Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!
Holly Tse: Now you mentioned that when you had a written journal that you wrote it in rather sporadically. I know with your blog, you write more often. Do you have a recommendation as to how often someone should blog?
Sacha Chua: As often as you’d like to. Which is to say that you should never beat up for not writing often, and you should never beat yourself up for forgetting to write. It doesn’t matter if you come back to it after a couple of months or whatever.
The thing that really helps me write regularly is that I don’t just use this as a way to look back. I don’t just see it as a way to build audience or do other things like that. I use my blog as a way to figure things out. Whether it’s “Do I replace the dead battery in my laptop? What are the pros and cons… Do a cost-benefit analysis…” (turned out to be worth it, so I did go ahead and do that) – so, making decisions, or whether I want to use it to do a quick review of what happened in the last week, what do I want to do in the next week, how do I want to improve things a little bit further… to things like, here’s a little thing I’m going to forget, but I’m going to need it sometime in the future, so I’m going to stick it in here so that I can Google it. This has happened. I have searched for stuff, found the answer on my blog, completely forgotten that I’d written it, but have been so glad that I did.
So yeah, write as often as these situations occur to you. I write whenever I’m trying to figure things out, or when I want to remember, or when I want to share something with other people. Let’s say somebody e-mails me a question I think other people might be interested in the answer to. I’ll write it on my blog and send them a link. That way, it’s there for search engines. It’s there for other people who want to share it…
There’s always those stories and tidbits. It’s not that you’re going to have any lack of material. There are a lot of stories you can tell. If you take the story that you care most about telling, and you do this as often as you’d like to build the habit… I block out time daily now, because I get fidgety if I don’t write for a long time. Block off some time to do it, whether it’s daily or weekly, or whenever you feel like doing it, whenever you’ve got a story to tell or something to figure out, and write.
HT: So you don’t need to be a skilled writer, like a journalist, to have your own blog.
SC: You don’t get to be a skilled writer until you write. This is something surprising, but it is true. You don’t expect to sit down at your computer and be the next Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer or whoever else you want to look up to. But you don’t get to that part until you write. Even if you never get to the part of being a professional Writer (with a capital W), the fact that you’ve got these notes and they make sense to you–maybe they don’t make sense to anybody else, but they make sense to you–even if they don’t make sense to you after half a year… As long as you’re going through that thinking process, it’s already okay. You don’t have to win a Pulitzer Prize, you’ve just got to write about your life.
HT: I think it’s a great time for you to share how you did in English class in school, and why–
SC: I did terribly in English class in school. I’m particularly good at taking standardized tests. It’s a little bit of probability and you rule out a couple of questions and all of that stuff… Anyway, what happened was that I did really well on the entrance test for my school, so they put in Merit English. Merit English consisted of sitting around in a circle with other similarly “gifted” students discussing English literature. Which is all very nice and good, but wasn’t something I really was interested in. Even then, I read a lot more nonfiction than I read fiction. So we were sitting around this circle discussing the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and the irony therein… As I was telling you in our previous chat, back then, I was, “I’m a programmer. I don’t do irony. I want things to mean what they say and say what they mean.” So writing for me got stereotyped as this terrible effort to write something–an essay, a book report, a term paper–that ended up being measured against somebody else’s yardstick. You’re writing for somebody else, a teacher who… I felt like I was making stuff up. I’ve since then made peace with these teachers. (Facebook friends, we’re talking, we have conversations and all that…)
But it took me until past university, when I figured out that writing is a great way to learn about life. I went from taking my technical notes to writing about this cooking thing can be actually (inaudible) sometimes… So I was writing about my CookOrDie project. Writing about that, and writing about all the other things I was learning, was the thing that unlocked it for me. This idea that writing isn’t just something you do in school!