The writing advice that I needed to hear

When I absolutely refuse to write anything, I go back to these words.

I’ve somehow managed to go beyond writer’s block and gone on to writer’s refusal. For various reasons, I just won’t put pen to paper or finger to keys. Over the last few months I’ve tried to do some writer soul searching to fix my problem by reading writing books, bothering people to give me advice, and complaining on my Instagram story. One of those three things works better than the others, and through them I’ve been able to gather a nice little inspirational quote book.

“If you don’t keep making and creating and doing, you are giving the world less to reject you for, yes, but eventually there will be nothing for anyone to say yes to. Your only job is to keep going. I’m gonna keep going. Let’s keep going.” Jonny Sun.

This one is currently my phone wallpaper and hanging in my room as a little motivational poster I made myself at CVS. Jonny is one of my favorite writers ever, his book Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too is a treasured family heirloom starting now. Jonny Sun is known for a lot of things, but most people recognize him from Twitter @jonnysun where this quote originated as a part of a longer tweet thread about growth and continuing on after rejection.

I hate the idea of “putting myself out there” because I’ve been doing that for years and it’s gotten me nowhere. So I have to keep reminding myself– daily– that giving or making or doing nothing means every possible door stays shut. It’s kinda “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” but put in a much more poetic tweet form. And Jonny’s thread really helped put things into perspective. In its own weird way, seeing anyone who you think has “made it” share their set backs and rejections that still happen is encouraging. It says that along with the yeses, rejection will always be a part of the creative life. So the only thing you can do, whether you’re a creative or not, is to keep going.

“Just write. What’s stopping you?” Ray Wong.

Not a lot of people have a Favorite Tech Reporter, but here I am. I started following Ray’s writing when I was in college and noticed that nearly every article I read on Mashable was written by him. Since then I guess I liked one too many tweets because now we follow each other on Twitter (which, by the way, wasn’t supposed to happen. I did not want senpai to notice me). But you gotta use those connections, as I’ve been told, so when I was visiting NYC last March I reached out to see if he could help a sad post grad with… anything. He invited me to the Mashable office and we ended up talking about all sorts of writing/ career stuff, and finally he asked me the above question.

I thought it was rhetorical. But when he didn’t continue talking, I realized he wanted an answer. It is now 2019 and I’m still trying to figure that part out. I guess the short answer is fear and the long answer is better saved for a professional therapist. But since then when I’m sitting there, staring a blank page I ask myself, What’s stopping you? and get to writing something (even if I delete it later).

“You already found what you love to do. Why are you making this so hard?” C. Shen O. de Leon.

Shen de Leon was the advisor for the Asian student organization at my college during my last semester, and now I just consider him my life advisor. Right after I graduated in December I went through some tough soul searching and had an SOS lunch with Shen to talk through wtf was life. We sat and talked for about two hours and I only cried twice. He mentioned the work I loved doing with A.S.I.A. (Emerson College really likes acronyms), the storytelling I did through my journalism degree, and how happy I was just being in the Asian American community. To him it was clear that I found what I liked doing, but I was making everything harder for myself.

To be honest, community organizing doesn’t really pay Boston rent. But he’s right: I know what I enjoy doing, the work I’m good at, and I have the experience. So why am I making it so hard? It’s helped me figure out which obstacles are in my head and which ones are real problems. In the end this goes back to both Jonny Sun and Ray Wong’s advice. Why am I making this so hard? What’s stopping me? Because no matter what, you just have to keep going.

“For any storyteller out there who wants to start telling stories, on whatever platform that they choose, my advice would be to take it as seriously as, let’s say a doctor takes med school.” Chris Dinh.

Back when I was a regular blogger for Kollaboration’s online site, I got to do a Q&A with the filmmaker-actor Chris Dinh. I was a bit (lot) of a fangirl from his work with Wong Fu Productions and when he brought his indie horror film Crush the Skull to the Boston Asian American Film Festival I jumped at the chance to talk to him. It was a very long and insightful conversation, Chris Dinh is an amazingly nice and eloquent person. But when I asked him the basic “advice for young people” kicker, his answer stayed with me three years later.

I find his advice more motivational than inspirational. I’d never thought of a creative career in this light, partially because society deems the humanities as less-than and therefore less work intensive. But when Chris said it, it made total sense. He went on to say, “It’s going to be as difficult as (medicine, law, business) so treat it accordingly.” Just because we don’t have to take a test or get a license doesn’t mean that we can take it easy. So every time I question what I even want to do as a writer, I also have to reaffirm my resolve to commit to this path because it’s going to take real, long-term work.

“Don’t focus on the final product.” William Zinsser in On Writing Well.

My aunt, also a journalist, got me this book for Christmas saying that all writers refer to it. For the most part the book had a lot of solid, often repeated advice. But this little tidbit stuck with me especially, and it’s become one of my mental mantras.

“We are not our work.”

I’d heard this a few times and seen it on cute Instagram posts, but the only time it really stuck was when a friend of mine DM-ed it to me after I ranted on Instagram about job searching. Along with other encouragement, his reminder made me suddenly realize that I don’t know what I am at the moment. If I am not my work– and views, and likes, and comments, and retweets, and so on– then what am I?

What do I want to be?

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