Self-doubt may not be every writer’s lifelong companion, but it certainly is mine. I sometimes have moments of self-doubt that my intense curiosity and rather interrogative line of questioning (even in a casual setting) may appear frightening to some people. So, if I have an addiction, it’s not so much words, (like my learned colleague) but it’s delving into other people’s lives, one question at a time.
Snappy Questions About Crackers
I recall getting extremely excited when I discovered that a new friend sitting at the same table was the scion of a local factory owner that produced murukku (a cracker-like, savoury Indian snack). Cue instant excitement.
I grilled him for a good 30 minutes about murukku production. This included questions such as: “Since you can squeeze and twirl the batter into curly shapes in the hot oil, have you ever made a murukku that spelled ‘Happy Birthday’ and given it to a friend? Or made a murukku in the form of your signature?” The answers, alas, were in the negative. This was apparently the longest conversation — or rather, ambush interview — about murukku that this guy had ever experienced.
Thankfully, most people go along with the ride and enjoy the dialogue we’re having. I chalk my constant questioning to curiosity and a desire to understand the world a little better. Need a deeper answer? Maybe I seek a richer life experience through collecting knowledge about the preoccupations of others.
I may have little interest in being a company accountant or IT repair person, but I’m fascinated by the more esoteric aspects of their experience. Like, for instance, if they have ever found any incriminating evidence of embezzlement, or if they sneer at certain desktop wallpapers.
The Life of a Rhino-Hunter
It might seem tiresome to go through life this curious, but stories don’t just come charging at you like a rhino in heat. Sometimes you have to hunt them out yourself, like a huntsman in heat.
When I do answer that I write during daylight hours for the grub, a number of people recoil at the thought of them actually doing it. Their reaction may have something to do with the trauma of writing exams.
But I’ll let you in on a secret: being a writer isn’t challenging, though the manic schedule can be trying. Some writers I know chew their pens to ribbons, and stick them behind their ears, when there’s nothing of interest happening, before darting out for languid smoke breaks.
Other times, we plunge into the work with a feverish madness, fingers flying over the keyboard like a pianist at his instrument, and turning pages of research notes like a satay seller flipping sticks of meat.
But you would be surprised at how much of the work is off-keyboard. It includes attending meetings, standing around bantering (while actually planning your story in the back of your mind), making far too many word puns and most of all, facing an empty Word document while a looming sense of dread creeps up on you like a rhino in heat.
As the cursor blinks like a countdown to your deadline, you realise that you’re nothing, that your words are impermanent and so is your entire sense of self-worth. Often I find myself tackling mini-existential crises before writing. I know, stereotypical Hemingway-esque author, right?
So I know what I do for a living, but do others? It’s time I find out the bitter truth and interview my friends and colleagues about what they think of writers, and more specifically, do they know what I do for a living?
Tsy, 25 years old
Occupation: in the industry relating to epistemology
What do you think writers like me do?
Spend the day going for smoke breaks and punctuating these breaks with coffee-making, attempts to start up the computer from sleep mode, attempts to write and the deletion of whatever’s on the page. The night is when the work begins.
Have you read anything I have written?
I’ve plagiarised an essay of yours but to be honest, I never read it. Got an A for it though, thanks.
Have you seen me put on my “writer’s thinking hat” when in conversation?
All the time — the way you shift from one topic to another, the things you wonder about, the way you receive fiction and the way you describe things.
What is the best question you have heard me ask someone?
When you bought up a discussion about dressing and privilege O_O
You said, “Tarzan knows how to dress appropriately, which is strange. Or it could just be practical, like males don’t like to be too uncovered while they swing from vine to vine. Or maybe the cool air is unpleasant, the rush of the wind against sensitive skin.”
Chris Yeo, 30 years old
Occupation: ‘Video Guy’
Philosophy: “The centre cannot hold.”
What are the qualities you think writers possess or should possess?
Writers should possess the ability to spell and to adhere to word count. The other qualities of a writer include a small amount of wit, a convincing style and a kind heart.
Do you like writers?
I like writers because they are like chicken soup, and I like chicken soup. You are like chicken soup with a bit of spring onion on it, so yes, I like.
Have you ever seen me put on my writer’s thinking hat when in conversation?
Yes, you seem to have it on more than ‘off’.
Mike Chang, 32 years old
Occupation: Artist (artwork pictured above)
What do you think occupies the hours of a writer’s day?
I think most of the time, you guys make jokes and try to humour yourself. Sometimes you type something.
What are the qualities you think writers possess, or should possess?
Most writers are observant. I have no idea what they should possess. Probably empathy. I admire writers the same way I like musicians. But some writers are pretentious, or use language way too seriously and get righteous about it.
Do you think I should get an alternative job?
I think you can continue to do what you do. Or knowing your personality, you might probably go into advertising as your alternate career.
Haryati Mahmoud. Age: “I’m in my thirties. It’s rude to ask about age.”
Occupation: Photo Desk Editor at Novus
Philosophy: “Stop coming to my desk and asking me stuff that I now don’t remember.”
Do you like us writers?
I’m not sure about you guys.
Do you like me?
What do you think writers do?
Write, make up stories, ask questions.
What qualities do you think writers here at Novus possess?
You guys are very thick-skinned. You never stop asking questions, and seem very curious, which I’ll admit is a good quality to have.
You always ask me random stuff and eat my snacks, which you call rabbit food. I never really see you do real work. That’s the truth. [Said with an acidic countenance, but one can only assume she was being cheeky in her bone-dry, loveable way.]