The Eastlit editorial Septemeber 2014 is by Deborah Wong
Writing in an Imperfect Voice
‘Life is like an herbal egg. The more cracks it developed, the tastier it’ll get’.
That’s the phrase I picked up by accident.
I was browsing at the display of new releases at the local bookstore and came across this motivation book written by a renowned Taiwanese writer. This verse is tattooed in my brain, without the need of any body modification or a drop of indelible ink. Out of the record, I love herbal eggs as my weekend afternoon tea, or my mother will serve it as a condiment for dinner.
Herbal egg, otherwise known as tea egg is very common in the Chinese communities. Google them; an explanation of its origin, even recipes are available, though the prepping method might be different geographically. The paramount ingredients are tea leaves, soy sauce and Chinese Five Spice Powder.
So, what kind of metaphor this writer wants to deliver?
To put it simply, our life is like an egg – formed on the outside but uncooked inside. Decisions we make sometimes had us stuck in between morality and reality, this is where we’ve been put to a test through what I call the ‘boiling effect’. Whether it is of a high or low temperature, we have to face them with responsibility.
Other than that, the said ingredients are set as our (or the eggs’) bumpy swirls, and or rocky paths and thorny branches that qualify and determine what we will become.
In the end of the cooking result, the eggshell is now darkened. Break it and you will see their well-formed membrane with marble-like cracks.
Personally, such phrase has never crossed my mind until last year’s avalanche of rejection emails, which I received for my novel and poems submission. If I hadn’t been pushed to the breaking point, I wouldn’t have taken a step back and started burning the midnight oil by revising my works. The outcome was the same; rejection after rejection, only that certain editors can be more encouraging than the other.
I began to doubt my writing and creativity by comparing my work deliberately with other published writers. And if that wasn’t stressful enough, I blamed myself for should have graduated as an English major. I then have to succumb to the fact that I’m just another underdog in the literary pyramid.
I wouldn’t have seen the end of the tunnel until I’ve applied the three paramount ingredients as follows:
- ‘Patience’ (tea leaves),
- ‘Perseverance’ (soy sauce) and
- ‘Passion’ (Chinese Five Spice Powder)
These 3Ps are the best rules of thumb to play the surviving game in the literary arena.
However, one mustn’t forget ‘Timing’ as one of the considerations too. Going back to the herbal egg example, if the simmering was a rush, it’ll be a total waste of effort.
Timing is an opportunity to have you and your work recognised. If you must learn to trust your creativity, please also understand those 3Ps work hand in hand. And rejections brewed the success out of a writer. Take a look at Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, just to name a few.
Imperfection is not a bad thing
A writer once said ‘you don’t choose to write, it chooses you instead’.
I wrote my first poem to a boy my classmate was crazily head over heels with. She promised me a Kit Kat, and I returned her a favour. I finished the piece during half-and-hour recess. I imagined that boy as one of the members of the boy band I adored. I changed dirty blonde to raven black hair, and blue to chocolate eyes. Although their relationship was invaded by a third party, the writer inside me was born.
The reason I enrolled in a summer creative writing programme in the University of British Columbia was to test my writing ability. Besides learning its elementary techniques, I even consider to pursue the MFA programme later.
After two tons of rejections from my first novel, I believed that fate hasn’t been on my side. Perhaps, the North Americans aren’t interested in a semi-autobiographical novel that involved a precarious Asian girl travelling alone to Vancouver. She experienced cultural shock and through self-discovery, she emerges knowing what she wants in life. By then, those rejection e-mails I received from the literary agents could fill one side of my bedroom wall.
And in June last year, I started writing poetry to lament and rant about my dissatisfaction in life. Worst of, I became faithless when a family member was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I normally write at night, exceptionally quiet, or during the day especially when it rains. Then the editing came through self-teaching by reading other poets’ work online and paperbacks; from traditional to contemporary to avant-garde. I was working hard to search for that voice within. I have done poetry in my English Literature classes in secondary school and Cambridge A-Levels, but I don’t pay much attention to it.
Came July, I had a full list of small and major international online journals on my spreadsheet. I have mountainous of hope. Again, after tons of rejections, I was devastated. By then it was already December and I desperately need a new writing plan by next year.
On the first week of January this year, I received an e-mail from ditch, a Canadian publisher, informing of my poetry acceptance. But I know will not be my last.
Answering the call to write
Some say it’s a talent that is yet to be discovered. I say I am the one in this game.
I looked back the time I’ve confronted so many No’s. I did not want to go down the path of self-publishing. Yet I can’t wait to have people reading my work, talking about it and then dreaming of Faber & Faber sending a publishing contract to my doorstep. Despite many advices from other writers, I want that recognition from an editor or the masthead. The feeling of clicking the notification of acceptance in the inbox makes my world tastes like herbal egg – bitter, sweet, with a little saltiness and sourness.
So what if it’s a small press? I wouldn’t mind be their unpaid contributor. At the same time, I still have not given up my dream to become a novelist.