I took up a personal journaling project this week: writing a love letter to myself before bed. I work on a thin A6-size handmade paper journal I got from a paper artist, Els.
The journal is thin and small enough, so it doesn’t overwhelm me. It feels like I am only going to work on a small project. However, the handmade paper, with its textures and colors, is also beautiful enough to make me feel like I want to do something with it every evening.
The love letter is simple, concise, and short. I thank myself for what I do that day—even as simple as cooking meals for myself or taking the time to rest. I praise myself for the smallest achievement that day (like not being angry when things go wrong or treating someone kindly). On tough days, the letter can be full of words of comfort and assurance. I write all the things I wish to hear. The letter is me telling myself, “I see you. I hear you. I know how hard you try; I understand what you’re going through.”
I think most of the time, we can be too hard on ourselves when we do something we regret or when we make mistakes. We can keep talking ourselves down and replaying the scenes of what we think should not happen repeatedly.
But most of us don’t take enough time and patience to appreciate ourselves when we do something good, don’t mess things up, or make an effort at anything—no matter how small.
Writing a love letter to yourself is about acknowledging ourselves—and appreciating those efforts that we often take for granted, such as getting out of bed in the morning or making it through another challenging day.
To me, this project is a lovely way to use my tiny journal at the end of the day. It is also a calming, creative, and relaxing reminder-to-self that my effort counts—and that I am worthy of love and appreciation from myself.
“Would you like to try working on a tiny journal where you’ll write love letters to yourself from time to time?”
In my writing workshops (either fiction or non-fiction), I always highlight the importance of writing practice to the participants–and encourage them to make a reasonable schedule they can follow to do this practice. I don’t require them to do their writing practice every day, but there is supposed to be a little bit of structure around it.
Think of writing practice as an exercise; just like working out.
You exercise and work out not only because you’re a professional athlete or want to participate in a competition. You don’t have to be great in sports to exercise. You don’t have to break a record or achieve something amazing when you’re exercising.
You exercise because you know it is good for your body, it will train your muscles, and although you may not like the process as much, you know you’ll feel good and accomplished afterward.
You don’t have to exercise every day to benefit from it, but you know if you don’t exercise at all, it won’t serve you good in the long run. The best is to have a certain schedule that can work for you–either once a week, twice a week, or maybe three times a week; for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or maybe an hour. You don’t want to exercise too much or push yourself too hard as well; because you can injure yourself. Or you may get fed up with exercising altogether.
When you have skipped exercising for a while, it’s going to feel a bit harder to get back in the game. You may get tired quickly and your muscles are going to be really sore. You may find that you are not as strong, as flexible, or as fit as you used to be. But it’s okay, that’s why you’re back exercising, right?
Similarly, writing practice is like that.
But, what should you do during your writing practice? What can you write about?
Well, technically, you can focus your writing practice on some areas you think you’re having difficulties with. If we go back to the exercising-and-working-out analogy–if you know or feel that your legs are weak, you may want to do some exercise to make your legs stronger.
However, these are the 3 things I usually concentrate on during my writing practice:
I love watching people and I can do this for hours.
If you’re in a mall, in a cafe, in a waiting room, in a coffee shop–pick some people as your ‘characters’ and describe them in detail: what are they wearing, what do they look like, do they have any obvious physical traits, how do they carry themselves, how do they speak, how do they call the waiter, do they hesitate before paying at the counter?
Notice even the smallest details about these people. Just write down your observations as facts, without judgments.
When you’re done, it’s time for your imagination to take over. If you have to guess, what do you think will be their backstories? What are their vices and virtues? What do you think they do for a living? Are they married or single? What do they aspire to be? What are some of their biggest challenges in life? If they have a dark secret, what would it be?
When you’re finished, examine your guesses and compare these wild speculations with your detailed description of the ‘characters’. Can you see why you are led to conclude or speculate a certain backstory for a certain character?
Wherever you are, try describing that place. Make sure that you only write facts from your observations. Notice everything: shape, color, smell, shadows, sounds.
When you’re done, now try to write about this place from a point of view of someone who has just gone through a heartbreak; someone who just got fired; someone who has just won a lottery; someone who is in love; someone that is about to die. Or, how would a chef, a lawyer, or a celebrity describe this place?
How would they ‘see’ the same setting differently based on who they are or what they’re struggling with?
Listen to (well, eavesdrop) a conversation; and write the conversations down the way they are being spoken. If you can’t write that fast, use abbreviations. Above all, I would suggest not to observe the people who are speaking but concentrate on writing down their conversations only.
After a few minutes, stop and leave–until you can no longer hear these conversations or see who is speaking.
Read the dialogue and based on the word selections, the umm and err, the dialects, the jargon; what can you guess about speaker number 1 and speaker number 2? Who are they? What can you tell about their origin, upbringing, education, profession? If you cannot see them and can only read the way they speak, can you guess what they look like?
What can this conversation reveal about their personality? Based on the dynamics of the conversation, how do you think one feels about the other? Is there a feeling of mutual trust, jealousy or rivalry, or maybe you can tell that one truly admires the other? How can you make this guess or come up with this conclusion? Which dynamics in the conversation give you the hint?
I like to focus on these 3 things during my writing practice because I think they are quite essential. Either you’re writing fiction and non-fiction, you can always benefit from knowing how to build your character, your setting, and your dialogue.
If you have done this exercise several times, I am sure you will get a better understanding of how to distinguish a character, setting, and dialogue that works.
Llia (Aulia) Halimatussadiah is a writer of 30 books, from novels to how-to books. She is also the co-founder of NulisBuku.com, an online self-publishing platform, and Storial.co, a social storytelling platform that allows writers to do direct publishing digitally. In the past 3 years, she’s been writing biographies of successful Indonesian Entrepreneurs. Her latest book ‘Done is Better Than Perfect’, is a biography of Indonesian Digital Marketer and Serial Entrepreneur, Denny Santoso.You can read more interviews with Indonesian writers here.
1. What is your view about productivity, discipline, and inspiration?
Llia: I’m not productive, I just have a lot of things to say. The abundance of my curiosity and energy has led me into a series of learning, from books, classes, workshops, people, situations. And every time I learn something new, I just have to share it. It can be in the form of social media posts, writing books, podcasts, and videos. Inspiration comes when you’re living with a sense of awe and wonder of the world, just being aware of the present moment. It’s so natural when you’re in the state of accepting, receiving, and allowing, you’ll get inspiration. I meditate every morning and night for at least 20 minutes, being still helps me a lot to be in coherence mode, and the effect of calmness inside will last for hours.
Once you’ve decided to create something big, for example, a long book, then inspirations alone are not enough.
You will need a plan to keep you accountable for your commitment. You need a structure. You need to be disciplined. I always said, structure before substance. Create outlines first, then pour your heart into it. I am proud to be able to be balanced (most of the time!), balancing my yin and yang, masculine and feminine energy that governs creation.
2. Do you have a writing routine?
Llia: I write a gratitude journal every morning, writing the evidence of the things that work well in my life based on my intention. For writing as in book project, I also do it first thing in the morning usually from 7 to 9 am, then I’ll get ready to go to the office. I am not writing full time, but my job as CMO at my own startup Storial.co allows me to have words, a big part of my life.
3. How do you manage a writing project? How do you organize your thoughts, your resources, and your time?
Llia: When I get inspired to write a book, it usually because I’m curious about a subject and I have spent enough amount of research that already benefits my life that I’d like to share with others. So I started a project with a clearly articulated objective, what the impact the book would make to the world when it’s done.
Then I would create a mind map to see how the book outlines would look like from start to finish. Then I’ll set the book launch date and count down from that date to figure out my researching time, my total writing time, my first draft, my proofreading time, my editing time, to my final draft. Then I’ll usually figure out from that schedule, how many pages per day I should write to be able to reach the goal on time. If I have to write 3 pages a day and I skip one day, then the next day my goal would be doubled.
When I’m writing a book project, usually my mind is fully occupied with my project, so I’m focusing on my energy and time to my writing project ’til I finished at least the first draft.
4. You are writing different types of books: novels, poems, guide book, self-help, travel book, spiritual, movie script, etc. Why? How do you want people to remember you or your work as a writer?
Llia: I’m bored if I’m doing the same thing over and over, I like some challenges when I do my work, that’s why when writing gets a bit too easy for me, I add the challenge by writing books on different subjects. The latest and heaviest challenge would be writing a biography book of entrepreneurs’ stories. The difficulty level is so much higher because I need to dive deep into another person’s life and become them for some time. It’s tough!
I want to be remembered as a person who falls in love with life. And it shows through my passion for words and my variety of books.
5. What do you “discover” when you write?
Llia: I discover more about myself when I write. I was almost sure I was an ADD because I can’t sit still. I can’t even sit comfortably at a cinema because I just need to move from one thing to another, mentally and physically. So, when I write, I need to stay with myself for a little longer, it needs a bit of forcing my body to sit down and type the words coming out of my heart and mind. And when you’re able to be at peace, your mind clears, and things come to you like a light bulb. You suddenly get it.
Whether about the content that you’re trying to write and the correlation with your reality, to the way you handle yourself to be able to finish the book. People you need to meet will also appear to show you what you missed. Writing invite you to a new piece of land you never knew existed inside you.
6. How is your stoicism reflected in your writing or in the way you approach writing and publishing?
Llia: Nothing is bad news for a stoic. When my manuscript got rejected by a publisher, I turn it into a print-on-demand business NulisBuku.com that later grows into a new company Storial.co, a social storytelling platform. You just kind of take whatever life has thrown at you and turn it into profit (laugh).
As for my writing, I guess I’m very practical in my view about life because of stoicism, my writing is simple and to the point. I kind of joke to my friend Henry Manampiring, the author of Filosofi Teras, that I need more drama in my life, otherwise I would never be able to write a novel any more!
7. How would your perfect day as a writer look like?
Llia: My perfect day started as I wake up in my little villa overlooking the hills and the pool. Then I open my wooden door, feel the fresh air in my face, then take a deep breath. I started to meditate for 20 minutes to expand my heart and reach out for my journal to write and be grateful for my day the day before.
I walked to my writer’s room just beside my pool and open my laptop. Took 15 minutes to read books on the table and start to continue writing while sometimes rest and see the forest view on my window. I will write for 2 hours then take a break to walk in the forest around my house for an hour. I start writing again after having a light lunch until around 2 pm.
I’ll sunbathe by the pool for an hour then take a 2 hours nap. I woke up to get ready to go to the beach and watch the sunset. Then taking notes for any inspired words coming out of my brain. I’ll have dinner with friends until around 9 pm then heads home. I can watch movies or read books related to my writing until around 10 pm.
This morning, I woke up to a world enveloped by a thick white fog.
I stood behind the porch, still half awake, staring at the dim sky and the hazy rows of the neighbors’ flat. For a second, I thought my vision was blurry. Feeling a bit cold, I went to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea; sipping it while sitting on a blanket by the window, watching the fog fading away ever so slowly.
As layers upon layers of fog melted away, giving way to the sun, I felt as if a certain heaviness had left my mind—parting an invisible curtain and enabling me to see things with a certain clarity.
I had been feeling a bit ‘foggy’ the whole week.
I had just completed a 21-day road trip two weeks before. Upon arrival, the first thing I wanted to do was just chilling at home for a few days, doing nothing to compensate for hours upon hours of being constantly on the road. But this ‘compensation period’ went longer than the original plan.
For the next few days in the past week, my heart was heavy.
Every morning, I needed to really whip myself to sit in front of my working desk—and actually work (and on most days, I started very late). After wrapping things up and meeting the deadline, I threw myself on the couch with a gray cloud hovering above my head. I, halfheartedly, flipped the pages of some books, played a Podcast I didn’t listen to and scrolled my social media feed mindlessly.
Probably it was something like a post-road-trip syndrome. Or a mid-thirty crisis. Or a PMS. But I started questioning why I am still doing the things I’m doing now, about where all these things are heading towards, about why I have so many options but cannot seem to pick and stick to one.
My future seemed far and foggy, and I couldn’t seem to get this feeling out of the way.
Until I started writing.
I had a difficult start at first.
It was one of those days when you sat in front of your computer, wanting to write but couldn’t seem to start. It was one of those instances when you had a pen in hand but your hand refused to move an inch. It was one of those moments when you had so many things to tell, to share, to explore; but you were staring at a blank page on your notebook instead.
The good thing was that years after years of struggling with this had taught me how to trick it.
Here are the 5 tricks I use to start writing (even when I don’t know how to begin).
To fill up that page in your screen or notebook, so you don’t have to stare at a blank space any more.
THE MAGIC OF FREE WRITING
Set an alarm for 3, 5, 7, or 15 minutes, then go crazy. Just write anything that crosses your mind about the thing you want to write about. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Just be honest. Following the advice of Natalie Goldberg, start with: I want to write about… and keep going. If the things you write turn out to be strange, chaotic or don’t make sense, you’re doing it right. Keep going. If you’re feeling like going too far off-track, write another line of I want to write about… and keep writing.
What do you want to write about? Instead of thinking about how to start writing that particular thing, ask yourself some questions. Who is this character? Why do I want to write about this? Why is his/her story important? Why I want a happy ending? List down at least 9 questions, set your timer for 3 minutes per question, then start answering them one by one.
GENIUSES TALK TO THEMSELVES
Grab your phone and record yourself talking to yourself about this thing you want to write. Imagine as if you were sharing a piece of your mind with a trusted friend. Imagine this friend encouraging you to keep talking. The friend will ask: “Why? Tell me more. What is it about? Can you explain it a bit more?” Record for 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes. As long as you need. Done? Transcript this ‘conversation’ into the paper.
Take your favorite book, article, or blog post. Read it and dissect it like a surgeon. Break the paragraphs and start digging for the structure. For instance, paragraph 1 – starts with how she missed the train (disaster!); paragraph 2 – she told the story of why she missed the train (back story); paragraph 3 – a dialogue showing her emotions about almost being late (conversations). You can also break it into something more simple like opening – how it begins – body/message – how it ends – closing. When you’re finished, you should see a certain skeleton showing how your favorite piece has been structured. Borrow that structure, and start writing according to this skeleton.
POST-IT, POST-IT ON THE WALL
This might be the greatest of them all. Get a bunch of Post-It notes. On each one, start writing one simple sentence about anything that comes to mind; related to the piece you want to write about. For example, Post-It 1, the food I eat | Post-It 2, the taste of the food | Post-It 3, the location of the restaurant | Post-It 4, the ambiance of the restaurant | Post-It 5, the waiter said something funny, and there you go. Basically, write down each sentence/scene you have in mind about the thing you want to write about. When you’re done, stick the Post-It notes on the wall. Arrange and rearrange the notes, swapping the order to get the best flow from the beginning to the end. When you’re satisfied, begin writing from the first note.
That day, I didn’t write about the things I want to write about.
I didn’t write a blog post or an article or a short story.
I wrote about my life.
About how I feel. About the questions swirling inside my mind. About my heavy heart. About my fear of having to navigate my way to a foggy future.
I went for trick 1 and 2 because naturally, they seemed like a good fit at that exact moment. And they helped me. As I layered sentences upon sentences on the page of my notebook, I could feel my burden getting lighter and lighter. Something had found its way out of my heart, out of my mind, out of the darkness of my being: right into the page.
I once wrote about the reason why I chose writing as my medium of expression (or about why writing chose me). It’s strange, though, how in some particular crossroads of my life there were always moments when I was fed up with writing. I felt as if writing ‘consumed’ too much out of me. At times, I was tired of it, feeling like I’ve had enough.
And I always find this somewhat ironic.
Because even though at certain times I was repeatedly tired of writing, writing never seemed to get tired of me. Even when I was ready to give it up, it had never given up on me. Somehow, writing always finds its way through the dark, and like a patient and passionate lover, lures me back to fall in love with it; over and over again.
Bernard Batubara (Bara) is an Indonesian author living in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He begins his writing career as a poet. Today, his works have been published in newspapers, literary magazines, literary web portals, as well as several anthologies with fellow authors. His books are Angsa-Angsa Ketapang (2010), Radio Galau FM (2011), Kata Hati (2012), Milana (2013), Cinta. (2013), Surat untuk Ruth (2014), Jatuh Cinta Adalah Cara Terbaik untuk Bunuh Diri (2014), Jika Aku Milikmu (2015), Metafora Padma (2016), Elegi Rinaldo (2016), and Luka Dalam Bara (2017). Radio Galau FM and Kata Hati are now major motion pictures. He occasionally gives lectures on creative writing in high schools, universities, and communities.
How does Bara—the writer—see love and heartbreak in his writings?
Bara: My first novel draft was a love story. I wrote it when I was in junior high school. It was about the life of a rebellious high school student and a love story that blossoms with a classmate. A cliché, I know. Like a template. But it was only this kind of story that crossed my mind the first time I tried to write a novel. The draft was completed in 2 years.
I sent it to a big publishing company in Jakarta and got a rejection letter 6 months after.
At first, love-themed stories (and heartbreak; these two are actually a unit; it is impossible for each one to be written on their own) became the fuel for my writing. Simply because I felt that these stories were the ones closest to me. It was a theme I thought I understood the most. Actually, I wanted to write fantasy like Harry Potter novels, but all the monsters I could imagine already made their appearances there. I felt less imaginative to write fantasy and I didn’t read enough to write a historical novel. So, I wrote romance.
As time passed by, with 2-3 of my books were still talking about love, my readers (generally they are younger than me) labeled me: Bernard Batubara—the romance writer.
I started to be known (or seen) as a romantic guy because I write love stories. There was one time when I tried to ditch the label because it felt like I have been somewhat dwarfed by the market. I do possess other interests apart from writing love stories. However, now I accept it and think of that label (the romance writer) as a good opportunity to deliver various ideas outside my ideals about love itself.
My other books, although the ‘outer packaging’ is still revolving around love, are actually talking about a wide array of issues. I talk about illegal logging, horizontal conflict, social condition, law, modernism, urban living, existentialism, religion, and many more. Love stories are used as packaging, a prelude to my ideas.
One of the heaviest tasks for a writer is to make the reader feels connected to what he writes. Love (and heartbreak) story is the easiest material to get people to resonate with it. I use love stories as a bridge to talk about other things with my readers.
How far do you process real-life experience into fiction?
Bara: At first, I thought one of the most important skills a writer should possess is imagination. Writing is about creating things that once did not exist. That’s the joy of writing.
However, lately, I feel as if I am not too clever in making things up. It’s easier for me to write about the things I have experienced.
I don’t need to find the scenes, characters, or situations that don’t exist. I need only to daydream for a while, remembering a situation or a scene from my past, then write about it.
But of course, it’s not always easy to write about your personal experience. There were times when I didn’t want to remember the things I needed to remember. I want to write about the things I have experienced, but I don’t want to write them all.
However, censoring my memory means a betrayal to memories itself.
At the end of the day, I just face it. Anger, disappointment, sadness, all the negative feelings that surface when I remember certain parts of my memories… I learn about them. I dissect my memories. I ask myself why it happened this way or that way, to the point in which I am able to digest those negative feelings and understand them; while turning them into stories.
The first step to remember is by reminiscing the most important part of my experience. For example, if I am writing a love story based on my experience with my ex, I will remember the most impressive moment of our relationship. Usually, that part contains a conflict, and this becomes a conflict in the story as well. I will start writing them down. From here, I can move in many different directions. I can go forward, or backward to past experiences until those memories turn into a full write-up.
How far do I go? Radio Galau FM—almost all of it is based on my personal experience. Kata Hati only takes some ideas and conversations that happen in the real world. Cinta dengan Titik is about someone else’s experience (my friend). Milana, part of it is a personal experience, and the other part is not. And there it goes.
I am most straightforward in my latest book, Luka Dalam Bara. In some of my social media channels and talk shows, I told my readers that the book recorded my romantic experience with someone (most of them know who this someone is).
Someone says, write only for one person. Do you agree with this?
Bara: I would say that I am quite in agreement with that suggestion. It reminded me of one of my favorite writer’s advice, Kurt Vonnegut. He said, write to please just one person. “If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
Another favorite writer of mine, whose name I do not wish to mention here, once said that he writes only for one person: himself. I think I have done the same thing, writing only to please myself, and I did it because it’s easier than pleasing everybody. (Everybody means 7 billion people on earth? Scary)
All stories are love stories. How do you feel about this? Is this something you believe in?
Bara: Yes and no.
No, because there are good stories I have read, and the writer does not write about romance at all. Some good stories talk about war, violence, political intrigue, glum future world, and many more. Good stories are not always about love.
However, I think even in those stories where love-themes are avoided, at a certain point they will indirectly tell us something about love. Love becomes something subtle and inherent in the story of life, and this—at times, enables us to see love stories in novels that don’t fall under the romance genre. When I read 1984 by George Orwell, I read a love story between the protagonist and his female partner, although Orwell might want to tell a story about the forlorn future of humans.
All stories are love stories—this could be true for the previous reason: love is something inherent in life and it takes different shapes. We’re not only talking about eros love or platonic love but many different kinds of love. Just like it is impossible to write a story without a mention of human sufferings, it is also impossible to avoid bringing forth a love story, however subtle, in a story.
As a writer, how do you see the difference between your male and female characters when they fall in love or heartbroken?
Bara: Male characters in fiction works I’ve ever read face their broken-heartedness in a way that is not too different from my male friends in the real world. First, they will deny it. Second, they find distractions. Third, they regret the things they have done. Fourth, they know it’s impossible for them to turn back time, so they’ll enter the next step. Fifth, they accept the fact that they are the real problem in that broken relationship.
The same goes for female characters. They’ll weep, mourn until their tears dry up, and in no time they find someone new to love.
I guess because fiction is a reflection and a result of contemplation of real-world events, the characters’ actions would not be that far different from what we have seen in the real world. These are also the things that make us feel connected to a novel or short story we are reading. We feel as if we are seeing ourselves (or our friends) in it.
How is your attachment to your works? How do you deal with compliments and criticisms?
Bara: I would think of myself as a writer that could move on easily when it comes to my work.
At the time a new book is being published, I no longer think about it. I am already focusing my mind on the next one. Sometimes, during talk shows, there were questions from readers about certain scenes in my book—and I had to dig my mind really hard to answer that—since I had detached myself quite far from that work.
I used to think of my published books as my children. In that sense, our relationship is like this blood-connection between a father and his children. But then, I thought, a good father could be one who lets his children grow independently and find their own ways to face the world. Furthermore, the world the children are facing is their own world—a world that is different from the world of their father.
My attachment towards my published works is limited to a chronological memory. Which book, published by when, or how I began writing that book… those kinds of things. But when it comes to emotional attachment or the like, I don’t think I have that kind of feelings inside of me.
I do not have enough energy to cultivate an emotional relationship with all of my works. Life moves forward and I invest my energy on my future works.
And speaking about criticism, I was once annoyed with the mocking of my works on social media. However, afterward, I realized that being annoyed had no benefit for me. So, that was it. Today, I think of all the responses to my work as appreciation. I only take into account inputs from people whose reading taste and thinking ability I trust.
The rest are just different forms of appreciation.
Theoresia Rumthe co-authors the poetry book Tempat Paling Liar di Muka Bumi (The Wildest Place on Earth, 2017) with her partner, Weslly Johannes. Theo was born in Ambon and currently lives in Bandung, writing, and facilitating workshops on poetry making and public speaking. She is also one of the initiators of Molucca Project, an effort to bring some good vibes about her hometown in Maluku (Molucca).
How do you give birth to poetry?
Theo: Poetry is born out of the most mundane things inside of me. If you asked me how the process looks like: I love to observe. I love to observe the smallest things around me, for instance, the green grass, the dried leaves with their textures when I stepped on them, a droplet of water from the tree trunks that fall on my skin, raindrops crawling on the window, the glimmer of lights from the car’s headlights when it’s dark, and the eyelids of a lover. I love to observe these things closely, slowly. Once I observed them, I connect them to the feelings inside of me. The next step is to pour them into a piece of paper.
How does ‘the wildest place on earth’ look like?
Theo: The ‘wildest place on earth’, in my opinion, is inside our head. There’s a limitless world in there. If I need to give meanings to the word ‘wild’, then I would perceive it as an ‘adventure of feelings’—of how courageous we are in exploring each and every feeling inside of us, whatever those feelings are, bravely. When I thought of the word ‘wild’, I have this memory of when I was twelve or thirteen: I sneaked out of the house only to watch a midnight-movie in the cinema, without asking permission from my parents. (laugh)
What kind of ‘wildness’ runs inside of you?
Theo: I like things that hit me first. Whether they are sentences that come first or feelings that come for the first time. I do not like to edit them. Something ‘raw’ is usually way more honest. This is the reason why I never edited my poetry, except when it comes to the choice of words. Something that is more ‘raw’, more ‘matter-of-factly’, more ‘honest’ has its own wildness. And that resides inside of me.
How do we find poetry?
Theo: I believe that inspiration can nudge whomever it visits. The problem is, who would be sensitive towards that, and who would not. When you get nudged and you’re indifferent, inspiration will find someone else. So, if you’d like to find poetry around you, there’s only one key: don’t be indifferent.
Poetry is not always about words. We can see this from the way the Universe creates poetry; could be from the rainbow, the colors of sundown, the breeze that caresses your face, the salty sea that sticks to your skin, the traces of sand on the sole of your feet.
How does your birthplace influence your works and the way you see the world?
Theo: Ambon, my birthplace, significantly influences my works, the way I see the world, and my creative process. My Mother and Father had introduced me to ‘the stage’ when I was young. I grew up with two sisters, and we love singing since early childhood. Not only singing, but also reading poetry, and we’re quite friendly with the stage since we’re playing amateurish drama and theatre. My Mother and Father also introduced us to books. I remembered that I already composed my first short story when I was a teenager, although it remained unfinished until today.
The exotic natural landscape of Ambon also gives a stimulus for me, who grew up there, to create. I don’t know, but I feel as if the ocean is not only blue, but there’s a richer gradation of colors. And the mountains are not always green. They can have hues of salted eggs. There, I learned to see all possibilities in the midst of all impossibilities.
How do you stay true to your art, to the creative force inside of you?
Theo: Do you create poetry every day? If this question is posed to me right now, then the answer is yes—because I am preparing my next poetry book. But, sometimes, for a long time, I don’t create poetry.
What’s important for me is to give birth to creative works, and this should be done every single day. If I don’t make poetry, I write for my blog. If I don’t write for my blog, I write whatever sentences that come to mind in a small notebook I carry around, or on my mobile phone’s note page. If I am negligent about this, I feel anxious and restless.
I choose to stay true to the art and creativity inside of me. I think it’s simply about making your choices. My ‘fire’ won’t go far from art and creativity. To live and to choose to lit your fire consciously and fully, I look at it as an achievement in life. The most important thing about lighting your fire is to do it wholeheartedly, instead of doing it only to look ‘cool’.
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 blog post 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 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 favorite 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 favorite quotes, advice, or messages about [The Topic] you’re about to write? You can compile them all into a blog post and turn each quote into eye-pleasing visuals using a free design app.
If you’re aiming for a longer & more elaborate blog post, 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 impacts 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 another 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 in 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 makes 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 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] in 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? What are they?
BLOGPOST IDEA #11.
What do you find the 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] makes you passionate about it?
BLOGPOST IDEA #12.
List down some of your favorite 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 criticize 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 in the same shoes about it? Have there been any criticisms out there about [The Topic]? What do people say? Is there any criticism that you can relate to? Or maybe you understand why they criticize [The Topic] in a certain way? Try to write about it.
BLOGPOST IDEA #14.
List down some of your favorite 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 favorite products/services related to [The Topic]. Tell people why you love that particular products/service, and how the product/service have helped you. Why do you think the readers should try this product/service?
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 person? 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 comes 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, hoaxes, or popular beliefs about [The Topic]? Have 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 blog post.
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 favorite blogs/websites related to [The Topic].
Another quick-whip for your blog post: go find some blogs/websites related to [The Topic] and curate your most favorite 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 blog post. 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 blog post. 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 blog posts on 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 trouble, 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 to a situation one could face in life?
>> Now, which idea would your turn into a blog post?
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 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. Do 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 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 your 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? 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: instant noodles and coffee.
2. Read & learn more about 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 to 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 the 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 for 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 for 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 people to give 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 this 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 judgments (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 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. 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 criticized 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, the 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 the title of a book by Austin Kleon that happens to be one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time. And if you haven’t read it, I would strongly suggest you 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 catalog 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 on 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 organizations 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 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 asks 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 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 promotional 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 the skill to entertain others. So, be a good listener. It is entertaining to have a good listener in the crowd. Find out ways how you can help others. Does someone need to get in touch with someone you know? Get them introduced. Does someone need advice on where to go this weekend? Does someone need 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 a 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 opportunities to be mentored: thus more opportunities 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 you 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 time, if you perform well 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 for 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 blog post, 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 as 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 articles, personal essays or e-book writing, even popular reports. Do I accept the ‘business document’ job?
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 salesperson 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 salesperson 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 salesperson, 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, the more hard times you would probably experience. 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.
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 molded 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 to lights, any kind of, since I can remember. Study lamp, street lights, fairy lights around a Christmas tree, the light coming from behind the curtain of a window, even the light coming out of a laptop or computer screen. However, I also realize 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 a 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 its shadowy crevices to describe whatever emotion or event I wanted to talk about. When the collection was finally finished, I realized 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 realized 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 that 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 organized or was part of. Many people from many walks of life were so keen on 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 to sharpen one’s analytical skills. 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 patronizing. 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 of fun and some love to your poetic journey.
How should one read 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 poetry is born?
Anya: Poetry is my way to understand my head and heart and all the stuff that is in them. Oftentimes I feel like something is wrong and/or confusing and/or unrecognizable 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.
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Hi. I'm HANNY
I am an Indonesian writer/artist/illustrator and stationery web shop owner (Cafe Analog) based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love facilitating writing/creative workshops and retreats, especially when they are tied to self-exploration and self-expression. In Indonesian, 'beradadisini' means being here. So, here I am, documenting life—one word at a time.