Embracing Vulnerability As A Writer

Last month, I shared that I’d begun work on a new book. It felt… pretty vulnerable to share that, as well as the details of my last work, a failed work. In truth, the past couple of years have been rough for me as a writer.

March 2020 saw the world go into lockdown. I won’t fuss over those details again, we’ve got enough collective trauma from that. But it marked multiple new chapters for me, I just didn’t know it yet.

As a writer and editor, I conjure up and hone thousands of words a day. If I don’t, I feel like some part of me is missing, somehow. I write all through the conventional working week and I even pen something fresh on a Sunday – my favourite day of the week. Of course, not all of it is designated for public consumption. One fateful day in March 2020 saw me sleepily tap out a Tweet on my morning commute in London, as I’d managed to clear out an entire, originally packed, train carriage simply for being East Asian.

Many writers and, indeed, content creators dream of ‘going viral’ in this digital age. The Internet is saturated with content vying for attention and it often feels like a piece of content going viral is the only way to make it. While I did go viral, it made me vulnerable as a writer than I’d ever been. I’ve shared raw, honest stories about living as a British-born Chinese woman in England for years, but it was terrifying to suddenly be called for features in Stylist.co.uk, BBC Three Counties Radio and beyond. Really, I quickly realised that I wasn’t ready for a public or global stage. Quietly, the non-fiction book I’d been working on for years fell to the wayside as public interest diminished and the openness that literary agents required from me wasn’t quite there yet. Everything around me screamed: ‘You’re not enough!’ ‘You’re not giving enough!’ ‘You’re not good enough!’ ‘You’re not Asian enough!’

This same sentiment trickled through to just about every work that I applied myself to. Instagram captions. Blog posts. Editorial features at work. Marketing copy.

I never felt enough.

Vulnerability as a writer, I’m discovering, is essential. Even though post-viral Tweet, I shied away from creating anything too serious for many months or years, I’m realising now that these lows and minimal productivity periods are required. For one, they gave me the time and space to ruminate why I felt so vulnerable and how that affected me. I could process and work through these vulnerabilities, and I have at length. I’ve spent a lot of time with myself in recent years. Stacking bricks tall and wide, to shield myself from the harshness of the outside, of noise and of criticism.

Moreover, I’ve leaned into these insecurities, using them as vague inspirations for work. In laying low and leaning into introversion, I remembered that we are never alone: others are often going through something similar. I was reminded of this as I scrolled through social media, wondering when I’d feel the writing spark again. Many of my British-Chinese peers were mobilising and leveraging awareness of our community’s plight again: why couldn’t I?

Part of my vulnerability must be to do with how often I’d feel like life was a race. I wanted to be the first, the best. But, in reality, I wasn’t ready for that. Again, now that I’m on the other side, I can reckon with the fact that I am simply too soft for all of it, to quote Taylor Swift. I don’t know if publishing raw and honest non-fiction is for me at this stage of my journey. But embracing my vulnerabilities did open me up to translating many of my feelings and experiences into a fictional work. Writing as a craft is just like how life is a journey. You evolve with it, uncover layers, grow into new ones.

Mostly, though, embracing vulnerability as a writer has made me a far different and far greater writer. Honesty in words can always be perceived and rarely replicated. The prose I write now? Whew. She is something else and I am so proud to have stacked those bricks up tall and let them tumble to craft anew. There’s a persistent vulnerability in my works now that align with me more and more each day.

Work that reads similarly to the book I shelved:

  • East Side Voices
  • Takeaway

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