Saturday, March 24, 2007

The 2nd Malaysian LitBloggers' Breakfast Club

Finally, it's Lydia's and my turn.

It was lovely to meet everyone again - Sharon, Eric, Kenny, Spiffy, Chet etc. And I can honestly now say I've met the great Kak Teh! Oh her birthday too. Yes, Kak Teh came all the way from England. There were some new faces as well, like Esther (did I get your name right?), who is doing an assignment on us bloggers.

She asked me, "Can one improve one's English by writing blogs?"
I said, "One can certainly improve one's writing. But your English has to be good to begin with, and that can only come from reading a lot of good English books. There are some blogs written in totally atrocious language!"

Kenny introduced Lydia, who spoke about writing Honk and its success so far. It's gone into 2nd edition printing. Congrats! I spoke mostly about editing and the common mistakes I find writers making, such as:

1. not reading the instructions carefully when submitting for a writing competition
2. telling too much, not showing
3. inability to take criticism, and hence, improve.

I spoke about the 55 odd entries for Dark City 2, and how I wrote back to each and every one of the writers, thanking them, praising them on what they're good at, and critiquing what they're less good at, and showing them how to make their stories better. Everyone wrote back thanking me for my critique, whether or not their stories made the final cut, except for 2. And I know I've hurt these 2 writers, that they were not able to take my criticism.

But criticism is a part of a writer's life.

I in turn have been criticised many times. Sometimes publicly in national newspapers with circulations of over 1 million. I have also been praised many times. It comes with the territory. If you're a writer, you 
will have to take both sides of the coin.

I also have been guilty of every sin a writer can commit. I tell sometimes, not show. I use big words for a children's book. My chapter titles are horrible. I am too verbose. Sometimes people can see the ending coming a mile away. Some of the stories are not exciting enough.

So what do I do from these critiques?

I learn from them. I try to show as much as possible, not tell. I tone down my language. I try to think of more inventive titles. When not writing a literary story, I try to tone down the descriptions and metaphors. I try to make my stories and endings as engaging as possible. I leave a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, and indeed, every segment, with this in mind: "If I can make the reader want to go on for 1 chapter more, I have succeeded."

So what can we learn from this?

Open your mind as a writer. If someone doesn't like your story, it's not the end of the world. Learn from that someone how to make it better.


Lydia Teh said...

Hi, nice to see you in Speedy Gonzales mode. While waiting for my soup to boil (to free one burner for frying chicken), I'm just checking things out (didn't I say I'm spending too much time blogging?)... I'll post up mine later.

Xeus said...

Lydia, you really are addicted lah. My husband would say you play computer more than me :)

zewt said...

blogging...i think it does improves one's english. no?

Jenn said...

Wished I was therelah. Hopefully when I go back next summer there'll be another meeting!

And thanks for all your instruction, Xeus. When is the book coming out?

Xeus said...

Zewt, hope you are holding out well. I find blogging improves my writing speed, but not so much my English. But maybe for some people it does.

Jenn, I'm aiming for July. There are lots of people who yet have to get back to me about their rewrites.

Kak Teh said...

xeus, i cant thank all of you enough for making my day such a memorable one - am so touched by the introduction, the cake and i benefitted a lot from the talk. Enjoyed it thoroughly! Thank you!

Chet said...

Xeus - sorry, yah, for going "aiyah" when you said you spoke to your Chinese patients in Malay. Actually, it doesn't mean you don't know Chinese - so many Chinese dialects, what, so not surprising you had to use Malay to communicate.

Where I grew up, we had Hokkien neighbours on one side and Teo Chew neighbours on the other. We are Hakka and Cantonese. My late father could speak both Hokkien and Teo Chew but the rest of the family only knew a smattering of Hokkien. Our neighbours spoke with us in Cantonese.

Xeus said...

Kak Teh, it was so lovely to see you. I hope you can come back more often.

Chet, thank you so much for coming. Yes, it was very embarassing for everyone in the hospital :) My parents always spoke to me in English and my grandmother in Hokkien. They are from Penang. So I didn't really speak Cantonese. But my Hokkien isn't great either. After that, I went to Malay school and then to local University. No Chinese school :(

Anonymous said...

the point is, hentai is kind of cool. take note.

Kenny Mah said...

The best lesson I took away from the 2nd Breakfast Club was simply how important it is to take constructive criticism with an open mind, and to continue taking it and learning from it.

Having said that, you are not only generous with your knowledge but very light-handed with your critiques --- the editors at hand all said so --- most wouldn't bother or would be much harsher. So, you are also a very nice person in addition to being a good writer! :D

Xeus said...

Kenny....(thuds and faints).

Now I understand what Lydia meant when she said you are a girl's BFF (best Friend forever).

Got to buy you lunch now :)

I actually got a reply from one of the writers whom I thought wasn't going to reply. She thanked me profusely and I was very touched. My biggest worry is that my critiques are too harsh, but it turned out they weren't after all. The last thing I want to do is to crush anyone's spirit.

Tunku Halim said...

Hey, wish I could've been there and yes met the birthday girl, Kak Teh. My only penny of wisdom is don't get too hung out about writing - just enjoy it. I call it the Zen approach to writing!

gRaCe said...

hie Xeus,
it was great being there..altho i was a bit late. hehe..great write up on sat's event. i'll post mine up later as well..but it'll most likely be more on..we-know-who. LOL...;o)

having said that, i've learnt alot from both u and Lydia on saturday. the one sentence that's still stuck in my mine is when you said.."write from the heart" which to me is so true..=)

Thanks for a lovely time on saturday!

Lydia Teh said...

At last, I've written it up here :

Yvonne said...

Sigh....such a shame I couldn;t make it but, anyway, for all that i'd missed, I got them through your blog :) and Lydia's and others' too. Lydia, I like the photos you posted.
At least I know who is who.

So, can blogging improves English? Aye, and it also can keep one informed of the latest happening. Aye!

Xeus said...

TH, words of wisdom indeed.

Grace, it's wonderful of you to come all the way from Seremban. Wow!

Xeus said...

Yvonne, now you've gotta blog too.

Lydia, very nice photos. Your daughter can also be a great photographer one day.

John Ling said...

Strongly agree with your post, Xeus. Writing polished prose takes a great deal of devotion, sometimes bordering on the obsessive.

If you want to be a published writer, you have to stop writing solely for yourself. You are, in fact, writing for the editor, because the editor is going to be the first one to read your work.

Ultimately, she functions as the gatekeeper, deciding whether your work is good enough to be passed on to the readers or not.

Please the gatekeeper and you'll get published. =)

Tunku Halim said...

Blogging make my english more Malaysian lah!

Xeus said...

John, truer words have not been said. And we have to keep reminding ourselves how different each and every editor is. But the consistent things they look for are perfect grammar, a compelling story, show not tell and great characterisation.

BTW, I have received replies from the 2 writers who haven't written back to me already. My post must have struck a nerve. I'm very glad, because I don't ever want to hurt anyone or crush their spirit the way some people in Malaysia (and you know who I'm talking about) do.

TH, then you must blog more in Bahasa Baku!

Kenny Mah said...

Fantastic! Now you have a 100% reply record from your writers. See, I told you were very different from other editors. :D

Xeus said...

I feel very pai seh la, Kenny. My post was so whiny and complaining until a lot of writers thought it was they I was referring to :) I had to assure some of them it wasn't :)

Glad to hear the new job's going well. With a personality as big as yours, you will do very well indeed.

Kenny Mah said...

Wah, now I pulak shy only from your praise. We'll see lah; I'll certainly fo my very best at my new job.