where grows creativity, in wilderness?

Food for thought at the upcoming discussion in Hong Kong Literary Festival on 11 October, 7.30pm, Dr Hari Harilela Lecture Theatre (Shaw Campus) Baptist University. Simon Armitage (author of many collections including Seeing Stars by Faber and Faber), Prof Daniel Chua (Head of School of Humanities, HKU), Prof Lo Kwai Cheung (Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Baptist University Hong Kong), Prof Hans Lagegaard (Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Baptist University) and I will be in dialogue on creativity and world cultures. Come along with a question.

Creativity wears its deceptive mask. It looks like thought but resembles athletic exercise, requiring consistent discipline and no-nonsense action.

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I have never met a good writer or a good artist who is lazy. No matter where they come from, or what past they have left behind.

There’s no rule nor confine for creativity, but is there a condition that promotes it?

For full event details and other happenings in this year’s festival, check out festival.org.hk. Register for this free event at martintcho@hkbu.edu.hk.

Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn and Empty Family, will talk about Ireland as land of literature on 13th October, 2.30-3.30pm at Kee Club.

A marathon of rejection slips

Rejection is a common encounter for most people: your budget plan or business proposal gets abandoned by the seniors, or a designer’s brightest idea is rejected by the client after many nights of hard work, or a man of quality turned down by a girl he loves.

For a writer, rejection slips are a part of writing life. The more you write, the keener you are to submit, the more you are likely to receive rejections. I haven’t worked out yet the mathematics behind all this, but presumably it is also counter-balanced by your talent, your relationships or connections with the publishers (not many writers are that connected with the publishers), the marketability of your texts or writing style, and the moods of the editors. Often, seeing publishing from a consumer’s point of view, gives us the illusion that bestsellers are a product of creative genius (alone).

Stephanie Meyer Twilight

If we take a step back, there is a value in collecting rejection slips: it is a testament to your perseverance and passion. There is a Chinese legend about an old man who struggles to move a mountain. Despite the folly of the idea, he manages to live up to his conviction, and his passion has touched the gods.

I have always admired people who manage to get to their destinies or goals in the shortest time feasible. I once came across a boss who said to me that he could easily change the colours of all his retail stores, if he wants to, overnight. Sometimes, it’s all about speed. However, I also feel that it is not always the case nor is it in a man’s best interest that a goal be best achieved as quickly as possible. As one collects more feedback along the way, there is the chance to create and revise, to take a step back and appreciate what one has produced, to reaffirm its worth and to keep going.

Sometimes one gets a line or two of handwritten notes from the editors, pinpointing what they like or not like, or comments on the styles. These are very hard to come by and they are treasured like limited edition books or stamps. Believe me, most of the editors are kind and even though they do not accept your work, they tend to give constructive advice that goes a long way in helping you sort out your weaknesses.

While I cannot speak for others, I have benefited from the marathon of rejection slips more than going to masterclasses or going on writing ‘holidays’, because the rejection comments are much more focused and relevant to my work, and are directly from the editors and publishers themselves (or at least, their editorial interns and assistants).

Of course, there are always the sweeter moments, an acceptance here and there, somewhere far off a victory won.

And if you think that this principle of rejection or managing rejection only applies to writers, you are quite mistaken. I have found a site (click here) which summarises the unpredictability in life and points out the ultimate value in hard work, especially in consistently hard work, no matter which field you are in. In an article published by New York Times in 2007, we can see that even literary heavyweights such as George Orwell, Nabokov and Kerouac had been repeatedly rejected: so why not you and me?

Remember, it took Edison 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he came up with the perfect light bulb that brightens up our world.

Writing and research

Went to a free talk by Hanif Kureishi, author of The Buddha of Suburbia, The Black Album, Intimacy, Love in a Blue Time, The Body, Gabriel’s Gift, Midnight All Day, Something to Tell You and now the latest released The Collected Stories, at Foyles bookstore. It was a full house event.

Hanif kureishi collected stories

I read his first book Intimacy during university and it was one of the books that influenced me most. I was so taken aback by the rebellious voice. I found it thrilling to read. Reading is not a sedate or escapist activity, it is rebellious and highly uplifting.

Kureishi points out the need for research. Then there is also writing about families and love which need lesser research because all the time you live your life, you have been researching on these themes. Finding out more about your partner, your family members, your children. He said his kids said to him one day: “Dad, the problem with you is that you do not realise how much we hate you.” He has a brilliant way of capturing the readers and the audience.

He said we are all inspired by the way we love and hate our partners, and that those hours you spent in the kitchen arguing with your wife are real-life research. He points out that there must be a certain degree of understanding before you can write confidently about the subject. Fantasy is fine, but you do have to feel that you have the depth of insights and freshness of perspective before you can dive in. He said there are subjects that he cannot imagine writing, because of that reason.

Unsurprisingly he was also asked if he felt the need to disguise characters in his writings, since they might have to do with his closest people. He said that writing is not so much to expose other people’s stories but to make a good story. The judgment lies in what makes a good story. He tends to be more general in the use of other people’s story. I think it is an important area to think about for those being writers. Inevitably your knowledge about yourself and your close ones inform your way of thinking and creativity, but as Kureishi mentioned, there is no necessity to expose other people. The point is to project a voice of your own.

I find it curious the way writers connect. I see myself as a Chinese writer, and we are so different in terms of background, nationality, knowledge, career, language…yet when he spoke, I found no difficulty appreciating what he thinks.