Transcript: Blogging (Part 7): Learning how to write

This entry is part 7 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

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!

Transcript: Blogging (Part 8): Slow life down and speed it up

This entry is part 8 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Sacha Chua: Writing is a tool for thinking, because it slows things down enough for you to look at it. As I’m talking at my usual nervous speed here, things are flying by pretty fast, right? I’m not going to remember a lot of these things until I go back and I write things down and I think through, hey, what did I want to say here, or what else do I want to do… Thought and speech and life move by so quickly. If you slow things down enough to write just a little bit about it, then you have something more to work with. I didn’t know that when I was in school. I’m glad I learned that, and I want other people to discover just how useful that is, because life moves too fast, and it’s great to be able to slow this down.

Have you ever noticed that life also goes too slowly?

HT: It can, yeah.

SC: Especially when things are changing just a little bit at a time. So you’re looking at your son, for example, and he’s changing. He’s in the early years, so he’s changing a lot, every month, but you’ll get to the point where today is kinda like yesterday, and the next day is kinda like today, and the day after that is kinda like the day before it. All these little changes are harder to see, but if you’re writing, you’ve got that record – even if you’re writing once a week about what you’re seeing and what you’re observing – then you can look back and say, “Oh yeah, a year ago, you were still learning how to speak.” “Oh yeah, five years ago you were still learning the multiplication table.” “Look at how far you’ve come.” Imagine how much he’s learned since then!

Life goes too fast, but it also goes too slow, and so writing becomes your way to get it to work at the pace at the pace that you can work with.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 9): Learning from others

This entry is part 9 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Holly Tse: People might think, okay, Sacha, you’re Generation Y, you’re in your twenties… What can you talk about motherhood? Do you want to share about your experience?

Sacha Chua: I can’t talk much about motherhood. I’ve got a sneak preview here. I have a stepdaughter. She’s 13. What I’m learning from that is that kids are learning all these incredible things. We’ve started doing math study groups. We nudge her to learn more about spelling and math and science and all of these things… But just watching what she’s learning… She actually has a blog too. She updates it sporadically. She talks about what she’s learning at school and her favourite video games and all these other things.

Just looking at how people are learning, and learning from their stories as well–that’s incredible. Whether you have kids or whether you don’t, whether you’ve got nieces and nephews or you don’t, whether you’re learning from your coworkers or people who are older than you, there’s so much you can learn from other people’s stories.

It’s a little difficult for people to tell everybody all the stories that might be relevant to them. It’s such a good thing when you can come across people who are also in the habit of sharing their stories with anyone in the very efficient way of doing it through a blog.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 10): Difficult situations

This entry is part 10 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Holly Tse: I heard you mention a lot about a blog being about sharing stories. We have a question here about Charles from Sydney. He’s asking, “What happens when you blog about something that’s private or could offend others if you were to publish it?” For example, he wants to write a blog article about the bad manners he encounters at his workplace, particularly inappropriate use of smartphones. What advice do you have?

Sacha Chua: It’s a tough question, especially since even with how careful I am on my blog to not offend anyone, I’ve accidentally offended people before. One time I was writing about my teaching reflections. I was teaching computer science in university, and I was writing about what I was learning in the process. The example I often bring in here is the Sartrian existentialism we learned about in philosophy classes in school where when you make a choice, it’s as if you were choosing for everybody. In this case, my writing about what I wanted to do made this friend of mine feel that I was criticizing the way he taught. We had a bit of a fight about that.

In terms of offending people… Accidentally offending people, there’s not much you can do, because you can’t control other people’s reactions. When you’re writing about something sensitive that you know might offend people… I often like to step back and look for the really, really positive way to look at it. Not the fake-positive and not the constructive-criticism “I will smile as I will tear you apart” – which unfortunately is the way most people put constructive criticism – more along the lines of “This is what we’ve got. What are some small things I can do to make this better?” When you’re talking about what you can do, whether it’s… In terms of modifying other people’s smartphone use, maybe I’ll take my conference calls elsewhere, or maybe I’ll mentally rehearse different things that I can say to people in case their conversations are disturbing me.

When you’re focused on what you can do about it, then you come across less “this is what you should do” and high-and-mighty and whatever else. Trying to bring that incredibly positive “Well, here’s where we are; let’s figure out how we can move forward” approach to it will probably will do you much more good. It will probably make you feel better in real life also!

HT: Once again, it’s like using your blog to figure things out. In this case, it’s a way to take a step back and try to step away from the heated emotion you might feel, and to think of a way to constructively write it… and that might result in a constructive way to approach it in real life.

SC: That reminded me of a time when someone close to me said something pretty mean–thoughtlessly mean, but still pretty mean–to me. I stopped and I thought about it. I managed to slow down and respond nicely during the situation itself. Afterwards, also, I stopped and I thought about it. I thought, well, how would I like to respond in the future, too? Do I want to take the approach I did (stay calm, don’t take it personally, and all that stuff)? I realized that having that space – being able to decide what kind of response I’d like to have, and maybe even rehearsing some of the things I might do in the future when faced with a situation like this – really really helped. It’s like a fire drill. The next time you find yourself in a situation like that, you’re not going for the knee-jerk reaction. You’ve already thought: okay, for the kind of person I want to be, this is how I want to respond. And I want to respond with love, even though sometimes people have a harder time maintaining their self-control. It happens. People are human, and that’s okay.

HT: So I take it then that you blogged about the incident too.

SC: I did. I wrote about it because people run into these situations. If what I’ve written or what I’ve thought about can help somebody else put in that little bit of a gap between something bad happening–someone saying something mean to you, or someone doing something that annoys you–that gap between that stimulus and your response to it–and the quote by Victor Frankl is one of the things I used in that post as a point of reflection… Between that stimulus and response is our freedom to choose our reaction. Writing about it, thinking about it–bringing your conscious or more positive or more loving mind to bear on it–really really helps.

I should say that it is also possible to use all of this writing and blogging to descend into a vicious circle of feeling really really bad. For example, if you wanted to take this as an opportunity to rant about all the things that are going badly in your life, and how miserable you are and all that stuff… Being able to look back at your archive will probably make you feel a lot worse. It’s a powerful tool. Be careful with it. Try to focus on the things that you’d like to see, because people do tend to find what they’re looking for. I like to focus on the really really good stuff, and I’m surrounded by it, surprisingly enough.

HT: Very true. We actually had a speaker last week talking about the “law of attraction” and she basically says the same thing. From a spiritual, metaphysical perspective, what you focus on, you attract into your life. You’re a great example of someone who’s very positive, and you’re surrounded by positive influences.

SC: I wouldn’t go so far to call it the “law of attraction”, which I don’t quite subscribe to. I’d say that you get better at seeing the things you’re looking for. For example, if you’re writing about the things that you’re grateful for–which is a great practice, by the way, if you need cheering up or if you want to make your life extra happy–if you’re writing about the things that you appreciate and are grateful for, then you get better at recognizing and appreciating those things. If you write about how you want to improve things, then day by day, you’ll find more opportunities to improve your life. It’s amazing when you build that habit of asking yourself these questions, or looking for the bright side of things… You do get better and better at it. And why, yes, I do have a blog post about this too. I think I called it the martial art of happy-do.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 11): Looking back at the year

This entry is part 11 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Holly Tse: We have another question here from Charles. He’s asking, “Can you comment on the benefit you’ve made by preparing yearly digests of your blog in PDF format and printing out your blog?” He says he always enjoys reading your annual review of your life.

Sacha Chua: Awww… So I started keeping a paper backup of my blog after my mom inspired me, because she started printing out my stuff too. Also, it’s kinda fun to flip through what you’ve actually written. We don’t have any visuals now, but I’ve got this thick binder that’s maybe 3-4″ thick, double-sided printed paper with two columns printed on it, and all of that stuff… I’ve been writing for a while. You don’t have to write that much. It’s okay. But it is fun being able to look at it. Every year – sometimes twice a year, since I tend to do one around my birthday and I tend to do one around the Christmas/New Year holidays too – I look back at what I’ve done over the past 12 months, where I wanted to be by the time I would’ve done my review, and I match things up. What did I learn?

When I was doing my most recent review – when I turned 28 – I flipped back through my blog posts in August 2010, and I started just reading forward. As I went through things, I was, like, “Oh yeah, this was the year that we disassembled the washing machine and managed to successfully put it back together!” Yes. We had to do that to get the 27″ machine down a 26″ hallway or something like that. Anyway. It was quite an adventure, and the blog post is on my blog, of course. Little things like that, that I might otherwise be really fuzzy about remembering (“Oh yeah, we did this some time ago, but I don’t really know when”)… It was there, in my blog, and it reminded me about other things. Reading about all these things reminded me about things I hadn’t written down, but which has happened anyway. It’s like being able to take a step back and bring up all those different feelings and ideas and memories. It’s a fantastic thing, and I would never have thought that I’d enjoy writing that much.

Yearly digests. Even if you really just stop, look at what you’ve done, celebrate all these memories… See what you’ve learned that you can share with other people. Then think, okay, what do I want the next year to look like? What are some of the ideas here that I want to build on?

I’ve actually moved away from having bucket list sorts of goals. You know how people make lists: I want to climb Mount Everest, I want to dive in the Great Barrier Reef, I want to eat at a 5-star restaurant… I started feeling like that was like how people collect stuff, except this is collecting experiences. It’s cool for people who do that, but after lots of reflection (also on my blog), I decided it wasn’t really for me at this stage. In terms of saying, “What are the things I’d like to learn next year?” “What are the ideas I want to focus on?” Next year, I want to focus on slowing down and doing things deeply. Doing things well. Writing more. (If that’s even possible…) But writing, and polishing… I’ve gotten good at building things quickly, trying things out quickly… What can I do to make it easier for people to learn from it or make use of it?

Being able to sketch out this idea for myself, and then over the next few months, being able to go back and track how I’m doing with that — whether my goals still call to me or whether I want to shift to something else… Having that written down gives me the ability to do that, whereas doing some hand-waving or letting the months and the days just flow past without any kind of record… This is why people wake up and ask, “Where did my life go?” Well, when I wake up, I know where my life’s going, and I know where my life went, and it’ll be fun figuring out how much more I can do in the years ahead.

Transcript: Blogging (Part 12): Two homes

This entry is part 12 of 16 in the series Discovering Yourself Through Blogging

Hat-tip to Holly Tse for organizing this interview!

Holly Tse: I actually wanted to ask you, speaking of looking forward and looking backwards, since this is a telesummit about Asian women owning your voices and sharing their voices with the world… Where were you born and what is your ethnicity?

Sacha Chua: I grew up in Manila. My mom and my dad and my middle sister are still there. It was actually very difficult to move to Canada in the first place. Coming from a tropical country from the Philippines… Oookay, winter is really scary. Anyway, I grew up in the Philippines. I love love love all sorts of things that I miss from there. Mangoes, and my friends, and all of that stuff… And of course, family and relatives… anyway, so. The Philippines! And Canada! Now I have two homes. I’m definitely Filipino. I will still cook with bagoong and patis and try to get by with… In Toronto, it’s fantastic. You’re surrounded by all the different ethnicities. I always hear Filipino accents around. It’s like being home except it occasionally gets cold. Anyway, that’s my story. I moved to Canada in 2005 to pursue my master’s because I was offered a scholarship, and hey, why not… And then I fell in love, which is rather inconvenient when you’re planning to move back home. So that kinda helped me tough it out until I discovered the trick to dealing with winter.

The trick to dealing with winter, by the way, is to call it baking season, and then to bake.

HT: Yeah, I’m originally from Toronto, I know how cold winter can be up there. I’m in California now, so I’ve turned into a softie now.

SC: You get no sympathy from me whatsoever if you complain about the weather. Anyway, that’s another the blog has really helped me. I’ve been writing about all these stories. I can tell how I grew out of most of my homesickness. Still hits every so often, but I can see those shifts. I can use these stories to keep in touch with my friends back home, and to make new friends here as well. It’s been really, really helpful for me. Even with Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus and all these other social networks, there’s still that need for a place to tell your own stories, share your pictures, and have these conversations without it being fragmented over all these different places.

I was glad that I’d gotten into writing, especially during those difficult times. I’m sure that whatever challenges come in the future, I will try best to write my way through them.