I recently asked a leading lifestyle magazine in Phnom Penh whether I could write for them on a freelance basis. I thought it would be a good place for me to gain experience on writing something different, get professional input on my writing style and a good way of knowing the city more.
When I finally met with the Editor in Chief, I realise that there’s so much I don’t know about writing lifestyle issues. I made mental notes as he gave some pointers on how to start and what to look out for.
I had given him the link to my blog to view some samples of my writing and he reminded me (not in verbatim but something along this line), “Writing for this magazine is very different from blogging. You have to emphasise more on facts, on the places and people that you’re writing about, less about yourself and what you think. Of course you should include your thoughts and sense about a place if you’re reviewing a restaurant, food, shop, etc. but definitely less on a first person narrative.”
It sounds easy enough when you think about it – no analysis, no opinion, just facts. I can do that, at least I think I can.
When I got home, I started doing an online search on restaurant reviews just to have a feel of how a good review should be. Then, I begin to notice that I’ve been trained to search for facts, analyse the facts and then give my opinion based on my analysis. Much of my writings have been more focussed on politics and social issues that look into the intricacy of state policies, human interaction and social and economic behaviour. I’ve never really ventured into something beyond the faculty of logical and critical thinking.
After reading some reviews, I gather that in order to write a captivating piece of review, I need to be able to describe all the sensations generated by our five basic senses; sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Now, this is not as easy as it sounds, even to the most observant of person because the real challenge lies in using the right words to describe as precisely as possible those sensations you feel. This means more nouns and adjectives and of course excellent grammar to form coherent and yet lively sentences.
Yes, lifestyle writing to me is about bringing sentences to life so that the readers are able to feel (not think about) the sensations that you would want them to.
Would I be able to make that mental switch from critical to creative writing? I think I would always be tempted to “scratch beneath the surface”, partly due to my inquisitive nature which unfortunately, sometimes I feel as a liability rather than asset. For instance, instead of looking at a clock and just appreciate its beauty and ingenious design, I tend to ask how it works and by asking, I often lose sight of its aesthetic values.
I also find that I am not able to draw the line between social and lifestyle issues, although the Editor in Chief tried to explain when I asked him whether he would consider an article about the challenges of expats who want to marry Cambodians (I’ve read on the news recently that expats who want to marry locals are forced to pay “additional” sum of money in order to get registered) as lifestyle or social. He made it very clear that the magazine is not interested in anything which would dig into what he considers as political or administrative flaws.
To reinforce his explanation, he then pulled up several copies of local newspaper lying recklessly on the table and pointed out the headlines, “Swine Flu – not interested.” Then another, “The Khmer Rouge trial – not interested.”
OK, OK, I get it. If I want to write about those issues, I should arrange for a meeting with the Phnom Penh Post or Cambodian Daily’s editors instead.
While preparing myself for my meeting with the Editor in Chief, I was bursting with ideas and now when I look at my list of ideas (which were meant to impress him); volunteering work, adoption issues, education system, understanding Buddhism, domestic helpers, HIV/AIDS, medical services, etc. they all look so “sedative” (There! My first creative word). My initial excitement was deflated because I’m not sure whether they will be given the response – NOT INTERESTED. Period.
Am I disappointed or discouraged? On the contrary. I’m excited to embark in this new experience. I think this “adventure” will open up my senses and give me a much needed new perspective towards life; that is if I manage to hand in an acceptable piece of writing by the end of next week (I’m put on trial).
Above all, I think it will teach me to appreciate some of the simple pleasure of life – more on the living and less on the probing and analysing.