Priorities, discipline, efficiency — and a fresh start

February 10, 2014 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing


I don’t need you to tell me that I suck. That’s why, starting from today, I’m going to be a new me. I had actually intended to write this post about a week ago, but instead I continued on my lazy, uninspired ways, yet another reason why I suck. But suck no more. The power of Christ compels you! Be gone, undisciplined self!

Shortly after I started my current job two years ago, I knew I would have a fair bit of time on my hands during the week. I started dreaming of wonderful writing experiences, magical ideas and just a truckload of awesomeness heading my way. Two years later, I’m still in the same position, with nothing but a sore ass to show for it. To be fair, two kids is no joke, and often I find myself just wanting to chillax and watch YouTube videos at work. The days, however, a rolling by too fast, and I was stunned to realise this weekend that we are almost 2 months into 2014.

I’ve developed some bad habits. I’d like to blame other people for how lazy and unmotivated I’ve been (lots of targets at work), but the truth is I’ve got no one to point the finger at but myself. I’ve been distracted and zoned out like Walter Mitty, dreaming of wild fantasies and unrealistic expectations instead of going out and accomplishing them. My focus isn’t where it should be. I’ve been disciplined when it comes to this blog, my work (day job and freelance, relatively speaking) and my exercising (for the most part), though for some strange reason I can’t seem to apply that same discipline to thing I want it to be applied to most — my writing.

I’ve figured out that it’s not that I’m afraid of failure or anything like that. It’s not that I don’t want to put in the work. It’s just that I have my priorities all messed up. I recently wrote an article on Elon Musk, the 42-year-old billionaire who co-founded Paypal and runs visionary electric car company Tesla Motors. His first ex-wife, Justine Musk (nee Wilson), is a Canadian-born author who bore him five boys — twins and then triplets! Despite having to look after 5 boys (OK, so they were rich enough to have lots of help, but still) and having to overcome depression and the SIDS death of their first child, Justine still managed to have three books sold to Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Now that’s impressive, and there are many more similarly impressive stories out there to make me want to stick my head up my butt in shame.

From now, I’m going to get my priorities straight. It’s not necessarily about sacrificing other things I want to do — rather, it’s about doing what I should be doing and looking towards the long-run as opposed to immediate gratification. I’m also going to be disciplined and stick to it. And I’m going to be efficient. I used to think multi-tasking was the shit, but I’ve come to realise it’s just…shit. If you really want to do something well, focus on what you need to do, zone in, and get it done before moving onto the next thing.

OK, no more writing about wanting to write. My fresh start starts…now.

Freelancing is lancing my free time

February 19, 2013 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Parenting

Anyone recognise where this is from?

Anyone recognise where this is from?

You may have noticed that things have been a little slow on this blog lately. It wasn’t supposed to be. In fact, I was supposed to be posting up a storm over this recent nine-day Lunar New Year break in Taiwan. Instead, I took up a freelancing gig, and it’s been killing me. Killing me, I tell ya. As the great Tommy Wiseau would say:

Freelancing jobs are always a dilemma when you also have a full-time job. On the one hand, it’s nice to get a bit of extra cash, but on the other, you are voluntarily adding all this pressure on yourself and destroying whatever free time you might have. When you have a one-year-old baby to look after like I do, free time is more precious than diamonds, and if you’re not desperate for money it’s always tempting just to say, “No thanks, I’d rather sleep, or read, or watch The Walking Dead or a movie, or exercise, or play video games, or do whatever the hell it is that I’d rather be doing.”

This is why I’d actually been turning down quite a few freelancing opportunities as of late, though this new one that I took on was from a regular client that paid relatively well and was a good opportunity to establish more crucial contacts. Freelancing, as I learned from that ultra-successful, US$600K-a-year  freelance writer Robert W Bly (I reviewed his freelance guide here), is all about connections and getting repeat business. You can be the best freaking writer in the world, but you’re not making any money if people don’t know who you are. That’s why there are all these horrible, horrible writers and editors earning great money doing freelancing full-time, while decent or even very good writers and editors prefer to work in steady jobs and not worry about where their next paycheck will come from.

As usual, I have underestimated how difficult this current freelance gig would be. When I first saw it I estimated roughly four days — mostly during my “spare” time at work. Instead, it has killed almost all my free time from the Lunar New Year break and I’m still not finished. Part of the problem is me being slow and too meticulous and distracted with other things, but it’s incredibly frustrating nonetheless. This one gig has essentially derailed the longest holiday I’m probably going to have this year. It’s also set back my plans to start exercising regularly again by at least another week (I really need it too, after eating like a pig over the break). And don’t even get me started on the PS3 games I’m supposed to be playing. I have literally not switched on my PS3 since finishing Sleeping Dogs in late November. Meanwhile, my food and movie blog posts continue to pile up. At this rate, I’ll never get back to working on what I really want to take another stab at — my novels.

It has me wondering whether I’ll ever take on another freelance case. Well, I’m sure I will, and I’m sure I’ll be bitching about it like I am now once I do.

NaNoWriMo Update: Days 1-3

November 3, 2011 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing

If I could sum up my first 3 days of NaNoWriMo 2011 in 2 words it would be: EPIC FAIL

I had planned to dedicate this entire month to writing my personal projects but, as usual, things didn’t turn out the way I expected them to.  In short, my last three days have been largely spent on job seeking and freelance related work, interviews and other errands.  I’m sure if you counted the words I wrote on work-related emails, CVs and applications it would have totalled in excess of 3000-4000 words (oh, and I did ONE blog post that took about 10 times longer to upload and arrange the photos than write the actual text).  But alas, my total NaNoWriMo word count is officially…(drum roll please)…a big fat ZERO!

In many ways this is good news.  It means I’m actually doing something worthwhile.  I didn’t expect to start looking for work so soon immediately after the big move, but I did a little bit of ground work (expecting it to take a few weeks at least to result in anything), but instead work has suddenly started coming to me.

(Un)fortunately due to certain developments I can’t slow down now on the job/work searching front.  I need to strike while the iron is hot (or in this case, before I have to start accepting/rejecting offers).

What does this mean for my NaNoWriMo challenge?  For now, my goals remain unchanged.  50,000 words.  Now in 27 days instead of 30.  I just need to pick up the pace and make up for the last few days.

I am an optimist by nature.  Or maybe just a moron.

Moving forward without regrets

September 23, 2011 in Best Of, Blogging, On Writing

I had a great catch up with one of my former bosses this week.  He’s undoubtedly the best supervising partner I’ve ever had (where I worked that didn’t mean much), though he didn’t really supervise me much as I was often pulled away by other partners for long-term deals and projects.  However, I always appreciated his sharp wit and I was extremely grateful for his help and support when I told him I had decided to make a switch (and he wasn’t even my supervisor then).  Interestingly, both of us have left our old firm and are starting something new.  I’m heading into the uncharted waters of writing while he has abandoned his million-dollar income for a fresh life as a barrister.

[For those who aren’t familiar, we used to work in a commercial law firm where we represented and advised corporate clients.  We could attend court on our clients’ behalf but that’s not our specialty — for contentious points of law or full blown trials and hearings we usually brief barristers (the guys that wear cloaks and wigs) to get their expert opinion or to get them to represent the client on our behalf.  In some ways, barristers are like freelance writers who have to manage their own business and clients.  Good ones earn big bucks.  Bad ones struggle to make ends meet.  In Australia, you only need to take the bar exam to become a barrister — in America you need to pass it just to practice as an ordinary lawyer.]

For both of us, the decision to leave was not all that hard.  Obviously it was easier for me because I had only been a lawyer for about four years and I had lost all passion for the work I was doing.  Well, it’s questionable whether I ever had the ‘passion’ to begin with.  Enthusiasm, maybe, but I wouldn’t go much further than that.  On top of that there was the constant stress, anxiety and long hours that had morphed my once youthful appearance into something more commensurate to my real age, or perhaps even beyond.  I just wanted to get out, and the earlier I did it the better.

For him, it must have been a titanic struggle.  He had been a partner for almost a decade, meaning he was probably taking home around $1.5m a year.  Most barristers apparently make a loss in their first year or two while they build their profile and business.  With a family and several young children to support, the financial comfort could have been reason enough to tough it out.  But he admitted that he had had enough of the place and that he simply wasn’t enjoying it any more.  Partners were dropping like flies in the prolonged aftermath of the 2008 GFC and there must have been ridiculous pressure to keep his practice afloat.

I’d be lying if I said I never wondered what it would be like had I not quit the law and just stuck with it.  On good days I would think about the positives of working there, such as the pay, friends and the perks that come with working in a big firm with loads of money to throw around.  If I had stayed, I would have been earning well in excess of a 6-figure salary by now, and considering how tough it’s been financially the last year or so (thank goodness the wife still earns something), that money surely would have been nice to have.

I have a few friends who started around the same time as me that are earning big bucks now, and a few aren’t all that far away from partnership (in that I mean 3 or 4 years…if they’re lucky).  I had another friend who left the law to become a journalist tell me the other day that a former colleague of ours (whom a new recruit once thought was my gay lover — we arrived late together to an after-work function) is now a partner at a rival law firm.  He had just been made senior associate when I was around and must have taken the fast track to partnership.  I couldn’t picture the campy person that I knew, with his arms flailing all over the place every time he spoke, being a partner of a big law firm.  And yet he was.

My ex-supervisor had told me before, and he told me again when we caught up, that I’d most probably make partner if I stayed.  For a moment my ego inflated and I fantasised the prestige and income that came with it.  But just as quickly I tore it down.  There wasn’t any part of me that wanted that life any more, and certainly no part of me was willing to endure the torture to get there.

He then said something that made a lot of sense, and applied to both of us.  He said that he could have, if he really wanted to, toughed it out — but then he would have always regretted not giving his new career a try.  He had always wanted to be a barrister but, like many others before him, got caught up in the partnership ladder and never got to live his dream.  If things don’t work out as a barrister, then fine, he would seek something else, but at least he knew in his heart that he gave it a try.

I feel the same.  You won’t believe how many people think I’m crazy for switching to writing — most just give a friendly warning about how hard it is but you can tell from their eyes that they think you’re crazier than a bald-headed Britney.  But if my ex-supervisor — someone that had already done the hard yards and was earning millions could walk away and start over — and can bear the condescension and doubting voices of his family, friends and peers, then surely it can’t be that hard for someone like me.  I’m fortunate to be in a position where I have the ability and opportunity to make a change.  If I don’t take advantage of it and put in 100% then I am a fool.

The fear and doubt is still there but at least I am moving forward with no regrets.

Book Review: ‘Lives and Letters’ by Robert Gottlieb

September 11, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews

I’m a big fan of profiles, so I was ecstatic to receive a whole book of them in the mail to review for a trade publication.  The book was Lives and Letters, an anthology of profiles and essays by Robert Gottlieb, one of the most prolific editors in America.

Gottlieb is a former editor-in-chief of power publishing houses Simon & Schusters and Alfred A Knopf, and the former editor of The New Yorker.  He has over 50 years of experience in the industry, and is probably best known for ‘discovering’ and editing Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and has edited the likes of Salman Rushdie, Ray Bradbury, Michael Crichton, Sidney Portier, John Lennon, Bob Dylan…and even John Cheever! (see video below).


Lives and Letters is marvellous collection of 44 pieces of splendid writing, most of which are profiles of celebrated writers and performers in film, theatre and dance, as well as iconic public figures.  Names everyone should recognise include Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Sarah Bernhardt, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Katherin Hepburn and the British Royals.  There’s also a couple of more personal pieces — essays on Gottlieb’s love affair with the New York City Ballet, and the surprisingly venomous fallout from Gottlieb replacing William Shawn as editor of The New Yorker.

My favourite pieces were the profiles on Harry Houdini and Minou Drouet, a child poet who took the poetry world by storm when she was just 7 or 8 years old before fading into obscurity.  The piece on the touching relationship between writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and legendary editor Maxwell E Perkins was also a pleasure to read.

All pieces were commissioned for a print publication over roughly the last 15 years, so naturally they differ in length, detail and focus.  Some are as short as 4 pages, while others can go for a dozen or more.  Some are straight profiles, while others feel more like reviews of books or films about the subjects.

Gottlieb’s style is simple, articulate, confident and efficient.  That said, his writings do have a certain highbrow sophistication to them reflective of his privileged upbringing that might irk some people.

The great thing though is that because Gottlieb is such a fabulous writer and editor, every piece is an engaging read that provides illuminating insights into his subjects.  He seems to always be able to find just the right quotes and anecdotes to reveal what makes the subject tick, their quirks, the relationships that defined them, what made them successful, and often, what led to their downfalls.

That said, not every piece was to my personal liking because they might be about subjects I’m not particularly interested in (especially dance and classical music).  Those pieces had many technical references I was not familiar with, and I’m sure other readers without Gottlieb’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the arts would be in the same boat.

Every now and then Gottlieb’s critical editor eye can also go overboard and overwhelm the narrative by getting too pedantic about every little thing that was wrong with, say, a biography written about the subject, including the author’s/editor’s poor grammar.  That’s why I preferred Gottlieb’s straight profiles — but everyone will have their own preferences and favourites.

Ultimately, Lives and Letters is a superb collection that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  My aim was to read one piece a day, but on most days I read 3 or 4 because they were so fascinating.  Even some of the subjects I thought I knew a little about contained so many juicy nuggets of info that I couldn’t help but read on.  I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the arts or the lives and scandals of the rich and famous throughout (Western) history.