When Your Writing is Too Safe

For this week’s assignment, we were supposed to come up with three ideas for our final one-act play. I sent my medical certificate (for the horrible scrape I got on my foot after a bad fall yesterday morning before my swim – don’t want to think about it) along with my assignment. And here’s his reply:

Dear Joyce,

Sorry to hear about your accident — hope you recover soon.

Re your play ideas: forgive me for being blunt, but I think that as a writer you are doing yourself a huge disservice if you continue to set your plays in some quasi-American no-space. I would really like to see you write about Singapore — or somewhere in Asia at least — and I strongly urge you to do so. Is there a reason you don’t? You have so consistently steered clear of anything grounded in this region that I find myself wondering what it is you’re avoiding.

Please dig deep within yourself and come up with ideas that say something about what’s going on with your society, your country, your family, your generation, your gender, your ethnicity, whatever. Just please ENGAGE with the world around you; don’t waste any more time on exercises in narrative technique displaced to some strange television-like America.

You are a fine, fluent, and committed writer. But you have to connect with your own reality before you can start conjuring up other realms worth visiting.

Start again, please.

Warm regards,
Huzir

I understand where he’s coming from. And I guess he is right. My stories take place in a no-space setting that don’t exactly speak like Singaporeans. Their sentences are complete, and there are no colloquials or accents or anything to suggest they’re from Singapore or even Asia. I was just concerned with the story, and the flow of it, not the voice. I try hard, in fact, to keep the natural setting and flavour out of my stories. Maybe, like Huzir suggests, I’m avoiding something. I don’t know. But I do know that stories in a localised setting don’t appeal to me. They just don’t. I’m sure they are very well written, but they just don’t appeal to me, the way historical fiction or memoirs don’t.

The stuff I read are Western. The stuff I watch (apart from Taiwanese variety shows and dramas) are Western. The music I listen to … well, it’s 50-50 now. It used to be completely Western. Maybe it is this Western influence that is directing my writing style. I don’t know any other literary realities or settings that I can experience or experiment with. Maybe because I don’t read local authors, I don’t know how I can write a story in a local setting with local flavour and realities. Why localised stories don’t appeal to me is because the details are too distracting, almost to the point of annoying. That’s just my own opinion. Or maybe I’m just too used to reading in a Western setting that I find anything else jarring and therefore unwelcome.

I really don’t know. Huzir’s feedback has yanked the carpet out from under my feet, and I don’t know what to do anymore. And I have to accept his feedback and work with it – I mean, he’s the one deciding my grade for this module. But I have no idea how to erect another narrative dimension that I should be familiar with, but am not.

I’m not ready to face this. I’ve always been working within the cocoon of a generic, formulaic space, and now I’m asked to break out of that and get in touch with my actual environment.

And I only have one week more to submit my second try. If anyone has any suggestions or advice, I’d only be too happy to listen.

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