Thursday, June 12, 2014


Here's something I didn't see coming.

A few weeks ago, I was tagged by Nicole aka The Literary-Chic to share my writing process.

"Excellent!" I thought. "Finally, something other than sewing, drafting and cardboarding to write about!"

So I went and did some research (translation = I read Nicole's Writing Process Meme post and a couple of those written by bloggers tagged in line before her).

And everyone seemed to be "in the process of writing fiction" or "working on a novel" or something similarly accomplishy and amazing.

Whereas I, by contrast, uh. . .  what novel?

Decided I needed a mental stock-take of all the genres of 'writing' I am now doing. So I did. 

Does email count?

Or notes to my children's teachers to Please Let Kate Ride The Bus To So-And-So's House For A Playdate After School?

Mayhap Tooth Fairy correspondences, which the children all know come from our computer's word processing program and not any magical being, but for which they still play along because it seems to make Mother happy?

Oh, wait - I sometimes write nonsense verse to my children as lunch notes! Verse! Surely limericks are real literature? Riiiiiiight. Maybe in some alternate universe (the same alternate universe, no doubt, in which grocery lists equal "writing").

What about movie reviews? One particular friend, who used to be my favorite movie buddy when I was living in Singapore, is the lucky recipient of my Trashy Treadmill Movie Reviews when we exchange email (in return, he comments and shares his Good-Movie-In-Cinema Reviews). See, I have a watchlist of movies that look promising and which I save for when I'm on the treadmill. Sometimes the movies I pick turn out to be complete duds, like a particular sci-fi flick with a star-studded cast and a quantum physics premise but which was actually 2 hours of gratuitous violence and my favorite actor dying horribly and a lot of detached eyeballs and possessed spaceships. Anyway, I usually force myself to keep watching them while clocking miles because there really isn't anything more interesting to look at during. But to compensate, I write reviews of those movies and email them to this friend to amuse us both.

I suppose there's always this blog. This and my family blog, which has been sorely neglected of late.  Blogging, then - my sole offering to the deities of prose and publication.

So let me go on record now to thank Nicole for thinking of me in the context of "writer" rather than "cardboard and fabric project show-off blogger". I'd never thought of this blog as real writing the way I think of my favorite library books as real writing. That anyone would be remotely interested in what and how I write anything at all floors me, and is more of a compliment than you'd guess.

Here I go, then, answering four questions about writing.

1. What are you working on?

This blog, and the family blog.

The family blog is all about the kids growing up and my run-ins with culture as an immigrant in the US. I write it for my parents and other family and friends in Singapore, and my in-laws who like to keep up with what we're doing. There are photos of us and funny quotes from the kids and whining about how tricky it is to bake UK recipes using US ingredients. Occasionally, I even get introspective and write a lot of prose, some of which - on hindsight - is in desperate need of editing for oversentimentalness but even then, I try to keep the photo:text ratio as high as possible. Because of that guiding principle, and also because our computer recently died, I haven't been uploading photos much, which translates to an abysmal posting rate. Sorry, Ma and Pa.

This craft blog is all about crafts. If I had to define it, I'd say it's one-half fabric, one-third cardboard and one-sixth Other Nonsense including, but not limited to, wood, yarn, paper, electronics and whatever else got intercepted on its way to the recycling bin.

In the process of documenting tutorials, for which, thankfully, the photo:text ratio is also decent, I often meander into discussions on culture (specifically, Asian; generally, biculturalism and The Joys Of Adjustment), parenting foibles and teaching. Sometimes I draw demented cartoons, like this and this. I like to think that if I keep working on capturing the whole Insane Mother Look, someday - and pardon my delusions of grandeur, if I ever write and publish a memoir, I might be allowed to contribute some of the illustrations. Eeeeee!

2. What makes your work different from others' work in the same genre?

I'll answer this from two angles.

One: Content
This blog is about crafts. Certainly I digress into observations on life, but the content is still crafts - tutorials for, brag posts about and, occasionally, curricula series on, various kinds of crafts. I don't read as many other craft blogs now as when my kids were babies and my days were -ironically - not as full, but I've browsed enough to speculate that most craft blogs are similar to mine in their content. Where I think ikatbag differs is in its focus. For instance, I like cardboard to the point of mania, and I am not above virtual groveling and drooling when I find cardboard projects that I like. People have described me as "obsessed", which makes me giggle because, personally, I would've picked much stronger adjectives. From their labels, I infer that there exist other people who either dislike cardboard, are neutral to it, or like it at a considerably less rabid level. Or they tolerate it because it's a green crafting medium and everyone wants to be environmentally friendly and inoffensive. Summary: I feel different from other entry-level cardboard sympathizers and when I do meet other cardboard addicts, I tend to overreact in my delight, which no doubt ostracizes me even further from the general craft population.

In addition to cardboard, I also sew and draft. I learned to sew by custom drafting clothing patterns from body dimensions as a teenager, which was the way everyone learned to sew in Singapore (and other parts of Asia) in those days. As a result, I approach garment construction and pattern designing quite differently from many other seamstresses who have learned to sew with commercial patterns and "winging it" methods. The few drafting posts I've written have led me to believe that there are people out there who are interested in sewing this way, but there is not enough information to which a layman may have access (without enrolling in fashion school). So I try to write drafting posts that fill in the gaps in the available information and explain the whys behind the hows.

Further, I like deconstructing, process, concepts and The Big Picture much more than I do quick Project Follow-Alongs. Some of the instructional posts I've most enjoyed writing are the curricula series that attempt a conceptual approach to drafting, bag-making or sewing in general. Rather than rounding up a collection of takeaway projects that are the usual tutorial series content on many blogs, I tend to write (what I hope are) systematic lessons that aim to teach my readers to design and sew for themselves.

Two: Style
This blog is also about me and my kids. We make and sew as a way to connect with our roots as children (and grandchildren) of the creative and skilled craftsmen and craftswomen in our family tree. Because, as an immigrant, I am physically removed from my own parents and the other people in my family who have been instrumental in shaping my creative personality, I am perhaps a little more conscious of the cultural nuances in my making than other people who have grown up and remain in their home countries. I know from readers' comments that I am not alone - many other people also enjoy crafting as a kind of legacy from and tribute to their families.

As a result, I find myself infusing my instructional posts with stories and insights from my childhood growing up in Singapore. I don't think about whether or not it dilutes my instruction; many times I feel that it paints a fuller context of the particular project or concept. Now that I've been a mother for almost a decade, some of those insights and stories emerge from my own experiences with my children, so that as the blog evolves, so does my writing - to include new stories in generational layers of anything from the humor of the Frazzled Mother to the bittersweetness of a daughter and granddaughter missing her family.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Let's talk about how I started to write. When I was in elementary school, my classmates and I wrote stories and verse in exercise books for fun and swopped them for mutual reading and feedback. It was all fiction, but we attempted everything from horror to sci-fi to romance to comedy. And tributes to whichever Hollywood superstar with whom we were enamored at the time. Is anyone old cool enough to remember Jon-Erik Hexum? When he accidentally shot himself, my friend and I wrote heartbreaking eulogies in verse. While crying ourselves silly, we were so crushed. I'd be mortified to read it now, of course, but back then, it was brilliant! Fitting! Scintillating! Absolutely moving! Two thumbs up!

Yes, with the angst, passion and determination to Find Myself In The Universe that seem to plague teenagers the world over, it was very easy to write fiction. I was wired for self-expression. I picked a topic, an issue, a character, anything, and simply expounded. Never mind that I had no idea what counted as good or bad writing, or that my stories were riddled with tropes (teenage heroine with special abilities, anyone?) or that I regularly and doggedly blurred the line between reality and fantasy. These were not social or philosophical commentary; they were me stringing words together into sentences and sentences into paragraphs in an attempt to discover my personal writing style. Was I funny? Was I elegant? Was I clever? Could I evoke authentic emotion? As long as there was some devastatingly unhappy ending (usually involving irrecoverable loss and paralyzing grief), a belligerent quarrel of epic proportions and a general leveling of the social playing field (i.e. the smarmy popular school kids got obliterated), it counted as a Good Story. And I kept writing well into adulthood and teacherhood, until motherhood came along and derailed me towards a child-centered world that left very little time for anything else.

So... the blog. Looking back, it's easy to understand why I had to start it: I missed writing. But writing a blog is very different from writing a story that has a beginning, middle and end. I don't build worlds the way I might have when writing fiction. I'm bad at details (e.g. what color are the drapes on the wall of the fabric store? What current rock band's mini-poster should I stick on the side of my handmade fabric organizing cube? Why do I care?) I don't do a lot of research for continuity and authenticity when I am putting together a blog post. I don't emote through my children the way I used to when my fictional characters were having a meltdown. I don't channel angst. I don't create witty dialog (besides, have you heard my children's conversations? Way better than fiction. Any mom of small children will agree). With this blog, I just take photos, draw diagrams, conceptualize lessons and organize curricula. Sometimes I leave it as dry as that, and sometimes I tell stories. Blogging for me is a lot more like teaching a lesson than it is writing a story. If there is any elegance in it, it's a serendipitous side-effect of documenting that lesson while real life spins around me and throws out unexpected gems worth blending into it.

From the very beginning, this blog has been about tutorials. I am hopeful that someday, my kids will want to sew in earnest and might therefore find the material in this blog useful for instruction. For that reason, even while creating brag posts (i.e. those in which I showcase a project without accompanying how-tos or deconstruction notes), I write with my children in mind. The backstory, photos of them-in-action, annotated pictures and longwinded step-by-steps are all there with the aim of encouraging my girls to love and laugh and live while creating. Because, after all, crafting supposed to be fun and not daunting, because it brings people together more than it pits their skills and ideas against each other, and because there's a little bit of me and them and their grandparents and their futures and everything human and cultural in it.

4. How does your writing process work?

I've never stopped to analyze my writing process, frankly.
But now that I have, I think the writing itself begins with A Great Pulling.

These Great Pullings come at unpredictable times and from anywhere. Sometimes, I'm in the shower and inexplicably decide that all the armhole problems in the world could be solved with an expository post on Sleeve Theory (catchy term I made up). Sometimes, I watch my children at play and am inspired to write about incorporating electronics into a layman family's toy arsenal. Other times, I am already writing a tutorial on a messenger bag when I realize that it's too narrow an approach to bag-making and therefore an entire curriculum on conceptualizing bag structures is necessary. And they can even come directly and undisguised from readers' comments and requests: "Can you please write about sewing for beginners, but not kids?" "I would love a tutorial on darts." And, most recently, "I tag you to share your writing process!"

Then, over time, my mind accommodates these Great Pullings and - suddenly and mysteriously - I've got blog fodder.

Sometimes, those stirrings also sufficiently disturb the status quo of bloggable information to the point that I have to sit down and organize my content in new ways. This could mean starting several empty posts (just with titles) on my dashboard, as a means of categorizing and ranking my topics. This could also mean scribbling in my paper notebook, my thoughts and skeleton templates on How To Teach Softie-Making To Small Children In 10 Lessons. Or it could mean writing as much of a post as I can to immediately unload that content from my brain while it is fresh and urgent, and then leaving it for months, even years, on the blog dashboard to percolate while I work on other projects.

From that point on, I just write.

Tutorials are the easiest posts to write, in that they are linear and completely structured around a photographic sequence of making an item. Very often, they are no more than elaborate captions to photographs. Sometimes I work with photographs of only the project in its various degrees of completion. Other times, I include photos of variations of that project, and maybe some self-indulgent story from my sewing past.

Brag posts are those that feature only show-off photos of a completed project. I get to talk about it like a docent and point out all the ugly and good bits. Not as straightforward to write as tutorial posts, because I actually have to think of interesting things to say about the same project photographed from one hundred different angles. Yawn.

Curricula or tutorial series posts are individually straightforward (because they're really single tutorials strung together) but challenging to organize as a whole so that they are sequentially logical. Very often, the content, direction and focus change as I write subsequent posts, and I have to reorganize information and switch the chapter order several times before they go live. The final sequence is never the way it was initially listed in my mind or my planning notes.

All the other miscellaneous expository posts (parenting, drafting concepts, process, culture, to name a few) are the hardest, but the most enjoyable to write. There is very little formal structure to them and I can make everything up as I go. The construction of these posts have some characteristics in common:

  1. I usually write them over several (not one) sittings.
  2. Content-wise, I do not edit them until I have finished writing them. Then I re-read the entire post, and it becomes obvious where there are discontinuities, repetitions and general bad structure. I am not surprised by this because it is what I expect from a collection of thoughts written on different days separated by all manner of interruption. I rewrite the necessary bits and then leave the whole post again on the dashboard for the next day. At that point, I do a final re-read before it goes live. The multiple corrections may result in typos that I miss in the final review so these are also the post most likely to be imperfect in spelling, grammar or concord.
  3. While I try to avoid pedestrian writing (er, who doesn't, really?), I do not deliberately write these posts to be humorous or poignant or sad or to have any particular flavor. In fact, the longer a post is, the more likely it will end up didactic. Sorry. Not surprisingly, my shortest posts are usually the funniest*. I've been told that they are also my best - not that they are literary masterpieces, but that they are short, because that's what true blogging is supposed to be like. By that logic, evidently, one cannot be a very good blogger when writing tutorials, because they go on forever and ever. Which means the craft blog, being a tutorial platform, blogging-bombs on a regular basis. To compensate, I try to practise Concise Blogging on the family blog instead. There, I do single-photo posts with succinct captions that, on a good day, might even be slightly funny. And if the humor factor is especially low, I employ quotes of my children's recent verbal gems, because my children are natural entertainers. Sure win.
That's the actual writing. Even farther back than that is the reading I did in all the years before I even wrote my first story as a kid. 

I think I write the way I do because of what I'd read that I've loved. Growing up in Singapore exposed me to a different library than kids growing up in the US (for instance, I didn't read The Great Gatsby until I was an adult). 

Just off the top of my head, in elementary school, Enid Blyton was my go-to children's author, and thereafter Alfred Hitchcock's mystery stories and the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventures. Also The Chronicles of Narnia, of course, which then led me to love CS Lewis's other works in my later years. In middle school, it was samplings of writers like Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. And as an adult, it is an eclectic mix of comfort reading and whatever else might make me laugh and weep in the same sitting, like Adrian Plass, who remains one of my favorite authors to this day. 

Incidentally, I feel that my kids have access to a much wider range of literature now than I ever did as a child of comparable age. Which is wonderful, because they will have that many more styles and genres to shape their own style and preferences as future writers. 

But back to the point. Here's the marvelous thing about reading-to-write: I don't remember particularly clever turns of phrase in those books I've read, or even the astounding worlds those authors built. However, I do remember being able to discern, even at that young age, how some writers were able to pull me into their stories with simple words while others could just as easily lose me in superfluous language. Subconsciously, I'd always wanted to write like the former. In some ways, blogging is set up to achieve just that, so I like to think that at some primitive level, I'm succeeding!

Author's picks:

Here is one of my personal favorite Succinct Posts from this blog.

Once in a blue moon, I lift the PG-rating on my blog and turn out something like this

And this is how I secretly wish all my blog posts could be like. 

But then this is what happens when I lose the battle to mush and sentiment. 

Eyes off me now: I couldn't think of whom to tag next, since I only have time to read craft blogs (and honestly, I read them for the project inspiration rather than the prose). However, I would LOVE to read about other people's writing processes, so if you'd like to write about yours, link it in the comments and I'll come read it!


  1. Thank you for introducing me to Enid Blyton! The references to your childhood and Singapore culture are two of the things I love most about your blog. And I love that you write it with your children in mind.

    I write most of my blog posts in my head during the day, and then type them up at night. I am much more likely to write too little than too much - leaving out important steps, for example. In grad school I was famous for saying a lot in very few words. I come from a family of very talented writers, and I would say growing up in that context made writing fairly intuitive. But, I'm not a naturally verbose person, and I'm not considered one of the talented writers in said talented writer family. I blog as a way of motivating myself to do things, for self-expression, and to connect with like-minded people. I also blog because I want the memories. I also write a daily journal - have since the September 27, 2003. I am working on self-reflection and capturing details, but words are awkward for me (to write, not read), and so I turn to photography.

  2. I started following your blog when I saw your cardboard work in Family Fun magazine. But I stick around for the writing. So at least some people think what you do is "writing." :)

  3. Nicole introduced me to your blog, and it's fascinating. Thank you for writing. I have blogged for years, but mine is a mishmash of topics, and largely kept for my own amusement, especially since I had four children in rapid succession and my brain melted from sleep deprivation.

    Anyway, please keep up the good work!

  4. Hooray! Thanks for playing! :) I love reading others' reflections on writing. And I find your writing inspiring, engaging, and instructional. I do particularly love the cultural bits--and how your family experiences influence your sewing.

    In this post, I love when you mention "reading-to-write." This is one of the things that interests me as a literary critic, tracking down the elements that engage us, and thinking about what engages one person rather than another:

    "However, I do remember being able to discern, even at that young age, how some writers were able to pull me into their stories with simple words while others could just as easily lose me in superfluous language."

    There are times when I read craft blogs for the projects only, but the ones I come to again and again--like this one--are the ones that also have great writing! :)

  5. Yeah, don't sell yourself short. I came to your blog for the bag tutorials and have stayed for the writing. It's fresh, real and you have a great sense of humor. In a sense, it's auto-biographical and I keep coming back.


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