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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Writing Report S2 #31 (Special Batam Report): Soldiering On

This Writing Report is for the dates from 7th January 2017 to the 15th January 2017, a total of nine days.

A little belated reporting here, but there is nothing much beyond routine here, as routine as living in another country can get.

I have been able to maintain a 2,000-words-a-day writing rate for this entire period. So 9 days X 2,000 words = 18,000 words. It is only in my next writing report that there's some under-performance, but for this period, the worse drop in performance I can give was a few hundred words short of 2,000, which would then be covered the next day - This, if I remember correctly, was actually quite common, happening on half the days probably, but I was able to maintain my favoured pacing.

I had completed my first Batam horror story within this period, and had moved on to a flash fiction about the fall of an ancient civilisation. A post-apocalyptic log obscured by a millennia-old language barrier, translation problems and huge cultural differences. I won't give away the 'catch' there.

Next, I moved on to an idea I've had for a very long time (since secondary school I believe) - a story set during the a run, in this case, an ultramarathon. Imagine running for your life, for 100 kilometres! Bet it'd have you hyperventilating! A more complete overview of my writing of this ultramarathon story will be covered in the next writing report.

One thing I'd like to add though is that I've developed a habit for writing in cafes and restaurants to the point where up to 50% of my writing are coming from public places. It helps that life is slow here in Batam, therefore there's few people in those places, especially when I'm doing it during office hours. It also helps that construction has been going on next door during work hours, so I feel like I'm being pushed (present tense here because it's still going on, and will go on for years, likely) to do this. It's not an entirely bad thing. I might even import this habit back to Singapore, if I can find a good place to do it.

Well, until next time!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Why Writers should Travel

Just yesterday, I had finally closed off the first draft of my very first story set in Batam, Indonesia. At a surprising 11,111 words long (I'm not kidding if Microsoft Word isn't), it is the second longest story I've developed for my second book, a horror short stories collection.

Just a little teaser for anyone here who wants to reads anything in my (admitted tiny) bibliography, it's a story that's clinched many 'first' titles. It's my first ghost story - surprising again, I know, because I write horror. But honestly, my stance is that ghost stories are done too many times and it's a saturated genre. It feels as if everything about it has been done, every angle explored. That said, I wrote this one for a very good reason which I will cover later.

It's also, as mentioned on top, my very first story that's set in Batam, Indonesia, and one of the few that isn't set within Singaporean borders.

It's a very personal short story, one that's built on my experiences. It's about a happy-go-lucky type writer (I know XD but come on, I write all kinds of characters) who goes to Batam to work on a crime thriller novel, only to encounter something sinister in the boarding house he is renting a room in - or more accurately, from its dead 'Siamese twin' next door.

You should be glad that that's not it, but the Siamese Twin building is only slightly better.

Don't worry though, while I haven't encountered anything supernatural yet except for some strange bells ringing around midnight and a few odd tapping at God-knows-where while I'm showering, I'm still alive and well, and I'm not posting this from the netherworld (or am I?).

That leads off to the point I'm trying to make. This story is made possible only because I got off my butt and plopped it down somewhere else on the globe. By doing that and actually living in the locale I travelled to, I've gained so much more to work with. Just the place I live at alone has so much character, even if some of them made me kinda worried for my own safety and sanity.

As writers tend to write what they know - I know I do, to maintain authenticity - This is pretty much one of the best ways to write what you previously don't know; expanding what you know so you can write more interesting things.

What I'm doing is just for starters. I'm just going to be stuck in one new place for a month - most of the fresh new things I experienced would already be experienced in the first few days of my life here in Batam, with my depth of knowledge of the place increasing only marginally with not much new material to be had in the subsequent days.

To gain a whole spectrum of new material, some backpacking would be in order, going from one place to the next after just a few days, absorbing all the new locations, people, sights, sounds, everything. And to make sure you experience everything, you shouldn't be so shy about it either - chin up, chest up, and walk on through. That's what I've been doing so far anyway, without knowing the lingua franca of the area nor their customs, and I've been doing fine so far.

Anyway, a Writing Report is coming up tomorrow.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Writing Report S2 #30 (Special Batam Report): A Weekday in Batam

This Writing Report is for the dates from 1st January 2017 to 6th January 2017 (Sunday to Friday).

Ever since landing on the island of Batam, my writing speed has been kicked into high gear. I have been able to put out 2,000 words a day, somethings with an additional 100 or more, no problem. I've only ever strayed on a single day, probably Wednesday, by being short 500 words, but that's made up for on Thursday.

In other words, in 6 days, I've put out slightly more than 12,000 words - This is the standard as prescribed by Stephen King. Now, the only thing is to maintain this, and bring this standard back home. Not sure if it'd be possible if I resume working, but I can try. Video games have become less and less my standard form of entertainment anyway, not so much disappearing but giving even more room to reading and writing.

Back then, it used to be that I'd spend a few hours on computer games, about an hour or two on reading and another two hours on writing. For now in Batam, assuming I'm still writing at the speed of 500 words an hour, that's four hours of writing, perhaps two hours of reading, maybe a mere hour or two of computer games (mostly mobile games and retro oldies) and perhaps an hour or two of television.

What concerns me is a sense of purposelessness that I feel. By right, I should be full of purpose right now. I guess it's just me breaking away from working life.

Anyway, just yesterday, I've concluded the draft 1 of Faceless Angel, which I've renamed to Faceless for the moment, and I've even produced a working draft of my first horror poetry piece - though I'm not sure if I can call it that. I don't quite adhere to metre, or have a definite rhythmic scheme, but I believe a few revisions might bestow those properties at least sparingly.

For my next project, I might either work on a story about someone getting stuck in his own house due to supernatural reasons, or a story set in my current country of residence, Batam. We'll see.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Writing in an Isolated Locale

So, I've been in Batam for the past three days. There's been some surprises, as well as some disappointments, but let's stick to the writing, shall we?

First of all, the environment is conducive for writing, and the reasons may not be what you expect. But first, let's start with the more predictable factors, shall we?:

- The city is far less dense and urbanised, which means slower pacing, less stress. This allows me to think even when I'm in some of the more 'crowded' places, such as the mall, which is nearly empty compared to the malls of Singapore, which are practically flowing with people. Creativity flows much more freely here.

- Cheaper cost of living removes further stress. I don't have to worry about money as I've come from a richer country. This allows me to focus on my writing, rather than survival. There's a reason why literacy wasn't very popular millennia ago, you know.

- Isolation. Basically, I have no human contact beyond the supermart clerks and cashiers or the receptionist at my boarding house. No one to bother me while I'm writing. Even as I write in a cafe, I find myself sweetly uninterrupted.

- The different environment is also beneficial as a form of inspiration. Instead of always setting my stories in Singapore, I now have an alternative location to write about, and first hand experience on how it is like here!

Now, onto the weirder reasons why Batam, as a less dense, rich and urbanised place is beneficial for writing:

- Lacking facilities and entertainment. By this, I mean access to computer games, the movies, public access books. But this is exactly what I'm looking for - Back in Singapore, I am always distracted, living a rather hedonistic lifestyle (compared to simpler living). I've purposely left all that behind. But won't you wilt away form the lack of cultural consumption, you ask?

Well, I've brought enough with me - my Kindle Paperwhite, my laptop has access to very simple games that I'll only be willing to play in bursts of 10 - 30 minutes (it's a writing laptop, so the specs are modest), and my boarding house room has a television (with a poor selection of channels with low quality visuals). It isn't that restaurants and the cinema are non-existent, just of lesser quality and accessibility (closest mall is over 1km away and has to be reached on foot through inhospitable terrain). All this has the effect of discouraging 'over-consumption' and I feel empowered to write as much for my own entertainment as well as for my professional development.

- Reduction of choice. I've 'trapped' myself in Batam for a month through my commitment of money into this venture and a fixed schedule for my transport. Similar to the above, it means that I have only my writing to worry about, and I'll have to make good on the money invested as well as the effort. All the more serious, by living here for a month, I'm losing a month in which I can spend on finding a job, so I'm investing time and opportunity cost as well. Quite a hefty price to flesh out some stories.

So there you have it! In short, I would recommend travelling overseas for a little writer's retreat, but you have to be ready to sacrifice. You'll need to know what you're getting into, and you'll need to plan a lot to pull it off. I've planned like a month in advance, but started looking into it MONTHS in advance.

It's been productive so far. But you guys will hear more about that in my first writing report on the morrow.

In the meantime, don't worry about me. Contrary to popular perception, 'rural' places aren't populated by nasty inbred cannibals. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to investigate that scream I just heard outside my door...