Manuscript Bootcamp – Thoughts and Reflections

So, over the last weekend I’ve attended Manuscript Bootcamp (see last post), an intensive 3-day programme where your manuscript gets absolutely slaughtered and picked clean by various people in the industry, from writers to editors and beyond.

As mentioned, given that the programme comes only once every two years for poetry, and that only 6 manuscripts would be able to get in, getting in was a big confidence-booster for me. I mean, it’s not as though getting in was easy – I’d spent many sleepless nights in Dublin poring over the details and intricacies of each and every aspect of my humble submission (and yet, as I would soon learn, still missing so much).

I wanted to pen down some thoughts, not just as a way of internalising what happened over the weekend, but also as a memory aid, of sorts. The biggest takeaway of Bootcamp, for me, was not so much how to improve my work per se, but rather to rethink what it means to be a writer.

Millennials being millennials, taking turns to take photo of Joshua Ip’s intricately drawn whiteboard

First off, despite the name of the programme, there wasn’t any hostility. We didn’t have to do push ups whenever we used a cliche. And there was no baying for blood, no animosity – which is good, of course! Nonetheless, the programme was intense, spanning a weekend of thought-provoking panels which really got us to reconsider what we were doing with our craft.

In particular, a constant theme of the bootcamp was ‘the heart of darkness’, for lack of a better term – the idea that if you write about something and it hurts you it’s true, stuff like that. We were constantly encouraged (and urged) to go further into the heart of darkness, to wade into the swamp of the heart and emerge with poetry, stuff like that – which for me, as a confessional writer of sorts, sounded like sublime advice.

I had to get this beer.

The most important takeaway for me was to reconsider my identity as a writer – both within and outside of the text. A lot of my poetry is from the first person perspective, even though admittedly not all of it is based entirely off memory. Memory distorts itself, fractures itself over time, colours itself through different lenses. There was no way anybody’s poetry could be entirely based off memories they experienced, and I’ve lived a relatively normal life.

As such, there was always this conflict for me – can I be true as a writer without being true to my person? Can my identity as a writer be separated cleanly from my identity as a student, my identity as a son etc? Is it ethical? Is it right?

What blew my mind, however, was the suggestions by one of the panellists that even the you was me. I know, this sounds confusing. But whenever I wrote with an “I”, I tended to include a “You”. (For example, see here) This felt natural to me, and it was a way for me to frame my poetry. A lot of my work is conversational, and so is my voice, and I never thought too much of it. But this suggestion was really something – what if all my poetry was but a conversation with myself? Or, as he described it, a “tantrum against the self”? Maybe my writing never included other people – maybe it was all about wrestling with myself, my traumas and memories and innermost desires.

I wish I had more to say about what was ostensibly one of, if not the highlight of my poetic career (is that the word?) so far. I really do. But I’m still hung up on that question, and everything else I have in text. I guess the moral to be learnt is that as writers, we need to be conscious of who we are on and off the page – who are we writing? Why are we writing? Who are we in our craft, and who are we without it?

Maybe I’ll have more to say in a few weeks.

JUNE UPDATE

Photo by John T on Unsplash

Back in Singapore! A quick note – I think I’ve decided to make blogging at least a bimonthly thing. It’s something to ground my anxieties, to chart my progress, to keep track of my thoughts. And after all it’s kind of therapeutic to just rant/blog once in a while. Not everything has to be a poem.

Anyway…

The last update I mentioned submitting for Manuscript Bootcamp. Good news (for anyone following this development in my life)I made it!

look ma it’s me (third from the right)

Very fortunate and blessed to have had my manuscript selected by the Judges, Koh Tai Ann, Aaron Maniam and Conchitina Cruz!

I mentioned last update that I started to hate my work a little after having had to criticise and work with it for months. That’s true to some extent, but for the longest time (since January, anyway) I was always suffering from a bit of Imposter Syndrome – like, who am I to be writing anyway? Bad thoughts like that.

That sense of being undeserving alleviated a little last month. You see, my exchange programme in Dublin had just ended and I was starting my month-long solo trip / farewell to Europe. Throughout the course of that journey, I had my trusty yellow journal with me.

specifically, this one

I had been given that journal at the end of my first year of University for being an ‘outstanding’ member of one of my clubs at NUS Law – specially the Law Students’ International Relations Committee (or club, for some) – and since then I’ve been using it as my writing journal. I bring it to all my events and workshops, I get autographs in there, I jot down whatever seems interesting. In the midst of a months-long writer’s block, I flipped through the book and then I saw the title of my manuscript on the very first page – then I realised. I had been working on this manuscript for years, not months, just not in the way I foresaw it.

After all, I had given up the last edition, deeming my work too weak to submit. But have I not been working on those pieces since then? Have I not been seeking opportunities to better myself, to better my writing? And isn’t getting in now a sign that some of that effort has paid off?

Granted, while that realisation gave me some modicum of confidence, it would be far from me saying that I had rid myself of the imposter syndrome. Maybe it’s something we all have to live with. I’ve been suffering from a writer’s block this past month. Not just because I couldn’t write, but I felt like I couldn’t write pieces of quality – but now I’m thinking who’s to say what’s the proper ‘quality’ I need? My pride? My self-esteem? My fear?

I’m still trying to better myself, both as a person and as a writer. But I think if there’s been any takeaway from all of this, it’s that I’m slowly coming to terms with my flaws. I’m having coffee with them at a cafe on the Seine, I’m eating gelato with them after dark. I’m interviewing them and publishing all their gaffes and slip-ups. I’m bringing them to bed.



MEDITATION FROM PEOPLE WATCHING IN LONDON

Photo by Alexander Dimitrov on Unsplash

It is a miracle for people to love each
other, in spite of the fact that people
are people. We are so minute and
small in this ocean of want. How
we part like clouds nobody watches.
Is there beauty in what’s unknown?
I’m sitting at a cafe, alone, watching
filled-out city buses run to death.
Heads like mason jars filled with
thoughts nobody will remember.
I can’t help but relate everything
to you at some point. It’s an instinct
to bury myself in memory. Come on.
Think of simpler times, think of the time
we were bent sweaty making guacamole
in the kitchen when you stabbed yourself
with the knife, the seed a spared child.
We had to call an ambulance and you
were so afraid that you would never
write again. The gap in your palm,
first a fleshy blue, then purple, like
an evening sky after a fisherman’s day.
The shape of that wound is carved
still on the walls of my mind. I trace
it from time to time to remind me
how delicate life is. How it all
hangs on silken thread and
frayed knots, a fire threatening
to devour it all. The power
of a few centimetres, the fear
of the hit and miss. The scars
that have yet to form, to heal.

APRIL UPDATE


Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything (for this website, anyway), so I figured I might as well switch it up a little with some blogging.

Finally got something accepted somewhere! I’ve gotten a piece in Food Republic, the first (to my knowledge, anyway) food-themed anthology in Singapore, as well as two fun little experiments into Caveat Lector, UCD’s lit mag. Somewhere along the process I started to realise how little I was submitting outside as opposed to how much I thought I was doing. Making a spreadsheet really reveals how much you’re actually doing with your work – I guess I’m now in the “100 rejections per year” gang.

Also! Finished and submitted for Manuscript Bootcamp. While I have little confidence about making it to the end, I do hope that the judges enjoy the work. Working on it was really exhausting and made me hate my own work for a while.

Speaking of hating myself – SingPoWriMo has officially descended! Essentially Singapore’s National Poetry Writing Month, we have to write a poem each day for a month. The pressure so far has been pretty high – I’ve had a good thing going the past few days but the Day 5 prompt threatens to ruin that streak.

Fingers crossed! I’m full of hope and optimism and back pain right now.

SELF PORTRAIT AS OWN BIRTH


Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

If two sameselves make
a paradox, then so is my birth;
one roll of the die
with infinite sides.
I oscillate between possibilities
like a speck of dust
caught in vision.
A child of coincidence,
one branch of Yggdrasil,
born to yearn for fruit.
I’d like to reconfirm
my own existence, ensure
that I was some other
unknown in an equation.
I need to verify that there
is a purpose to this permanence.
I’d like to see
the snip of the tether
between this poem and the next.
To be free under a maiden blade.
To be named again and again.