On the writing life | three short essays

And a lesson on remembering the purpose of our work

Issue 107


A longer, and hopefully, luxurious read this issue. Three short essays on the writing life. But really, on a deeper level, it’s about what good is it to gain the world but lose your soul.

Take your time. Have some coffee or chocolate to go with it. Listen to the song I shared. Come back to read it again in between the next issue (21st March). Enjoy.

Then, like good butter 🧈, spread it around so that others can enjoy it too. 


1 | Back in those days

Back in those days, I write because I have something to say and I want to share it. Period. 

So it was a progression of: Microsoft Word, emails with friends, Blogger (remember that?), WordPress.

Sweet, sweet, simple days. 

Back in those days—about twenty-one years ago, when I didn’t know I have this insatiable lust for acceptance, applause, accolade. 

Then came likes. 

Follows.

Engagement rate.

Open rate.

101 ways to…

How to…

Then came the first time I heard of this word and my different reactions—

Instapoet (?)

Instapoet (?!)

Instapoet (!)

Instapoet (…)

How to be an Instapoet (?!@*&!)

Then came people who are not even in business, converting their personal Instagram account to a business account. Because they wanted more insights on the engagement of their posts. Codeword for: I longed to be liked? 🤷🏻‍♀️

Then came when too many things are broadcasted and shared. AM-PLI-FIED IN-YOUR-FACE. 

FOMO.

Covetousness-on-turbo.

Celebrity status is possible for the everyday man and woman.

In it, I went under, sucked into the muck. Surfaced. Went under. Surfaced. Went under. Surfaced. 

Back in those days, when the heart of my writing and the act of writing was unadulterated. 

Sweet, sweet, simple days of writing. 

Then again—I remembered Vincent van Gogh. Who had to trade his paintings in exchange for food and art supplies. He lived his later life in poverty. Only achieving fame; grossly belated after his death. 

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Few would claim that they began writing poetry in order to make a living off of it. Though many might dream of becoming a renowned poet with long-lasting acclaim, most would still search for a day job, just in case. - Elizabeth Burnam


🔗 For the interested, links to more Vincent Willem van Gogh

Only because I’m intrigued by his story. And only because I’m currently reading the 976 pages biography of Van Gogh, by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, who worked with the full cooperation of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in writing this book.

Van Gogh Life (biography)

“Though countless books have been written about Van Gogh, no serious, ambitious examination of his life has been attempted in more than seventy years. Naifeh and Smith have re-created Van Gogh’s life with an astounding vividness and psychological acuity that bring a completely new and sympathetic understanding to this unique artistic genius.”

Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. True or false?

The Life of Van Gogh from Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

✑The Starry Night is going to be LEGO-fied!

🎧 Put on your earphones and listen to this song.

Vincent, by Don Mclean


2 | What can I give? What can I gain?

Through the 107 (and counting) articles I’ve written for HopeMail, I’ve had the privilege of “talking” to my readers and vice versa. With some of them taking the time (thank you!) to tell me how an article spoke to them and their situation. These interactions made my work meaningful and rich. And I’m reminded of why I’m doing what I’m doing. 

Unfortunately, more often than not, I become forgetful. Of my vocation in connecting writing, God, and encouragement in people’s life. 

I will vacillate between feeling assured and feeling doubtful of the work I’m doing; asking myself: does the work I’m doing mean something to people? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? There you are, the great finding your calling, finding your purpose question. 

Both questions are good if asked in the context of self-reflection. But sometimes, I asked the questions for less noble reasons. 

It will surface in scenarios like these:

Seeing other artists’ (or other people’s) work; compare myself, ask—what am I doing??

Seeing how others devote their life to great causes like feeding the hungry; compare myself, ask—what am I doing??

Despite receiving feedback that my work mattered to someone out there, I still wanted more: achievement; significance; proof. 

And then, there are questions about results. How do I measure the fruit [result] of my work? An easy way is to use numbers, as numbers is one of the ways to measure result in the business world. In my writing world, numbers include readership, comments, shares, purchases.

Numbers is one of the indicators to measure the value people see in your work. 

Then again, how do I measure intangible things? 

It’s a constant tension to balance. The need to produce measurable results like an increased readership, and the need to remain true to the heart of my work.

What can I give?

vs

What can I gain?

A friend, in conversation, shared this quote:

We lose sight of our purpose the moment we focus on what we have to gain rather than what we have to contribute. - Davin Salvagno

I have to accept the battle that is going on in my heart, and work around the weak moments, when I find myself lost in the lust of the world, chasing after achievement and significance. 

The way I know to keep moving—is to re-navigate my focus from gaining to giving. Consistently writing (well). Doing my best to share my work without succumbing to artless marketing (huh, go figure the conflict of an artist’s heart). Doing this tightrope balancing between being a writer and being a person accountable to her work.


3 | The encourager becomes the encouraged. 

I was stunned when I received this email from one of my subscribers.  

“Your clever GIFs do not work for people who are blind, Mel!” I reprimanded myself.

I paid zero attention to accessibility. And took for granted that everyone can see/read my mails. 

That was the day when I realised what I’m doing, and how I do things, has an impact on others.

I replied, “I’d like to apologise for taking for granted that everyone can read my newsletter. So sorry for the neglect. I have much to learn. Thanks so much for letting me know. I’ll see how to add alt-text in my images next time.” 

From the time I realised the limitations of images to people who are blind or people with impaired vision, I took the effort to imagine “reading” the image with words.

So, aiming to be as clear as possible, I painted the images using words. There’s still room for improvement. But I’m on a mission to make it work. 

Recently, I received another email from the same reader. 

“Thank you again for making the effort to put alt-texts for all the photos and even the GIF! It is so lovely to read the descriptions and the Bible verses and be reminded of God's promises.”

It was a merciful email to me. 

For it came in the morning when I was feeling “what good am I contributing to the world and its needs?! People are doing big things such as building 3D printed houses so that poorer people can afford a home (no one should be without a house, they said). And here I am, writing my stuff, what am I doing?!”

Through another person’s effort of writing to me—I was encouraged. 

So it goes around, the giver becomes the receiver. The encourager becomes the encouraged. Ain’t it lovely when our world goes around like that?


💭 In what ways does your work impact others?

Make a list.

Give thanks where gratitude is due.

Take action on areas to improve.


More links

🔗 “I'm an ordinary person, just blind. You don't need to raise your voice or address me as if I were a child” and ten other Courtesy Rule of Blindness.


In case you missed it, read the previous issue of HopeMail “Sometimes trusting in God looks like this…”


👋🏼Web visitor, random reader, liked this post? Should you subscribe? Yes. Thank you.