Painting pictures with words.

Last month, my publisher held a talk show and photo exhibition for another omnibus, JIKA (my story is on the 69th page!). In this omnibus, 13 female writers & photographers worked on a short story with the premise “what-if”, combining their words with a series of photographs they had taken to paint the story. During the talk show, a girl asked me about how to work (write) with pictures. You can find my answer below.


I love working (read: writing) with pictures. They provide me the opportunity to look deeper into details, textures, and colors. These are some of the approach I use to paint pictures with words:

1. Descriptive Details.

Look at the pictures/photographs/objects and record as many details as possible—throwing everything into your writing journal. Red door. Rustic red door. Blue walls. Aqua blue. Sky blue. Bright blue. Chipped paints. Exposed bricks. Wooden window. Red window frame. Wild plants. Locks on the door. These will become the word-pool from which you can develop your sentences to describe the photograph later on.

2. Magnifying Memories.

Our memories are such a wonderful source for stories! Look at the pictures/ photographs/objects and try to remember something from your past that reminds you of this particular scene. I looked at the chipped blue paints of the wall and remembered one time when you scolded me in front of my friends because of my chipped nail polish. Came to think about it now, I should have known by then that you were such a jerk.

3. Familiar Feelings.

Look at the pictures/ photographs/objects closely, then try to recognize the feeling that is rising up inside of you. Desperation? Loneliness? Pity? The feeling of missing someone? Fear? It seemed like a long time ago since anybody walked in through that red rustic door, and a tinge of sadness ran through me—because I knew how people could get lonely at times. I meant, really lonely.

4. Intensifying Imagination.

Think about the things you can create; things that are non-existent in the pictures/ photographs/objects, and play with your imagination. You can do this by asking random questions. Are you going to tell a story about the guy who painted that door red? What kind of people live behind that kind of door? Is this a picture from that part of the town where a little girl got murdered last week? Why do they paint the walls blue?

5. Raining Romance.

If you’re writing a lot about love, romance, or relationships (like me), this will help. Look at the pictures/ photographs/objects, and think of a scene that is taking place/had taken place right there and then–for one or more of your characters. How do they end up at that particular scene in the photograph, and how does this particular place/object affect their relationship? Are the things/objects in the photographs represent something the character tries to repress?

Have fun with pictures, and have fun with words! Keep writing! 🙂

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photo credit: Ava Babili via photopincc

Missed Connections.

Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Woman on Subte D, 11.30 am on Friday 7/12, got off on Facultad Medicina
Location: Capital

We shared a couple of stops together this afternoon on the subte. The subway was crowded and you were crammed next to the door and I was standing (awkwardly) in front of you. You have blondish/brownish hair and had a blue knapsack on. I have short brown hair and was holding a green umbrella, not that you should have noticed. Anyway, I had about four stops to say something–anything–but didn’t. If by some random act of God Almighty you find this, hello. I would love to hear from you.


Some people asked me where do I get the ideas for my stories or writings. Usually I replied with, “Everywhere.” And it’s entirely true. Everything I have experienced in life and everyone I have crossed path with will become a story, a poem, a novel, or a blogpost. However, lately, I was drawn into Craigslist‘s Personals section to find story ideas.

The reason on why I ended up on Craigslist is a different story altogether and it will appear somewhere in my next book (wink), but all in all, I am amazed with the sparks of inspiration I could get from the site! These past few days, I got high just by reading Craigslist’s Missed Connections ads from different parts of the world. This section inside Personals carries ads from people who had the chance to connect with someone, but did not act on it; or did not act on it bold enough. Reading the ads reminded me of a Saturday when I spent 10 hours in Casa with Ollie, writing 50 poems each, around the similar theme: missed.

Craigslist’s Missed Connections has been my guilty pleasure, successfully keeping me up several nights in a row, curling in my bed with a cup of hot chocolate, clicking random cities, reading random ads and being mellow. I have selected some of the most interesting ones in this post. Hopefully they could spark some inspirations in you–not only to write a story, a poem, or whatever, but also to seize the moment, and to take that one chance in life: to live a life without what-ifs.


Malay Lady with Pink Lipstick Color on MRT towards Marina Bay
Location: MRT Bukit Batok – Yew Tee

Today afternoon around 4 pm, you were wearing a hijab and pink lipstick color and I was wearing blue. You boarded the MRT at Bukit Batok with your friend and I was sitting beside you. I fell asleep for a while but during the ride we looked at each other several times and I looked away because it was awkward. We both looked at each other when I finally alighted at Yew Tee. So if you happen to see this and want to make friends, just get back to me from here. Yeah?

Indian Lady on Bus 851 This Morning
Location: Bus 851

Our eyes met as I boarded Bus 851 this morning. I think we had a connection when we were glancing at each other repeatedly as you were waiting to alight at the bus stop at Little India station. I wish I had alighted with you just so I could introduce myself. Hope to see you again, or hear from you via email.

Barcelona, Spain.
Nice Conversation on L3 Line on Friday Night
Location: Diagonal station – L3 Line

It happened on 26th of July, Friday evening around 10 pm. When I was at Diagonal metro station, I asked you if the L3 train stop at Liceu. You were very kind and helped me with a nice smile. We had a nice conversation on the train and you got off at Catalunya. While you speak very good English, you told me that you speak Italian and French better. I wanted to ask you for a drink but couldn’t, since you were off to meet a friend. I regret that, because that was my last day in Barcelona. You seem like a very cool person and I want to talk more. I never tried this, but I’m just hoping you will read this. I’m that Asian guy traveling from New York.

Beautiful American Girl I Should Have Spoken To
Location: The metro

You were one of three American (or maybe Canadian) girls I stepped onto the metro with at Ciutadella – Vila Olimpica. We all got off at Passeig de Gracia. The entire ride I could not stop looking at you, and I noticed that your eyes, similarly, kept finding me. I was hoping we would both end up on the next train together, but you and your friends left the station and I was left on the other side of the crowd walking towards L3. I doubt you will ever read this, but, if so, I just wanted to tell you here (because I was too slow to tell you there) that you are genuinely the most beautiful human being I’ve ever laid eyes upon, and that, if it would be at all possible, I would not hesitate to fly to whatever American city you live in just to buy you dinner one night.

Santorini, Greece.
California Girls on the Bus to Oia
Location: Santorini

We talked briefly on the way to Oia yesterday. I’m the German guy with the T.C. Boyle book. Get in touch in case you read this, would be nice.

Rome, Italy.
We met on Omegle.
Location: Rome

Tell me what game we played: we had gone through three songs, the first one I showed you was blurred lines. You were 23, I was 19. Theory, dude, I hope you find me.

Paris, France.
Antoine Virolleau
Location: Joinville-le-Pont

I asked you for help at a metro station in Paris on July 13th. We both got off the train at Joinville-le-Pont and chatted a bit. You said I was the first person from Texas you had ever met. We said we would try to go together to the Eiffel Tower to see the Bastille Day fireworks the following day. I wasn’t able to get in touch with you because I could not find you on Facebook!

Asked You About Iced Tea
Location: St-Ouen Flea Market

You were working at a cafe at the back section part of the flea market. You gave me the recipe for the delicious homemade iced tea. You were so nice and had such a sweet smile. I saw you while you went on break and we both smiled and waved. I’d love to stay in contact. Long shot. Worth the try?

You Were 60 Something and You Were So Pretty!
Location: Paris

I was in the rain on my way back to Paris when I saw you get into the wagon, I think at Veneux-les-Sablons. You were 60-ish, so gorgeous, a perfect figure that could put the 20 something to shame. Your face was simply a sublime image of a Greek statue. The jeans you wore fit you just so perfectly. You kept looking out the window and I kept looking at you. I have your face imprinted in my mind. Your eyes, your lips, your body, your style… will I ever be able to see you? Meet you? Who knows… I am trying and will surely meet you. You had something in you, something so magnetic that kept pulling me towards you. Well, a lot of women could do that, but you were so special. Really, I would like to cycle with you somewhere around Fontainableu or around Paris. Sit with you, look at you, maybe share a cigarette and some conversation. Contact me, please!

Melbourne, Australia.
I Couldn’t Believe It. There You Were.
Location: Airport


There I was sitting in the wrong gate at the wrong terminal at 7 am chowing down on McDonalds, when you walked past wearing your school sweater. It took me 30 seconds of being frozen to jump up and try to catch you up, but you had disappeared into the crowd. Long way from London… but it’s a small world. I hope your adventure is everything you hoped it would be!


Blackburn Train 3.45 pm Today
Location: Spencer Street

You are around 50. You got on at Spencer Street, two handbags and you were wearing a brown coat which you seductively unbuttoned. Short brown hair. The sexiest legs I’ve ever seen. You were reading some stuff on employment contracts, which you were organizing in a folder. I was the young guy sitting opposite. Love to meet you.

SriLankan Stripper
Location: The Men’s Gallery, Melbourne

I met you at The Men’s Gallery. Every girl that approached me, I told them I wasn’t interested. Then, I saw you. I sat down in front of you straight away. I got a lap dance and we started talking about meditation and spiritual things. I fell in love. You told me you lived in Melbourne, close to me. I said, “I don’t usually do this, but would you like to grab a coffee?” You told me you had a boyfriend. I wore a clam shell around my neck. I am tall and wear glasses. For some reason, I think I met you for a reason. I am not sure why. I still would love to have a coffee with you.

Cairo, Egypt
June 24 Flight
Location: Cairo

We started chatting on the flight to Cairo, but I guess you couldn’t continue as you had your family with you. I couldn’t help being attracted to you, though. So please contact me if you ever read this.

Johannesburg, South Africa.
Der Salem KLM Flight
Location: Johannesburg

To the nice man who let me read his newspaper and carried my luggage into the terminal: you are a real gentleman. Thank you so very much even if it is somewhat after the fact.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
US Airways Flight 800 on Friday, July 12
Location: Rio de Janeiro

We met on our flight from Charlotte, NC, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil–on US Airways Flight 800 on Friday, July 12, 2013. I was traveling for work, you were going back to Brazil for a month vacation. We both live in NYC. I gave you my number but I never got yours. I really want to get in touch with you. Please write back or call/message me.

Beijing, China.
Your Name is Shane
Location: SFO Airport


We talked at the airport on July 7th, when Asiana crushed at SFO airport and our plan got cancelled and delayed. I wore a Cal shirt and you thought I was from Berkeley. You worked in an IT company at San Jose. I don’t know if you can see this… but I had really good time talking to you. But I guess you didn’t feel the same way, otherwise you would’ve asked my number. You were going to Beijing as I was, and I guess you would have been back to the States now.

Istanbul, Turkey.
Flight From Hong Kong to Istanbul
Location: Istanbul

We spoke briefly, and I was hoping to see you at baggage claim but never did. I know there is no chance of you reading this, but I thought what the hell. I’m here for a few days and would love to hang out. Anyway, if you read this, tell me the color of the jacket you were wearing, and let’s chat!

Montreal, Canada.
You Passed Me on Bannentyne Street in Verdun
Location: Verdun

Tonight at 9:50 pm, you passed me. Then you turned into Ave Desmachais. You were a white mature man. You were so sexy! I was walking behind you 🙂

Cute Guy at McDonalds, Late Breakfast
Location: Masson and Iberville

Cute guy, this morning at McDonalds you came back to the counter for a missing McMuffin. You winked at me when I smiled at you. By the time I got my food and sat near you, you were done and getting up. You were wearing black shorts and a black top. Wish I could have figured out how to say hi 🙂 Maybe a coffee or drink later?

The Shortest Train Ride
Location: Train from Vendome

The moment you spoke to me, I melted. Your soft English accent. You asked me if I knew how the ticket machine worked. Unfortunately, I was there with my mother and felt awkward, but lent you $6 for the ticket since you only had American money. We rode the train and you sat next to me. We talked about a lot of things. I learned that you were originally from London, now living in New York, working for a magazine. You were on your way to visit your grandfather at a hospital in St. Anne de Bellevue on Saturday and then you were off to a wedding on Sunday. I was in awe of your beauty and would steal glances whenever I could so as not to be a complete creep and stare at you. I wanted to talk to you more but was to shy to ask for your number. I regret that. I keep wishing that train ride was just a little longer, Mia 🙁

San Fransisco, US.
Bag Didn’t Blow Up
Location: Gate 80

It was just a bag of dirty socks and laundry apparently. I thought you were super cute and I wish(ed) you luck on your law career before you walked off to Gate 89 to Dulles. I regretted not being able to talk to you longer, it seemed we had a natural flow there for a moment. If you want any contacts in the bay, feel free to email me back here, and we can meet up in the future. Thanks, Stephanie.


I Got A Parking Ticket
Location: Oakland Lake Merritt/Grand

I was standing outside my car, frustrated at my parking ticket which happened to be WRONG. I noticed a few people standing outside their cars as well, looked over at you and we made EYE CONTACT. I don’t think I held in my excited smirk to well.

You shouted over the noisy traffic. “Did you get a ticket?”
Me, “What?”
“Did you get a ticket?”
Me, “Yeah!”
You told me you once got one that you didn’t deserve either.

I went back to my business of taking pictures of the ‘scene’ and you walked north down 19th St. with what looked like a bag of laundry and said, “Well, have a good day!”

You were parked with a small red SUV, you have curly hair, khaki pants, dirtied white shoes, a backpack, and I mentioned bag of laundry.

Rooftop Metropolitan Mus. of Art on 8-3-13, Around 7-8 PM
Location: Upper East Side, 5th Avenue at E82nd St.

I was sitting on a wooden bench on the right, alone, rimless spectacles, blue shirt. You have been standing 3-4 meters away, together with your mother (?), blond hair, wearing a white-gray/black-stripped top and gray Adidas sneakers. We had eye contact for 2-3 times, lasting multiple seconds. We smiled at each other, and I loved your smile! You two went away. Later, we met again near the bar when I was strolling around. Wanted to say hello to you, but then you were gone and I could not find you again. This was between 7-8 pm on 8-3-13 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, rooftop). Still thinking of you. Please get in touch with me. Hope you will read this.

New York, US.
I Rejected You, You Rejected Me Back
Location: New York

We met last week. I had too much to drink, which is unlike me. I enjoyed kissing you and from the bit of talking we did, we seemed to have some things in common and I liked your personality. I left abruptly–I was a bit embarrassed and thought it best to go home. I didn’t mean to tease you or reject you, I just had too much to drink. After a few days, I found you online and sent a friend request. I was hoping to see you again, kiss you again, and let you meet the real me. I should have said this in a message then, but I felt awkward. If you rejected my request because you’re not interested, I understand. But if hearing any of this changes your mind, send me a friend request. That night we met, I stupidly said, “If we’re meant to meet again, we’ll meet again.” I’d like to meet you again, if you’d like to.

Clark Street 2/3 Violinist 6 pm Yesterday
Location: Brooklyn Heights

You were playing the most beautiful reel as I passed you on my way to catch the 2/3. We made eye contact, I grinned like a teenager, and went on my way, and kept listening to you play as I walked down the stairs. I’m a musician, too. The playing was so beautiful that I made my way back up the stairs and put a dollar into your violin case. I wanted to leave my phone number, too, but there was something sacrosanct about the beauty of what you were playing that I didn’t want to ruin it.

So I just left the dollar, which was definitely not enough. I’m a poor musician, though. You MUST have a girlfriend or wife, as handsome as you are. But even if you are married, well… real recognizes real. You’re a beautiful musician. And if this somehow finds you and you happen to be single, which is not likely, my name is Abby. And I was wearing a strapless long leopard print dress. I’m an opera singer who now has a massive crush on a violinist whose name I will probably never know.

Dublin, Ireland.
Missed Connection on Flight from Dublin to JFK
Location: Dublin

This is completely out of the ordinary for me, but I thought ‘why not’. This is a long shot, but just in case, I am throwing this out there, otherwise I would wonder ‘what if’. I was on Delta Flight 198 with you from Dublin to JFK on July 18th. I thought you were very attractive and tried to begin a conversation with you about the book you were reading, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell”. As you were leaving you asked me if I was in Dublin often, and I replied ‘no’. The truth is I can go to Dublin whenever I wish. If you are interested and happen to come across this posting, please reply and include what I was wearing and how many little milks you had in your tea 😉 This way I know it is really you replying. I hope this finds you.


Distance is not so much
like walking a thousand miles
or being separated
by concrete blocks.
Distance is like
when we caught each other’s eyes
on a crowded train
and looked another way,
pretending to be interested
in electric poles.

(one of the poems I wrote with Ollie in Casa)

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My Saturday with Mishka.

“The tragedy is not that you’re gonna die this way,” my mother had said to me once, “it’s that you live this way.”
[The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly.]

I fall for words. Words of all kinds. Flirty texts. Random questions. Stupid remarks. Retarded emoticons. I fall for words so much, to the extent that I once agreed to meet a guy I had known online without even knowing how he actually looked like. He wrote nice emails and texts. That was all I know, and that was enough. Later on, he realized that he had not sent me his picture.

“What kind of girl agreed to go on a date with a guy she doesn’t know the look of?” he asked, laughing.

“An open-minded girl,” I replied. “And, anyway, who said that it was a date?”

“Ouch. You got me!”

So, we met over coffee one afternoon. And he turned out to be very pleasant and nice–just the way I pictured him through his words. We had a great conversation. And banters. And we laughed a lot. Oh, and as a bonus, he was actually quite handsome. Thus, don’t blame me if I continue to fall for words. My experience tells me that it’s 95% accurate.

So, yes. I judge people from the way they write (including the type of font they choose). I fall for their writing style, their choice of words, their inner voice, the way they place the right punctuation marks, as well as the wonderful feeling of reading those sentences out loud and thinking about how smart or funny or dark or interesting or intriguing the writer must be.

I also fall for Mishka Shubaly this way.


About a month ago, when I was browsing the Internet, I stumbled upon a mention of a writer I’ve never heard of before: Mishka Shubaly. I was intrigued by one particular article about him in Huffington Post, written by Cynthia Ellis. Cynthia’s words got me in an instant. Soon enough, I had been reading reviews about Mishka’s works all over the Net. Then I just knew by heart that I have to read them! Excited, I went to Amazon to purchase Mishka’s Kindle Singles–and devastated when a message appeared on my computer screen, stating that his works were not available for sale in my country.

Brokenhearted, I went to Twitter and told the world my sufferings, mentioning Mishka. I was so surprised when he sent me a direct message a while after! He didn’t know me. I was merely a stranger. But he was asking for my email address so that he could send me a draft of his story. I cried happily. I have learned many times in life, that you can get what you want if you only ask.

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When The Long Run landed on my inbox, I cherished it like my secret treasure. Soon, I was immersed in the story of how Mishka climbed out from his ‘shit hole’–that was full of drugs and booze–and tried to ‘run’ his life back on track. I read the story 4 to 5 times in a row, slowly, tracing each words, each sentences, finding new details here and there every time. I read some parts out loud–and someone else’s life, more than 10,000 miles away from here, slipped from my lips. I fall in love with Mishka’s voice. The rising emotion as I delved further into the story. The way he sounded so bare and brutally honest, so strong and yet so vulnerable.

I’d never had to get through a breakup without that tireless listener, that bottomless well of comfort, that sympathetic devil: alcohol. I didn’t start drinking and I didn’t stop running, but I did start wearing sunglasses on my long runs, twenty-one miles over five bridges in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, so the people I passed couldn’t tell that I was crying.
[The Long Run by Mishka Shubaly.]

The Long Run was a dark story. But Mishka didn’t inject depressing sobs as much as he laughed it all off–the way one should when looking back. The ability to laugh at ourselves is healthy. Because then we put ourselves not as a victim, but as a survivor. We’ve gone through that, we’ve passed, we’ve survived. Our past will always linger somewhere underneath our layers, but now it’s going to be more of a deep and reflective ha-ha story instead of a dreary suicidal tale.

The next few days after reading The Long Run, I was organizing my thoughts to shoot Mishka an email about his story and how it had affected me–both as a person and as a writer. But before I even had the chance to do so, I clicked the blue dot on my Twitter’s DM button one cloudy Saturday morning, and found a message from Mishka.


“I can’t believe I’m talking to you right now,” I typed. “This is so effing absurd, but one of the coolest things ever!”

I was perched in a comfy couch in Casa, Kemang–my favorite place in town to read and write, or have a lovely chat with my besties. That Saturday, it was raining heavily outside, and I was glued to my computer screen, talking to Mishka.

“One time, a cab driver told me. Everyone has to work, but you can choose who you are working for. I work for me. He was so right,” Mishka replied when I asked him what was the best advice he had ever received in life so far. “I started working for me, too. Toughest boss I’ve ever had! But I reap the rewards, not some fat old white man in a suit. Funny to get great life advice from a cabdriver, huh? Or unsurprising. I often find that people working the front lines of humanity know the most.”

(I didn’t tell Mishka–yet, that one of my greatest life advice also came from a cab driver in Jakarta’s hellish traffic jam. But I’ll save that story for the next post)

“How does it feel to write something as… honest?” I asked Mishka. When I read The Long Run, I got nervous imagining how different people who were being featured in the story would react to it–and to him. “Do you struggle in the middle of writing it? Like how much should you put out and how much should you hold?”

“Writing the Kindle Singles is always exhausting,” said Mishka. “I try to write them like I’m writing a private diary that no one will see. Then, before I can stop myself, I send it to my editor. And then it goes out to the world and I have to deal with the consequences. It can cause me a lot of anxiety, heartache, worry… but the end result is worth it. I’d rather have people hate me for being honest than love me for being something I’m not. I’m a flawed human being with a lot of bad habits and foolish tendencies with lots of poor decisions and ugly shit in my past. I think that’s something a lot of people relate to.”

He was right (and it was funny he said that, because a few days ago I had just wrote a piece about dealing with our pasts).


The Long Run is indeed a story about struggling with addiction–but it is more than that. Mishka’s addictions to drugs and alcohol is our addiction to a certain guy. To political power. To a branded bag. To be skinny. To a lighter skin-tone. To self-pity. To wealth. To the Internet. To an unresolved love affair. To a past.

We’re all dealing with our own addictions. We’re carrying these things inside, hiding it like a well-kept secret–so that no one will find out. Everyday, we’re all trying to run away from something that anchors us down, and run towards the freedom to be who we truly are.

Humor is all a matter of perspective. You watch Homer Simpson hit his head and it’s funny, but when it happens to you, it’s supposed to be a tragedy? Nah, I think it’s funny either way.
[Mishka Shubaly.]


“We need to find a way so I can buy the rest of your stories,” I told Mishka. “I can pay through PayPal if you have a PayPal account.”

“Please just email me some popcorns as payment,” replied Mishka. And so, I did.

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UPDATE, Jul 17, 2013: And Mishka shared this on his Facebook Page. Isn’t he just the sweetest? :’)

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There’s only one way to write: by being honest.

When my girl Ollie (a successful business woman and an author of more than 20 books) asked me to talk at Nulis Buku Club’s gathering at Urban Icon Store Senayan last week, I kept my cool and said, “Sure!”. Little did she know that I was actually panicking. I always find it challenging to talk about writing. I mean, who am I to talk about such thing? In the end, that was exactly what I did not do. I did not talk about writing. I got everyone to write instead.

Speaking at Nulis Buku Club's gathering.

I do not want to talk about writing because I don’t think we learn about writing that way.

Learning about writing is similar to swimming or riding a bike. You don’t learn how to swim by reading books or follow instructions. You jump into the pool and get drowned and then you get it. You find yourself floating.

The more time you spend in the pool, the more you feel comfortable and confident. Soon, you want to explore the sea and swim with the fish. Or jump from the top of a waterfall to a river underneath. You’re becoming more courageous and adventurous.

The same goes with writing. You just have to do it, everyday, to find that level of comfort and confidence before even starting to push your limit and go for the extreme. I am a sucker for Natalie Goldberg’s book on writing simply because she doesn’t give instructions about characters or plots or outlines. She wants us to write. S

he’ll give us a list of words or images or memories to play with and she’ll let us write about it, incorporating our authentic life experience into the pouring sentences on our notebook.

There are loads of different ways to tell a story, but I believe that there’s only one way to write: by being honest.

I guess, we always think that our lives are dead-boring and other people’s lives are far more interesting; thus we keep on finding ways to tell other people’s stories; because we think it will sound more interesting.

But no matter how good we are in telling other people’s stories, we are not those people. We do not have their drive, their voice, their experience, their childhood, their tears. However, we have unlimited access to our own memories, our own childhood, our heartbreaks, our fear, our failure, our imperfection.

We have our so-called boring lives that are rich with smells, colors, sounds, feelings, details. We can always try to sound like someone else. We can even imitate Hemingway. But we can never be him. We can never be as good. We can only be the best at being ourselves, by telling our own stories.

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Now this doesn’t mean that we have to spill all the dirty secrets and be brutally honest about every little thing (though that would be effing interesting, too!).

It’s more about that sense of authenticity.

About seeing things from your eyes, feeling things with your heart, writing things down from your real experience.

Being sad has very little to do with standing by the window, looking at the droplets of rain with instrumental music playing in the background (I committed this kind of sin in my previous writings, too, but I promise not to do this again!).

When I came to think about it, the last time I was sad, I didn’t take a shower that whole day. I didn’t wash my hair. I drank too much instant coffee and I made myself instant noodles with 20 chilis so it would be both super spicy and stingy, and I finished 2 packs of Maicih super-hot cassava chips. Then I stayed in bed, watching depressing movies on DVDs and listening to 30 Seconds to Mars’ From Yesterday over and over again in maximum volume. I turned off my mobile phone and cursed the whole world.

You have your own way of looking at the world when you’re sad. We can’t all be sad the same way. So tell your version of being sad instead of going mainstream. Or else, we would end up in our elementary school days, when the teacher asked us to draw the scenery and we all turned in two mountains, a road, a small house, two rice fields (left and right), the sun between the two mountains, three-shaped birds and blue-coloured clouds.

So that was what the participants ended up doing at the writing club gathering. They wrote. For 3 to 5 minutes, on a certain topic. The challenge was to keep your pen moving, not to stop, not to think to much, just write things down, write whatever that crosses your mind, write from your memories.

Speaking at Nulis Buku Club gathering

It was intriguing to see how people were hesitant at first, having their pens hanging in the air instead of scribbling something on the paper.

“Come on, keep your pens moving! Don’t think too much, just write!”

And it was amazing to see how they become more confident and write more freely during the second and third exercise.

It was even more surprising when some of them stood up to read what they had just written: those were great stuff; written in only 3-5 minutes. I felt goosebumps when some of them read their piece; because they were so honest, so blunt, so bare… and yet they were beautiful, unique, and authentic. You could almost see this person and get the feel of who they are just by listening to them reading their piece.

Speaking at Nulis Buku Club gathering.

Speaking at Nulis Buku Club gathering.

Eva wrote about her experience that day:

“Write first, keep writing what’s in your head, don’t stop.

“We can worry about the other stuff, like plot, grammar, characters, etc, later in the editing process.”

We then did three three-minute exercises on writing, which I would invite you to try.

First, it’s about original details. Pick an object and write — without stopping — as much details as possible about it. This is what I wrote that night:

The lamps. Hanging right in front of me, slightly above. Silver with yellow-ish light. If we pay closer attention to it, there is one big lamp, surrounded by smaller ones.

At first I thought there were only five lamps, but a closer look would reveal there are two more, slightly hidden. Hanging on a black string. They are not that bright, swallowed by the other surrounding lights. Not as blinding, but still cool as accessories to the room. It does not really make the room brighter, except at exactly where it was. (And time was up as I finished that sentence).

Second, it’s about working from memories. Pick an object and write what it reminds you of. Three minutes. Go:

The last time I noticed this type of lamp was at a meditation retreat several years ago. My mind then jumped into something completely different. I remember my love for taking photographs of lamps and reflections, in all shapes and forms. Low light photography and reflections of mirrors, from building, structures, and so on, wherever it may be.

I looked to my left and saw the very reflection of those lamps in the mirror. A different angle of the same object. I remember taking pictures with my friends at her campus in Paris. A huge silver shining ball. That was so fun. The ball is of three meters in height. We experimented with distance. What if the camera is close to the ball and we are further away. What if one of us is closer to the ball than the other. What if one is standing on the left, and the other on the right corner of the camera lens. Reflection is so interesting. It provides a distortion — often more interesting than the original! (Time was up).

You wouldn’t believe what came up from the audience. It is evident that we are all writers. Beautiful, with a variety of styles. Mine feels rather factual. But I was just getting warmed up.

Third exercise: use object (I am a…) and write how it feels to be that object. This is mine:

I am but letters “F.O.S.S.I.L” — You look at me but you are not really looking at me. You are looking at me and you remember the remains of animals and plants from million years ago, turning into coals and oil; being put in the museum for display, lab for study and books to read.

You look at me and you remember, well, bags.

You look at me but you’re not really looking at me. I am but a six-letter word, written in black. I am written in ALL CAPS. But obviously, it is still not loud enough for you.

I was astounded. I have no idea how it came about. The exercise reminds us how rich our mind is. All we need to do is put our thoughts in writing, without any self-censorship.


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Two years ago, I started bringing a notebook with me, where I could just write mindlessly while waiting for a meeting or a delayed flight.

I write about a guy sitting across me at the airport, the conversation a family is having at the table next to me in an Italian restaurant, memories that wells up inside of me when I spot a guitar case… and the notebook is full of random stuff like this.

When I read the notebook again after some time, I am always surprised knowing that I can come up with such writings or realising that I can recognise such minuscule details.

The notebook becomes a rich source for me to spice up the scene I’m working on or inserting ‘authentic’ conversations into my dialogues. Moreover, the notebook becomes an amazing portrait of my mind, of what’s going on inside of me, of how I see the world from the reality I choose.

It helps me to see myself from a different point of view; and it reminds me of who I am, who I was and who I am capable of become.

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Related links:
  1. The Only Way to Write by Eva Muchtar.
  2. NulisBuku Club: A Sweet Encouragement, Classy Competition by Nana.
*) Photographs from Nulis Buku Club gathering are the courtesy of Ollie and Nulis Buku Team.
Special thanks to the wonderful bunch at Urban Icon! They came to me and said that they want to give a watch for me as a present, and I could choose whichever I want. They did not know then that I am a FOSSIL fan, and I have had my eyes on their beautiful Georgia watch for quite some time. And I hand-picked my pretty pink Georgia that evening :’) Thank you so much for this lovely surprise, folks! :’)

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