since the time ‘Tea in Pajamas’ saw the light of day.

1. It’s a whole new world post-publication

Wait, what? Isn’t print publication the be-all and end-all of an author’s publishing trajectory? To some degree, yes. I mean, you gotta have an actual product to talk about in the first place. But that’s also when the real work begins: the part where you have to get out there and hustle remind people that: 1) you exist; and 2) you’re still writing.

It’s all well and good to create Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads and Pinterest accounts—not to mention an official website—but devoting time and resources to keeping them updated with fresh content is a whole other animal.

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