A Writers’ Gathering at Beach Blanket

Things have an odd way of turning out sometimes. Two days ago, we were supposed to join the PHT trip to Penang Hill. I got all excited because I love these PHT trips – they’re always informative and I always learn so much history. Which is a good thing because I think we often take our little Georgetown and Penang island for granted. Sometimes way too much.

Last month, we joined PHT and travelled to Taiping. Now that was a fantastic day trip to a town I thought I knew but how mistaken I was. (Hmm, that trip needs a blog post by itself – perhaps even one broken down into different parts because the town contained so many delightful spots to visit. OK, I must get down to it soon. If you think Taiping is JUST another dull Malaysian town, you will be in for a surprise.)

Anyway, we ended up at the Little Penang Street Market instead of Penang Hill because we didn’t fancy jostling with tourists on the Penang Hill tram. Our decision was made easier by the fact that Robert was in town and leaving that very Sunday night!

He was attending a reading by author Beth Yahp at the Beach Blanket Babylon so in no time, we were joining him and his friends from Penang Players at that bistro. (The book reading by Malaysian authors is a collaborative effort by Penang Players and Little Penang.)

Beth Yahp at her book reading
The cosy upstairs area of Beach Blanket Babylon bistro was the setting for Beth’s reading.

Of course Robert needs no introduction (he’s the author of the book, Lovers & Strangers Revisited) and neither does Beth (you can read an interview she did with The Sun newspaper ). I caught the last 15 minutes of the book reading session and interestingly, heard her opinions on the craft of writing.

Beth Yahp in Penang

What I remembered most was Beth saying that people expect writers/authors to churn masterpieces without realizing that writing needs practice. Lots of it.

Her tip? Write at least 500 words daily.

It’s a discipline I know Robert adheres to – he forces himself to sit down and write. That’s how one gets better and better at it. Robert even has a log book to keep track of his writing time. That’s how focused he is and that’s how focused Beth is too. I am rather undisciplined when it comes to writing so her advice was a good reminder to shut up and sit down to write. Daily.

As Robert says, a writer cannot have excuses. “Oh I have kids/family/full-time job/(fill in with fave excuse – I got no time), I cannot sit down daily.” Says who? Robert has kids too, he has a day job, and all but he still gets so gungho about writing. That I applaud.

The other interesting piece of advice from Beth is that you should never take it personally when an editor comments on your writing. Look at it objectively and see how those comments can help you improve your story. That’s a good reminder. Writers and artists tend to be a whole lot more sensitive. Our writing/artwork is like our baby – we get offended if others pass comments. And we’re so fearful of these remarks. It’s like a conundrum huh. At one end, we want it to be seen or read by the masses out there. On the other end, we are so afraid our work will be torn to pieces! Like Tze, author of Penang Passion, told me last week, we all feel inadequate about our writing but the thing is, we must sometimes conquer that fear and inadequacy and forge ahead.

Beth Yahp with her 2 books
Here’s Robert with Beth (and her books!).

But it wasn’t only Beth that we met at the reading. Another writer/the Star columnist, Mary Schneider, was there too with the rest of the Penang Players. I remarked to Mary that she looks so much younger in person (and this is a mother of 2 teens we’re talking about!). Her real self looked very different from the caricature you see accompanying her column.

Robert Raymer with Beth Yahp

Before I forget too, for the first time in Penang, Beth will be teaching a creative writing workshop on travel and life-writing in Penang on 15 and 22 September (10am to 5.30pm, with lunch and tea breaks). Venue will be confirmed later but it’s definitely in Penang (mentally doing somersault and going hurray, hurray). Her workshop’s limited to 10 to 15 persons only and the pre-requisite is that participants should have proficiency in English. Oh, and the cost… a very reasonable RM450 per person (RM350 for full-time students/unemployed). For more info, contact: bywritingworks@yahoo.com.au

Yup, I will be joining her workshop. Because I want to learn how to write better. Mostly I want to challenge myself to write creatively. And apply what I learn to this blog. I am sure my writing could be better.

If you have the means and enjoy creative writing, you’ll be giving yourself a gift by taking Beth’s workshop. 😉

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