Sunday, July 20, 2008

About writing - in slow simmering fashion - Verna Tay

Bringing Life to a Simmer
Verena Tay

I have always had a healthy respect for journalists, especially those who write for daily newspapers. This is because I have always wondered how they can bear the constant pressure of churning out article after article that make sense and discuss the issues of the day with a certain depth. Facing tough deadlines, how do they do their research, synthesise information, formulate their thoughts and articulate their thinking into coherent words day in and day out?

I have also much admired those writers who set themselves a daily or weekly quota of words to write and they accomplish such goals without fail. Through such excellent discipline, many great novels, stories and essays have been produced. And yet I wonder how efficient this writing method is. If the goal is to produce a certain number of words a day, is there not a temptation to spew out a garble of words to fulfil that quota, and then much effort is later needed to mould and edit those words into something of value?

Perhaps one reason why I hold these two breeds of writers in high regard is because I am a completely different kind of scribbler. It is difficult for me to be a pen for hire as I find it hard to produce words on demand, especially on topics in which I have no personal interest. And despite the wonders of self-control, I cannot tie myself down to a chair and sit in front of a computer to type out X number of words a day as if I am a factory. While deadlines and word quotas as creative limits are useful in certain contexts, I find them antithetical to the way my brain naturally functions.

So what kind of writer am I? The answer is simply a simmering pot of soup. From my life experiences and observations of life, I carefully select elements that I place in the creative pot as the soup base. Through a long simmering process of mulling and musing, these different ingredients combine into new flavors and eventually the essence of what I want to say emerges. Like those painstaking recipes our grandmothers used to follow that would take hours just to make a bowl of herbal soup, I take a long time (from weeks to even years—the longest time thus far I have taken to complete a play is nine years) to craft something in my brain before I am ready to sit down in front of a computer to type out something. When I am ready to write, the piece of writing comes out and is served relatively fast. My overall output may be small by comparison to some writers. But hopefully, what I ultimately serve is nourishing and delicious for the mind, body and soul.

For me, writing is a process not to be rushed. Time is needed for new perspectives to be synthesised from life’s raw ingredients. And then more time is needed to find the right words to express these new insights most aptly. I guess what I have described is a process that all writers need to go through, whether you are a pen for hire, a factory or a simmering pot. But in this instant day and age when things need to be produced efficiently in great quantities and when so many things compete for our attention, time is something that most writers lack. We are then forced to produce mediocre or poor writing that fails to nurture both writers and readers.
So if I am to produce good work that will benefit others, I must be true to myself and be the simmering pot writer. Yet this is not an easy resolution to keep. On one hand, the task is easy: I can put my creative thoughts on the back burner, while I concentrate on the immediate necessities of earning money, taking care of family and friends and other interests as well as carrying out other tasks of daily living. Yet on the other, it is not easy being a simmering pot. By becoming too engrossed in these other matters of life, I can easily forget the pot on the back burner. In so doing, I do myself great harm when the soup simmers over or dries up in the unattended pot.
So as in all other things, I seek balance in living my life and being a simmering pot writer.

Ms. Tay, a playwright from Singapore, has spent the last two decades working in Singapore’s English-language theater. Since 1997, she has concentrated on solo performances. Some of her recent projects include “Cotton & Jade” (2000), “Medea: One on One” (2002), “3 Women” (2005) and “Between Woman and Man: The Erasure of Verena Tay” (2007). Another of her plays, “The Car,” won Action Theatre’s Theatre Idols in 2005; “The Car” was fully staged at The Esplanade Theatre Studio in 2006). Ms. Tay teaches voice, speech, and presentation skills in Singapore. Her website is

Article from : Far eastern economic review