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Archive for the ‘Writer’s Block’ Category

For 5 Saturdays over January and early February this year, I ran a memoir essay writing workshop at Central Library, organised by National Library Board. After Finding My Voice with my own memoir and several recent personal narrative essays, I was happy to guide aspiring writers to write that burning story in their hearts.

I took 17 participants through the process of developing the one-important story that they wanted to craft, and then guided them in shaping their personal essays. As many wrote their stories of their personal journeys for the first time, I was privileged to have been privy to very deep sharing by participants over the weeks of the workshops. Many wrote about their families and others about significant life-changing moments.

It’s been an intensive few weeks for me as I discovered that I am an OCD editor who nudges willing newbie writers repeatedly in courting the write relationship with their readers. We wrapped up the final workshop session with everyone reaching the finish line this last Saturday, just in time to switch gears for Chinese New Year celebrations!

MemoirWorkshoppic2

 

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Over the weekend, I ran my second Writer in the Gardens workshop at Gardens by the Bay. I took 20 families on a walk through a lesser known part of the Gardens to soak in the ambience and let our imagination wander with story ideas. With so much happening, I didn’t do a headcount and forgot the group photo but with parents and kids, I think we ended up with a sizeable group of about 50 people.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few friends from the past who showed up for the workshop. Two were my secondary schoolmates who brought their daughters for the workshop.

WS 2 photo 9.png

With my secondary schoolmates and & daughters (Photo credit: Eleanor Kor)

An ex-colleague whom I have not seen in years came with her son. And a new friend I recently got to know in the past 6 months brought her daughter.

After setting the tone for the workshop with a short powerpoint (in the aircon of Canonball Room), we headed out at 5pm, which was a lovely time for a walk through the Gardens.

We stopped at 3 locations, where I asked the children to create a villain character at the Petrified Wood (at Location 1), draw magical creatures at the Understory/Mushroom Dome (at Location 2) and imagine what sort of magic created the Web of Life creatures (at Location 3).

WS2 photo2

Photo credit (Ong Puay See)

Photo credit (Ong Puay See)

 

 

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 Photo credit (Ong Puay See)

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I hope the children took away ideas and new perspectives about finding stories in the Gardens and places all around us. Meanwhile, I also have homework to do as I hunker down to work on my Residency manuscript inspired by the Gardens!  

A blogger mum (Angie of Growing Hearts 123) brought her kids and wrote a lovely comprehensive review of the workshop here. Thank you Angie!

WS2 photo7.png

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My 2nd (and last) Writer-in-the-Gardens Workshop is now open for registration!

This time, I will take a group of children (and parents) on a walk to selected spots in Gardens by the Bay where we will explore story settings and imagine magical characters. Award-winning illustrator Patrick Yee will also take children through an accompanying craft.

See details on registration for this free workshop – places are limited! Link for registration:  http://bit.ly/WriterintheGardens

EDM Workshop 2

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Today, I ran a pop-up mini-writing workshop for a group of homeschoolers. This was organized by singer-songwriter & homeschool mum Dawn Fung, who singlehandedly had over 8 kids nicely seated down at Old Chang Kee, with their pens and notebooks out, when I arrived. I take my hat off to this multi-hatted lady. (Actually, I would take my wig off too, but I’m not brave enough yet!)

So over, fishballs and curry puffs, I shared with the children about the inspiration behind how I started writing and took them through the Classic Story Structure, which is the structure I used for my 4 Toy Titles and 3 Tibby Titles.

In a nutshell, the Main Character has a problem, tries to solve the problem 3 times but fails (using the rule of 3), eventually arrives at a solution (which is the story climax) and the story ends with the Story Problem resolved. And on that note, I left the children to think up their stories based on this Classic Story Structure.

oldchangekeetalk

 

 

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Over the past week, I was in a country in Southeast Asia with another trainer Marlene conducting writing workshops for aspiring Christian writers.

I’ve given overseas talks before. But this was my first time running full-day workshops and I went with some concerns on how things would go.

I ended up receiving training as much as I did training and took away a few thoughts from the experience:

  1. From Empire Café to Hanis Café to further roads

When I first left my past life working for a luxury hotel company and became a writer, I literally and figuratively crossed over from Raffles Hotel’s Empire Cafe (my department’s lunch hangout) to the National Library’s Hanis Cafe outlet (across the road) for my meals.

I spent many good afternoons at Hanis Cafe after my morning visits to the library’s children’s section. And yes, I liked my S$4 beef burger as much as the S$35 lobster noodles from across the road.

Last week, I made another crossover in my training workshops overseas. I was reminded of how blessed we are in Singapore in terms of infrastructure and meeting facilities, all of which I sometimes take for granted.

 

  1. Don’t Rush, Be Patient Lah

Being the typical Singaporean, I thought we should pack in as much as possible into our workshop programme. And over the months prior, I worked on shaping the programme together with fellow trainer, Marlene, an accomplished author and editor from the Philippines.

We learnt very quickly that we needed to leave space for reading time, translation time and much more personal one-on-one consultation time with the participants.

In “slowing” down, we in fact gained much more in the training as we allowed key writing principles to sink in and percolate like a good brew of tea. If we had gone “fast food” style and stuffed everyone with content, I think they would have gotten little nutritional value due to indigestion.

hobbs 2

3. Found in translation 

I started the first morning by getting the participants to spark ideas in English since most of them could speak English. I was disappointed when we did not get as much out of it.

Then in the afternoon, we decided to have them share childhood stories in their local language (with simultaneous translation). It opened a wealth of heartfelt stories which provide excellent material for children’s picture books and also gave me deeper insights into each participant.

I had mistakenly thought I would be lost in translation. Instead, I had inadvertently limited the participants because they were able to share much more in their native language.

Many ideas and much encouragement was found in translation.

Peanuts 1

 

3. The Write way with personal stories  

Once we got to the tipping point of our workshops, Marlene and I found our greatest encouragement from the participants’ personal stories.

At the end of 4 full days of training, most participants wrote 1 personal testimony, 1 devotional article and 1 children’s picture book manuscript (inspired by their childhood) for their first time.

I wasn’t planning to write but I ended up working on 1 devotional piece too and it brought forth an old forgotten memory from childhood. (More on that later)

Finally, my biggest takeaway?

I could do all the planning in the world (and I should), but I needed to leave room for God to work beyond my pre-conceived notions and expectations.

On the final two days, we re-jigged our programme to allow space for the participants to write, time to translate, time for us trainers to give detailed one-on-one critiques and finally to hear out everyone’s stories.

We came away richer for that and thankful for God’s mercies through it all.

 

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I recently conducted a workshop on children’s book writing at Littworld, the World Christian Publishing Conference, in early November.

I wondered how best to structure this workshop to cater to a diverse group of participants from a multitude of countries where English may not be their first language and a few might need simultaneous translations too.

In the end, I boiled my presentation down to 9 writing truths which I expanded on with lots of picture book examples (and lots of pictures to transcend potential language differences).

As I was preparing for this, I was reminded that we should write for a greater purpose, which became my 4th Fruit of Spirited Writing ie. Don’t try to write bestsellers, write Hope-sellers.

My 9 Fruits of Spirited Children’s Book Writing:

1st Fruit – Less “Tell-Tale”

2nd Fruit – Strong Beginning

3rd Fruit – Hopeful Ending

4th Fruit – Greater Purpose

5th Fruit – Memorable Characters

6th Fruit – Character Wisdom & Grace

7th Fruit – Clarity in Conflict & Resolution

8th Fruit – Faith in Reader

9th Fruit – Truthful Voice

Littworld workshop

I was very heartened by the feedback I received after the workshop.

A writer from Africa shared that, midway through the workshop, she suddenly came to clarity on an issue that had subconsciously impeded her writing.

A writer from the U.S. said that this was her favourite workshop of the conference and she was now inspired to try her hand at writing children’s books.

An Indonesian friend, an aspiring writer, shared that she found the workshop lively and joyful. She also found all the accompanying pictures helpful to her understanding.

I was happy that the 9 fruits aided these workshop participants in digesting some key writing truths!

 

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I recently had the pleasure of being on the judging panel for Flash Fiction Contest 2015 (Primary School category) together with lecturer and Gathering Books’ Founder Myra Garces Bacsal and Asia Storytelling Network’s Founder Rosemarie Somaiah ie. two dynamos in the literary scene here.

I’m glad to have been part of this excellent initiative by National Library Board and was very impressed with the shortlisted entries that came to us judges. Rosemarie, Myra and I came to a quick unanimous consensus on the three winning entries for their strength of story and voice:

Primary Category

1st Prize “It was Raining”  by Lien Cai Hui       

2nd Prize “Colour the Rain”  by Celeste Chong Hao Yee

3rd Prize “The Third Shot” by Tee Ying Xin

The winning entries can be read here.

NLB Flash Fiction

Congratulations to the winners who were honoured at the awards ceremony over the weekend and the 800 or so entries that came in for all categories in this Flash Fiction Contest.

I am heartened that we have in our midst a new generation who will wield mighty pens and fertile imaginations beyond being just known as a tuition nation!

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I had the privilege to have been one of the contributors in Light for the Writer’s Soul – 100 Devotions by Global Christian Writers, recently launched at Littworld 2015, the world conference of Christian Publishing held in Singapore last week.

Children's Picture Book on friendship, sacrifice and self-acceptance

Children’s Picture Book on friendship, sacrifice and self-acceptance

My devotional article “Struggle with the Word” (under the Theme “Inspiration”) was about how I wrote my second picture book The Tale of Rusty Horse when I was at the crossroads at the end of a gap year where I was in between jobs. I grappled with whether I should continue trudging forward in writing children’s books (through the tough Singapore publishing market) or beg my ex-bosses for a job and return back to my seemingly glamorous life in the luxury hotel industry.

At that time, I struggled to find the ending to my Rusty Horse manuscript, only to realise that I had turned into Rusty Horse, the old rocking horse who was concerned about crowd approval. When I decided to stop galloping in circles of self-doubt and stay true to that nudging that was in my heart to write, I made peace with Rusty, the dark horse, and completed his story. As if in divine encouragement, The Tale of Rusty Horse won the Moonbeam Gold Medal and was singled out for special mention in the Awards announcement. Many readers have since shared how this book resonated deepest because they felt Rusty’s struggles.

MAI Devotional

I’ve been flipping through this Devotional book over the past few days and of those I have read to date, a few devotionals jumped out at me:

A Writer in Wonderland by Ivanova Nono Fotso from Cameroon (under the “Trust” theme)

“…Some people say to me, “You write for children? It’s a good start. Keep working, you will soon be able to write for adults.”
They don’t hear the little girl in me chuckling. She knows she will always be ready to dance, skip and wonder…

Jesus said,” Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14)

I too have received similar comments in the past where people have not taken children’s book writing as a real vocation and dismissed it as child’s play. But like Rusty Horse, I have since galloped forward, refusing to be stumbled by crowd opinion.

Clinging to the Dream by Doris Hoover from U.S. (under the “Perseverance” theme)

“…God planted a dream in my heart, the dream of writing devotions about the messages of God through nature…(But the editors) Their rejections slapped my spirit. Like the tree’s roots, my heart hung exposed and vulnerable. I questioned my ability to achieve my dream…Then I understood: as long as I cling to my dream, it will survive.”

For us writers, writing is like a dream, but in the words of my author friend David Seow, “Writing children’s books is no fairy tale.” It is something we need God’s strength to cling on to even when we feel dry and depleted at times.

Writing and Waiting by Marlene Legaspi-Munar of Philippines (under the “Patience” theme)

“…Waiting is part of the writer’s life – waiting for the big idea, waiting for a manuscript to be accepted, waiting for the first book to be published, waiting for a wounded ego to recover from rejection…”

I’m grateful to Media Associates International and Armour Publishing who co-published this book for launch at Littworld 2015. This book of 100 devotional articles by 80 contributing writers from 27 countries, each in 400-word portions, will serve as a writing friend inspiring and encouraging me, when I need a word for my down-days in writing.

And so, I like to encourage 1 person in the creative arts person with a FREE giveaway of 1 copy of this book!

Just tell me:

(1) What area of creative arts you are in?

and

(2) Why you think this book will be helpful to you?

Leave your comment on this blog or Facebook (if you are linked to my Facebook post) by Sat 21 November to qualify. Since I am sponsoring the book, I will decide on the prize winner (haha…the benefits of sponsorship) :).

  • Only for those living in Asia for postage reasons!

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Today, Mummum has the pleasure of speaking to Author and Illustrator Naomi Kojima. I first met Naomi when she was keynote speaker at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in 2013.

Author & illustrator, children's picture books

I remember vividly how inspired I was by her presentation “Reaching for the World: Art of Asian Illustrators of Children’s Books” right from the moment when she opened with her own feelings of illustrating children’s books:

“When the time comes to hand in my finished picture book, I feel like a mother sending her child off to the world. I check for typos, smudges and pencil marks. I worry and I fuss. I want to make sure that the book has everything it needs for the journey.

I pack the things the book may need. “Now, here is your lunch, dinner and tea. Don’t eat it all at once. Here is a pair of extra socks, and here is a handkerchief”, I tell the book. I wish I could go with the book, to watch out for it, to make sure it goes on the right path. But I have more books to take care of, more books to write. The book must go alone.”

(Naomi’s full presentation has been reproduced in the AFCC Publication One Big Story – Delving Deeper into Asian Children’s Literature, edited by talented Dr Myra Garces-Bacsal of the esteemed Gathering Books blog)

Alphabet Picture Book Naomi Kojima

1. Tell us how long you have been writing and illustrating? Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?

Naomi: I have been writing and illustrating picture books for over thirty years. When I was in 3rd grade, I remember being in the school library, looking at the books, imagining, what if, when I grow up, what if I find my books on these shelves?

“That’s a bold wish!” one part of me said.

But another part of me said, “Yes, but what if?”

In forth grade, when adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said that I wanted to be a writer  – not a writer of grown up books – but a writer of children’s books. I wanted to write stories and illustrate them with black and white illustrations.

I also had a wish about publishers. I wanted my books to be published by Kaisei-sha, if my books were published in Japan, and Harper & Row if my books were published in the US. These were the two publishers that published my favorite books, and I simply thought they were the best. My wish did come true. My first two books were published by T.Y.Crowell, an imprint of Harper & Row, and my Japanese books are published by Kaisei-sha.

2. How did you get your first book published?

Naomi: I published my first two picture books in the U.S., when I was living in Massachusetts. I learned about publishing and how to make picture books by attending SCBWI meetings. Author Jane Yolen was then the leader of the New England SCBWI chapter. At the monthly meetings, Jane educated, encouraged, and enlightened us about children’s books.

I was working on a picture book, Mr. and Mrs. Thief. When I had done everything I could, I followed Jane’s advice and made five appointments with publishers, and bought a train ticket to New York. The editor at the second publisher liked Mr. and Mrs. Thief and also another picture book dummy, The Flying Grandmother. Three weeks later she called and gave me a contract for both books! And this is how I started on my path.

What was your one memorable moment from having your first book out?

Naomi: Soon after Mr. and Mrs. Thief was published, I remember that my editor showed me a letter from another editor who had read Mr. and Mrs. Thief. In the letter, that editor said she read Mr. and Mrs. Thief after a long, hard day, and the book had lifted her spirits and made her day. That was such a wonderful thing to know that my book could make people feel good!

 

Republished in English by U.S. Publisher Kane Miller

Original Japanese Title republished in English by U.S. Publisher Kane Miller

3. Which book had the biggest impact on you when you were a child? Tell us why.

Naomi: As a young child growing up in the US, I read many of the Little Golden Book series. I loved the illustrations. I still remember them. I had no idea who the illustrators were then, but they were Gustaf Tenggren, Feodor Rojankovsky, Garth Williams, Alice and Martin Provensn, and Gertrude Elliot.

When I was older, The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis was my favorite book. I loved the story and the illustrations: the magic alley, the antique shop, the flying ship which travels through time, the strong bond between the four siblings, and the black and white illustrations. I read the book over and over, coming out of the book each time dreaming of finding a magic ship of my own one day.

4. What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators in Asia?

Naomi: Believe in yourself. Don’t give up. Don’t quit because of a rejection, or because the project is difficult. Be brave and revise, redraw, and redesign many times. Look at many picture books, read a lot of children’s literature. Do your best work, and enjoy and love what you do!

5. What’s the first word that comes to mind in describing your illustration style?

Naomi: Humorous

 

Caleb draws from a low chair in his first week of preschool (at 18 months)

Caleb draws from a low chair in his first week of preschool (at 18 months)

Mummum: Naomi, thank you for this inspiring interview, which I hope will encourage Asian authors and illustrators to dream, persevere and cross borders like you have done!

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I was invited to write an essay “Survival & Success as a Singapore Author” for One Big Story – Delving Deeper into Asian Children’s Literature, launched at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2014.

With all the earlier posts on Survival Skills, it begs the remaining question:

So, what then of Success as a Singapore Author?

Is it measured purely by selling hundreds of thousands of books? Is it when you earn enough royalties to buy a house in Singapore? For most of us, these visions will be a really, really long time coming, if ever. Maybe, you can buy a Certificate of Entitlement (the right to own a car in Singapore), but it remains to be seen if you can buy a car to go with that.

At the end of Prince Bear & Pauper Bear's Theatre Show

At the end of Prince Bear & Pauper Bear’s Theatre Show

I found my own answer through this chapter of my story:

Seeing my first book Prince Bear & Pauper Bear published in 2007 was one of my biggest joys. But after the book came out, I found myself at a crossroads. I was in between jobs and was unsure if I should continue writing or return back to corporate life. I was also finding it hard to write my second story. With Prince Bear & Pauper Bear, I was happy just to see the book published. I had my Book Council award and publishing grant. However, with book two, practical concerns had surfaced. I had to invest my own money to publish the book. What if it flopped? What if I was a one book wonder?

I considered returning back to my old job. Prior to this, I was working at the head office of a luxury hotel company, in the area of acquiring hotels and management contracts for the expansion of the hotel chain. I stayed in 5-star hotels, dined at fancy restaurants around the world, and it appeared outwardly to be a glamorous and successful career. At least that is how most people perceived it.

The other option was for me to continue writing, photocopying my own marketing leaflets, lugging boxes of books from school to school, talking to 4-10 year olds in classrooms and reading rooms. But that also meant that I had a chance to impact the next generation of future leaders.

That was when I realized that I had turned into Rusty Horse, the main character in the second manuscript that I was struggling to pen. Rusty the rocking horse wished to be a real horse so he could be a favourite with the children again – in other words – a Success. He was concerned with crowd opinion, just as I was. But Rusty came to realize that real magic was in choosing to be true to self. And as I chose to listen to my inner voice, I found the ending to my second manuscript. Once I learnt to believe in myself and continue following my passion for writing, I wrote my own definition of Success as a Singaporean author.

 

Earlier posts:

Survival Skills (Part 1) – Introduction

Survival Skills (Part 2) – Picking Up the Ropes

Survival Skills (Part 3) – Think Skin & New Voice

Survival Skills (Part 4) – Shiny Badges, Beyond Bookstores

Survival Skills (Part 5) – Crossing Borders, E-Books & Apps

Survival Skills (Part 6) – Right Commisioners, Write Support

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