Quit-your-job-and-travel-the-world could be the latest epitome of success for the millennials. But do you really have to quit your job to travel?
My first traveling experience, as an adult, was to Bandung, a city 185 kilometres away from my hometown. It was supposed to be a trip with a friend, but the friend cancelled at the last minute.
I was traveling with a group.
When we visited a museum, the group were flocking the first room we entered. It was packed.
Being short, I could not see anything. So I ran to the emptiest room.
The group started the tour from the front of the museum to the back, following the guide and the timeline of history. I decided to start from the back of the museum to the front (time is an illusion anyway).
That was when I knew I would never be a good tour-group member.
The rest of my traveling journeys only happened because of work. There were company outings abroad and business meetings. I extended some for a well-deserved vacation alone.
At some point, back home, I started missing the feeling of being in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by strangers.
From my desk at work, in the sleepy afternoons, I stalked Val’s and Elys’ blogs. I read each post with devotion. I want to be like them.
I want to be adventurous.
I want to meet guys abroad and go for a walk with them by the beach. I want to stroke a stray cat. I want to volunteer and exchange my optimism with a roof over my head. I want to connect with people. I want to befriend strangers. I want to read in an unfamiliar setting. I want to be melancholic in a faraway land.
So, I started to travel and paid for it by myself. I liked it. I spend most of my money to travel, then work more to save some more, to travel more. And so it goes.
I didn’t quit my job to travel. I quit my job to have more flexibility in doing the things I have always wanted to do: writing, teaching, working on creative projects with friends.
It’s just that once and a while, I travel.
I used to write about my traveling journeys diligently: taking pictures with my DSLR, documenting everything, and publishing it in the blog a few weeks after I got back.
I thought this was why I travel.
One day, I got an opportunity to travel around the archipelago for work. On the road, I lost my external hard-disk. It was where I kept all the notes and pictures I took during the journey. It was where I kept all the notes and pictures I took during all of my journeys, ever.
I have no pictures to prove where I’ve been. I cannot post those colourful images I’ve filtered and edited. There would be no likes or comments. I won’t be able to use any pictures for anything anymore.
I was surprised to find out that I only sulked about this for 2 hours. Then I let go.
I keep traveling. Since then, I don’t even bother to take my DSLR with me. I don’t even bother if I didn’t post anything about my traveling journeys afterwards.
I travel simply because I feel a tug at my heartstrings to go somewhere. I have no valid reason as to why I travel or why I choose a certain place to travel to.
I just follow the tug.
My friend once asked me if he should quit his job to travel.
I asked him: “If you are not allowed to show or tell anyone, ever, about your traveling journeys, would you still want to quit your job to travel?”
He looked at me for a second, and shrugged. “Well, came to think about it, probably not.”
Everywhere, really. But then, you would have thrown some popcorns my way. To avoid that from happening (not that I mind; because actually I do love popcorns), I’ve gathered 30 blogpost ideas for you to play with. They might come in handy when you’ve already got a certain topic, theme, or story you’d like to write for your blog, but found yourself stuck and couldn’t move forward.
When reading the 30 blogpost ideas below, change [The Topic] with whatever theme, topic, or story you have in mind. See which ideas spark an inspiration in you, and can be executed right away. Depending on the idea & the prompt questions following it, you might want to make your theme, topic or story either more general or more specific.
But, never again should you be running out of ideas, or not knowing what to write!
BLOGPOST IDEA #1.
Tell a story about how you got interested in [The Topic] for the first time.
How did you hear about it? Why does it spark your interest or curiosity? What did you feel/think when you came to know, hear, or get close to [The Topic] for the first time? What kind of situation were you in when you get in touch with [The Topic] for the first time?
BLOGPOST IDEA #2.
List down some of your favourite quotes, advice, or messages about [The Topic] and why these quotes resonate with you.
We love good quotes. It’s short and concise. It’s shareable. It’s quick to read and easy to digest. It’s straightforward. So, do you have some favourite quotes, advice, or messages about [The Topic] you’re about to write? You can compile them all into a blogpost and turn each quote into eye-pleasing visuals using free design app.
If you’re aiming for a longer & more elaborate blogpost, ask yourself why each quote resonates with you. Why did you find those quotes particularly relevant to you in the past (or in the present)? Did you experience something that makes you feel so ‘close’ to some particular quotes? Did some quotes remind you of someone?
BLOGPOST IDEA #3.
Create a recommended reading list containing some books you have found truly useful about [The Topic].
If you’re an avid reader, this will be an enjoyable feast! You can simply create your recommended list of books related to [The Topic]. You can also pick 1-2 memorable quotes/lines from each book; and for a longer post, write about the major lessons you’ve learned from each book; or how each one impact you and your views about [The Topic].
BLOGPOST IDEA #4.
Interview some people who are interested in [The Topic] or related to [The Topic] in some ways. Collect their stories as a round-up or as a blog series.
It’s always nice to get connected to those who share the same passion with us. In one and other way, it makes us feel less alone in the world. It makes us feel like we’re a part of a bigger community. Listening to what different people have to say about a similar topic, theme, or issue will enrich us. It will help us understand the many facets, layers, and experiences other people are having.
Experience is the greatest teacher. And we can also learn from other people’s experiences. Get in touch with some people related to [The Topic]. Of course, it’s good if they are industry leaders, popular, or influential, but don’t let this stop you. It doesn’t matter that much who these people are.
They can simply be a bunch of nice and fun people to talk to about [The Topic], and they will definitely have a story to tell. Each story is interesting in its own way. So, have fun and interview your friends, your online friends, another blogger blogging on [The Topic], people who are working in jobs related to [The Topic], your parents…
You can write a blogpost from this interview and feature the person you’ve interviewed. Or, if you like this approach too much, you can also create a blog series—in which, from time to time, you’ll feature an interview with a certain someone about [The Topic].
BLOGPOST IDEA #5.
Post an update, a forecast, a trend, or a thought about where you think [The Topic] is heading in the upcoming year.
If you like desk research, this could be the way to go. Find out what other people say about the trends/forecasts related to [The Topic], and then weigh in your own opinion. Do you think [The Topic] is really heading into that certain direction? Why? Have you been experiencing any indication of things heading that way? Have you also tried/experienced the latest updates/trends they are suggesting? Do you like it? What do you think about it?
BLOGPOST IDEA #6.
What are some of your personal/professional concerns related to [The Topic]? Why?
It’s interesting to ask yourself about the things that make you scared, angry, sad, concerned, ashamed, embarrassed, or uncomfortable. These things can say a lot about us; and a lot can also be said about [The Topic] if we’re looking at it through those feelings.
Is there something that make you feel angry, sad, scared, concerned, ashamed, embarrassed, or uncomfortable about [The Topic]? Why do you experience those feelings, and why does a particular thing about [The Topic] make you feel this way? Have you yourself experienced the feeling, or have someone you know experienced it? Do you have any idea on why these uncomfortable things related to [The Topic] happen?
BLOGPOST IDEA #7.
What should people do to be able to enjoy [The Topic] more?
Think of people who are interested in [The Topic], but found some parts of [The Topic] hard, annoying, challenging, difficult, or draining. Do you have any tips, ideas, or experiences on what they can do to enjoy [The Topic] more? Do you know something that can make [The Topic] feels easier, lighter, or friendlier?
BLOGPOST IDEA #8.
Why should people pay more attention to [The Topic]?
What do you think is really important about [The Topic]? Are there some fundamental things people should know about? What were some of the things you wished you knew about [The Topic] at the first place? Can you tell people about the bigger impact of [The Topic]? What about seeing [The Topic] with a bird-eye view: is there anything important related to [The Topic] globally, nationally, locally?
BLOGPOST IDEA #9.
You might not know everything there is to know, but you know for sure these 3 things about [The Topic].
Either because you’ve experienced it first-hand, or because you’ve been in touch with [The Topic] for some time, let people know 3 things you know for sure about [The Topic]. You can also share a more elaborate explanation about your journey/thinking process that has helped you come to this conclusion. Of course, you can list down 5 or 7 things you know about [The Topic]; but 3 is a good number to start. It’s not too intimidating to think about 3 things you know for sure about [The Topic].
BLOGPOST IDEA #10.
What are the 3 less-known things about [The Topic]?
Maybe you’ve heard everyone talking about [The Topic] in a similar fashion. Or there are a lot of resources on the Internet about a certain aspect of [The Topic]. But, do you think there are other sides/aspects of [The Topic] people rarely talk/discuss about? What are they?
BLOGPOST IDEA #11.
What do you find most fun, interesting, exciting, or enjoyable about [The Topic]?
It’s more or less self-explanatory. Ask yourself about what makes you interested in [The Topic]. What do you find exciting about [The Topic]? How do you enjoy experiencing/knowing [The Topic] so far? What about [The Topic] that makes you smile, happy, energetic, and optimistic? Which part about [The Topic] that makes you passionate about it?
BLOGPOST IDEA #12.
List down some of your favourite moments related to [The Topic].
Do you remember a particular day or some particular moments when you were experiencing [The Topic] and how the memories of that day have stayed with you ever since? Can you remember many of these days, moments, or memories?
BLOGPOST IDEA #13.
If you can look at [The Topic] critically, what would you criticise about some aspects of [The Topic]?
Is there any part of [The Topic] you disagree with? Has someone wrote about something related to [The Topic] and you are not on the same shoes about it? Has there been any criticisms out there about [The Topic]? What do people say? Is there any criticism that you can relate with? Or maybe you understand why they criticise [The Topic] in a certain way? Try to write about it.
BLOGPOST IDEA #14.
List down some of your favourite products/services related to The Topic.
I’m always happy to advertise great products/services for free, and I’m forever thankful for the products/services that have served me well. One thing you can do is to list down some of your favourite products/services related to [The Topic]. Tell people why you love that particular products/services, and how the product/services have helped you. Why do you think the readers should try this product/services?
BLOGPOST IDEA #15.
Review a certain product/service related to [The Topic].
Is there a new product/service in the market related to [The Topic]? Do you think you can find out more about it and try it; then review it? Is it as good as the promise it has to offer? Do you find it useful or helpful? Is the product/service friendly enough? Do you think the price is fair for such performance? Would you recommend it to everyone? Would you recommend it only to a particular type of people? Why?
BLOGPOST IDEA #16.
Tell people why they do not have to worry too much about [The Topic].
We’re all worried about something at some point in our lives. It’s only natural. What are the pain-points in [The Topic] that most people are worried about? What if someone come to you worrying about a certain aspect about [The Topic] and your duty is to console, comfort, and convince them: that they don’t have to worry too much about it because it’s not going to be that bad?
BLOGPOST IDEA #17.
What are some misconceptions people might have about [The Topic]?
Are there some myths, hoax, or popular beliefs about [The Topic]? Has there been any popular misconceptions about [The Topic] taken seriously by others? What are these misconceptions? Why are they not true? What’s the truth to be told about [The Topic]?
BLOGPOST IDEA #18.
Tell a story of someone you’ve always looked up to related to [The Topic].
Isn’t it nice to talk to someone who has always been an inspiration to you? Someone you respect, someone you look up to, someone you have always wanted to come to for advice? When it comes to [The Topic], who is this person you look up to? Can you reach out to him/her and find out more about their story related to [The Topic]? Either it’s an email conversation, a phone call, or an invitation for a cup of coffee, your interaction with this person about [The Topic] can actually turn into a blogpost.
BLOGPOST IDEA #19.
List down 3 most-frequent questions people tend to ask about [The Topic] and try to answer them.
This blogpost came from one of the most-frequent questions I got about blogging and writing in general: where do you get your ideas from? Another one: how do you get paid to write? When it comes to [The Topic], what are some of the most-frequent questions people tend to ask you about? Or, if you don’t get such questions, imagine yourself as someone particularly new to [The Topic]. What kind of questions would you ask? Try to answer these questions.
BLOGPOST IDEA #20.
Tell some inconvenient experience you’ve ever had about [The Topic].
Truth is, the world is not all about cupcakes and unicorns. There are times when things go wrong. We get hurt or disappointed, we shoot high and then we fail. Do you have any inconvenient experience about [The Topic] so far, something that happened to you and probably changed the way you look at [The Topic] since then? What happened, and how the experience changed your outlook, attitude, or approach about [The Topic]?
BLOGPOST IDEA #21.
Create a list of some of your favourite blogs/websites related to [The Topic].
Another quick-whip for your blogpost: go find some blogs/websites related to [The Topic] and curate your most favourite ones. This is a great opportunity for you to find great blogs/websites you might want to bookmark yourself, and also a good chance for you to get connected with those who share your passion.
You can also email them, thank them for having a great blog/website, and let them know that you’ve included them in your blogpost. We love being appreciated, so let’s pay it forward and appreciate others, too!
BLOGPOST IDEA #22.
Share a recommendation/advice on how people can be better at/in mastering, experiencing, approaching or relating to [The Topic].
Don’t worry. You don’t have to be an expert in [The Topic] to do this. You can always take up your own experience and look back to the time when you’re still new to [The Topic]. Since then, you’ve improved; no matter how little. What have you done to improve? Did you read something, did you meet someone, did you learn a certain aspect of [The Topic]?
Write a list of some of the things/activities you’d like to do related to [The Topic].
Some people called this a bucket list. I always find making bucket lists exciting. It’s like we’re writing down our dreams, our wishes, all the things we want to know, do, have, achieve, or experience. Suddenly, you see how you wish to grow.
Now, you can also create a bucket list of things you’d like to do or experience related to [The Topic]. It could be lessons to learn, people to meet, places to visit, things to acquire… it could be an achievement, or even a feeling. Whatever it is, try to write them down, and also explain why you’d like to do or experience these things. How would it make you feel? Have you always dreamed about it? Why doing/experiencing this is important/exciting to you?
BLOGPOST IDEA #24.
Share a story about how [The Topic] is different now than it was 2, 5, 10, or 20 years ago.
This is about old vs new, past vs present, was vs is. What has changed today about [The Topic]? Does it change for the better, or the worse? How were things in the old days, in the previous years? What do you like about [The Topic] now? What do you like about [The Topic] back then? Which one do you like best: the new or the old?Why?
BLOGPOST IDEA #25.
Create a tutorial related to [The Topic].
In a nutshell, teach someone about [The Topic]. Teach what you know, in a linear fashion. Make it easy to follow, like a step-by-step guide. All of us can teach someone about something. Do it through your blogpost. A knowledge shared, no matter how small, will multiply. And isn’t it nice to pass along something we know, that might be useful for others?
BLOGPOST IDEA #26.
Create a 7-day experiment/challenge related to [The Topic].
If you are not afraid of commitment and would love to produce more blogposts of the same topic, this could be an option. Challenge yourself for a 7-day experiment/challenge related to [The Topic] and blog about it. You don’t have to limit yourself by blogging about the results. You can also blog about the process, the journey, or the struggle: even the failure (yes, completely okay!).
If 7-day is too strenuous, make it a 7-week challenge, where you’ll blog about the experiment/challenge once a week for 7 weeks. I’m thinking of a 7-week blogging challenge to adopt this year; will let you know when I take it up!
BLOGPOST IDEA #27.
Do you know some courses, events, or workshops out there related to [The Topic]?
One way to keep improving ourselves is to keep learning and to stay curious. What about [The Topic]? Where can we learn more about it? Are there courses, events, workshops that people can attend? Are there communities of people interested in [The Topic] in your area? Are there weekly or monthly activities related to [The Topic]? You can be the one finding these out and share it with your readers. Who knows, one might attract your attention, too!
BLOGPOST IDEA #28.
What should people expect when they start immersing/exposing themselves in/to [The Topic]?
Imagine someone who’s new to [The Topic]. Let them know what to expect when they’ve immersed themselves in [The Topic], when they are no longer a beginner. Anything they need to know, or to prepare? Would they lose weight, lose money, lose time, risk their jobs, face challenges, got into troubles, be exhausted? Or maybe they would feel better, lighter, happier, more confident? Tell them based on your experience, or based on your conversations with other people related to [The Topic].
BLOGPOST IDEA #29.
What are the worst mistakes you’ve ever made related to [The Topic]?
Oh, we sure do learn a lot from our mistakes! But sharing your mistake for others to learn about it could be the next step. Have you made any mistakes related to [The Topic]? Sure, it’s nothing you’re proud about, but maybe it’s useful to share it, helping others not to make the same mistakes if possible. What have you learned from these mistakes? How would you avoid making the same mistakes in the future?
BLOGPOST IDEA #30.
What can [The Topic] teach us about living life?
What has [The Topic] teach you about living life? Can you think of an analogy? If [The Topic] is life, how should one go about it? Are there situations related to [The Topic] that is quite similar with a situation one could face in life?
>> Now, which idea would your turn into a blogpost?
The place I like best in the world is the kitchen.
With this heart-robbing sentence, so begins the story of a young woman, Mikage Sakurai, as she’s dealing with love and loss while trying to find her place in the world.
After more than 10 years, the novel Kitchen by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto is still one of my all-time personal favourite. I couldn’t remember how often have I taken this book out from the shelf and read it again cover to cover, I could almost remember most of the words by heart. The pages have started to yellow and worn out to the point that I started to think of getting myself another copy—just in case.
A SOVIET KITCHEN, MELON, & COGNAC.
That evening, we had just wrapped up our dinner in a local establishment in Kyiv, well-known for its varenyky; akind of Ukrainian dumpling. I enjoyed mine with gusto (mushroom-filled and served with sour cream) while Ieugenia and Kyryl told me some stories about their childhood as they remember it, when Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union.
It was drizzling outside when we stepped out, just as Kyryl had predicted in the afternoon. He had sniffed the air earlier as we were walking around Andriyivskyy—dubbed as Kyiv’s most charming street, and exclaimed: “It’s going to rain later on!”
He was right.
We huddled together in front of the establishment, thinking of what to do next. We didn’t feel like going out, but we were still eager to converse some more. So Kyryl said, “Let’s go to Ieugenia’s place, then. We can just hang out there. This way, you can also see the typical Soviet flat!”
The drizzle turned into a pouring rain, so Kyryl stopped a taxi. I sat at the back with Ieugenia, and off we went to ‘a typical Soviet flat’. According to the couple, old apartment buildings in Ukraine built during the Soviet era have identical rooms. “All the furnitures, the desk, the chairs, the bed, the stove, the layout, everything is identical!” said Kyryl with much amusement as we climbed the stairs to Ieugenia’s flat.
When Ieugenia opened the front door, I gasped at the view of ‘a typical Soviet flat’ and gasped some more as she gave me a short tour. I felt like I had just transported back to my childhood home in the ’80s. All the furnitures and the electronic appliances were the ones I recognised by heart from the times when I was still too short to touch the kitchen counter!
The tube television, the radio, the stove, the cupboard, the washing machine… I kept on pointing at them and laughed nostalgically: “I had one exactly like this when I was little! And this! And this!”
We spent the evening sitting in ‘a typical Soviet kitchen‘ that looked exactly like the kitchen in my childhood home where I could find my mother frying egg with margarine. The similarity was so striking, even to the table cloth.
Kyryl served cognac and cut some melons (“This is not something Ukrainian, to eat melons with cognac,” he laughed. “But this is the only thing we have lying around. And the melon is really good! So sweet!”). We sat there for hours, talking, while the government’s radio was playing some songs on the background.
The tint of its static sound reminded me of the days when I was 8 and found the short wave (SW) switch on my parent’s old radio. That day, all of a sudden, my room was filled with foreign languages: a different kind of strange sounds I didn’t truly comprehend. They came all the way from faraway places: Australia, Britain, Germany, China…
I listened to these radio broadcasts ceremoniously, as if it was my one-way ticket to get transported to another world: a magical one.
I was a kid who found the SW broadcast to be way more interesting than television. I sprawled myself on the floor, one ear glued to the speaker, listening to foreign people reading news in foreign languages from faraway countries. My mother was the one who told me that it was, indeed, just a news broadcast.
However, to me as a little girl, it was a promise. A promise that there was another kind of world out there, a world I felt so close and so attached to, as magical as those foreign voices wafted around my bedroom.
TRAVELING THE KITCHENS.
When I came to think about it, the SW radio broadcast was probably the first impulse I had as a little girl to dream about traveling. And when it comes to the kitchen, as a little girl I spent most of my time in it, watching my parents cook.
I squatted near the oil stove when my mother cooked a huge pan of chicken soto (clear herbal broth with turmeric and herbs) for the New Year, and enthusiastically took the small duty of brushing egg yolk on top of about-to-be-baked kaasstengels (Dutch-Indonesian cookie) as if it was a great responsibility. I hovered around my grandmother as she cooked instant noodle inside a dented pot (the bottom was blackened after years of use) for my grandfather. I adored the smell of the kitchen as my father made scrambled eggs with stinky beans and sweet soy sauce.
Later in life, as I traveled around either for business or pleasure, I found myself ‘adopted’ by a kitchen, again and again. It was in the kitchen that I could experience those moments when I was still technically a stranger, but didn’t really feel or being treated like one.
A Filipino lady who lived in Kuala Lumpur took me to her kitchen and taught me how to cook chicken with potato, tomato, onion and cream.
In the remote island of Sawendui in Papua, I squatted in front of the communal outdoor kitchen, along with the dogs and a cat, while the village women cooked rice, mussels, and shrimp the men had just caught a few minutes earlier. In a transmigration village in Pontianak, I let my eyes got teary from the smoke as the village women cooked rice, vegetables, sambal (Indonesian hot relish) and salted fish over a wooden stove. They were chatting and laughing as they cooked, the sounds of pots and pans and plates as they bumped into one another were simply musical.
I loitered around Ian Curley from Conviction Kitchen in Jakarta as he prepared beef tartare and leek salads, and sat right in front the kitchen during breakfast in Blixen, an artsy brasserie in Spitalfields, London, watching the Chef manned the kitchen staff in awe: reading orders aloud, giving instructions on what to prepare next, and inspecting each plate before it was served to the customers.
I assisted the making of ricotta dessert with honey, orange, and cinnamon for Christmas lunch in Albiate, Italy, shredding the zests of the fresh-picked oranges while the family’s black cat, Pepe, slept soundly under the kitchen table; then hovered over Elena (an Italian girl who speaks Mandarin) in another kitchen next door as she made red wine risotto. I borrowed the kitchen a few days after a visit to the Esselunga (supermarket) to make sambal goreng ati (liver, potato, and shrimp cooked in spicy coconut milk) for the family.
I spent a day smelling of coconut milk and garlic in a spacious kitchen in Amsterdam to make gado-gado (Indonesian vegetable salad with peanut sauce), rendang (slow-cooked meat in spicy coconut milk), tofu and eggplant gulai (Indonesian curry-like sauce), as well as mojito cheesecake for a New Year’s Eve dinner party.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW SOMEONE, SPEND TIME WITH THEM IN THE KITCHEN.
There’s always something magical and meditative about spending some time in the kitchen: either it’s for cooking dinner, preparing breakfast, baking cakes, brewing coffee, or simply watching someone getting busy around the kitchen counter.
The living room is too polite, the bedroom is too intimate, the terrace is too open, the bathroom is too weird, but when someone took you to their kitchen, you’ve somehow been taken in. You’ve crossed the line between a guest and a good friend.
It is in the kitchen that stories were being poured out over pans and pots and kettles and bowls; just like in the old days when women cooked together for a festivity and whispered their hearts’ secrets as they washed vegetables, peeled garlic and onions, boiled chicken broth, marinated fish in salt and tamarind, and scrubbed their turmeric-stained fingers with cucumber and key lime.
It is mostly in the kitchen, around the dining table or over a kitchen counter, a life-changing news was brought out to the open. It is in the kitchen, that family members who do not see or talk to one another as often as they like bumped into one another as they’re about to grab something from the refrigerator.
Because in the kitchen, even in such circumstances when nobody was talking, the silence itself tell a story. Just like the faint sound of the soup in a pan, discreetly boiling over small fire.
I will have countless ones, in my heart or in reality. Or in my travels. Alone, with a crowd of people, with one other person—in all the many places I will live. I know that there will be so many more. [Banana Yoshimoto]
I didn’t expect this one to be such a long article (5,000+ words, so you better really want to know about this to read it!). So, in late December, I got some email questions from the blog’s readers, asking me on what to do if they want to get paid to write.
I was thinking if I could also write about it in the blog, for everyone to read. So, I did.
This is my elaborate reply to those emails. You want to get paid to write? This is what I can sum up from my experience.
Build Your Writing Muscle + Mentality
1. Stick to a habit of writing practice.
If you’d like to get paid to write, understand that you need to let go of writing solely as an art. It has now also become a job, an occupation, a commitment. We are not allowed to use bad mood (or for writers maybe ‘good mood’) or writer’s block as an excuse not to write. Not wanting to write is not an excuse not to write. If you’d like to get paid to write, start by building a muscle and mentality for it; to start approaching writing the way you would approach any job: with an amount of determination, dedication, commitment, and passion.
With that being said, commit yourself to a block of time every single day, to do you writing practice. Writing practice is not journaling, although journaling is better than not writing at all. What I meant by writing practice here is having at least 15 minutes a day to improve your writing skills. Do you have any difficulties when it comes to writing non-fiction? Do you think you’re weak in grammar? Do you think you need to know more about how to describe a place?
Then set up a time to practice writing (not reading!) about it, improving your skills every single day. Is there a certain kind of writing job you’d like to have? Do you want to write an e-book? A culinary review? A magazine article? A viral content on user-generated content websites? Then start writing about them. Make them a part of your writing practice.
I have always wanted to learn writing about food-related essays, so I started practicing and came up with these two: about instant noodles and coffee.
2. Read & learn more of what you want to can write.
I have more than 30+ books about writing on my Kindle, and probably around 50+ more in my computer; or lying around on the shelf next to my working desk. When I find an article I love on the Internet, I bookmark and save it and read it again, and again, trying to find out what makes this article so captivating. I study the way the writer structure the whole piece, and try to emulate it; only to find out how it might work.
At this point in time, when attention-span is getting shorter, writing short for the Internet could be something you’d like to learn more about. On the other hand, there are still great long essays and in-depth articles out there on the web, so writing long for the Internet could also be something you’re interested in. No matter what it is you’re interested in, learn more, and read more.
Do not limit yourself in learning only about what you want to write. Whenever you can, also learn more about the things you can write. If you want to get paid to write, having an ability to write an article, an e-book, a novel, an essay, a sales page, a short story, a wedding vow, and a 7-minute YouTube video script would give you a better competitive advantage than a writer who can only write a short story.
Can you get paid only from writing a short story? Of course, you can.
Can you get more job opportunities if you can write an article, an e-book, an essay, a sales page, a short story, a wedding vow, and a 7-minute YouTube video script? Of course, you can.
So do we really have to learn about what we can write instead of just learning about what we want to write? I would say that the answer is really up to you.
However, when I first started out, I did not limit myself to a certain kind of writing. I wanted to learn and experience many kinds of writing, as much as possible. Later on in life, when we’ve made a name of ourselves, we might finally have the luxury to say that we only want to choose a certain kind of writing or accept a certain writing job. When first starting out, though, I’d like to keep myself open.
Moreover, how do I know what I really want if I haven’t had the chance to see what’s available out there, right?
If you’re thinking about getting paid to write because you’d like to have the freedom of working from anywhere in the world, find out the recent trends for content creation on the Internet, and hone your skills to respond to that. Check out some sites like Trendwatching, Mashable (Creative), or CoSchedule blog for some sparks of inspiration about what kind of writing jobs might be needed, and how we can prepare ourselves for a writing job that might not yet exist (but soon, will).
3. Get a (healthy) reality check.
How do you know if you have written something good, or something bad?
From my previous experience, getting feedback from families and friends IS NOT the right way to go. Either they’d tell the things they thought you’d like to hear; or on the contrary, tell something that hurt your feelings, friends or families are just not the right person to give an honest and objective feedback (I still love my friends and families, though!).
The first time I learned about writing short stories, I joined a local writer’s group called Kemudian.com, where we could publish our work and get stars, comments and feedback from other writers.
From this group, I learned that writing ‘beautifully’ is not enough. When you’re writing a short story, readers are craving for plots, for action, for something that would propel the story forward. I got all these feedback and try to improve myself based on some comments or loopholes other writers found in my story. Joining a writer’s group gives me the opportunity of being vulnerable, by sending out my unfinished work to the world: to be judged.
For me, it was really a good exercise to expose my writings to be judged. When you get paid to write and get commissioned works, like it or not, you’ll receive judgements (in many forms) from your clients on the work you’ve done. And trust me, they are not always kind. Thus, if you want to get paid to write, you need to have a thick skin to not take critics personally, and just get yourself used to it.
This is why joining a writer’s group is something I would recommend. However, please bear in mind these 2 things before joining any writer’s group:
1) DO NOT TAKE CRITICISM PERSONALLY. Just because your writing is bad, doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. If your writing is bad, find ways to improve it. If someone said your character is weak, find some ideas on how to make it stronger. If someone said your first paragraph is boring, find some resources on how to make an attention-grabbing first paragraph. A criticism is not an attack on you as a person, nor as a writer. Learn how to see critics objectively. Learn how to separate your work from yourself, or else you’ll be doomed for many heartaches along the way.
2) ONLY TAKE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM AND IGNORE THE HATERS. Some people criticised because they care, while some others are being critical simply because they do not care. Learn to know the difference. Ignore hate comments, and concentrate only on constructive criticism directly related to your work. Protect your energy from negative vibes.
How to find a writer’s group for you?
Find a group by searching it online, if possible, find a specific group for the kind of writings you’d like to submit (poetry group, short story, etc.)
Ask other fellow writers for any recommendation of an existing writer’s group in your area
If there is none, create one. You can gather 3-4 writers, exchange works via email, and give comments and feedback once a week.
4. Trust yourself and be a confident writer.
This could be the hardest thing to do. How do you tell people how to trust? I don’t really know how a non (or less) confident writer could build confidence. I think it’s something you need to work on personally.
If you’re not confident about your writings or about yourself as a writer, try to ask yourself when, or in which situation these doubts started to bubble up. Was it something someone told you many years ago, when you were a teenager? Was it that time when your parents told you that being a writer could not sustain you? Was it that time when you submitted your work to a magazine and got rejected?
The thing is, to get paid to write, you need to offer your skills to those who would pay you to do the things you love: to write. How would you get someone to work with you and pay you to write, if you do not believe in yourself? If you do not believe that you cando it? If you do not believe that you are good enough to get paid for what you wrote?
This is also a title of a book by Austin Kleon that happens to be one of my favourite non-fiction books of all time. And if you haven’t read it, I would strongly suggest you to get it and start reading.
To build your name and portfolio as a writer, this is what you need to do: showcase your write-ups, as frequently as you can. Either posting articles on your personal blog, writing for user-generated content websites, a thoughtful Facebook note, a witty Twitter update, a thought-provoking LinkedIn post, an informative Instagram caption… whatever that may be, show your work!
If your friend is consistently posting a love poem every Friday evening for a year, you would think of that friend as ‘the love poet’. So, share and show your work, frequently, consistently, and confidently! Showing your work is also a way for you to get feedback, but most of all, it’s a way for you to just show up to work and to stop trying to be perfect.
If you do not show your work, nobody would know about it. If you keep your work only for yourself, nobody would get a chance to see it. To get paid to write, you need to show your work.
2. Build your portfolio.
The next thing you would need is a portfolio. Think of it as a catalogue for your potential clients. Samples of write-ups in your blog, articles you’ve published in user-generated content websites, or viral reviews you’ve made somewhere else on the Internet… all these could be included in your portfolio.
However, most clients would ask whether you’ve been working with some other clients before; or not. Basically, they would want to know if you’ve gotten paid to write before. If you haven’t, they would think: 1) you’re not good enough, nobody wants to work with you; 2) you’re new and inexperienced.
So another good way to build a portfolio is by offering your services pro bono (or for a very friendly price) to a client.
Would you like to have a portfolio on writing about restaurants and culinary? Shoot out an email to as many restaurants as you can, and offer them a pro bono service to be included in your portfolio later on. Either it’s writing an article about their restaurants for a magazine, improving the copy of their website, editing some of their promotion materials… do some works related to the services you’ll be offering your future clients.
Take up 2-3 restaurants that received your offer, start working, and build your portfolio. Do not forget to state clearly that you would need this project to be included in your portfolio, and that the restaurant’s name or logo would be appearing as a client of yours in your website (if any) or in your promotion materials. Make sure they agree on this.
Another way to build your portfolio is to contact non-profit organisations in your area, and ask them whether they need a hand for any writing-related project. Building your portfolio while doing good and volunteering your skills would be a meaningful work!
Keep your work samples in one folder, and if possible, upload it online to a document-sharing app. The next time a client ask about your previous works, you can send them an email with links to your work samples!
Even if it’s an unpaid work, you are building your portfolio here, so make sure that you’re doing a really good work! You’ll be using these works as samples of how good you are. It’s your showcase. And these non-paying (or low-paying) clients are your first few clients! Make sure they appreciate your work (and craving for more!).
If your pro bono client is happy with your work, ask for a testimonial. Ask for permission to use the testimonial in your website, or in any other promotion materials you have.
3. Take part in relevant communities & networking events.
If you’d like to write novels, attend networking events where you can meet with other novel writers, novel readers, and novel publishers. If you’d like to write for fashion brands, join their communities, attend their events, get to know the people in the industry, get to know the agencies they are working with. Surround yourself with these people: with your future competitors, future clients, future middlemen, future assistants, future consumers.
Once you’re there, what should you do?
Absorb as much knowledge as you can, find out any information or contacts you would need, get to know the latest trend and updates in the industry. Those who listen learn more than those who talk. Use this opportunity to learn the industry dynamics.
But, above all, be a good listener, and be helpful.
I would also like to say be entertaining, but not all of us are blessed with a skill to entertain others. So, be a good listener. It is entertaining to have a good listener in the crowd. Find out ways on how you can help others. Someone needs to get in touch with someone you know? Get them introduced. Someone needs advice on where to go this weekend? Someone needs to know where the restroom is?
Be helpful. You’ll never know when these random faces and names would come to your assistance, but they would, someday. Someday, they would.
4. Find a mentor and be their ‘intern’.
I learned everything I need to know about writing business letters and documents from my ex-boss. He is my mentor when it comes to business writing.
As a former investigative journalist turned a communications consultant, he would sit with me for hours, correcting my grammar, style, structure, as well as selection of words. He would ask me about my thinking process, about why I choose to write a certain thing following a certain flow, about what will happen if this paragraph is erased, about why the writing is not as witty as it should be.
From writing a pitch email to a full-fleshed proposal, from a report’s summary to a press release, I learned through him: by reading what he wrote, by listening to what he said, by improving through his criticisms, by exposing myself to voluntarily writing more documents. Only by doing this, I get more opportunity to be mentored: thus more opportunity to accelerate my growth!
At the time I was working there a few years ago, my boss’ professional fee would be something around US$1,200-1,700, per hour. When I volunteered myself to write more business documents, I got more time to be mentored, and I did not have to pay anything (on the contrary, he paid me my salary!).
They say you are the average of the 5 people you’re closest to. If you want to get paid to write, make sure that one of those people is your mentor.
How to find a mentor if you’re not working for one?
Find a writer you respect, someone you would want to ‘intern with’. Try to get in touch with the writer, either by attending events where he/she speaks, commenting on his/her blog posts, or writing an email complimenting his/her writings. Try to do this for some time, probably 1-2 months, before asking for any opportunity to be mentored. It is necessary to build a relationship and get the ‘potential mentor’ to notice you, and get warm to you. It is very opportunistic if the very first time you contact him/her is only when you’d like to get mentored.
If you have quite a decent amount of money you can spend to pay your mentor, feel free to ask his/her rate to become your writing mentor. I do believe in a healthy exchange of energy. Paying your mentor would not only show how much your respect his/her time and credibility, it would also make you feel more serious and committed in doing this mentorship.
If you do not have the money to pay a mentor (or if your mentor’s fee is just way too high than what you can afford to offer), offer your time and skills. Tell your mentor about some of your work experience and skills, and offer your help in assisting him/her in any writing projects he/she might have at the moment.
By working under their guidance and supervision, you can actually learn faster. You’re not only learning about the craft of writing itself, but you will also learn about how to approach writing as a daily job. Most of the times, if you perform good enough, your mentor could also be the one recommending you to take job offers he/she couldn’t handle.
5. Go out and teach what you know.
Knowledge is multiplied when shared. So, if you have time, go out and teach what you know about writing. I love teaching; because the more I teach, the more I know about what I didn’t know before. Teaching is another way of learning, of improving ourselves, of transferring our mind into someone else’s mind. It’s an interesting process. As you teach, you’ll learn a few skills you’ll need to deal with a client: empathy, patience, persuasion skills, and energy management.
How do you put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t even know how to start writing? How can you explain things step by step, slowly, in a way that can be easily digested and understood? How would you keep them excited about learning more, about knowing more, about keep learning instead of giving up? How is it possible for you to stay positive and supportive after trying to explain the same thing over and over again, something you would deem ‘so easy’ but turn out to be ‘really difficult’ for others?
Thinking about taking a course in handling difficult clients? Try teaching a bunch of elementary school students.
Find Work + Keep It
1. Decide on your starting price.
You’ll need to set-up a fee for your write-ups, because it’s time for you to get a job and get paid for it. How much? It depends on how you value your work, but to get close to being objective, ask some of your ‘free clients‘ :”If you have the budget and could pay me for what I did, how much money would you feel comfortable to spend on it?”
Then build your fee based on the answer.
When you’ve built your portfolio and have had some satisfied clients, you could always raise your fee accordingly.
2. Browse for jobs and commissioned works.
Now that you want to get paid to write, start looking for jobs and commissioned works. How? There are 2 ways to do this.
First, you can find many sites offering writing jobs online, only by typing the keyword on search engines. Although it’s quite comfortable to find commissioned work this way, the downside is this: you are competing with many writers. Some with many stars and reviews, and have worked for 50+ online clients before. If you’re just starting out, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by this. However, try signing up to this service to find a potential client in your area who might need your writing service.
The second way is more traditional, but I actually prefer this one. There’s a reason why you go to community or networking events and build relationships with those in your line of work. There’s a reason why you need to be a good listener and be helpful to them. Now, it’s time to tell them that you have ‘just finished a project’ and have the capacity to take up some writing jobs. Do they know anyone who might need help in writing a copy, a blogpost, an article, an e-book?
I found this to be more effective than fishing jobs online, at least based on my experience. This is also one of the reasons why Build Your Name + Portfolio is in Step 2, something you should be doing before even trying to find commissioned works.
The thing is this: if you have built your name and portfolio well, the chance is you would have had some offers to do commissioned work already!
3. Accept the job!
I don’t really like to write about that. It’s not my kind of thing. It’s not paying as much as I hope it would. It’s a boring job. It’s not as prestigious. It’s just a small project. If you’re thinking this way and about to turn down an offer on a writing job, ask yourself this question: at this stage, can I afford to turn down this offer?
Now that writing is a job, or a source of decent income, or something that will put some food on the dining table, would you have the luxury to only receive commissioned works you like? Or would you do the commissioned works you have the capacity and capability to do?
There is no right or wrong answer to this. It’s a choice, and you are free to decide for yourself.
My background is a communications consultant. I worked mostly with big brands and corporations before, so it would only natural that when I quit my consulting job and started offering my service as a writer, I got a big chunk of commissioned works related to writing business documents.
Would I choose to work on something else? Of course. Give me scripts for wedding videos, human-interest article, personal essay or e-book writing, even popular reports. Do I accept the ‘business document’ job? Yes.
Because I know I have the capacity and the capability of doing it. Because I can get a decent income from this work while traveling. Because I want to help them to get this work done. Because I want to keep practicing and sharpening my skills in writing business documents. Because it’s a job and I’m grateful for getting it.
How long would I keep doing this? As long as necessary. As long as I am not cramped with 100+ requests to write a wedding video script; to the point that I cannot take any offers for writing business documents. As long as I still want to have some traveling funds in my savings account.
The truth is this: no matter how passionate you are about what you do, when it becomes a job, at one point or another, you’ll just have to deal with things you’re not so comfortable with. I think this is where we got it wrong when it comes to the term do what you love, and we imagine this perfect day when we can only do the things we want to do. But what about seeing it this way: it is exactly because you REALLY LOVE what you do, you CAN put up with some uncomfortable things along the way, and DO IT anyway.
If you love it that much, you won’t just quit when things get hard.
4. Get to know your middlemen (or women).
Some of my commissioned works came not from the client directly, but from the client’s agents, partners, or even the client’s friends. Most of the works came in through referrals. It was someone-suggesting-me-to-someone-else situation. I found this to be the most convenient way of getting commissioned work.
If you want to get paid to write, get to know your middlemen. These are the people who can actually hand over some works to you. They might not be the client, but they have access to your potential clients. And they may need your service.
For instance, agencies (communication, advertising, content production) could be your middlemen if you’re thinking about writing for big brands. So get to know them. When you bump into any writing-related information they would find interesting, inform them about it.
Is there a new trend in website copywriting? Is there a new project about writing a novel via Twitter? Is there a groundbreaking formula to write sales pages that convert? Share this information with them. Let them start seeing you as an expert, as someone who is always updated to the latest trend, as someone who cares, as someone they would call whenever they have job opportunities.
How do you know who are your middlemen? By joining related communities and attending networking events. That’s why we need to do this as we’re building our name and portfolio.
5. Reach out + collaborate.
When you want to get paid to write, you can’t just write and be happy with that. You also need to sell your services.
Like it or not, you need to market yourself, promote your services, and close the deal with a client for a commissioned work.
I think most of us writers (including myself) are not that comfortable with selling. Most probably because we’ve been exposed to ‘hard selling’: the pushy, make-you-feel-guilty-and-annoyed type of thing. When we’re thinking about selling, we’re thinking about THAT kind of selling.
But let’s put it this way. You’re out there about to buy a new laptop. With so many options available, you really don’t know which one to buy. There are so many options with the budget you have, and many different specs. Which one to choose?
How many of you would feel grateful to have a helpful, informative, and genuine sales person trying to help you find the best laptop for you? How many of you would appreciate it when he said, “Oh, you want to use it for designing stuff? This is the best for design works because it has this and that and that… and it is actually voted the friendliest laptop for designers in this magazine…”
How many of you would appreciate THAT instead of a sales person who just shrugs; and without listening to what you really need in a laptop, insists on offering you laptop A: the most expensive in the store?
If you’re a helpful, informative, and genuine sales person, would you still feel bad about selling?
Or if we change the word selling into ‘helping’, would you be more comfortable in offering your services? If, instead of thinking what-can-I-sell-today, we think how-I-can-help-out-today, would you see selling in a better light?
When you’re about to reach out to a client offering your services, ask yourself first: what is the one thing I know I can really help him with?
Send this email. It is actually a sales email.
If you’re still not comfortable with this (or if at some point you want to reach more new clients), collaborate. Find a friend or a colleague who is really good in selling. Someone you’d like to talk to all day. Someone who is really good with people. Then, collaborate with him. Ask him if he would sell your services and get a commission for every deal being made.
We’re always stronger together, aren’t we?
6. Your ideal job and where to find them.
So, you’ve always wanted to write food-related articles for food-related clients?
Now that you’ve had enough commissioned works to sustain yourself, and you have made a name for yourself out there, start offering your specific service for a specific client during the weekends (or when you’re not busy working on other commissioned works).
Create an offer on some writing services you can do for restaurants; or for those who want to make recipe books; or to improve the copy of a restaurant’s websites. Show off your portfolio in this subject. Offer a competitive starting price or a discount to get more of your ‘ideal clients’ at this stage. Test the waters. See if you can get enough work from this niche alone in 3-6 months.
The day you get more ideal jobs than you could handle is the day when you can turn down jobs you do not really like; or the day when you can hand over those jobs to someone else. Maybe it’s time for you to branch out and hire other writers to work for you!
The idea here is to get paid to pursue your ideal job. If you have the luxury of starting out with enough savings; so you could exclusively pursue your ideal job, then you’re lucky! If you don’t, like most of us might be, work on other writing jobs while pursuing your ideal jobs.
7. Strive to be a kind person.
More than striving to be a good writer, strive to be a good person. Be kind. This is how you’ll keep the job. Always give more than you can take, always be a helping hand whenever you can, always hand in your best work, always show up in your best mood possible.
This is the thing: when someone gives you commissioned works, they don’t necessarily hire your services. They hire you. YOU are the reason why they give this job to you, and not to someone else. To be honest, we are not that unique. There are many people out there who can write business documents or wedding video scripts. There are many writers out there who can do what we do. A client chooses you because they want to work with you: as a writer, and as a person.
In reality, the more clients you work with, you’d probably experience more of the hard times. Maybe the clients are not satisfied with your work, maybe they are not treating you well, maybe the two of you are just not a match-made-in-heaven for this project, maybe they find someone who can perform the same work for a better price, maybe you’re feeling stuck working on this project and you wanted to drop it off…
Whatever it might be, when you have a hard time making decisions, when you have to turn down a deal, to send THAT scary email, to make THAT uncomfortable phone call, ask yourself: “If I am kind, what would I do in this situation?”
And just know: that in the long run, being kindwins over being right.
Do you have a friend who’d like to get paid to write? If you think this post would help them, feel free to share it! I am also crafting a writer’s retreat program this year with Lucedale.co on how to build your niche as a commissioned writer. If you’re interested, drop me an email here.
I also feel like I’ve changed a bit (or even a lot) throughout the years, and it’s only natural that the things that once excited me didn’t excite me any longer–or vice versa. So, each year, apart from leaving the crossed-off list intact, I also examine the rest of my list to see if I want to alter one wish for another.
I keep my 100-list because these random (and somewhat silly) things reminded me of how, as a child, I looked at the world every single day with wonder and amazement. Of how I imagined a future of my own freely, without thinking about what’s possible or what’s impossible. Of how I believed that wishes–no matter how odd, could actually come true.
We were at the famous Pink Beach in Flores, when I admitted to my friend, Ramon, that I had this certain ‘fear’ of swimming in the sea. I am not a good swimmer, and I just learned how to float in a swimming pool two years ago. So, I am still a nervous swimmer in a swimming pool, let alone in the sea–although I love snorkelling (with a life vest on).
“Well, let’s face your fear, then,” said Ramon. “Just trust that if you spread yourself like a starfish in the water, you’ll float. Let’s do this,” he handed me the snorkelling gear. “Just spread yourself like a starfish and surrender. Stay calm. Do not even try to swim. You’ll float. I am here. And the water is only as high as our waists, so you won’t drown.”
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So, I tried several times to beat my fear. To not try to swim. To not panicking. To just breathing calmly and spreading my arms and legs like a starfish. After around an excruciating half an hour, I floated. My head was underwater, but the snorkelling gear helped me to breathe. I remembered the breathing exercise in my yoga practice and tried to breathe as calm as I could.
I saw the fish swimming underneath, I heard nothing but my own breath.
I surrender, and I float.
A few months ago in Raja Ampat, I swam in the sea (a bit more confidently than before), and manage to float on my back, just floating mindlessly while looking at the cloudy sky. And helped a dear friend to float in the sea, and he swam for the very first time there.
It’s a full circle.
TWO: Going on a cruise.
In mid 2014, I stopped in Bulukumba during a work trip in Sulawesi and amazed by rows and rows of almost-finished Phinisi boats by the coast.
A Phinisi is a traditional Indonesian sailing ship, characterised by its two masts and seven sails of different sizes. The boat is built traditionally, following the Bugis-Makassar design, involving 4-6 skilled workers per boat. No metals are used to make the boat–only bent ironwoods. A sacred ritual is performed before a boat is made and before it is launched to the sea. It is also said that the builders working on the boat must be kept happy–since sadness or grudges when building the boat might compromise its safety.
I was invited to sit and have some tea by one of the Phinisi builders, who told me that they were building cruise ships. Most of their customers are French. The builder shared some designs of the boats they were working on: the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, the deck…
I dreamed of cruising the vast ocean in one of those majestic Phinisi boats, of sun-bathing on its deck, of sleeping in its stylish cabin.
Who would have known that last year, I was invited on a trip that didn’t put a Phinisi cruise on the itinerary at the first place; but due to some circumstances, I ended up cruising with a Phinisi ship around Flores Sea!
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To stay on a boat for 2 days and 1 night was definitely the highlight of my 2016! I decided to ditch the comfortable bed inside the cabin and slept on the deck; feeling the night breeze and waking up to the twinkling stars.
I dreamed about being a botanist in the 18th century, having a year-long journey on an explorer’s ship, trying to find medicinal plants in the Far East.
THREE: Colouring my hair ‘pink’.
When I was in college, PINK was my girl-crush and I embraced all of her songs by heart. Probably this is the reason why I have always wanted to colour my hair pink. I couldn’t do this when I was still working in a consultancy (and hoping that my corporate clients could take me seriously), so one of the things I’d like to do when I went independent was to dye my hair pink.
I went to a hair salon; but after 4 times of bleaching, my hair refused to be ‘white’. I couldn’t stand more hours sitting in a salon, smelling bleach solutions, and exposing my scalp to this chemical thing, so I said: “OK. Forget about pink. What colour can I get right now, without more bleaching?”
The hair stylist told me that bright violet will do. So that was what I got: a bright violet hair instead of pink. But I thought it’s time to cross this one off my list. Like, pink and bright violet, what’s the difference, right? 😛
FOUR: Learning basic Italian.
One of my favourite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, moved to Italy from the US. She wanted to immerse herself in the Italian language by only speaking and writing in Italian. Recently, she published a book about the experience, in Italian. I wanted to learn the language because of this. Apart from that, my boyfriend is Italian. So, I guess, this makes sense!
FIVE: Climbing a tree.
Okay, so I didn’t really ‘climb’ a tree. But the last time I was in Ubud, Bali, I had a short trip to Bedugul Botanical Garden for an adventurous afternoon in Bali Tree Top Park. Basically, it’s an adventure park in the midst of the lush canopy of green, where you can climb, jump, and swing from tree to tree, around 2 – 20 meters high above the ground (you can choose your ‘circuit’ based on your adrenaline pump).
I won’t call myself physically adventurous, but I have to say that I enjoyed this experience more than I thought I would. It was one of those moments when I had pushed myself out of my comfort zone and realised that it wasn’t so bad after all (although it involved screaming and huffing and being pale)!
SIX: Coming back to a European city I once visited.
I am back to Amsterdam, in winter. For those people who know me well, they know I am the type of person who will switch off the air conditioner in her hotel room; even in hot ‘spots’ like Jakarta or Ubud. I love the sun. I love hot weather, and I can take more heat than I could the cold.
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The last time I visited Amsterdam was in 2015, during summer–and even then, the city gave me some cold rain showers. So, I was nervous about my winter trip, plus it was 3°C as I landed.
For the next 2 days, even inside a house with a heater blaring at 20°C, I was covered in a few layers of clothes, winter coats, and blankets. On the third day, my body must have adjusted to the cold somehow (or I’ve eaten enough fatty foods!) but the cold didn’t bother me as much. I was at home with shorts and tank tops ever since. (I’ve found a great indie second-hand bookshop as well when it was 0°C outside, but that would go for another post!).
SEVEN: Live in an ashram/monastery for a week.
It was not a real ashram or monastery, but I went to a week of silent retreat in the mountains. We woke up at 4 in the morning every day and did around 5 hours of sitting meditation per day (apart from doing physical exercise and listening to spiritual guidance). During the whole week, we were not allowed to talk (to others and to ourselves), sing/whistle, nor to read or write. We were not allowed to watch TV, listen to radios, or looking at our phone (phones and wallets were confiscated before the retreat started).
Basically it was just me and my thoughts. Without external disturbances, I felt as if my senses were heightened. I was more sensitive to listen to what my body is trying to say. My mind was clear. I was reconnected with myself.
I imagined this is how living in an ashram/monastery would feel and look like, so I decided to cross this off of my list.
EIGHT: Publishing an illustrated children’s book.
Okay, not many people knew this, not even my closest friends. But a few years ago, I went to Alor Island with a friend to read some stories to the kids there. Not only reading to them, I also decided to ask them to write stories about their lives. So, under the candlelight (electricity is scarce), they wrote their stories and read them aloud afterwards.
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Based on some of these stories, combined with my own imagination, I developed some short stories about the life of the kids in Alor–then I sent it out to my friend. She loved it, and told me that she wanted to have them illustrated, printed, and shipped back to the kids of Alor.
A few months ago, she told me that the book was republished and sold in the biggest chain of bookstores in the country, Gramedia. It is an illustrated story book called Kisah dari Alor (Stories from Alor). I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t expect for the stories to go ‘so far’.
I wish I could have written the stories better, to shape it better, to perfect it a bit… but then I realised that an imperfect work being sent out to the world is better than a perfect work that is never completed!
What about you? Do you have your 100-list, too? Are there some dreams or wishes from your childhood that are still close to your heart until today?
Travel triggers a change in our outlook: from goal-directed to present-moment. It’s not literally the experience of novelty, but the way we open ourselves up when we’re travelling.
Travel is a state of mind. We leave our routine to observe, experiment and come back with stories that we could tell. There is, of course, a variety of travel that involves box-ticking and taking selfies by the landmarks, but even that’s a starting point. Inevitably, we end up behaving a little differently for the duration of our little get-away.
On top of that, a natural, effortless present moment awareness that comes with having to deal with foreign-languages and strange hotel rooms leaves us open to not just learn about the external world, but allow the internal to bubble up to the surface.
I am travelling a lot at the moment.
This time, I travelled abroad to help my friend with a business launch. The flight times were awkward, the flights expensive; but I knew it was the right thing to do and didn’t even feel the friction. She is imminently going live with a career-defining project.
I asked myself—what is this week going to be like for me? The answer was a resounding—and curious—“I have no idea.”
Usually, I take ownership of projects. I do the tasks only I can do. I play to my strengths and drag other people with me. However, this time, that wasn’t what was I imagined would be required. I was needed to help with getting the post, answering emails, making strategic decisions—and taking out the rubbish. Being on call for whatever was needed—a bit like a doctor would be. It could be a cardiac arrest, or is could be something near inconsequential. I could be saving the day or getting coffee. I was implicitly called there for the sake of being there—as they say.
As I looked out onto the wing of the plane, I felt discomfort at this thought. Is this really what I want to do? My mindfulness exercises must be paying off—because again, I didn’t know and, without any judgement, was curious to find out. That’s the thing about travelling—it gives us the freedom to experiment. Leaving my normal MO for a week allows me to play a different role—just temporarily. It’s less scary to try new roles that way. It’s not a big commitment—it’s just for a week.
Acknowledging my reluctance, I said—that’s what I’ll do. I’ll let go of my own goals for a week—and just go with the flow.
Be reactive. Mindfulness is so hard to put in words.
One of the benefits is often phrased as “being less reactive.” It’s easy to misinterpret. In a way, it leads to being more reactive—only appropriately so. Instead of being on autopilot and presuming things, we perceive the world more openly, more fully—and thus respond more—and more appropriately.
Travelling involves being ok with regular interruptions and allowing for deviations from the plan due to new circumstances inherent in the journey. It is a way to be in the present moment.
Travel makes us more aware of the world around us. In a way, our constant slipping into daydreams or anxieties is a product of routine—and travel is the ultimate antidote.
Knowing that we have to be in the office by 9 a.m., go for our break at 11 a.m.—and so on, tempts many into wanting to escape it—if not literally, then mentally—by thinking of what we will have for dinner or whether the cute guy in accounting is single. Buddhists advocate disciplined routine as a way to be in the moment. For someone like me, it seems to backfire a lot: if I know what’s coming—why would I pay attention?
The truth is, of course, I don’t know what’s coming.
It’s a bit like the placebo effect—we perceive what we expect. How does a restless millennial like me with a million addictive apps I use to not have to be right here – convince myself to be in the boring here? It is quite challenging to be really in tune with the present moment when it’s as you expect it. I believe “watching paint dry” is the appropriate metaphor. Incidentally, watching paint dry would be a great meditation.
A sense of novelty opens the senses to not only the sights and cultures—but what we otherwise deemed to be boring.
That’s why travelling is healing—and a way to rediscover ourselves. Being on the rails of routine in a goal-directed way is a sure way to be miserable. In my opinion, this is a major contributor to the unhappiness of the many millennials who seem to passionately despise the 9 to 5—not just because they don’t like what they are doing—but they are also allergic to how they are doing it.
The concept of a “gap year” is incredibly popular now.
In fact, for many of my friends, their gap year became the best year of their lives. The common assumption is that travelling widens our horizons by showing us all these cultures and ways of thinking in an organic way. I think it changes our state of mind. Instead of being in a goal-directed routine, we are in scout-mode: What is this? What does this mean? Not the usual—how do I get from A to B while optimising for C? This scout-mentality spills over to how we view our feelings.
So what was this week of travel like?
It wasn’t just a change in geography. It was a change in mental state and purpose. What ended up happening was a surprise. I helped to code—in a way I had never done before, and made batches and batches of coffee each day. Both felt incredibly satisfyingbecause I knew they were needed. Instead of defining that I was only going to do x, y, and z, I did what seemed right in the moment.
An even bigger surprise was that I got a huge amount of “my own” work done—the stuff I had decided to shift into the background as I embarked on my escapade. It could be coincidence, but things just happened more easily—people got back, wanted to help, meet and create. Or perhaps, I was expecting that nothing would progress that week—so when it did, it was that bit extra fascinating.
Letting go of goals and expectations is uncomfortable given the culture we live in. If the reader is debating whether he or she should try it—try it in experimental mode when you’re travelling. It may just work well for you.
This guest post is brought to you by Martina: a medical doctor, blogger and entrepreneur. She regularly blogs at thinkingclearly.co. Are you interested to do a guest post here? Just drop me a note.
Anya: I was born and have lived almost all my life in Jakarta. It is a city where I have felt a broad spectrum of emotions: from hurt to joy, sorrow to enthusiasm, rage to being loved, losing hope to believing in simple things. I think a person is more or less moulded not only by their experiences, but also where he or she spends most of their time. This helps create one’s reality and, in my case, it is an important ingredient in my poetry.
I am always drawn in to lights, any kind of, since I can remember. Study lamp, street lights, fairy lights around a Christmas tree, light coming from behind the curtain of a window, even the light coming out of a laptop or computer screen. However, I also realise that if there is light, there must be darkness.
So I feel it is just natural for me to use fireworks as a representation of the coming and going of light and dark, which then become an experimental tool to explore a city’s inhabitants. You may not find many references to fireworks though in this collection. The phrase “Kota Ini Kembang Api” is not even a title of a poem, instead it is taken from a line in an untitled poem. To me, the swift changing from darkness to brightness that fireworks cause serves as symbol and metaphor. That is why I chose it as the collection’s title.
And when I wrote the other poems, I kept in mind to associate how swift the day lapses with the contrast and irony between the city lights and the its shadowy crevices to describe whatever emotion or event I wanted to talk about. When the collection was finally finished, I realised that my days went by more like a spiral than the literally linear concept.
Why poetry? Why not novels, or short stories?
Anya: When I was still in elementary school, I wrote short stories in one of my AA books so it did not attract the attention of my teacher, and distributed it around my class so my friends could read whatever I had written in it. And all my life I have always enjoyed reading novels or short story collections. One of my not many attempts at writing a short story even made its way to a collection published by the Jakarta Arts Council many years ago.
But when I started writing poetry (for an assignment when I was in junior high) I realised poetry is a format that fitted like a glove for me to express myself. No matter how long or short a poem is, every single word has to be significant. Not that novels or short stories do not have this trait. It is just poetry fits how my mind works. Jagged, fleeting, tumultuous. I feel there are so many ways for me to express them through poetry compared to other forms.
I guess I just have to live with the fact that I am not an all-rounder writer.
Can anyone write poetry? Can anyone be a poet?
Anya: As a co-founder of Komunitas BungaMatahari (better known as BuMa), a poetry community that has lived by its motto “Semua Bisa Berpuisi” (or, roughly translated, “Poetry for All”), I absolutely believe that anyone can enjoy, respect, understand, read and, of course, write poetry. I have seen this happen many times with my own eyes through various activities that BuMa organised or was part of. Many people from many walks of life were so keen in the idea of poetry. And this proved the popular belief that poetry was a difficult art form was not entirely correct.
I do believe, though, that if one aspires to make poetry his or her art, one should understand that poetry is a discipline with a long history. So it is imperative that one educates oneself at least about other poets and what they have done as well as why they did what they did. This will help one to find one’s voice and what one wants to say through one’s art.
And if one wants to write, one better reads too.
Reading is good not only to widen one’s knowledge, but also sharpen one’s analytical skill. Any writer should have this, I think, so he or she can give a better judgment about his or her own works before anyone else does. This, in turn, will make him or her more critical to any form of art he or she is consuming.
I am sorry if I sound too patronising. But I believe one has to respect one’s art as well as other people’s. And then all you have to do is add a little bit fun and some love to your poetic journey.
How should one read a poetry?
Anya: When I was in university, my poetry lecturer said that poetry was meant to make a poet’s ideas or emotions concrete, not to make it unclear for the readers. But sometimes poets like to play too, break some rules, adding purposeful puzzles into their works. Just like writing, reading is a skill to be learned. So you can spot those “mischiefs” and decide for yourself whether they add meaning to the poet’s works or otherwise.
I believe in successful and unsuccessful poems. Again, to decide which one a poem is, you need your analytical and critical skills. Learning these skills will depend on, amongst others, what kind of literary diet you are consuming and your view of life.
I notice many people choose to see poetry as only a pile of emotions that came to a poet almost magically. Well, it is true that one of the first signs that a poem might—underline might—be successful is how it touches and connects with its readers. True but debatable. And we have not even talked about taste and its politics!
However, the answer to this entire conundrum is quite simple: read read and read.
What’s going on inside of you before, during, and after a poetry is born?
Anya: Poetry is my way to understand my head and heart and all the stuff that are in them. Oftentimes I feel like something is wrong and/or confusing and/or unrecognisable going on and I cannot stop it. On a good day, lines come across my mind and I can unleash them just by opening my laptop and typing them. On a bad day, I cannot write a single thing. On an okay day, I can write a few lines but then nothing. A poem in “Kota Ini Kembang Api” took me four years to finish.
When I am writing, I focus on the stuff I said above. It is like watching your laundry spinning in your washing machine and then grabbing that one shirt you have been concentrating on (impossible in real life, I know). I also pick on associations that appear—like memories, visuals, voices, smells—and try to incorporate them in my writing. However, this happens more organically than it sounds.
After finishing the first draft of a poem, I will give it a once-over so I can trim unnecessary words, or change them, fix illogical lines, etc. I will only stop when I feel I cannot mess around with it anymore. It will also be the moment when I can begin to understand what kind of shirt I have fished, its fabric, stitching, size and fit. In other words, this is the moment of truth: have I used all the right literary tools and techniques and make them work or not.
Can you tell us more about the creation process behind the lines of Kota Ini Kembang Api?
Anya: All the poems in “Kota Ini Kembang Api” have been arranged in a certain order so that readers can read them as a book-long story. Yet, readers can also enjoy them individually as well as start or end at any page of the book and hopefully still find them enjoyable.
So, for me, each of them serves its own purpose. Like a string of pearls that I can claim as my necklace.
For more interviews with Indonesian writers, click HERE. Get Anya’s book Kota Ini Kembang ApiHERE. Photo courtesy of Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas.
It is not so much as love at the first sight (or, these days—at the first swipe). It is more like the other day when I was at the grocery store, pushing the small shopping cart through the narrow alleys (fruits & vegetables, meat & dairy, snacks, chocolate & candies, hair & body, pet), before the shelves burst out into fireworks of memories.
There, exploding into a million little pieces of moments-once-shared: ourusual granola, our favorite soy milk, our regular pasta, our instant spices for rendang and nasi goreng, our huge bottle of Pocari. Parading warmth despite the cold air blowing from the meat & dairy freezing units.
It’s beautiful to know that we’ve left traces of ourselves in one another. That despite the distance, the world is now full of them, full of you, full of us, wherever we look. It gives meanings to the most random sightings of daily whatnots.
It makes me feel as if you’re near. And, I guess, in one and other way, you are.
We share the world holding hands—or some other times, holding our mobile phones. Smiles and kisses are popping up from the palm-sized screen; words and voices are flying freely across continents: those days when I look out and see the sunshine, while raindrops fall over the sunroof above your kitchen (that I adore).
Together, we’re off on impulsive adventures: me on the back of the motorcycle, and you at the front with the GPS on. Cooking pasta and fried rice, pig them out directly from the pan. Swearing at each other at the squash court. Sitting next to each other somewhere, not talking, working on our passion projects.
Tens of thousands feet above the ground, more than a year ago, you wrote me a letter.
You said you’re flying above Gwadar, speculating that it might be located somewhere in Iran. Later on, I found out that it was an area near Pakistan’s Balochistan. An area I once mentioned in my short story that was published years ago, Humsafar.
Isn’t it funny how life keeps on throwing signs your way, teasing you in a humorous way, knowing that you’d never get it until one day you really get it?
If life were a spider web, our stories have been entangled in a heap for many years, many millennia, many centuries… connecting us with millions of lives today, as well as millions of lives before us and beyond us. We might have a long history that we have yet to discover, billions of dots waiting to be connected.
Time, slowly, will spill the secrets of the random things, decisions, and connections that lead us to one another.
But until then, I just want to thank you: simply, for taking a chance.