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.

Writing Tips

WordPress and Google Docs Integration

Several weeks ago, WordPress broke news that they had a Google Docs add-on that would allow you to send your drafts right to your blog. This was big news, especially since Google Docs killed the “Post to Website” function back in 2010 (leading indirectly to the rise of Social Media but that’s another story).

So hearing that it was back got me excited. Of course the first thing I did upon waking the computer was to add the Google Docs add-on and then… nada. It kept asking me to log in when trying to authenticate the Google Docs WordPress plugin to the point I just gave up. I even managed to trigger my WordPress’ “are you human?” security check. All this was happening while I was technically still logged into my site!

After two days and an annoyed review later, I sent in a support request. Thanks to timezone differences, it took me about 2 weeks to fix the issue, and it’s actually a very simple one.

Solving Google Docs WordPress Login Loop

  1. Deactivate all plugins except Jetpack.
  2. Disconnect Jetpack by going to Left Sidebar > Jetpack > Scroll down > Disconnect Jetpack text link.
  3. Refresh. Follow the steps to RECONNECT Jetpack. Visit http://wordpress.com/sites to verify your new site is there.
  4. Go to Google Docs > Add-Ons > Get More Add-Ons (if you have not already installed the WordPress.com For Google Docs Add-on) > WordPress > Open. You should see a “Draft to WordPress” bar on your right.
  5. Tap “Add WordPress Site”
  6. Follow the instructions.
  7. ???
  8. Profit!

It’s actually a very straightforward fix but it just didn’t occur to me because I was doing it one step at a time and not connecting the link between steps 1 and 2. We’ll probably see how it handles media later. But yes, thank you Carolyn S. for helping me!

Writing Tips

Moderating tips

I had a blast at the All-In! Young Writers Festival last week held at *Scape from 10 March to 12 March 2017. That said, it was also my first time moderating a panel of speakers. I moderated a panel on experiential marketing aka advertising. It was a surprisingly easy panel to moderate, mainly because I had excellent speakers, but I picked up a few tips that you might want to consider if you are asked to moderate a panel:

1. Research, research, research
Find out who your panellists are. Read their works. Check out their stance on issues, if needed. Craft the questions you want to ask them based on what you’ve read.

2. Introduce yourself
Depending on your organiser, you may be able to meet your panellists beforehand virtually. Introduce yourself politely, ask them about their planned topics and discuss the topics you may want to cover.

3. Prep speech and questions
Check the festival guidelines before preparing your speech. Familiarise yourself with what’s required and practice saying them out loud a few days before your actual talk. If needed, get a notebook and write the speech instead.

Prep your questions too, in case everyone is too shy to do so during the Q&A session.

4. Settle on a cue
Your speakers may ramble on. Make sure you speak to your panellists beforehand about cues to warn them if they’re going over the limit. It can be as discreet as a cough or another small signal.

5. Thank your panellists and sponsors
This should be in your moderator’s guidelines, really. Thank them and your sponsors. And thank those who attended.

And that’s it. Have a tip/idea I missed out on? Lemme know in the comments!


March 2017 Updates

Whee, this is the first post for this brand new site! March 2017 is shaping up to be a rather exciting month, and I’ve got two big announcements!

First, my super short flash fiction piece, Desperate Magic is being published in the inaugural Flash Fiction Magazine on Amazon! It has 50 super short stories written by 50 different authors, and I hope you will enjoy them all as I did.

My second announcement also relates to short stories; the Pulp Toast/Roti Bakar team will be attending the All-In! Young Writers Festival 2017 happening at *Scape this 10 -12 March, 2017! Join us for a “Snackable Fiction” session at 10am to 11am on Saturday, March 11 to learn more about writing snackable, bite-sized fiction.

I’ll also be moderating the “Life’s Guilty Pleasures” panel on the same day, but from 1.10pm to 2pm, which will explore using words to sell concepts and products featuring Zalora’s Head of Content, Joyce Chua, and Walter Panganiban, the Corporate Affairs Manager of Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines.

You can get tickets here or follow the hashtag #ALLINSG2017 on Twitter and Facebook. See you there!