Hello Productivity Alchemy people!

Hello! If you’re here from Productivity Alchemy, welcome!

I don’t know what else to say except that in the space between talking with Kevin and the episode going live, there’s a few things I feel I need to update (hahaha).

I have stepped into the world of fountain pen inks. Right now my primaries are both Japanese inks – specifically the Kyo-Iro series. I am in love with the Flaming Red of Fushimi and the Soft Snow of Ohara. Will probably do a more in-depth review of the inks when I am writing more.

I have also added the Pilot Juice Up pens to my arsenal, though these are mainly the Metallics and the Pastel range, both of which show up wonderfully on black paper. These are some of the things I picked up at a recent Bookfair (book fairs tend to be a mix of stationery and other things being sold, it’s wild).

Haul at Popular Book Fair

Thanks for dropping by!

Writing Tips

Uploading gifs to Facebook natively

Native gif uploading for Facebook

Uploading gifs to Facebook natively has finally arrived for business pages! No third party linking required. All you need is to create your usual organic posts using the normal Facebook page status updates (tested only on desktop). Here’s how:

  1. Click and drag your gif as you would an image or regular video into your regular post update box. Alternately, click on the Camera/Photo upload icon and select your gif file.
  2. Add some text to accompany your gif. Treat it like a regular update.
  3. Click on Publish or if you’re a bit nervous, “Save as Draft.”
  4. Facebook will show you that your video is being processed. Refresh the page or check in your drafts, depending on where you save.
  5. Watch your GIF come to life natively.

A few things to note:

  • There is no preview for your gif before you press “Publish” or “Save as draft”. You’ll see just the film icon that indicates a video file is there.
  • If you upload it via the “Select File from PC” option instead of drag and drop, Facebook treats it like a video. You can actually title your gif and give it a description to make it searchable
  • Yes, this means Facebook now supports uploading gif natively and you will no longer need to upload it to a third party site like Giphy anymore.

Yes, this is very unintuitive, I know.

Writing Tips

[Quick tip] Changing fonts on Outlook 365 and Web

Updated as of 1 March 2018:

To change your fonts, signature and other settings in Outlook 365/ email, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Gear icon and type Options into the search box.
    Start from search

  2. Select Message Options from the results.

  3. In Office 365, you’ll find your messaging options on the left. Click on Layout. Change fonts from the Email signature and Message format sections.
    how to select

  4. In regular (aka if you are not under a company account), Email Signatures are under the Personalization tab and the Compose tab.

Yes, it’s ridiculous that there’s no real way to access the settings except by going through Search. The even more ridiculous part is that these settings were so hidden in the first place. For goodness sake, Microsoft, I should not need to write a post just so I can remember how to change my signature!

Writing Tips

Alternatives to 750words

750words is a website dedicated to morning pages. These pages were first mentioned in Julia Cameron’s the Artist’s Way, as a simple writing exercise. You basically freewrite for 3 pages (I think it’s A4 or US letter) in the morning, which comes up to 750 words, more or less. In true Internet fashion, is a minimal writing site that encourages and gamifies morning pages, helping you get started.

Now, first thing to note, I like 750words. I do agree that morning pages are better than meditation in a few ways. It acts as a confessional of sorts, focusing on stream of consciousness. Some people get emotional experiences. Some become more creative, and so forth. Me I find it useful when I wake early enough to type them, but this is not always going to be the case.

750words has a hidden subscription price which, while cheap, is not something I want to pay for right now. Especially not when there are plenty of alternatives, such as:

alt text

WriteaDay (Android only)

WriteADay is a wonderful and colourful tool to keep you writing.

It’s colour-coded by day, so the more you write, the more gradients you get. If all you need is just a quick app that motivates you to jot down thoughts throughout the day and you’d like to gamify yourself, this is an excellent tool. When you’ve written a few entries, you get a lovely streak of colour.

Bonus? You get free backup to Google Drive AND a Night or Day mode – the latter is excellent if you don’t like the blinding white background. You can also change the font to something a little more readable (2 options). Did I mention that these are all in the free mode?

Paying for the app gets you extra font options, password protection (PIN+Fingerprint) and one more viewing mode (Dusk). There’s also a pretty damn good range of affordable subscriptions: monthly is the cheapest at USD2 (cheaper than a cup of coffee!), yearly will cost you USD10 (one month discount) but I think the Lifetime is the best bang for buck at just a measly USD25.

alt text

Journey (Cross-platform)

Journey is a more feature-packed journal writing software compared to most others on the market.

In some cases you can think of Journey as the replacement to when Google Docs took out the option to publish HTML and other networks. It tags your entries by location, date and time. A snapshot of the weather is also attached.

There’s also the option to add photos (videos are a premium/cloud feature), your own tags and write from all devices. PC, Mac, phone… these are all enabled by default. Prices start at Rm7.99 per device but the Cloud price unlocks everything across all devices at Rm18.99 (currently on sale with a 20% discount).

Google Docs

Free, online, and easy to use. Just make sure you close all other tabs to prevent distractions.


Despite the fact that this software is more or less orphaned, I still love Baara’s Q10. I would not have written as much nor focus if it were not for this minimalist app.

You can still install it from the website, and here are instructions in case Windows10 or Win7 gives you issues. And yes, I’ve tried a few others but I love Q10 the most.

Putting it here because if you are the kind that likes an offline app this is most likely to fit your needs. Set the timer, and just write.

So what will you pick?

So many writing tools, so little focus to write, no?


[Review] Clockwork Boys by T. Kingfisher

Author: T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon)
Price: USD 4.99 e-book, USD 24.95 hardcover
ISBN10: 1614504067
ISBN13: 9781614504061

TL;DR: A quick escape from the mundanity of life with a dose of laughter and fantasy made unusual.

Disclaimer: I may get a small commission from the Book Depository links.

A ninja accountant, a smoking assassin, a paladin with a dead demon, and a misogynistic, impressionable genius teen scholar set out on a suicide mission. They stand a higher likelihood of killing each other before the mission gets them, and that’s before they leave the city.

Clockwork Boys is a delightful read. It is also my first Ursula Vernon (writing as T. Kingfisher) story, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. According to most reviews, this book is a little darker than her regular stuff, but to me after reading so many doomsday books and articles in 2017, her words are a refreshing breath in 2018.

The characters are really what make Clockwork Boys come alive. Slate, the main character is a resigned 30-year old forger who, according to her own description, is nondescript. She has an inconvenient magical gift tied to her nose, and a gift for staying alive. Also I have not seen anyone do nose-related magic well and Ursula nails it here.

Caliban is great as the paladin with a hole in his soul and a demon on his mind. He’s a very pretty paladin (as is noted by other readers) and I like that in addition to his brooding, he can be rather dumb yet smart. His struggle with his faith was something I did not expect to resonate with me, but his resolution was certainly… interesting.

Brenner, whom I will call the transactional assassin, is really good at killing and very practical. For a practical assassin though, I am surprised to find that he smokes; I didn’t think an assassin would give themselves away with that habit but maybe it works a little differently in that world, who knows?

Rounding up the group is nineteen year old Learned Edmund, who is the healer and kid who thinks women will jump on him the moment they get the chance to. Also hello misogyny. It’s a very good take on specialisation and incredible nitpicking.

I love the chemistry and I love what happens in this story, and I cannot wait for the sequel. That said, I have a lot of questions after reading this book.

The worldbuilding feels somewhat haphazard. We’re given glimpses but it feels a bit like what I’d expect to read in a summary of a dungeonmaster’s setting. Some things happen in the book that make me go “bwuh?” particularly where geography is concerned but I’m hoping that the Wonder Machine will fill in the blanks.

Summary? This book makes a great reward for completing small but unpleasant tasks. It is also very hard to put down, so don’t make my mistake and read it before bed. Do it after dinner instead.


We survived 2017!

This post should be published on January 1, 2018, and with that I’d like to say…


2017 was a shit year for many of us. It was a great year for many of us too. But if you work in the creative lines, it can feel a bit depressing because there’s just a lot of bad and worse news.

However, we made it this far. We are still alive this day in 2018, and though things may feel the same, they also feel a little different (I hope).

That said, 2017 was a detox year for me. I left a toxic environment behind, started at a new place, began buying books again (though admittedly I have yet to start reading again), wrote fiction for myself, wrote fiction as an experiment again, and ended my beef with ~Samseng~ Samsung phones (hello Note FE).

I’m writing this as a reminder of the things I experienced in 2017. You can consider this a bragging list and so if you want, you can stop reading right here.

So, my year went something like this:

  • January – took my first official business trip down to Singapore. Didn’t quite work out, I left the job a month later but it was a fun trip.
  • February – I found a new job and began the resignation process. It was a long time coming and not a few people were unsurprised.
  • March – My first speaking arrangement! I was invited to be a speaker at the All-In Young Writers Festival in Singapore. It was my first time moderating a panel AND meeting most of the Singaporean Pulp Toast team.
  • April – started at new job. Working hours were killer but it seemed my boss liked most of what I was doing. The slightly slower pace seemed really weird after doing multiple tasks for many different brands.
  • June – I lent a friend of an acquaintance my two typewriters. They were exhibited and it was glorious.
  • July – I went to CAFKL and gotloot. Quite a few of them are on display, but most are in storage for when I actually move to a new place. Also did the whole Bullet Journal thing. It turned out much more productive and efficient at clarifying my thoughts. This was also a hectic time at work cause my boss used it as a test run for another event in November.
  • August – Company trip to Bali! It was fun but I didn’t have as much time as I wanted for introspection. Also towards the end of the month I had a horrible viral fever that ended with rashes for a week.
  • September – took my car on her first multi-hour road trip out of state. She handled it far better than I expected and bonus? Mom liked driving her too.
  • October – Celebrated friend getting registered for marriage and had awesome food. Also wrote a long rant on the personal blog for a game I play. xD This was also the month I bought a new phone.
  • November – Completed Nanowrimo yay! It’s just 50,116 words, probably about 80% of which I will discard, but the process was essential to reassuring myself that I can still write and imagine fiction if I want to. Now to continue it for the upcoming year. Achievement as well: I consistently was able to write at least 400-600 words per session with the stylus if I wanted. The only drawback were sore hands. xD
  • December – Ho gods the final stretch. We’re this close to saying goodbye to the year. Friends got married, social links were re-established, I went on a 3-night trip with mom and we didn’t kill each other, and work is DONE for the year. Wow.

Compared to the last few years, this is the first time in a long time I’ve felt that the year change will be less of just another day and more of time is taking its breath in a long time. Is it a change of eras? Who knows?

I hope your 2018 will be kind and wonderful. For now though, let’s celebrate that WE SURVIVED 2017!

_Inspiration for this post came from Ursula Vernon aka the Wombat Test Subject. PS: Frozen penguin pic from Flickr here.

Writing Tips

Using the Bullet Journal System for ideas

Wanna try the bullet journal system but not a person who needs a To-Do list? Here’s how I modified the system to store ideas written on paper!

How it began

Not too long ago, I bought a second-hand Hobonichi Techno from Rin. This purchasing decision was based on two factors, namely I wanted a nice, different books for writing story/blog/etc ideas in, and it needed to be functional for me to want to use it regularly. Rin was selling only the cover and did not include a planner; this suited me just fine.

To complement the cover and because I have itchy fingers, I made some additional purchases from Taobao. This was an excuse to complete my pen collection and try out the new Ezbuy service (affiliate link).

I ended up getting this notebook because it had a few features that I wanted.

Pre-printed features on my bullet journal

  • Day of the week, so I could at a glance figure out when I was writing in this notebook
  • Weather of the day which was a nice touch that ended up with me tracking whether the weather influenced me
  • Thick-looking paper, which was essential as I tend to write with gel pens, so it had to be bleed-resistant at the very least
  • Cheap enough that I wouldn’t feel too bad for not writing in it as often as I should

It took about one month to arrive as I had selected the option to buy straight from the page instead of getting ezbuy to assign an agent. On one hand, this automated the process so it was literally click and buy, on the other hand it took the longest route to get here. A fuller review of ezbuy will come later (I have it in my drafts somewhere).

Modifying the bullet journal system

While waiting for the notebook to arrive, I did some research on bullet journaling (because it came up as a cult joke on Productivity Alchemy) and realised I didn’t have to follow the To-Do format that’s so popular. I also didn’t need to follow the monthly and weekly planning. It’s an idea book, for goodness sake, I’m not going to need a daily/weekly/monthly agenda!

With that in mind, I was now free to focus on what I wanted the book to do. In the end, I kept the following components from the original Bullet Journal idea:

A table of contents to keep track of my meta data

  • Page numbering
  • Index framework

Then I modified this to suit my needs. As such, I proceeded to add:

  • A tags page aka what the entry is about
  • A financial goals aka a reminder of things I want to do and how much approximately it will cost
  • A habit tracker page, which quickly became obsolete because I was adding/removing habits

I allocated a lot of pages for the index because I knew how much I would use these kinds of books once I got into the habit. 4 pages were also allocated for the tags page. The rest received 2 pages a piece.

Page number gifs

The most tedious part was actually numbering the pages. I may consider getting numbered pages for the next book, but I just number as I go along now. This makes it easier to ensure I don’t misnumber a page too.

Then it was time to start writing in the book. Because I was organising according to project and platform, I needed to be clear from the start where the idea was going to sit.

Here’s how the book is organised so far. The Techno comes with 2 bookmarks, and the book itself comes with another. Techno’s bookmarks are placed on the index page and the tags pages which make it easy to flip. The one for the notebook is on the last written page. Small touches matter.

Inside pocket keeps the original insert and a tissue for the gel pens

I haven’t made full use of the inside pockets of the Techno but I inserted a nice decorative piece bought from CAFKL into the Cover on Cover pocket. It also informs me when I should clean the cover since it’s a white card. :p

Replaced pen

The other thing I love about the Hobonichi is the pen holder that also keeps the book closed. It’s a simple and ingenious solution, but I only wish my pens would actually stay inside – the holder is kinda snug but not fitting, and the pens don’t seem to stay unless they have a have a sturdy clip – which my Muji pen doesn’t seem to have. So I replaced it with a Pilot WINGEL.

So far the system is working the way I was hoping it did. I find writing with paper and ink forces me to be more aware of what I write and the kind of paths it can go down.

It also gives me a good way to focus on the sound of the story; otherwise I would have written down the first idea I thought of and its expansions but completely miss the nuances the idea may have.

Backing up the bullet journal

Habit tracker page

This is also probably the right time to talk about managing backups and archives. I actually have in the habit tracker a reminder to back up the notes in this book weekly.

Currently, I am backing them up in one of two ways: either by transcribing them into a Google Doc for easier search or simply taking a photo and uploading that into Google Photos. This makes backups somewhat hassle-free and simple.

Final thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, I am still struggling to get into the habit of writing ideas down. No, I mean I should actually get back into regularly thinking of writing in the first place. And writing based on said ideas.

This bullet journal does actually work for me… when I actually use it. That’s been the biggest issue I have with it, which is probably a story for another day.

So, what do you think about my system? Any thoughts on how to improve, or do you have one of your own? Sound off in the comments or let me know on Facebook.

Writing Tips

Half an art, half a science

Writing is half an art, half a science.

There are rules to follow, but when you know what you have to work with, you’ll know what you can achieve. This is where showing up comes to play.

There’s a theory that says that showing up is half the work. As Tchaikovsky says, the muse doesn’t always show up at your first invitation. You have to work at it, and sometimes it will take a while before it finally does show. Mastering your hesitation to work or create is part of the challenge and journey to mastering your craft.

It takes time for this to happen, and sometimes it takes a long time to happen. Practice, and setting a ritual for getting writing done, are training tools writers can use to get creative writing done.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

The science part is rooted in the process, in understanding what makes you love a specific piece, the choice of words, settings, ideas and expression. It is understanding how to improve the work you have or to refine it to tell your story better. It is the act of enhancing what you have, of taking a critical eye to a piece and pruning all the excess away.

The art part is learning how to write well. It is in learning how to put words together to make them speak, to make them sing, to make it pleasant for the reader. It is the part that involves pouring your heart and emotions out to onto paper and screen to make them feel what you are feeling.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

Everyone can read. Everyone can write. Hell, everyone “has a book in them.” But not everyone has the skill to bring that book to life. Writing to elicit emotions, to convey ideas, and to drive action, these take specific skills.

Remember, it is a skill. Not talent, but skill. Talent helps you master a skill quicker and more efficiently, but talent without practice is useless.

This is why showing up matters. Practising regularly, even when you are tired, demotivated, exhausted, turns even something like writing into muscle memory. Your body remembers and trains itself. Your mind is a muscle that can be stretched and expanded.

Some people go big, and then they go home. I used to think like that too. Over the years, I realise that celebrating the small wins, and keeping them in mind when I stumble, are far better than remembering the huge disappointments when I overextend myself. They keep me going longer and smile more, which is the most important bit.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

Put in the hours to write. Put in the time to learn what works best for you. But put in too, the time to care for yourself. If you find yourself stumbling when rambling, then learn to recognise it is an issue that affects you deeply. When you hit a block, especially if you are doing something like morning pages, respect yourself.

Take time to understand the person you view yourself as and the person you are confronting. Understand that the person in the mirror, on the page, in your head, is not your enemy (unless you have depression or have mental illness, in which case please know that I love you and I hope you find help or that you have a great support system because you are that kind of awesome person and many hugs but we’re digressing)… Understand that that person is another part of you and that person makes up the person you are.

You can either accept this person, work with them to sort out the issues in your life, or cut them out completely. Treat them with compassion, because they are a part of you, and if you cut them out, do it with kindness. Understand that loving yourself and being kind and open to yourself are not indications that you are fragile, but that you are strong and comfortable enough in your own skin like few ever are.

Writing is half an art, half a science.

Learn to enjoy the process of simply showing up to write. Be comfortable with the idea that no one else will ever see your writing. Learn to experiment with words, to change sentences, to play with different forms, all to understand what works for you.

Anyone and everyone on the Internet today presumably can read and write, but if you choose to be a writer, then own it. Write like an artist and pour your heart out onto whatever medium you want. Then write like a scientist and add or subtract to it until it says what you hope to say.

Writing is half an art, half a science.


Creating A Portfolio: Your Objective Matters

This is a follow up to the Guide to Creating Your Writer’s Portfolio article I wrote recently.

One of the things that struck me when comparing similar personal writer’s portfolio sites is how the most well-designed all highlighted the purpose of why the site was created. In particular, I referenced Elna Cain’s post. It was a great resource in designing a website with a specific objective in mind. So what are the 4 main common purposes?

Objective: To attract clients

Your landing page, or the page the users will see the moment you land, should be your “About Us” page. Keep it short and simple. Show the reader why they should hire you immediately.

I love Elna Cain’s About page for this. She starts off with her proposition for you and goes straight into what she offers (writing as a mom dealing with twins). It’s no-nonsense and yet gives a glimpse of what her writing style might be like.

Objective: To show off best work & repository

This one is slightly trickier. It depends on quite a few questions, namely:
– Is your work offline or online or both?
– Do you have links or copies to your work if online? If offline do you have permission to upload your articles?
– How much work do you want to show?
– Do you have at least 3 pieces, preferably of variable length OR for different platforms? Otherwise, can you create three pieces that will show your versatility and ability?

As a general rule and for SEO purposes, search engines frown on having too many external links on a page. For this reason, I would recommend highlighting just a few pieces instead of linking everything you have. Plus you can also redirect people to your contact form if they would like to see more.

Alexandra Wong of BunnySprints has a great highlight of the work she’s done on her homepage. A glimpse of her work gives the reader confidence in her work and establishes her writing niche immediately, which in a world of 3-second attention spans, is essential.

Objective: Cement reputation/claim real estate

This may seem like vanity, but if you intend to do freelance seriously and you have a somewhat common name (as I do) then yes, a domain is necessary. Here’s the thing; the only name that matters is the name that you intend to introduce yourself to clients with.

So if you have a long name like say Muhammad Iqbal Abdullah Safuan or a may-be-unpronounceable Rong Zi Shan, you don’t have to get a domain that is as long as that. This is for two reasons: it’s hard for most people to remember and you don’t want a typo to send them to a malicious site (in case you get famous enough).

So stick to an easy domain. Your full name will be listed on your site anyway, so as long as you do your SEO right it’ll point back to you. Your site, especially if you don’t have a lot of work to exhibit, should consist at the minimum an About Me, Contact and Sample Writing pages. In fact, if you can stick to a schedule, then maintaining a blog should also be part of your plans.

Najua Ismail’s site is a good example of keeping it short and sweet. Her intro immediately describes her skills and has a clear call-to-action that invites users to check her work out.


Yes, you can decide that you want your site to have all 3 objectives, but it’s best to pick one to focus on. You can then add some flair to your website that will achieve the other two objectives.

Have additional advice? Let me know in the comments below!

Writing Tips

[Guide] Creating a Writer’s Portfolio

Note: This post may contain affiliate links.

So recently I had a chat with D about creating her portfolio. She is primarily a fiction writer, but the ideas and tips below can be applied to any writer. Having a ready-made writer’s portfolio serves two purposes:

  • Looks good on your namecard
  • Easy to show potential clients your past work
  • Bonus: Reminder that you can do great work

Making Magic Happen

Creating Your Writer’s Portfolio

The good news is that it’s 2017 and there are plenty of options for writers, but particularly for cash-strapped Malaysian writers, to showcase their work. The bad news is that there are plenty of options, which can make deciding how to showcase your work a daunting task.

Step 1: Defining Purpose

This sounds like the easiest step but you would be surprised at how many people often splutter about this. What’s the purpose of your site? Is it to:
* Find clients?
* Be a repository of your best work?
* Cement your reputation?
* Claim your internet “real estate” before someone else with a similar name does?
* Because your lecturer told you?

Each will have slightly different organisational requirements depending on your ultimate purpose. Yes, you can have multiple purposes, but all of the above is not the right answer (especially the lecturer one). So once you’ve decided, you’re ready to take the next step.

Creating Your Sitemap

Step 2: Sitemapping

I have to admit, this is my favourite part of the process. I like sitemapping because it’s putting order to chaos. It also makes you examine whether you have enough to launch or if you’ll need to create more content. I suggest creating your sitemap to fit your main purpose. This also helps in picking the best design/layout for your needs.

Choosing Your Platform

Step 3: Picking a Platform

Your platform choices are probably going to be dictated by these factors (and most likely in the following order):
– Money
– Time you can invest
– Your purpose

So what are your choices and likely investment?

Contently and other free portfolio sites:
These are specific sites dedicated to hosting portfolios. They’re like staying in a dorm. You can put up posters and decorate it how much you like, but there will be strict limits.

_Wordpress, Blogspot and other free CMS (Content Management System):_
This is more like staying in a rented apartment. You have more flexibility to do what you want but not massive renovations (unless you pay for it). Also you need to follow the platform’s TOS or they can kick you out and keep your things.

Like owning your own landed property in the city. You can do what you want but you need to obey the laws of the city, which is usually lax enough that you can get away with a lot of things.

Step 4: Execute!

The final step is usually to do the actual work. Once you’ve identified your purpose, your platforms and the materials you need to get things done, it’s usually pretty straight-forward to get everything else into place.

Unpopular opinion: Unless you have a lot of screenshots and/or the raw HTML files, I think writers putting their works on places like Behance is a waste of time. Those sites are primarily designer-based, and it’s hard to read long-form on it.

And yes, I know, creating your portfolio is damn terrifying. It only took me oh… two years and the threat of being without a desk job for me to actually get off my ass and create this site. However, I already used places like Contently to highlight my stuff before this, and that helped in getting my mind around the content I wanted to showcase.

Creating your own portfolio site, as I mentioned earlier isn’t just about people finding you. It’s also a reminder that you, as a writer, can do good work. Work that you are happy to say “I did that.”

As long, of course, that you actually did the work.