Making the Words Count

Update: Hello, this is Atikah from the future. This post touches on my writing aspirations and it mentions that I was a part of the writing team of a football fansite. Of course, this was back in 2014 and I’ve since left the team in 2015. Still, this post is a nice reminder of who I was back in that year. The fansite is still running and you can check them out at the link below!

Every time I publish a post, I keep telling myself, I will post more.

And then, I go on a mini hiatus, only to resurface with short posts. I remember last year, I told myself that I will write essays. Well-written, fully-researched essays. And I have tons of ideas. I have a notebook that holds some of the ideas that I want to do. My previous phone had some quick scribbles of things that I wanted to flesh out (I have since replaced that phone).  Back in October, I even read “The King in Yellow” by Robert W Chambers, specifically for Halloween. Halloween went by and I’m still midway reading the book.

So, what happened?

A lot of things. A lot of things that involve writing, just not on this space.

For starters, I haven’t really mentioned it here but I became a copywriter about 5 months ago. I never thought I would be in advertising; it just didn’t occur to me at all to dabble in this line. Like every stereotypical English major, publishing and academia had always been my goal. I had even gotten an offer to work in a newspaper agency as a sub-editor. As I was waiting for the machine within the company to do the paperwork and let me in, I got an offer from my current one. So, here’s a lesson for companies: reduce the red tape. You don’t know who will slip out from the waiting line.

Copywriting in advertising involves a lot of bite-size write-ups. Sometimes I would simmer for half an hour to think up a catchy liner that only has 30 characters. Other times, a handful of paragraphs, but gone are the days where I would plonk on my chair and churn out pages of words. I particularly hate the ones where I have to sell two products that have absolutely nothing to do with each other in the same damn ad. And I have to try my hardest to make it sound natural or quirky, like this food is as delicious as the deal you’re getting when you buy this bottle of perfume at 50% off!

Eh, passable.

My favourite ones are the radio ads. I like to be caught offguard listening to an ad I just made up being played on radio stations. The first time I heard a radio ad I wrote live, I couldn’t stop laughing because it was so weird! It’s a weird feeling to know that thousands were listening to something you typed down after lunch a few days ago. In my first job, I was a sub-editor where I edit other people’s work and was never credited for it, unless it’s a book. So, it’s strange for me to see my own work front and centre. No credits still but I’m working on that.

It’s not all interesting work though. There are times where I just proofread terms and conditions, reword certain sections of the FAQ page or get into arguments about rewriting an ad. After spending a day squeezing my brains out for juicy lines and dealing with vulture-like requests to churn churn churn those words out, all I want to do is go home and watch a lot of Youtube videos. And so, I do just that. My sincere apologies.

There are also other things: I realise that my ultimate goal is to write well and better. Not just fiction work that I’ve been doing with UnRepresented KL, but also non-fiction, commercial, and even corporate. I never realised there’s a market for corporate writing before. But the dumbest thing has to be that I never realised a lot of the media that we consume has its foundation on words. I’m not talking about just articles – advertisements, songs, videos, even tweets are made out of words. Ideas, even how great, would collapse if it wasn’t for the hand of words narrowing and expanding their possibilities. All around us are made of words. I feel that if I could master this, turning the creation of words as a tool, I could create anything.

So I’ve been dabbling in some freelance work and writing hobbies. At the moment, none of my freelance work could make me go “Look at me, Ma!” yet but I’m just leaving the door open. As for writing hobbies, I’ve been waiting to announce this: I’m currently an assistant editor at Bayern Central, a website focused on Bundesliga and FC Bayern Munich.

Look at me, Ma, I’m a football blogger!

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, I mostly write simple write-ups of current events and the meat of my participation under Bayern Central is editing. We work with a lot of writers and these writers have a lot to talk about. So, that’s where I come in and mould their words here and there. It’s been a long walk from my post about the World Cup to this. I’m glad that I’m being siphoned into this group of awesome and passionate football fans!

I feel somewhat shy to write about football tactics, to be honest. I feel like I don’t have the necessary skills or know-how yet to digest a match as well as these folks do. It is not at all like this:

Yes, but which part of the pitch was he kicking the ball to, Moss? Who is “that man” who now has the ball? What kind of technique? What was the tactical choice used here? And et cetera.

Some of the football bloggers I’ve befriended are some of the smartest people I know. And they could spit out a stat faster than you can Google. People don’t teach you how to write about football, this is something you pick up and hone by yourself. You have to instinctively know what’s happening in the middle of play and how it affects the match, the team, the entire tournament they’ve been playing, and the big scheme of things. That’s incredibly difficult. I’m rather proud of it and although it’s a bit out of place with the sort of content I write on this blog, I hope you will give it a try!

So, yes, I’ve been the busy bee. So busy, in fact, that sometimes I work during my free time and weekends. Just your typical ENFP, hording experiences as much as she can. One thing that I’m glad is that I never announced my participation in NaNoWriMo on this blog. Simply because it fell flat on the second day. I was proud of myself for squeezing out 500-ish words. Then, I went to a local FB page of NaNoWriMo and found out everyone gives birth to thousands and thousands of words a day.

Now, it’s day 16 of NaNoWriMo. How much have I raked up so far? Still the same 500 words on my first.

Rintihan Si Tangga

aku benci semua
kerana aku benci sekelompok

aku sering tertanya diri
patutkah aku menghirau
nasib engkau
yang aku tidak kenal
yang aku tidak kisah
seorang lagi mangsa
gerakan anti-sosial aku kini

aku benci semua
kerana kawan aku pula
bercerita sedih
“aku manusia baik
kenapa masih ada membenci?”
aku mengangguk faham
tuntas,
aku benci semua

aku benci semua
kerana aku hanya bermesra
dengan tunggul-tunggul kayu
yang mempunyai senyuman
lukisan semata-mata
perhiasan sahaja
lukis bila perlu
padam bila perlu

mahukah aku ambil pisau
dan ukir tepat
senyuman itu?
biar mudah
biar padah

nyah, engkau
lari berkeliaran, engkau

aku hanya suatu tangga
yang dipijak henyak
untuk mencapai
cita-cita mu
yang tak mungkin tercapai


Written in April 2009, Kajang.

Oh you know, teen angst. Funnily enough, I checked the date and realised I wrote this a day after my birthday. Honestly, what happened to warrant such a depressing poem right after my birthday? Even more puzzling, I wrote this in reference to the poem: “To my friend, who called me yesterday and experienced a mishap involving a refrigerator, you somewhat inspired this piece“. Can’t recall the friend nor the unfortunate event with the fridge but I can assure you, this poem has nothing to do with fridges.

The Anatomy

have you seen my scars?
they’ve escaped underneath my dermis
entrenched deeper than
cakes of fat
more so hidden
than the whiteness
of my bones

untwine this seamless
terrain of my chest
pry these cages
apart
(hear them tweak
with every milimetre
while leaving splinters)

there, can you see them?
minute and prude
playfully resisting sight
shamefully defiant
shallow lines
that speaks volumes

appearing and disappearing
among the veins
and arteries
they beat
beat
beat
beat

a just reminder
of what
a beast
you truly are


Written in September 2008, Kajang.

Did I ever tell you I was an angry kid? Yeah.

Friends in Findars again

It’s been a while since I stepped into Findars. I forgot how tiring the five flights of steps were.

A few Sundays ago, Adriana and Veronica invited the first gang to meet up with the newbies. Walking into Findars again brought so many great memories; I felt like it was years ago, opposed to only just months back. Most likely because I was such a different person even in the short amount of time difference. Findars, being the eclectic artistic space that it is, has new art pieces up. A huge grumpy frog greets you now.

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Ribbit?

Disappointingly, only a handful of us from the pioneer group showed up! I’m looking at you, Vimal, Al, and Shari! Adriana was visibly bummed about this while Veron … was not even in attendance. The family is breaking up and disintegrating, everybody. Still, it was nice meeting up again those who did came. Claire, a former Miss Malaysia hopeful, kept us entertained with insane stories about her time in our local beauty pageant. From egomaniac organisers to cringeworthy scripted moments; there’s a story there dying to be told. I wish it wasn’t wrapped up in legal bombs though.

Here’s a funny coincidence: my friend of seven years, Miza, was also there. Actually, we both signed up for UnRepresented KL at the same time. Hell, she’s the one who pushed me to do it. But alas, we were starcrossed. That is a good thing though. We’d probably just stick with each other and cackle at everything. As individuals, we’re fine. Together, we’re assholes. There was also another person there that I technically knew but never met face to face. I’ve followed Shiera on Twitter for a really long time but we hardly communicated and finally, we met that day! It was strange to meet a person that you are familiar with and also a stranger to. You don’t know if bringing up random stuff you knew about them would be creepy or totally welcomed.

Their writer-mentor for UNR2 is another familiar name in the local literature scene. Looking at his website, I am really impressed and feel slightly cowed. Fadz Johan Abas is a doctor and yet he has the time to write and get things published. How many of us could do half the things he did? Fadz is definitely more approachable than Bernice ever was to us and there’s a small part of me wished we had the chance to hear his point of view on our works too. I really love his enthusiasm, it’s obvious that he’s also a reader and a fan of books. Although, he did gush about John Green … Everyone has their guilty pleasures, I suppose?

As an outsider looking in, UNR2 seems to be a much more mature set of folks. We had younger team members and we were also a bunch of nervy individuals. I still believe that we are. When asked if any one of us did any writing after the program, most of us shrugged sheepishly. UnRepresented KL gave us a reason to take note of deadlines, chase plots and craft characters out of thin air. In a way, I am thankful that UnRepresented KL exists. It’s a reminder of the things that I love, it introduces me to incredible people and it inspires me constantly.

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Carrying the torch.

However, in the end, writing is a lonely task and a solitary ambition. You can’t constantly rely on attention or support to push you to that extra mile. Writing is not easy. It is taking an idea or a concept and nurturing it into a creature of its own. Sometimes, you don’t even know if the final product is even worth it. But then you constantly come back to it, mulling it over, thinking “What if?”. And that’s really what brings you to this point, always. You’ll have ideas and then you put them away. You’ll have plans and then you bookmark them for the unknown future.

But, what if?

What if you actually use your ideas for once?

UnRepresented KL: The Cooler Lumpur 2014

A few weeks ago, Ben’s at Publika opened up their arms for the first UnRepresented KL reading event in conjunction with The Cooler Lumpur 2014!

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Yes, that is me! Photo courtesy of my friend, Afi.

With this reading, my entire UnRepresented KL writing programme experience came to a graceful end (you can read more about my experience in the programme here). It took me a while to write this, simply because there were so many thoughts and emotions linked to this piece of memory. For months, we grew from a small band of strangers to genuinely good friends. Our ideas and conversations evolved from just a talking point to a written piece that stretched up to thousands of words. However, even as a group, writing for UnRepresented KL was very much a solitary experience. I blogged many times about the insecurities and difficulties that I had to face just to come out with a solid piece of writing.

However, reading out a piece of your own writing is completely different than simply writing or presenting it on a website. You are the medium of the story. You tell them the story, you insinuate the mood, you are entirely responsible to catch their attention with your words and actions. For a lot of the participants, this was their first time reading a piece of written work. It wasn’t for me but I’ve never read anything longer than a couple of minutes, let alone a story that develops with each paragraph. I’m just thankful my piece didn’t have any characters! Most of the participants had to act out their characters and I’m glad I’m saved from that. Acting chops, I do not have them. Days earlier, Adriana and Veronica helpfully brought in Shefa, of BFM fame, to teach us how to present. Other than that, we had to face the mic and the audience alone.

The reading itself was an incredible experience for me. True to self, I came in sauntering minutes before the event started. The room was already noisy with activity, it was a full house! The venue was beautifully charming; almost felt like it was a venue for a small wedding. Lightbulbs hanging down from industrial ceilings, white chairs with white walls. And from the front where I was sitting, I could see all my friends scattered all over the room. It was such an awesome feeling to share this moment with all these people that I care about. I kept looking back to all these familiar faces and waving to them. Then, I’d look at the other participants of UnRepresented KL and make faces. It felt like combining two different worlds together because, for a long time, the UnRepresented KL felt like my own secret bubble from everyone else. And I felt proud to show it off at last.

My final piece is called “Finding Home in KL” and it’s a non-fiction article about my journey in understanding “the other side” of Kuala Lumpur through the UnRepresented KL writing programme. In it, I highlighted the many different underprivileged people who go unnoticed and ignored despite living in the same urban space as the rest. A pretty fitting tribute, when I think about it now, seeing the recent debacle about a minister trying to shut down soup kitchens in KL.  In all honesty, the meat of the piece is largely derived from my blog posts about KL. Somewhere along the the lines, after tons of drafts, I realised I’ve been writing the final piece all along. I ditched my original ideas and created a piece that was more personal. Something that I would be proud of to read in front an audience. And I did the right thing.

Everyone had to read about 5 minutes worth of their piece. Mine had 5 pages so I basically siphoned out the best bits, the ones that really packed a punch, and built a 5-minute presentation out of that. Shefa taught me that reading out your work is not at all like personally reading a piece of article, just out loud. No, you have to be a storyteller. A lot of pauses. A lot of emphasis. Intonation to give the right mood. You have to hook them into your story due to the absence of reading. It was hard but standing in front of the audience felt natural.

I mean, it’s been three months, leading up to this moment. Cocking it up at the final point of the journey would be silly. All I did was enjoy the last moments while I was still a part of UnRepresented KL.

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R-L: Shari, the first to present! Andrea, reading out her satire piece on GST. Claire, regaling on life without a father. Vimal and Adriana enacting a dramatic scene together.

The best compliment I had on that day was a girl told me she cried while I was presenting my piece. That reaction is beyond what I expected… and I didn’t even have to kill a character for it! Emma, if you’re reading this, thanks for making my day!

I would like to say thank you for many people who came and watched us present. We were amateur writers and you guys gave us your time and presence. We were so encouraged by the response! I was floored by the reactions.

For the now-former participants of UnRepresented KL, although it was the end, we all knew we parted ways as friends and soon will be reunited again. I am so incredibly proud of us and what we finally achieved! Thank you so much to Adriana and Veronica for including me into this journey. Thank you for the folks behind The Cooler Lumpur Festival 2014 for allowing a space for us. All the best to the rest for their future endeavours.

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The founders of the UnRepresented KL programme! Veronica, Ling and Adriana.

And for all that has been following my journey under the UnRepresented KL programme, thank you for reading in. I hope you enjoyed these posts as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

UnRepresented KL: The Reading

It is now June and the moment that I’ve been waiting for is finally here:

Not entirely sure why the theme is #FAST.

 

The UnRepresented KL group will be reading out our works in The Cooler Lumpur Festival 2014!

This is cool and scary at the same time. I had actually attended this festival last year but just as a casual attendee. So it’s awesome that this year, I’ll be presenting my own work to an audience. What a year of a difference. It’s also scary because as I recall, there were many familiar faces in the local literary scene attending this festival too. Oh and did I mention they are planning to have a Q and A session at the end of the reading? So, not only will I be reading my work to a roomful of strangers but I might possibly face questions from them about my work too. No pressure.

I’m just going to call it right now that Al will receive the most questions because a) he’s the only one reading a poem and b) the poem is intense. You have to be there to find out though!

The Cooler Lumpur Festival, as a whole, is at its infancy. This year is only their second year running! It has a multidisciplinary approach so there will be talks, performances and what have you. There were quite a few booksellers as well so if you’re going, remember to bring cash! I checked out their schedule and, true to the format of last year’s, the events will be scattered all over Publika, the mall where this festival will take place.

Unfortunately for us, we have Amir Muhammad’s session also happening during our session. This man is basically a local bookworms magnet so I’m sure everybody will flock over there. However, if you’re reading this, I hope you will come over to our side? We have cookies (figurative ones)! Just head down to Publika during these times:

Date: 22 June 2014

Time: 2 – 4pm

Location: Upstairs at Ben’s. And when I mean “Upstairs”, I mean there is a staircase inside Ben’s restaurant which will lead you to the venue. The secrecy of this location is really just to add up to the ambiance. Need to appeal to hipsters.

Anyway, in the coming days, I will be meeting up with the other participants as the organisers already set us up with a speech coach. Yes, someone will teach us how to present that day so we can perform at our best for all of you! Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

UnRepresented KL: Week 10

It was the last day of the writing programme. We had tarts! (The pecan ones were really nice).

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We’ve been anticipating the last day for weeks now, we know it will happen sooner or later. And yet, when the day finally came, it felt as though it wasn’t the end. We were so relaxed and casual. Veronica wasn’t even in attendance since she’s in Melbourne. Adriana even brought up an interesting suggestion during the beginning of the session: since we had never “checked in” with each other about what we’ve been doing the past week prior to any sessions, she wanted all of us to tell everyone how their week went in this session. I was just sitting there, wondering if there’s a point to creating a ritual on the last day. And that was the overall vibe throughout the session, that it was just another week, that we are in no hurry to bid our goodbyes.

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Adriana giving the thumbs up on the tarts.

We were divided in pairs and, as fate has it, I was paired up with Shari again just like in our first assignment. In this assignment, we are to comment and critic each other’s work. I think the reason the organisers planned it this way is so we don’t feel like we’re constantly on eggshells when it comes to our work, just waiting for the firing squad to give us another go. Also, having a conversation with one person creates an intimate atmosphere, so it’s easier to hear comments from another person and also to give input when it’s just the two of you. For me, this is good and bad. Good because I’m not up for another session of people shredding my work like the previous weeks. Bad because, objectively speaking, I really do need a lot of comments to help me with my draft. Shari pointed several problems with my draft though and it’s back to the drawing board for me.

After a while, at which point Shari and me were just talking and giggling about random things, Adriana brought us all together. Sitting in a circle, Adriana asked all of us what is our plan moving forward after the programme. Some had concrete plans: Al is going to delve deep into the spoken word scene, Joanna is looking for an editor to look into her short story before she promotes it while Nazli is interested in writing scripts. As I watched everyone opened up about their plans, I had the slow realisation that I had no plans.

Sure, the plan was to send my short story to interested publishers, namely Buku Fixi since they seem to be the only ones reaching out to the public. But now, after gone through several half-baked plots and drafts, I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready for that. It seems that I have a lot of work to do before I could produce a solid piece. I can write – that’s what they’ve been telling me and I know it myself – but I’m not a good storyteller. That’s like decorating a wedding cake without the cake. I think I’ve been relying on my skills in poetry for too long without realising it. In poems, you can basically throw in a couple of beautiful verses without actually going about telling a story. The reader builds the story in their mind based on your words, not you.

So, I guess the plan is to keep working? That sounds about right.

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The room back there is the lair for the artists to toil on their work. I never ventured there for some reason.

After that, Adriana passed around feedback forms and I ended up using that form to just pour my heart out about this program. It’s been really great; I can’t say it enough. I had tons of fun, I learned things a lot more than I expected and discovered bits of myself that I never knew. I think the most valuable thing for me is the chance to slip away from my routine life and discover something new. Things that I was not even aware of. All the participants in the programme are wildly different from each other but we managed to somehow connect. I could literally sit with them for hours, just talking. Which is what we did after this session was over; we walked down to a cafe nearby and talked some more about random things. From joining a gym to discussing which European country was a nicer colonizer to which 90s local tv shows we missed from our childhood. It’s nice to have a group of friends that are not tied specifically to a certain part of your life like high school or work.

I still haven’t visited Petaling Street, can you believe it? I drove past that tourist landmark so many times now but it never appealed to me. However, my initial perception of its shadiness has been erased. I don’t know when I will visit Jalan Panggong again but I know it’s a familiar place to me now.

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