Start with a list

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So a blogger friend of mine sent me a message the other day saying, “I’ve lost my writing mojo.”

I replied back with, “You’re not the only one,” considering I haven’t been as consistent on my blog as I usually am.

But then she said she had to write an important report and couldn’t even get that done. So my suggestion was to start with a list. Just bullet points. Incomplete sentences. Grammarless English. Or Sheng.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of lists. Whether you’re trying to break out of writer’s block or a prolonged procrastination period, lists usually do the trick because they’re so simple.  My personal favorite list is one I saw spreading on social media. It fools you into thinking you’re so productive.



Joking aside, there’s no rule of where to write your list or how it should look like. You may write it on a post-it note and stick it on your laptop screen to increase its visibility (though that doesn’t always work because your mind gets trained to ignore it).

However, the single best advice I’ve heard about daily to-do lists is “Limit your to-do list to three tasks.” No less, no more. Having more than three items on your list can be a bit overwhelming especially when the tasks take hours. Also, finishing the day without crossing out everything on the list makes your mind think it’s okay to put off today’s work until tomorrow and that enables the procrastinator in you.

So what type of lists are you used to writing? Leave your comments below and feel free to share.

What To Do With Rejection Slips?

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So someone I know is waiting for a response from some place, and they said that if it came back with “Rejected” stamped all over it, they’ll laminate it for the future. I found the idea amusing and remembered a piece I read where the writer kept a “Failure Journal”. They wrote in it whenever they got a rejection with a “Wuhooo! I got rejected again!” Maybe they consider each rejection as a hurdle to jump over as they sprint towards their goal, so the more rejections they get, the closer they are to achieving their goal.

Rejection may come in many forms; termination letters, divorce papers, “I’m sorry to inform you” written on legal paper or drafted in an email. But what if these papers do not signify the end of something but also the beginning of someone new. Because we are human beings, rejection stumps us. How can those people refuse us when we are so “supposedly” so great? But as much as it stumps us, it humbles us, makes us rethink of what we are doing, and helps us take inventory of what we have.

The problem with us is when we look at successful people, we see the end results and may think that they’ve got it easy. However, we are not always privy to the hurdles they had to jump over, to the blood, sweat and tears their successes cost. We don’t usually see the hurdles they’ve had to jump over, let alone the stumbling, off-balance landing and other mishaps.

I am more poetic when it comes to rejection slips. I personally imagine every rejection letter to represent a seam between two square patches so that the more rejections you get, the bigger the imaginary patchwork cloth. I think if I could sew I would actually like to physically make something like that to have a physical canvas of my own failures.

In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King wrote, “By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.”

Michael Jordon said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

So don’t be stumped. Just keep on working!


Don’t Be Perfect, Just…

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It’s been a while since I blogged, so as I sit here having my yoghurt with honey, I thought of posting one of those random ramblings just in case something useful comes out. One thing about bloggers is that when they take a hiatus, one thought keeps nagging at the back of their minds, “You haven’t written in two weeks, so your next post must be WOW! It must ROCK!” That thought puts more pressure on them and naturally extends their break, because whatever they write – or half-write – isn’t good enough for a post, and so they’d rather not publish it. I have to admit that I can be guilty of that as well. But one way to face the resistance is to just aim at publishing a bad post. Not horrible. Aim for mediocre. Just don’t aim for perfect. That way you’ll break the hiatus, overcome inertia and -hopefully – gain momentum.

I guess this is today’s message. From the short length of this post to its incomplete title, my message is, “Don’t be perfect, just try your best and you’ll be surprised.”

Did you enjoy UAE’s weather last weekend?

Brownie-like Recipe for Dealing with Bad Experiences

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A lot of times we go through experiences that tend to upset us or haunt us. While they may not be entirely traumatizing, they can be really clingy. Take for example embarrassing moments that we can’t seem to forget about or people who’ve deliberately walked out of our lives we don’t seem to let go of. So today I made up a recipe for writers on how to make the best of those situations.


1 stick of facts (or butter)

1 cup of imagination (or sugar)

1 teaspoon of more imagination (or vanilla extract)

2 speculations (or eggs)

½ cup of characters (or all-purpose flour)

1/3 cup of setting (or Cocoa)

¼ teaspoon of conflict (or baking powder)

¼ teaspoon of theme (or salt)


1)     Start with the facts. That’s as essential as the butter-sugar-vanilla mixture when one is making brownies. You can just list the chronological order of the incident as bullet points but at the beginning just stick to the facts.

2)     Speculate. Add your speculations and judgements. Realize that while the details of the incident may be laid out as facts, a lot of how feel about it comes from our pre-conceived notions, background and experiences. During your speculation stage, try to look at the incident from other point of views, and challenge any assumptions you might have made about it. In other words, beat them together the way you would beat the eggs.

These first two points deal with the plot of whatever story you’re going to write out of the life incident. Next we move to the rest of the story.

3)     Draw up characters and give them names. The thing with us writers is that sometimes we don’t really understand a situation until we put it down on paper. It’s true we tend to think of paper.

4)     In the case where we’re turning this incident into a work of fiction, this is the point where we add elements that would fluff it up a bit the way the baking powder would. But since stories have to have setting and themes, you have to add cocoa and salt to the baking powder and stir together.

5)     Get into the zone the way a baking pan would get into an oven heated to 350 oF. Call it the creative zone, call it whatever…Let the story grow its own legs and take you in different directions if it must. You might start at a true-life incident and end with something that you would never do in real life, but would fill you with satisfaction.

And by that, you might have a story that was inspired by a clingy incident, and you would realize why the incident was so clingy in the first place (maybe its purpose was to act as inspiration for a piece of art and it wouldn’t let you go until you wrote it). Also whenever the incident comes up, you’ll end up thinking about your piece of art, and you might be so consumed by the piece of art to be bothered by the real incident.

Alternatively, just use the recipe between the lines, bake some brownies and enjoy eating them.

(c) alisdair
(c) alisdair