Note that I don’t call them mistakes. I call them “things learned”. I don’t see them as mistakes because they are just experiences that made me a better writer today, by miles.
1/ I tried to write as a white male person.
It’s unbelievable but true. I just thought I’d better aim to be like Charles Dickens or Stephen King et al otherwise how can it be called English literature? My favorite contemporary author even now, David Szalay, is white and male! That is my main problem. When I came to the UK the market was just white. Occasionally there was cappuccino but more than often than not it was 96% white. After I did an MA in Writing at Middlesex, I realized that I need to ignore that stereotype and write the best that I can in my second language (English) about any characters I wanted to write about, irrelevant of race of culture. In those days there was no such word as diverse. That’s a new word that I can now bandy about. Middlesex brought out the real writer in me by encouraging me in that direction and also giving me such a “diverse” reading list.
2/ I spent too much time writing and re-writing.
Years and years to produce one book. Yet another crazy thing I did, in retrospect, not even considering that I am not here forever, and no one is. As a result, over 12 years, I wrote two books. It took too long, affecting my momentum and motivation, each re-write was hell, full of cobwebs. I didn’t even know what I was writing about after a while. Each time involved starting from scratch and re-planning. Most people say they don’t have time to write. That’s rubbish. It is poor time management, no audience, poor planning/plotting/genre analysis that leads to nothing over many years. I know that now. And by Golly I am writing faster and more. I created my own audience. They want to read my books – quirky, eclectic, suspenseful. My books have to be like my audience.
“If you enjoyed the waste, then it wasn’t a waste.” – John Lennon, on “time”.
I also know that now. But I could not have then. Each year I wasted bought me experience.
3/ Not taking myself seriously as a writer.
I was traditionally published twice, and even after winning two international awards with cash prizes, I think each time was a fluke and I am useless. But I don’t know how to be confident except by doing self-publishing. The myth is that you gain confidence when you are traditionally published (and you do, momentarily) but within 6 months you will experience anti-climax and loss of confidence because the publishers have no drive, incentive or the budget to push your boat out and to promote you. If they do any of that, it is for one or two hotshots. Everybody else in their list must learn to swim and to survive. If I can self-publish it will give me self-belief, because I know how to swim now, in the pool and in the sea. I want to be able to. If I sink, then I have no one to blame because I tried my best. It is for this reason I am going to be writing the books that I want to read myself, the kind that have diverse characters, settings and plots, all to invent my own new genre, and all to take myself seriously. I am going to be free of the publishing market fancies, ideals and hypes. I am no one’s darling, I have not had the red carpet spread for me, so it can’t be whipped out from under me. I have always been a hands-on person, with a can-do grassroots, generous attitude. Whatever that needs doing will be done, I don’t think no, we can’t. I always think, “let’s think how.” Anything and everything in this world that is a puzzle can be solved. I just feel that a change is coming, and not just at the turntable.
Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She is the author of two novels.Cry of the Flying Rhino (Proverse Hong Kong), winner of 2016 International Proverse Prize, and Heart of Glass(Unbound UK). She has just completed writing her third novel Overboard, and has just started writing her first non-fiction book How to Look Awesome at 50: Asian Secrets Revealed.
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