Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction

The fabled, non-existent, writer’s block, which I had recently

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I don’t know if I mentioned it but I was recently on a programme designed to teach writers how to become published authors. It included masterclasses, guest speakers, tutorials, and, the pièce de résistance, the chance to submit a book proposal.

A nonfiction book proposal requires a synopsis of the proposed book; a chapter by chapter summary; and sample chapters (which amount to around 10,000 words).

I duly wrote a synopsis; and I worked up a contents list, with summaries of every chapter of my proposed book. Then, it came to write the sample chapters. Here, I discovered a problem. I found it extremely difficult to begin. This was, actually, quite unlike my experience.

Writer’s Block

It may be romanticised in Hollywood movies about writers, and the fabled imaginings of amateur writers, who may warmly picture a glamorous scenario where one has the privilege of being blocked, but, in my experience, most professional writers scoff at the idea of writer’s block.

However, however.

Lately, after writing several thousand words for a writing competition in November and December; plus writing a couple of short stories for a few other competitions in January; plus being involved with this publishing scheme in February and March (for which I am, of course, very grateful) which took a lot of concentration; plus digging deep to put together a decently written proposal.

PLUS the enervating, all-consuming, life-sucking, hope-sieving effects of lockdown and endless Coronavirus news, I felt my well had run dry.

A well

Let’s talk about the well. In my experience, there is a well — a place in my subconscious which stores creative energy. And I have a pretty good sense of when this well is full, and when this well is dry.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

March 27, 2021 at 7:01 pm

A weekend on the wall

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I was breathing heavily. Vivid green bushes and granite rocks marked our way. The dusty track weaved up through the hill as we pounded on, making our way to the wall.

The horizons were not clear — sullied by smog. The air produced a chill that reminded spring of winter. Our party carried two tents, five sleeping bags, alcohol, water, and food.

We were three women: a Czech; two Chinese; and two men: a Brazilian and myself. We’d decided to go camping for the weekend. To take a trip outside Beijing, to leave the city behind.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

April 18, 2016 at 5:18 am

Writing what you want to write vs. writing what editors want you to write

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Some years ago, when I was in my last year of university, there was a house party. At this party I got talking to a French girl, who was eloquent and charming. I reached a point where I got talking about journalism, my ambitions, who I’d already written for, and all the fine journalism pieces I’d written — the kind of things you might say when trying to impress a French girl.

She listened with interest but after I had finished my spiel, she looked at me and without a pause said simply: “But what do you write for yourself?”

This memory and those words have stayed with me ever since.

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October 5th, Beijing

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It is a Sunday afternoon in Beijing, in the middle of Golden Week, a national holiday here in China. The weather is cooling down, days are mild but the nights are drawing in. Autumn is the most beautiful season in Beijing, but the briefest, casting its warm glow before the harsh, bare winter.

Lately, I have found writing and pitching somewhat difficult. Freelance has been slow, very slow. I had been pitching but I found no reply from editors who have previously commissioned me. This is the worst; worse than rejection, it is the anxiety of not knowing that enervates the soul of a freelancer.

More than that, motivation is weak right now. And I am not sure exactly why. Maybe it is homesickness, maybe it’s a slight boredom with the whole affair of freelance journalism. Writing requires energy and I’ve found that energy to be depleted. The ambition is still there, but the actions required to reach it seem harder to take.

Life seems to get in the way too. Unlike before, I realize how important it is to just enjoy the moments that accompany a day and to look forward to those times where you can wallow in the luxury of doing things that you want to do. Hanging out with friends in Beijing, eating and drinking, playing poker, getting wasted in clubs is fun, sure. But it means the important work gets left behind. But that’s okay. But equally, it is absolutely no excuse whatsoever.

Of course, there needs to be balance. I find solace in the fact that this blog is going from strength to strength. But the desire to read all the articles I should be reading, to pitch editors, new and old, to send out emails, to sit down and plot out the essays and articles I know I’m capable of writing, is diminished. It worries me because the feeling is deeper and longer lasting that what I’ve felt before. But it doesn’t unnerve me. Writing is what I love to do the most.

I am also trying to get started on a book proposal This gives me something to be excited about, even if book publishing can be a long and arduous process. Book writing is what I’d really like to do. And although I love journalism, I know that literature will always win out. Journalism can be literature of course — it’s literary nonfiction that really compels me to be a better writer. Perhaps this is time out towards that end.


How to write an article you’ve never written before

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Over the years I’ve written about various disparate subjects. They’ve ranged from 1500-word features on economics to interview-based features, short travel pieces and investigatory video game essays. Sometimes you’ll write pieces which you have no clue how to write, how to structure it, what to put in.

In these cases, what I do is very simple. I was reminded of this when I read an online article in The New Yorker. It is about author Akhil Sharma and the 12 years he spent producing a novel: “After writing seven thousand pages over twelve and a half years, I now have a novel, published this week, that is two hundred and twenty-four pages long”.

The piece focuses on the technical challenges that Sharma faced writing his novel. It deals with what I believe writing can tend to be – a series of technical puzzles.

In these instances, it’s best to follow Sharma’s method:

“When I run into technical challenges, I look to writers who are not only better than I am but better than I ever probably will be. All I needed to do, therefore, was find novels that shared some of the same DNA as my book”.

I’m not comparing my journalism to the art of his fiction making. But what he said rung true. When I am unsure of how to achieve something, whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph or an article, I’ll often find prior examples, articles with similar subjects, and read. I’ll read it closely, and I’ll read it to study.

New territory

Recently I have not been so focused on pure journalism. I have in fact focused more on nonfiction. It is a fine distinction. Nonfiction tend to be essays, first-person pieces, memoir and narratives that don’t have a solely journalistic focus. Trying to make it as a writer, I feel nonfiction offers some of the creative freedom of fiction and the possibility of some personal renown.

You always have to aim upwards. I published a piece of nonfiction, but it was unpaid, and am now looking for paying outlets. Bigger and better.

Writing is a craft. And people may think writing just happens. But they don’t see the years of reading, of the early amateur practice pieces and the careful note-taking of other people’s sentences, the visual diagramming of how to put together an article.

But at least in journalism, there’s no sacrifice as equal in measure as Sharma’s: “The book took twelve and a half years of my life and I am not sure if it was the right investment of my time”.