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Five Things I’ve Learnt From My Archives

Archives are terrifying places (here), because you are cruelly reminded of the rubbish stuff you used to pen (or still do, haha). “Did I really write this piece of bull-crap? What in the world was going through my mind? How does this even qualify as a meaningful ‘perspective’ or ‘opinion’? I must’ve come across as a complete, arrogant douche-bag.”

The first and most important thought: would anyone want to read this (more simply would you – as a reader – be willing to stick through the published piece)?

Yet amidst these depressing negatives, a casual weekend browse through my pieces across the four years yielded some interesting insights. I never had a game plan of how this blog would evolve, and I never had targets on the readership figures (hey, I have no sponsors, and I don’t make money from the advertisements). Experience matters: I still have much to learn from this socio-political blogging business, and even more to learn as a pseudo-journalist (here). I thought I’d share five personal musings, and little tips I remain cognisant of.

1. Write to be read. The first and most important thought: would anyone want to read this (more simply would you – as a reader – be willing to stick through the published piece)? I used to write very mechanically when I submitted letters to the local newspapers, and adhered pedantically to a GP-esque five-paragraph and thesis-argument-elaboration-evidence format. The submissions flowed logically, but they weren’t particularly engaging.

Now, I spend more time thinking about the issues and crafting the structure (the introduction and conclusion especially), and very little time actually writing. In the army before I had the iPhone, it was useful to scribble little sentences and phrases that had flashed across my mind.

2. Be edited. Throughout all the posts, the little stint at the Breakfast Network (here and here) has been a crucial turning point. One – I presume – will always vet his or her own drafts, but having someone else cast a rigorous second eye has been immensely useful. I learnt that I wrote monotonously, and had an unhealthy predilection for unnecessarily elaborate expressions. With so much content on the Internet, one has should be short, sharp, and sweet.

Reporting is probably the most difficult assignment for a writer. And while one can only get better by attending more events and submitting more entries, an experienced editor would deliver the briefs, and help one shape the outline or determine the quotes needed.

3. Grow a thicker hide. Being receptive to criticisms on a public platform is a given. Dealing with misinformation and accusations against your character is a must too. One has to learn to take comments objectively, and be open to a variety of opportunities. When I was asked to make an immediate call to the Singapore Land Authority over the Pulau Ubin saga (here), I scrambled – within ten or fifteen minutes – to get a call-recording application, to think about the angle, and to eventually draw up the questions. I was scared stiff.

When I was confronted on Facebook for publishing inaccurate facts about the third Population White Paper protest (no prizes for guessing why I am working on this research, here), responsibility had to be taken, and retrospective amendments made.

4. Write, and write, and write. Nothing is off-limits, but it always makes sense to focus on matters you are familiar with. For me, they are the issues of education, national Service, as well as community service. Regular writing brings in the feedback, and facilitates exchanges.

Beyond the regular commentaries, I’ve tried everything and anything reasonable: surveys on National Service and community service (here and here), having guest contributions (here), doing an education roundtable (here), and featuring remarkable individuals (here and here).

5. Put numbers in your headlines (sparingly). This might help you to attract more eyeballs, and help organise your points. But yes, headlines like this don’t work all the time (maybe I should’ve sprinkled GIFs all over).

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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