What if

What if you have only five minutes left to live? After that you disintegrate into nothingness, leaving nothing for your love ones to even touch or bury. What would you do to maximise those five minutes?

What if you are given a choice. A choice to choose between receiving a million dollar a year but you have live like a slave, obeying every order and command given to you or live free but on ten dollars a day. What would you choose?

What if one day you can only remember what happen within a day and your memories get reset the next day? What would you do?

And what if you wake up one day to find yourself in a completely different gendered body and you can’t die because you are now immortal? How would you feel and live?

You see, there are just so many possible events that will happen in life, some of them implausible and some of them possible. Yet, the highly neurotic ones will always think about all. I for one am aware that I’m highly neurotic and constantly worry about things. I will try and be ready for those situations. But it is not the way to live your life. Yet the power of nurture and nature will require one to have a lot of will power to overpower. And it takes time.

Even then, it doesn’t change the fact that you should give yourself a pat on the back if you are slightly less neurotic than you are yesterday. One step at a time. Towards a better you.

The writing tools I use

Every writer has a set of tools they swear by when they have to put words down for people to enjoy.

Yet, I’m pretty sure there will be people who claim that tools are just tools and adapting to the tool is more important. But I know humans are emotional creatures. Our subconscious mind can be rather picky when it comes to the things we use. So when you use the wrong tools for your work, you will feel very uneasy or just don’t feel productive at all.

So I’m gonna just ignore these “rational” humans and focus on the beautiful, highly-emotional humans who can get pretty upset about having to work in the wrong environment or tools to use. I can even see myself chuckling at the sight of these emotive people.

Anyhow, here are some of the tools that I use for my writings.

15-inch MacBook Pro (2018)

This is the one and only computer that I predominantly use for everything. For writing, I swear by it and highly doubt I would live without it.

With the 15 inch Retina display and combine with MacOS Mojave’s Dark Mode, written words can easily catch my attention and doesn’t strain my eyes out. It meant that I can write for hours and hours. The photo probably doesn’t do the display justice but if you own one such device you’ll know what I mean.

Throughout my writing journey, I have used Windows and Mac. My experience with Windows had been decent but with the recent rise of high-density display and poor support by Windows applications, I often had to squint just to make out the text because they are often too small. There were times when I even wrote the wrong words and didn’t realise until I have published the content. But that was two years ago when I still use Windows to do my writing. Ever since I jumped onto the Mac, I have never look back.

Now, not only the Mac’s display is great for writing, the 3rd generation butterfly-switch keyboard makes the typing experience truly phenomenal. I have typed on the traditional rubber-dome keyboard and mechanical keyboard. And the keys on this keyboard strikes the right balance between those two. The keys didn’t need too much force to press and I love the tactile feedback. Reminds me of using a typewriter.

And if you are wondering why my Mac desktop is so clean. Well, I’m a minimalist. A cluttered desktop distracts me from writing and stresses me out. I only keep those applications that I use frequently on the dock and that’s it.

iA Writer

Previously, I have always used Microsoft Word to do my writing. However, I have come to realise it’s too clunky. The non-minimalistic look with all the tools and functions distracted me from my main task of writing.

Then I went searching for the best writing tool for the Mac.

I found iA Writer. I fell in love with its minimalistic design. There aren’t a lot of options for you to mess around with. After you start up the application and choose your library folder, you are all set to begin to write.

The software also doesn’t require you to spend insane amount of time to tweak around with the fonts, text styles or page formatting. It relies on Markdown, which is a lightweight markup language for you to use to style your text. And because markdown doesn’t require you to move your fingers away from the keyboard, it doesn’t distract you.

In full-screen mode, everything else that has no purpose in your writing process simply disappear, allowing you to focus only on your content. This way, you can put all your energy in crafting the best piece of work you have ever done.

Apple Notes

The default note taking app on the Mac, iPhone and iPad. With its ability to sync across my iCloud devices, allow me to protect sensitive notes with passwords, and is really minimalistic, I don’t see why I need a whole bunch features like what you will find in apps like Evernote.

And there’s nothing wrong with Evernote. If you love the features on it, by all means use it. But it just doesn’t suit me.

Monologue A5 Notebook

With all the digital-based tools, it’s easy to get burn out. Sometimes, what you really need is to get away from all those tools and go back to the basics and use something that allow you to focus on writing. No internet means no distraction.

For me, I go with the Monologue A5 notebook and a simple ball-point black pen.

I only found the brand Monologue recently when I was searching for a physical notebook that I can bring with me to write my journals. At first, I didn’t know what I have picked from the shelf and was wondering why the notebook cost me SG$20.

It was only after I got home when I found out I actually got a high-grade notebook.

With acid-free 80gsm paper, you don’t really need to worry about ink staining the subsequent pages (if you use a pall-point pen) and the pages don’t turn yellow fast. That means you can get to keep the notebook for long period of time. Good if you want to review back what you have written in the past. Maybe even share with your future generations.

The slightly yellowish-colour of the paper also makes it easy on the eyes when you have to write for extensively period of time. For me, the traditional white-paper found in those lecture pads sometimes makes it hard for me to pick out the text if I used a lighter coloured pen due to the white reflection. And it’s the same reason why I use Dark Mode on digital text editor.

What about you?

These are the tools that best fit into my workflow but I am open to other better tools.

And what about you people? What tools do you use for your daily writing that you swear by and want to share with the world?

Quantity and consistency lead to quality and confidence

You will probably find this kind of article everywhere. It’s been done to shit. Because of that, I created a file, gave it the above title of ‘Quantity and consistency trumps quality’ and left it alone for months.

It was only now that I figured out what I want to write about.

I want to share my story about how writing large quantity of content and doing it consistently lead me to where I am today. And as I was writing this, I realise the current title is more suitable…

When I first started writing fiction, it was for English Composition as part of my school curriculum during my primary and secondary school days, like most Singaporean student. Back then, I sucked at it. The stories I wrote were no good. My vocabulary was limited. Grammar was all over the place. But it was something that I feel comfortable with.

It was only during my upper secondary days that I figured out what I enjoy writing the most after having read a bunch of books by Tom Clancy. And I always went out of topic for my homework because of that. So I didn’t score very well then. But behind the scenes, I continued to write fan-fiction for games like Command and Conquer series. I didn’t care so much about grammar or vocabulary. Telling a story was more important to me then. By the time I stopped writing, my right-hand developed callous from holding on to the pen too tightly. The callous never went away until the day I graduated from secondary school when I switched to using computer to write.

And I didn’t stop there.

I crafted and played text-based role-playing games with people I met from a command and conquer fan-site which I was a part of. Those games went on for three years.

And I didn’t stop when I entered polytechnic back in 2005 to get my diploma. Since then, there were attempts to write at least four novels. Ultimately, only one reached the completion. I also wrote and submitted one short story for the Golden Point Award, and attempted to write a few more short stories–all of which have been published on this blog.

Now when I look back, the sheer amount of writing I did was just unbelievable. It didn’t matter to me if I am a published writer or not because the best part was, I enjoyed the whole process.

And you know what? With this consistent exposure to writing fiction during my younger days, I get to see myself getting better at crafting stories. How I prove to myself? It was by going back to what I wrote in the past and compare.

By this point of my writing journey, I can also say that I no longer feel that I suck at writing fiction, especially if it’s science fiction. Compared to the previous work I have done, my most recent novel, The Tainted Forbidden Love, is my best yet. It was the result of nearly sixteen years of intentionally writing fiction. If you have not check that novel out, please do and let me know what you think. The link to the first chapter is here.

So, if you want to be a creator, it’s very important to continue to create something at least once a day and doing it consistently. But I have to note that, it’s not enough. Each time that you create something, you have to put emphasis on quality. That piece of work has to be your best piece of work yet given what you have mastered.

P.S. If I had someone who give me a monthly pocket money of thousand dollars and I didn’t need to work, I probably will continue to write stories with more focus and intensity. And go back to do what I did: writing fan-fiction. There’s a game franchise that I love after all.

Removing distractions and focusing is key to good writing

With the modern digital age, it’s easy to be distracted because there’s just so much more things you can do on the internet. That’s a fact. It’s especially so if you are at home and have access to high-quality internet connection. Like a fibre broadband.

Then you have a writing project that you need or want to do and it doesn’t even matter if you are making a living with it or not. You just want to write something. So You decided to sit at your desk or lie in your bed with your computer.

But then you remember you got social media. You feel compelled to use. You tell yourself, “I will use it for five minutes and then I will get back to writing.” And if you signed up for a video streaming service like Netflix, you’d rather be watching movies or TV series from it. You tell yourself, “I will write after this movie.”

With that, you went ahead to do the other thing that caught your attention and before you know it, you got sucked into the black hole and couldn’t come out. By the time you realise it, it’s already late and you got other things to take care of. The text processor or editor that you opened was just sitting there, staring back at you with a blank page.

And it doesn’t matter if you are a plotter or a panster.

If you are a plotter, you can have all the outlines in the world done and laid out in front of you, but once your attention is elsewhere, you just killed your own writing.

Panster will have it worse because they don’t plot. They write only when they get an idea and let the story take them where it is. Distractions will actually shut down a panster’s process of getting an idea and writing. I know because it killed mine three times just today. Netflix is more interesting than me doing writings. My video games are more interesting than my writings. Even my bed is more interesting than my writings. I also know it’s not fair to blame technology. Ultimately, it was me who lack the discipline to switch off those distractions and decided to use them instead of doing the actual work.

What one can do is to remove all these distractions. For a start, switch off your home router or WIFI and prevent yourself from going online. Another much easier way to go offline is to install apps that prevent internet access until you restarted your computer once you activate it. The other way is to go to a place outside of your house, preferably one without WIFI, and just sit there to write.

But if you have to go online to do research for your writing, you can do it on a different computer if you have one. Ideally, it should be physically as far away from your “work” area as possible. Otherwise, schedule a day that you can go to a library and use the computer there to do research and write down what you need to know on a paper-based notebook. Alternatively, you can sign out of all your social media and video streaming accounts after you are done. This way, you have to go through an additional step of signing in when you want or feel like using the accounts. It serves as a deterrent.

Signing out of account is something I did. I was hooked on social media and so I signed out of my twitter account. It reached a point where I don’t even bother to use it anymore. But I didn’t sign out of my Netflix or YouTube account. Thus my constant problem of being distracted.

However, removing distraction isn’t enough to help you achieve good writing. Having the ability to focus on just the one thing is equally important. And focus is really all about saying no to something and thereby saying yes to something else that you should be doing.

As writers, chances are you have plenty of ideas floating around your head. You feel compelled to write something with those ideas. If you are writing essays or articles, suddenly you find yourself wanting to write not just one but two or more pieces. If you are writing a book, you find yourself wanting to write a book for each idea. So you end up starting multiple writing projects that you never got to finish. By finish, I don’t even mean published online or submit it somewhere. Instead, I mean those pieces of work that reached their respective conclusion and you can proudly tell yourself, “I completed them”.

For me, I have a bunch of those just sitting in my computer in their respective folders. Those piece of writings never quite get anywhere because I was distracted and couldn’t focus on finishing them. When I finally want to get back to any of those writings, I just couldn’t.

Therefore, it’s important for you to be able to identify what’s a good idea to expend the effort to write and what are those that you should say no. That way you can filter out junk and spend the your energy and time on the right thing. Sometimes, an idea is not even junk and you just knew it deep down you can finish the writing. It’s equally important to be able to put that idea aside and focus on your current piece of work and see it to completion.

And how to tell if it’s a good idea? Well, listen to your gut. You have to trust yourself, the writer, if the idea is good enough to warrant a pursue. Part of the journey to develop this gut feeling comes from having read a lot. By reading, you get to understand and know the kind of writing that sells or people want to read. If not, you can follow the advice that Stephen King himself said and I paraphrase, “The good stuff stays. All the bad ideas will just fall off and be forgotten. Writing down notes of the ideas you get means you end up keeping all the bad stuff.”

How I wrote The Tainted Forbidden Love

As much as I want it, planning out my story with outlines and chronological listings isn’t something I do. To me, it’s really boring.

Instead, what I have is an overarching theme or an idea that I will set my stories in. Then I will have a rough draft of characters who will appear in the story. Along the way, more characters will be invented to create more sub-plots that ultimately join up and conclude the book.

That was what happened at the beginning of The Tainted Forbidden Love. There was a sudden story that appeared in my head when I woke up on a Saturday morning. Like any ideas, if you don’t write it down, it will fade away and then you would feel meh when you try to recall or revisit it.

Below is the notes I wrote after jumping out of bed and picked up my phone.

When the writing started, only one character was named. He’s none other than Dexter. As the writing continued, I introduced the second character, Shane.

After that, I didn’t really stop to think about what I was writing. The words were flowing through my mind and I simply let the story take me along for the ride until chapter 3. Along the way, more characters came along and I created sub-plots without thinking much.

By the time I started writing Chapter 4, the words stopped coming. It was the dreaded writer’s block. And I spent months (March to October) struggling and only managed to put in a few paragraphs here and there. Even had two depressive episodes, each lasting several weeks. I was blaming my day job and my colleagues then for making me so exhausted.

But the ending was already known as I always wanted the story to end that way. To make myself feel like I have achieved something, I wrote that ending first and then work backwards to fill in the blanks during those months.

It was only on Nov 3rd, 2018 that I closed off the last plot thread in that novel as part of my editing process. In hindsight, it definitely looked like I am suffering from a severe case of procrastination with a healthy dose of perfectionism thrown in.

The funny thing is, I won’t have it any other way because it is my process. I own that shit.

And you know what?

Go ahead and read the chapters I have already published and compare it to that screenshot of the notes I’ve written. You will notice that it had diverged. And that’s the thing about being a pantser and not a planner. Sometimes you will create something totally different that could be better than what you have planned. I love it.

I will also include the links to the published chapters below:

  1. Chapter 1
  2. Chapter 2
  3. Chapter 3
  4. Chapter 4
  5. Chapter 5