30 Day Writing Challenge: Write the Same Thing Everyday

In order for artists to improve, they need to draw the same thing over and over again. Each time they draw something, they see something different. Something they didn’t notice previously. Each time they draw, they dig a bit deeper. They see angles, colors, textures in a different way. They challenge themselves to be more refined or more creative, bringing something new to the original idea. 

We can apply this creative technique to writing as well. For the next 30 days, I want to challenge you to write about the same thing every day. It can be your chair, your room, your dog, your family, your cup of coffee, anything, but whatever you pick, stick with it for 30 days. Each day, write one new sentence, as long or as short as you want. 

For me, I chose to write about the intersection in front of my apartment. It’s a busy place with a lot going on. It’s noisy. It’s dirty. And each day, I see something a little different in it. Or at least try to. 

Some days I write something really good, other days, I just try to get a sentence down. The goal of this exercise is to practice observing deeper, seeing details that aren’t immediately visible. It also helps you develop a habit. For many people, writing every day can be a challenge, especially if they have a lofty goal, like 2 pages a day or a 1,000 words. This challenge simplifies the process: 1 sentence. Easy. Write about the same thing every day. No need to wait for inspiration, it’s there. Write about that! 

What makes this a challenge is that you need to overcome your own perceived limitations. By day 5, you’ll run out of surface-level stuff to write about. That’s when your creativity really kicks in. That’s when you hold on and discover how your mind actually works. You may feel bored around day 10 or 15, but keep going, because your best sentence may come at day 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, or 30. You may need to get through the shit first. And that’s the last thing about this challenge. It allows you to practice perseverance. And perseverance is essential

I encourage you to start after you finish reading this article. There is no time better than the present. Good luck! I look forward to reading your work. 

For more writing and editing resources, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

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What is a Contrived Story? – The Effects of Forced Writing

The heroine is cornered. Laser beams and death rays are aimed at her. The villain now has his chance to destroy his enemy, leaving him free to take over the world. But then, just before the laser beams and death rays are fully charged, the heroine sees an open panel beneath the floorboard. She heads towards it and escapes. In the same moment, the villain’s goofy sidekick bumps the button and suddenly the weapons of mass destruction are turned upon them. The evil HQ explodes. The heroine gets out in the knick of time, saving the day! 

Looking at this story, you may think a few things: 

“Wow! The heroine got very lucky!” 

“And the bad guys had a series of convenient mistakes.” 

Or you may think, “Hmmm… This story was contrived.” 

That was certainly what Becky thought when she folded the book and read the embossed text of the author’s name, JLL Rubinsteen. 

Rubinsteen is known for his fast pace stories, and while they are sometimes entertaining, many considered his storylines contrived. But what does “contrived” mean? 

When someone is talking about a story being contrived, it usually means that it feels forced. In other words, the author got lazy and rushed. Yep, that’s you, Rubinsteen! 

When Becky picked up the book, she expected an adventure! She wanted to start at one end of the story and arrive at the other, enjoying all the sights and sounds in between. A writer’s responsibility is to pave the roads. However, what a contrive storyteller does is that instead of taking a scenic route, it hops onto the freeway, or when traffic gets heavy, decides to take a shortcut, causing the reader to yes, arrive at the destination, but miss the joy of the ride. 

Take the paragraph at the beginning. The heroine is cornered — a common place for writers to get stuck. When a heroine is trapped, the author might find an easy way for her to escape. In this case, the open panel in the floorboard, an element in the story not mentioned before. It just happened to be there and the heroine happened to see it. Just in time! 

Another example is the goofy sidekick. How convenient of him to bump a button that causes the villain’s plans to backfire. The villain is vanquished and the world is saved. Easy! So easy that it feels forced by the author.

Even though Becky wanted the heroine to win at the end, the way in which it was accomplished made her feel a little ripped off. She invested all her time to read this? And this is how it ends?  

There are arguments that all stories, to some degree, are contrived, because regardless, writers need to weave a tale together, manipulating certain aspects, so that the protagonist can go from the beginning to the end. A story is not like real life and will always be artificial.  

However, we can also agree that some stories are more believable than others. That is because believable stories reveal the details in a functional order, requiring the writer to put in some work, dropping bread crumbs along the way so when the heroine is cornered, the escape route is doesn’t appear magically like a cheat, and the clumsy minion’s mistake is surprising, but not completely random. 

If earlier in the story, Rubinsteen had described the evil lair as being rundown and in need of maintenance, talking about how his unreliable contractors are always leaving jobs unfinished, perhaps the open panel in the floorboard would be more believable.

If Rubinsteen mentioned that the laser beam and death ray rely on a cheap imported generator, because that’s all he could afford, then maybe the slow charging doesn’t seem like such a convenient delay for the heroine.

And finally, if Rubinsteen rounds out the evil sidekick’s character, making him more than a klutz. Then the reader can see that he is struggling with an internal battle over whether to do what his leader says and what his gut is telling him. Then the sudden slip on the button wouldn’t feel like a convenient end, but rather a character overcoming an obstacle. A redemption.  

As you can see, all of these suggestions would require Rubinsteen to do more work, leading to that epic moment where the heroine is cornered by the laser beam and death ray. But it’s worth it, because by putting in the work, the events in the story will feel like they’ve happened naturally, as opposed to feeling artificial and unrealistic. 

Yes, in stories we want heroes to win, mysteries to be uncovered, and lovers to get together, but the journeys in which these objectives are achieved are as important as the results. If a writer rushes through, missing necessary details about plot, characters, and settings, in another word, being too lazy to pave the path for the reader, then their story will ultimately come across as contrived. 

Was there a part of a story that you’ve read or watched recently that felt contrived? Let me know in the comments below, and if you enjoyed this article, please check out the What Is… of Writing series:

From Alcott to Gerwig: How Little Women Went From Classical Novel to Award Winning Movies

Louisa May Alcott grew up in a poor family that was frequently at risk of being broken up, needing to move in order to avoid food shortage. Her father, Bronson Alcott, who rarely held steady employment as a transcendentalist philosopher and educator, was not a good supplier and the efforts of keeping the family afloat fell upon Louisa’s mother, Abigail.

While Bronson had failed in many rights, he did encourage his daughters to embrace their God-given talents. Anna pursued acting, Lizzie took to music, May to arts, and Louisa to writing. This was the early 1800s, a time when women were discouraged from putting pen to paper. It was a culture that believed a woman writer was as shameful as prostitution. 

And it certainly felt that way during those times. In 1867, 35 years-old, Louisa was approached by Thomas Niles, a publishing partner at Roberts Brothers. He solicited her to write a book for girls. Alcott didn’t like girls or knew many, only her sisters, so she was reluctant. However, her family needed money and after some pressure, she began work on a novel called The Pathetic Family. 

The Novel

In September 1868, The Pathetic Family was published under the new title: Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, in the England publication, released two months later, it was titled: Four Little Women. This semi-autobiographical story was a success, the first printing of 2,000 copies sold out instantly. Alcott received letters from readers, mostly young girls, who wanted to know what happened to the March sisters, most importantly who those girls married.

Because of this great reception, Alcott began working on the second half of the story, following these Little Women into adulthood. It was undeniable that the characters had a parallel with Louisa’s sisters and herself in real life: the death of her sister Lizzie, Louisa’s rivalry with her sister May — which mirrored Jo’s rivalry with Amy — and even her friendship with a Polish man named Laddie she met in Europe, who was represented in the story by the character Laurie. 

There were two main divergences from the real experiences: First was the father figure in the novel, Mr March, who was depicted as a Civil War hero, while in reality Bronson Alcott was hardly such and was often seen as an embarrassment to the Alcott family. The Marches were much more well off than the Alcotts. 

The second was the protagonist, Jo, who Alcott had based off of herself. While Alcott remained single her whole life, saying that she had a man’s soul inside of her woman’s body, Jo ended up married, which at the time was the pretty bow necessary at the end of any respectable tale. 

Alcott was against having Jo married, but in the end, the best she could do was to make a compromise. She set Jo up with an unconventional husband, which was designed to subvert adolescent romantic ideas, for he was older and unfitting — when it seemed like she would be destined to end up with Laurie.

Nevertheless, in April 1869, Little Women or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, Part Second was published — in England, it was called Little Women Wedded. 

Women from all different classes and national backgrounds, during a time when immigration was high in the US, could envision new dreams for themselves after reading Little Women. This was especially true during the 19th century when there were hardly any models for nontraditional womanhood. Literature was the first place to spark that self-authorization, opening the door for women to evolve and even encourage them to have a change of heart when necessary, whether it’s in their relationships or careers. 

Alcott was an abolitionist and feminist and in the early 1860s, prior to her fame from Little Women, she wrote for the Atlantic Monthly. When the American Civil War escalated, in 1862, Alcott went to Georgetown DC to serve as a nurse. During her six-week service, Alcott contracted typhoid and nearly died. She survived and her letters home were revised and published in a Boston anti-slavery publication and a collection called Hospital Sketches. This earned her her first critical recognition as a writer. 

While serving as a nurse, her father would send her poems saying how proud of her he was for her services. No doubt, Bronson Alcott would continue to be proud, as Louisa’s influence grew as one of the key female voices during the Gilded Age, which included Elizabeth Stoddard, Rebecca Harding Davis, and Anne Moncure Crane. In 1877, Alcott would become a founding member of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston, designed to support women and children during the rise of industrialism. 

Tragically, on March 6, 1888 — two days after her father’s death, Louisa May Alcott at the age of 55 died of a stroke. She would never get to see her story of Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth come to life on screen, but her novel and the themes within will last for many generations to come. 

In a 1979 essay by literary scholar Judith Fetterley, entitled “Little Women: Alcott’s Civil War,” she argues that the novel was pushing back against the framework for adolescent girls of that time. One prime example was where Beth, the character that best exhibited the acceptance of the woman’s role, died upon reaching adulthood, while the sisters that resisted conforming survived. Little Women will be the subject of feminist and literary criticism for years to come, and while some deemed it unworthy to be catalogued with the great American novels like Huckleberry Finn, the story had consistently attracted writers and filmmakers. 

The Movies

From 1917 to 2019, there have been numerous adaptations of Little Women made for the television and the stage, as well as 6 feature films.

The first was a lost British silent film in 1917 starring former Gaiety Girl, Ruby Miller who played Jo. 

A year after, an American version of Little Women was produced around Alcott’s home in Concord Massachusetts. This was also a silent film and it starred Dorothy Bernard as Jo. 

The first talkie adaptation of Little Women was released in 1933 and it was a huge box office hit, garnering rave reviews from the critics. Directed by George Cukor and starring Katherine Hepburn as Jo, the movie’s theme about simplicity, frugality, and resilience resonated with the audience during the midst of the Great Depression. With that, it ended up earning the movie three nominations at the Academy Awards, one for best picture, one for best director, and one for screenwriters, Victor Heerman and Sarah Y Mason, who won for best-adapted screenplay. 

In 1949, Little Women was adapted once more, this time in Technicolor, starring June Allyson as Jo, Janet Leigh as Meg, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy and Margaret O’Brien as Beth. According to many critics of the time, it couldn’t hold a candle to the preceding version starring Katherine Hepburn, saying that although Allyson may have tried to emulate Hepburn it wasn’t as persuasive. But nobody could blame Allyson for copying as the script and music were taken directly from the version that was released over 15 years prior. 

When Denise Di Novi, known then for producing Ed Wood and Nightmare Before Christmas, reached out to director Gillian Armstrong to gauge her interest in remaking Little Women, Armstrong, feeling the movie was too similar in theme to her first feature, My Brilliant Career, declined. However, Di Novi was persistent and encouraged Armstrong to reconsider. When she did, she found that the story was pertinent to the times and perhaps it was worth revisiting after 45 years. Armstrong would only then discover that Di Novi, producer Amy Pascal, and screenwriter Robin Swicord have been working on modernizing Little Women for 12 years. Their main pitch was for it to be a great family Christmas movie. 

When Robin Swicord wrote the script for the 1994 version of Little Women, she looked back at the previous adaptations and saw that the main question in the story was “Who will these girls marry?”, but she knew even at a young age, that the question should be, “Who will these girls become?” Considering what Louisa May Alcott had at the heart of the story, she wrote the script focusing on the themes of ambition and identity.  

Filmed in Vancouver with a budget of $18 million, Little Women starring Winona Ryder as Jo, Trini Alvarado as Meg, and Christian Bale as Laurie opened to over 1,500 screens in North America on December 21, 1994, grossing over $50 million — a success. 

In addition, the film earned three Academy Awards nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Actress for Winona Ryder. Robin Swicord was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay by the Writers Guild of America Award but lost to Eric Roth who wrote Forrest Gump. Although many critics were skeptical about this remake at first, feeling it would be cheesy or overly sentimental, they found that it was full of serious themes and warm and meticulous performances. 

Between 2013 to 2015, Denise Di Novi, Robin Swicord, and Amy Pascal teamed up again for a new adaptation of Little Women. While the news about the project started to spread, many wondered what new aspects can be brought to a story that was now nearly a century and a half years old. During this time, Olivia Milch, who would eventually write Ocean’s Eight, was working on the script.  

Later on, in 2015, Canadian actor and director, Sarah Polley — known for the movie Away from Her — was hired to take over the script and eventually direct the movie, but she never got much deeper into the project than the discussion phase. 

Finally, in August 2016, Greta Gerwig was brought on to write the script. Little Women was a book that she grew up with and loved. She went as far as saying that the character of Jo was someone she idolized, inspiring her to be a writer herself. Gerwig saw themes that other adaptations glossed over, including money, authorship, ownership, art — but mostly money. 

After the success of 2017’s Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan, Gerwig was signed on as the director for Little Women. While on the set of Lady Bird, upon hearing that Gerwig had such influence in such an influential movie, Ronan approached her evoking her desperation to play Jo

In addition to casting Ronan as Jo, Gerwig continued to make major decisions regarding her rebellious protagonist. Upon doing her own research of Louisa May Alcott, she discovered that so much of Jo was pulled from Alcott’s own life, however, the author had to make many compromises as per the pressures of the times. Gerwig wanted to bring more of Alcott into the character that Alcott herself was unable to do. Convinced that the author had never wanted to write a story where Jo got married, Gerwig made a movie that she believed honoured the original creator — a redemptive adaptation — while being faithful to the novel.

Telling the story in a nonlinear fashion, Gerwig began the 2019 adaptation of Little Women with Jo trying to sell her book and ending her story not on the importance of finding a man to marry, but rather the qualities of the sisters, most notably the intelligence of the bratty sister, Amy, played by Florence Pugh. 

While the whole cast, including Emma Watson as Meg, Laura Dern as Marmie, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March all received positive reception for their performances as an ensemble, it was Ronan, Pugh, and Timothee Chalamet as Laurie that were deemed stand out performances by the critics. 

On Christmas Day 2019, Gerwig’s Little Women, with a budget of $40 million, was released and ended up earning $206 million worldwide. The movie earned six nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading role for Ronan, Best Actress in a Support Role for Pugh, Best Adapted Screenplay for Gerwig, and Best Costume Design, which was the only win of the night. 

There was a bitter taste when Gerwig was left off the ballot for Best Director, which many called foul, feeling that Gerwig had done a phenomenal job modernizing the classic and bringing a uniqueness to a story that was so familiar, blending the contemporary and the nostalgia so masterfully that it made the adaptation relevant. 

Nevertheless, no one can deny the sustaining power of the story of the four March sisters. While so much of our world has changed since Alcott had written the words, so much remained. We can only imagine what the next twenty to fifty years will bring. How much will change? And how will the next version of Little Women be interpreted? As the readers of Alcotts’ time had wondered what will happen to Jo — we can also do the same… as we look towards the future. 

What was your favourite adaptation of Little Women? Let me know in the comments below.

For more in the series of adaptations, please check out this YouTube playlist here.

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Respect Your Project, Finish Your Story

No real writer likes what she’s writing ALL the time, or even MOST of the time. The important thing is to stick with your story until the end. That’s when the magic happens. – Meg Cabot

It’s so easy to give up on a project. You’ll get stuck and bored, and you’ll want to stop. You get another great idea and you’ll want to chase it. But finishing the story you started is so important, here’s why: 

Respect the project:

When you start a project, you’re responsible for it. A project is like a child: it’s born, it needs someone to take care of it and help it grow, and then one day, when it’s developed, it’s sent out into the world. It’s your job to make sure it survives and prospers once you release it, making you proud. You gave the project life and now you have to take care of it. If you don’t, if you’ll simply let it die on the shelf, you’ll rob it of its potential. 

Respect your time:

Think of everything that you could have done if you weren’t writing. You could have spent time with your pet or talked to your spouse. You could have watched a movie or read a book. You could have napped or gotten drunk. There was a lot you could have done, but you chose to write. You chose to spend your limited time on Earth doing this activity. You’re investing your most precious resource into this. It’s like paying for a membership for the gym, showing up, and sitting there for an hour without using the equipment and going home, then being upset because you aren’t seeing any results. Respect your time. Finish your work. 

Okay, let’s say I convinced you and you’ll pull out that half-finished project and write to the end. But where is the end? 

Honestly, you can end a story anywhere (even in a mid-sentence), but that would be disrespecting the audience — unless it’s a really good half a sentence. When the reader starts reading your work, you’ve made a promise that you will give them a sense of resolution, enjoyment, or fulfillment. You don’t want to disrespect your reader’s time either. You want them to come back one day and read your other works. With an honourable completion in mind, there are places that make sense to end a story. 

And as the writer, you get to decide: do you want your story to have an explicit ending or an implicit ending? 

Explicit ending:

When there is nothing more for the reader to know, when all the questions are answered, then it’s an appropriate ending. This type of ending is a nice little bow on a wrapped up story. 

I like to think of these as success or failure stories: 

Did Rocky win his match? Did we save Private Ryan or kill Bill? Did the lovers get together? If your story is about a specific mission, then at the end, the audience should know whether it was accomplished. Did the hero get what he or she wants? Did good conquer evil? 

These types of stories tend to leave the reader satisfied. 

The other type of endings are…

Implicit ending:

Often known as open-ended stories, these endings leave the resolution up to the reader’s interpretation. 

One main example is a…

Cliffhanger ending: 

Which leaves the reader wanting more.

As one mission ends another begins! What adventures are your characters up to next?

A cliffhanger can have the character literally hanging off a cliff, Or it could be done subtly: 

The last scene can be of a man calling his ex girlfriend. Throughout the story, we learn that the man is overcome with guilt. He wants to make amends with his past lover. The story ends before she picks up the phone. The reader wonders, did she answer? Was it the right phone number? If not, what would the man do? The reader draws her own conclusion. 

These types of stories will leave your readers thinking about it even after they’ve put the book down. 

If you are struggling to finish, aim for one of these two endings. Yes, they’re broad, but they will give you a lot of room to make adjustments and edit when it’s done. 

Write to the end (even if it’s bad): 

It’s going to be bad. There’s no avoiding that, so you might as well get over it. After all, that is what editing is here for. The faster you write to the end, the faster you can start editing. Wouldn’t that be nice? 

Remember as the writer, you are the first reader. The first draft is a discovery. You don’t really know what your story is about before you get to the end. You don’t know if it’s going to wrap up nicely or leave the reader wanting more, but having a target gives you direction. 

Let yourself discover, because that is some times where the best words come from. Don’t give up on your writing, no matter how small the project is. Write to the end. 

If you found this article helpful, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

What Does “That’s Deep” Mean?

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

When Peter read that passage from one of his favorite books, he paused for a moment and processed the words on the page. On the surface, it was merely describing what Samwise Gamgee saw and how it made him feel. 

Through the cloudy gloom, up upon the mountains, he saw a white star — and that star gave him hope because it shone through all the darkness. 

Yet, there was something more. Something underneath the literal. To which it made him say out loud, “Wow… that’s deep.” 

But what did he mean? Why did that passage out of the thousands of passages in the trilogy stop him? Or better yet, how did it stop him? 

The phrase “that’s deep” when we hear it in a literal sense, sounds like someone’s talking about the ocean floor. While that might sometimes be the case, what Peter meant when he said that’s deep was that the writing was profound. So in order for us to understand what makes something deep, we must understand what makes something profound. 

The word profound has many definitions, but the one we will be relying on is this one: going far beneath what is superficial, external, or obvious.

Yes, Sam Gamgee saw the star — but it was what the star represented that made the passage profound. It was so beautiful that it smote his heart and even looking at all the destruction, he had hope. Perhaps we have all been where Sam Gamgee was — not literally, not Mt Doom — but we have all been in a situation where we felt as though we were ready to surrender. There were moments where we felt hopeless.

Peter certainly did. He was neck-deep in student debt and looking for employment in the entertainment industry. Of course, the world was not looking for another filmmaker, and any project he wanted to get off the ground was consistently met with rejections. He was in the clouds on the dark tor, ready to quit. 

But the star, a light of high beauty can never be dimmed by the shadow. The shadow in Peter’s world was the debt. No matter how deep he falls into debt, his love for filmmaking and storytelling will never die. The star was his passion and when looking up upon it, he remembered the feeling he got when he premiered his first student film in high school. The audience laughed and cheered. It was what he loved doing. It made him happy. It fulfilled him. It kept him warm and made him feel as though life, his little life, was worth living. And that life — that will to live — hangs so high above the debt, that he knew poverty would never make him hate his passion. For he was living for his passion, not for his debt. 

He closed the book and placed it to the side. Peter, filled with hope and inspiration, his white star visible through the darkness, goes and picks up his camera and starts filming. He didn’t ask for permission. He didn’t ask for a budget. He didn’t go get approval or a permit. Like Sam, he’s focused on the twinkling star and not on the forsaken land beneath. 

For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was a small passing thing. 

We all have a Shadow — a capital problem that follows us — but Tolkien doesn’t make it obvious, he layers it with imagery and symbolism. 

Imagery is vivid and descriptive language. It creates visuals in the reader’s mind by appealing to the senses. In this case, sight: “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.” 

Symbolism is the use of characters, settings, or objects to present an abstract idea. It holds hidden meanings and requires some deeper thinking to identify. In this example, it was the star and the Shadow. “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

Of course, Tolkien didn’t have Peter in mind when he wrote the story. But by using imagery and symbolism, he was able to emotionally impact a wider audience and his writing has lasted generations. That is what profound writing can do. Profound writing transcends time and space. It captures what it is like to be human without ever stating the obvious, “here, this is what you have to do. These are the facts.” It lies not on the surface and requires the individual, with their own values and personal experiences, to dig underneath. And it’s the process of digging that makes a piece of writing deep. 

Is there a profound passage of writing that really resonated with you? I’d love to read it, so please share it in the comments below. And if you’ve enjoyed this article, check out these two other posts in the series:

For more videos about writing and the creative process, please subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Improve Your Writing By Copying

Three weeks ago, I started my journey to type out The Great Gatsby. I remember reading an interview from Johnny Depp saying that this was something Hunter S Thompson did because he wanted to know what it would be like to write a masterpiece. Since then, I was eager to give it a shot, thinking that it would be an enlightening experience. As unpleasant as the current situation is, it had given me some extra hours in the week to put my anxious energy into a new project, so I decided, now is the time.

I’ve read The Great Gatsby exactly ten years ago and remembered feeling little about it. That goes to show how little I knew when I was younger. It was like listening to The Beatles’ Hey Jude and then going, “Who’s Jude?” I’ve missed the point. 

It takes practice in order to have an appreciation for craft, especially when the world is full of junk. Like food, after you limit the amount of sugar you consume, you’d begin to appreciate the complex flavour of vegetables. It’s a beautiful moment when that happens. The same goes for art. When we start noticing the qualities of a craft, we begin to see junk lacking in substance. 

I was confident there was something I could learn from copy The Great Gatsby, as there is copying any masterpiece, regardless of the craft. Learning by replicating is an effective way of recognizing the little details that make up a full piece. A great piece of writing, in the end, is just a combination of words. When you acknowledge each individual word, giving a real moment to type it out, you see each brick for what it is — a unique piece in a mosaic that is easy to miss when looking top down. I wanted to see everything Fitzgerald put into his story that I wouldn’t if I was speeding through it, as I did a decade ago… 

With all that in mind, here are six key areas of The Great Gatsby I wanted to focus on while I’m going through this copying process: 

Word choices: 

Vocabulary is to a writer as to what colours are to a painter. From descriptions to dialogue, I was curious to see all the words that Fitzgerald chose. Some, I’m sure, will confuse me and others will surprise me. When writing, I find myself using the same words over and over again — using colours I’m comfortable with — but by typing out every specific word in someone else’s novel, I’ll hopefully discover new ones and widen the spectrum of my vocabulary. 

Variety of sentences and paragraphs: 

When we read, we are absorbing information, but at that speed, we might miss the rhythm of the language — or at least not be conscious about it. By typing out a story, I will slow down the process of consumption and see the varying lengths of words, sentences and paragraphs. If this was music, I’d not only focused on the lyrics, but I’d also be hearing the tempo of the drumbeat, the harmony of the bass, and the cadence of the melody. I’d see how Fitzgerald draws out a detail in a long expository sentence or increases the pacing in a heated dialogue. 

The order of information: 

Good communication is the delivery of information in a coherent and logical order. Good storytelling, however, is the strategic reveal of details that increases drama and evokes an emotional response. A good story isn’t simply a sequential order of events: this happened and then this happened and then afterward this happened. No! Great writing is magic, because like magic, the principles are the same but instead of sleight of hand it’s with words: hiding, switching and misdirecting. By typing out the novel, I’m hoping to catch F Scott in the act and see what tricks he used to keep us turning the pages.  

Narrator and characters: 

One of the biggest challenges while writing is making sure your characters don’t all sound the same, so that in the readers’ minds, they are all individual people, with personalities, feelings, and beliefs so realistic that they’ll feel as though they’re sitting next to them. It’s certainly a challenge I have, so I’m going to be paying attention to the character construction while typing out The Great Gatsby and see how Fitzgerald helped us identify with Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby. 

Hidden details: 

When you are writing, everything slows down, you begin to notice each sentence, each phrase, and even every syllable. This aspect is fun because you feel a bit like an archaeologist or like the Tom Hanks character in The Da Vinci Code. You study the writing, like The Last Supper, looking for hidden messages and wondering whether the creator expected it to be there at all. 

Is typing out The Great Gatsby as valuable as a creative writing course? Hmmm… That’s a question for another time, but I truly believe that there is a lot to learn from this exercise. You will see how the story is constructed. Like a painting, you’ll experience each brushstroke. Like a song, you’ll be able to hear each note. Like a house, you’ll notice each nail, and that is what copying a piece of work offers you. Additionally, it’s a therapeutic activity, much like knitting, building a LEGO miniature, and solving a jigsaw puzzle. 

If you are interested in following my typing out the Great Gatsby journey, please join me via my YouTube channel every Saturday at 11am PDT. We can chat about all things writing and creativity, or whatever else is on your mind!

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5 Productive Procrastination Tasks for Writers

Sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. You’ve been sitting in front of the computer and nothing is coming out. If you sit for another minute, it’ll be another minute wasted. You resist the urge to scroll social media or clean the junk drawer, because that is, for sure, a waste of time, but what is there to do? 

Stop writing. That’s fine. 

Today might not be the day that you get a lot of words down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a write-off. You CAN procrastinate and still be productive. I’m going to share with you five procrastinating tasks you can do that doesn’t involve increasing your word count. 

1. Research

As a writer, there is always something to research whether it’s detail for your story, publications to submit your work to, or events or courses that you might be interested in attending. What I like to do when I really don’t feel like writing is to find a writing contest and spend some time reading the guideline — and maybe a few of the past winners and the works of the judges. In fact, I procrastinate using this technique so often that I have a whole blog post dedicated to writing contests, check it out, the link is in the description below. 

So give this a shot, next time you don’t feel like writing, look up places to submit your work. It might feel as though you are putting the cart before the horse, but I don’t, I feel this is a good way to understand the market, especially if your writing goal is to get published. 

2. Organize

If you’re like me you may have multiple drafts, multiple stories, and multiple submissions all up in the air. If you do, then this is a good opportunity to organize your folders and make sure you can easily locate the most recent draft of your story when you need it. The better you have access to your work, the more likely you’ll be able to find it and work on it. 

I have a spreadsheet with all my work in progress on it. I have their status (is it still in the works, is the first draft completed and I’m letting it marinate before returning for a second edit, or have I submitted it to a publication and am awaiting the result). I also include other details about the piece including word count and whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you are using Google Drive, you can just add a link to the draft or the folder it’s in for easy accessibility. Staying organized had made my whole writing process so much more efficient, so I really recommend giving this method a shot if you feel like taking a break from actually writing. 

3. Consume

You should never feel guilty for taking a break from creating to consume, but that is only if you do it right. When I say consume, I don’t mean eating — I mean reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to music — in other words, enjoying something someone else made. And when I say you should consume it in a right way, what I mean is that you should do it actively. Approach it critically to find aspects of the work you like and dislike. Really absorb it so that you are able to reflect on it properly afterwards and record it so you can use some of what you do like in your own work in the future. 

Many successful writers will tell you that in order to be any good, you are going to have to read. Yes, you should definitely read, but there is certainly value in watching movies, television shows, and listening to music or audio books as well. This is if you do it actively.  

4. Revisit Old Work

Now if you really feel like punishing yourself for procrastinating, I recommend that you find a piece of work from your past and reread it. Approach it like you’ve never seen it before and enjoy it. It might feel like you’re taking a trip to cringe city, but there is always a lot you can get from this torturous exercise. 

First, you’ll get to see how your writing has evolved over time. The thoughts you had when you were younger might not be the same as the ones you have now. I like this because I get to see my progress. Second, if this piece is something that I gave up on, maybe now I have the ability to fix it and make it better. If I feel so inspired, I can take this procrastination opportunity to edit it, which would be incredibly productive. But don’t approach it with that intention, approach it as your ideal reader, not your critic. 

5. Be Creative

If the words simply aren’t coming to you today, but you still want to be creative, you can! Draw a picture, paint a painting, play an instrument, grab your camera and take some photos, film a video — there are many things you can do to still be creative and through those other artistic endeavours you do to see the world in a different way. 

After all, the way you show something in writing may be very different from a drawing. What I’ve been doing a lot of is trying to illustrate an idea I have. I’m not a great illustrator, but it takes my mind off of words for a bit. If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, that’s a really good way. 

There you go! Those are 5 productive procrastination ideas for when you don’t feel like writing. Are there any you are currently doing? Let me know in the comments! 

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What is Pretentious Writing?

What makes one writer formal, important, talented, and cultured — and another pretentious? 

This is a tale of two writers. Devon and Jessica. 

Devon is an aspiring novelist, he has this epic fantasy novel in his head and has spent many evenings and weekends outlining and drafting. He’s an enthusiast of all things mythology and considers himself a primo expert in medieval weapons. But he knows something is holding him back. Gatekeepers. He simply needs to meet the right people and get them to read his work. 

Jessica is an accountant and has never thought of herself as much of a writer. It was only when her grandmother started feeling ill that she even considered picking up a pen. After visiting her grandmother one afternoon and hearing her stories about her childhood in Vietnam, she decided that it was a story worth recording. 

Devon and Jessica although had different intentions for their writing, found themselves both applying for a spot in the local university’s creative writing program. One of the requirements for admission was to supply a 300-word essay explaining their writing goals and what they hope to achieve from the courses. 

Reid is an administration associate for the university and it’s his job to review the applications and create a short list of applicants. First he read Devon’s and it went like this:

As I commence my journey to ascertain knowledge to optimally communicate my story with the citizens of tomorrow, I aim to transcend the lives of those I have yet to meet as the literary legends I applauded had accomplished for me. 

Reid looked up from Devon’s essay, opened and closed his eyes to clear his vision and looked down at it again. Reid doesn’t say it out loud or announce it to his colleagues. He didn’t pass the essay around so it could be ridiculed, but something was glaringly obvious about Devon’s writing: it was pretentious. 

But how? 

While Reid avoided over analyzing the essay in the moment, there were a few aspects of Devon’s writing that couldn’t be ignored. 

1. Lack of Clarity

Big stuffy words made the writing hard to read. Although long complex words can often accentuate a piece of writing, like a pinch of salt can bring out the flavour of food, overdoing it can leave the meal inedible. The same goes for writing. 

2. Attempting to Be Impressive As Opposed to Expressive

All the choices made in the writing is in an effort to impress Reid. Devon was clearly flexing his vocabulary muscles — perhaps writing with a thesaurus beside him — and in doing so, failed to express himself in a genuine way. It comes across as inauthentic, as though the essay had been written by a robot programmed for optimum results, as opposed to a human aimed to connect. 

3. No Awareness of the Reader

Perhaps Devon had misinterpreted what the essay wanted. Reid was not looking to be blown away, but rather, he simply wanted to understand the person behind the submission. He wanted to get an impression of who Devon was. And perhaps he did. Devon is someone who, despite his insecurity as a writer, deems himself to be an intellectual specimen. However, by using words one wouldn’t use when speaking, Devon doesn’t appear smarter, but rather confused. 

Pretentious writing is unpleasant to read. It’s often composed with the attempt to stump the reader, giving the writer a feeling of superiority, like a specialist (a mechanic, a lawyer, or a politician) who uses jargon. However, all it achieves is a failure in communication. Pretentious writing stems from lack of confidence, where writers feel as though their ideas, as is, are not strong enough, so they need to juice it up with words or concepts that don’t serve the story in order to give the material bulk. 

Reid placed Devon’s essay to the side and picked up Jessica’s. Here’s a passage from it:

When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I was going to lose her right away. But while some misfortunes take loved ones away quickly, my grandmother stayed strong and remained. Long enough for her to tell me the story of how she immigrated to Canada. Through this heart-wrenching process, I realized that I was given a second chance to know the woman that was my hero. Now knowing the stories she had in her, I feel it is my duty to capture them and share them with the world. 

One word popped up into Reid’s head after he put Jessica’s essay down. Vulnerability. It was not brilliantly written, but it captured why Jessica had decided to take on the gruelling task of writing. Where Devon was insecure, u sing his words as a shield to protect himself, Jessica was emotionally exposed on paper for Reid to see. 

Perhaps that’s the essence of pretentious writing. A piece that strives to impress but fails to connect. 

What do you think? Is there a piece of work you find pretentious? Let me know in the comments below.

If you want more videos about writing and the creative process, please check out my YouTube channel. 

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How to Record Your Ideas With a Messaging App

When I have a great idea, it’s often hard to pull out a notepad, grab my pen, and find a flat surface to write on. All those little elements are friction and even the act of pulling out my notebook makes me question… is this idea even good enough to write down? Is this worth it? 

Recording, organizing, and revisiting your ideas is a very important part of being a writer, so this was something I wanted to figure out. How can I make this a part of my process? 

This is how: messaging apps. 

I learned about this method from how Judd Apatow wrote Knocked Up. During breaks while shooting 40 Year Old Virgin, Apatow was emailing himself story ideas on his Blackberry. I thought that was brilliant, because email is already a platform that organizes content for you. You don’t need an extra note-taking app for that. It’s also up in the cloud or whatever, so you can access it on your phone, computer, tablet, whatever. 

For me, I felt that email was even a step too far. For initial ideas, I use something simpler and more informal and that’s messaging apps. 

I’m currently using Facebook Messenger to track all my ideas when I’m away from my computer which is very often. I like Facebook Messenger because I can access it on my computer easily and it allows me to delete messages too. It’s more personal preference than anything else. Here’s how I do it. 

First, I set it up as though I’m having a conversation with myself. I’m the only one I’m talking to. 

Then I treat it as though I’m telling the idea to myself. It’s a little conversation. You know how you sometimes talk out loud to yourself? Do that, but message yourself. 

It can be anything from a question, to a title, to a paragraph. Sometimes I jot down a theme or something interesting I saw. 80% is nonsense, but 20% are pretty good ideas and stories I might pursue. This one for example: A boy going off to buy clothes for himself for the first time to impress a girl. 

I don’t know what I’m going to do with that, but it’s definitely something I can expand on if I’m ever feeling completely drained on ideas.. 

What’s great about it is that these ideas are all kept in chronological order like a message thread, so I’m able to scroll back and find the date when I jotted it down. It actually brings me back to that moment where I came up with the idea: waiting for the bus or walking or having a drink at a bar. It’s a little snapshot of a moment in my life that I get to revisit, even if I was alone with my thoughts. 

I have been using this method of tracking down my ideas for over a year now and I still have ideas in here that I haven’t gotten to yet. It’s fun to scroll back and see what I wrote. 

It might seem sad as though you are having a conversation with yourself, but this is very useful for me. So I recommend giving it a shot and if you do, let me know how it goes in the comments below. 

I made it my goal this year to come up with an idea — regardless of how bad it is — every day. If you want 10 measurable writing goals? Check out this video here. 

If you found this article helpful, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

How Crazy Rich Asians Went from Book to Movie

During a college creative writing course, Kevin Kwan wrote a poem entitled “Singapore Bible Study”. The poem was about a study group — but there was more gossiping and showing off new jewelry than studying. A few years later, he began rewriting that poem into a scene. That scene ended up being chapter 2 of Crazy Rich Asians. 

It was that chapter that gave Kwan the momentum to write a novel. Yet, it was a story he was brought up to never talk about — at least to avoid sharing with those on the outside. He was unaware of his status. With a wealthy family tree that had roots all the way back to the year 946, Kwan lived a privileged childhood, although not to the extent of those characters in his imagination. And it wasn’t until he moved to America that he understood what luxury he came from.

In 2010, his father passed away — and Kwan felt it was the right time to reconnect with his past. It was perhaps a morbid reason, but Kwan, who was currently working as a creative consultant in New York, didn’t know how much time he (or anyone) would have left. 

It was through heartbreak and history that emboldened Kwan to write Crazy Rich Asians — and ignite the flame for Asian American authors and filmmakers for the coming generations. This is how Crazy Rich Asians went from bestseller to blockbuster hit.

The Novel

Kevin Kwan’s families consisted of three major clans: the Hus, the Ohs, and the Kwans. They had a hand in inventing Tiger Balm, founding Singapore’s oldest bank (the Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation), and establishing the Hinghwa Methodist Church. Among many accolades, his paternal grandfather was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his philanthropies. In addition, they lived in some of the grandest homes in Singapore including an estate previously occupied by the sultan of Johor, the ruler of Malaysia.  

During this time, wealthy Chinese families were educated in English colleges and universities, and that included Kevin Kwan himself. He studied at the Anglo-Chinese School, and didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, and neither did his parents, who worked as an engineer and a pianist. 

Kwan’s family was indeed wealthy, but the old money that had been trickling down for generations had mostly dried up by the time Kevin was born. While he was privileged, he was not on the same level as some of the characters in Crazy Rich Asians. Nevertheless, he remembered his home in Singapore when growing up. It was on a hill with a panoramic view. From his bedroom, he could see for miles. Sadly, that estate that housed multiple generations of Kwan’s family no longer exists. As Singapore’s development expanded in the 90s, Kwan’s family home was demolished and four separate homes now occupy the property. 

At the age of 11, his family, along with his two older brothers, immigrated to Clear Water, Texas. Kevin Kwan missed many aspects of his Singaporean lifestyle, but there was one key person that he missed the most: his journalist aunt. It was his aunt that invited interesting characters to the house: painters, sculptors, and writers. She also had regular lunches with fascinating people such as royalty, business people, and art collectors. It was she that brought Kevin into that world and opened his imagination. 

This perhaps encouraged Kwan to pursue the arts. After graduating from the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a BA in Media Studies, Kwan moved to Manhattan and earned a BFA in Photography at Parsons School of Design. Afterward, Kwan was employed by Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine and Martha Stewart Living, as well as working at — famous graphic designer, Tibor Kalman’s design firm — M&Co. In 2000, Kwan opened his own creative consulting company which served high-profile clients that included TED, Museum of Modern Arts and The New York Times. 

When his father was diagnosed with cancer, Kwan took 18 months off work and returned to Texas to take care of him. He had to drive his father back and forth to daily doctor appointments in Houston. There the two of them spent the time while commuting recounting old family memories and the days back in Singapore. It was during those conversations he realized that there was so much he didn’t know about his family’s history. To contain all his thoughts, explore his ancestry, and mourn his father during that emotional time, Kwan wrote.

In two years, he completed half the manuscript, but it was his literary agent Alexandra Machinist that encouraged him to write the ending with a timeline of 2 months. Kwan was able to accomplish that and the timing could not have been better.   

He noticed there was a gap in contemporary Asian literature. Most of what he saw on the market involving Asian culture was historical fiction or Asian-American identity. Asia had changed a lot since the 20th century. There has been a lot of financial reports in magazines such as Forbes announcing that there are more billionaires in Asia than anywhere else in the world. While reports may show the numbers, Kwan wanted to show the family aspect, or as he puts it, he wanted to tell the story of the Downton Abbey of Asia

The challenge was to make the story approachable to an American audience. He didn’t think it would be a book people in Asia would be interested in. He said, “They have their own stories, this is old hat for them.” That was how Crazy Rich Asians focused on an Asian American visiting Singapore. Telling the story from the eyes of Rachel Chu, a New York university economics teacher and an Asian outsider allowed him to bridged the gap between worlds. An Asian American may think she knows what she is getting herself into, but she has no idea.  

On June 11, 2013, Crazy Rich Asians was published and received overall positive reviews. A New York Times review claims, “Mr. Kwan knows how to deliver guilty pleasures.” Yet, it was not the Asian community that initially embraced the novel, and Kwan somewhat anticipated that. He claimed that Asian Americans were so used to being disappointed by anything portraying their culture that they naturally approached anything as such with suspicion. The title, of course, didn’t help either. 

It was the fashion industry and the community in the Upper East Side of Manhattan that became an ambassador for Kwan’s novel. One strategy implemented was to leave copies of Crazy Rich Asians on every seat of the Hampton Jitney, a charter bus service for Manhattanites who don’t have private planes, as Kwan puts it. 

Perhaps the most notable promotion for Crazy Rich Asians, was when Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, published an excerpt of the novel in an issue of the magazine. This brought the novel to new heights. Crazy Rich Asians will continue its rise from there. But not without some friction.

The Movie

As the story was gaining interest in Hollywood, Kwan remembered a movie producer reaching out with a proposal for a movie deal and a request to turn the main character, Rachel into a white girl. Kwan never responded. 

That wouldn’t be the only offer for Kwan. The calls began to pour in. One of the first was movie producer and investors of Snapchat, Uber, and Warby Parker, Wendi Deng Murdoch who received an early manuscript from Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter. 

Then there was this surreal “beauty contest” day in 2013 that Kwan and his agent remembered well. A creative consultant that worked with Oprah Winfrey and Kate Spade flew them to Los Angeles where they met with executives from major studios such as Fox and Lionsgate.

But in the end, it was producer Nina Jacobson that won over Kwan with her passion and acquired the rights to adapt Crazy Rich Asians into a film.  

In 2007, after Jacobson was terminated from her role as president of Disney’s Buena Vista subdivision, she partnered with Brad Simpson to start an independent film studio, Color Force. Up to this point, Color Force’s most notable releases were the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the Hunger Games series, two other literary adaptations.  

At first, Jacobson considered financing the movie outside of the American studio system. This would give them the freedom to have an all-Asian cast, but the risk of doing so may cause the movie to fall out of relevancy and be unseen. Luckily, by 2014, Ivanhoe Pictures have signed on with Color Force to fund the picture. Previous productions for Ivanhoe Pictures include: Kite Runner, United 93, and MoneyBall — as well as other foreign pictures from Asia. 

President of Ivanhoe Pictures, John Penotti had little doubts about signing on. It was what Ivanhoe Pictures was all about. While other studios were worried about an all-Asian cast, this was the type of movie that he and his organization were eager to make. Greenlit and ready to go with a budget of $30 million, the two studios set off to make North American cinema history. 

Screenwriter Peter Chiarelli, known for The Proposal and Now You See Me 2, was hired to script Crazy Rich Asians. He was brought on before a director was hired. It took until May 2016, until the studios entered negotiation with director Jon M. Chu, who had directed the sequel to Step It Up, Jem and the Hologram, and Now You See Me 2, where he worked with Chiarelli. 

Incidentally, Chu was loosely mentioned in Kwan’s novel, as Kwan knew Chu’s cousin Vivian and passingly regarded them in the book as the Chu’s of Silicon Valley. But that wasn’t the reason Jon Chu won the job. Chu gave a presentation to Color Force and Ivanhoe Pictures describing his experience as a first-generation Asian-American. His presentation included a picture of himself as a little boy and his family. His dad owned a renowned Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto and as Jacobson recalled, he and his four siblings were all dressed like the Kennedy’s. Identifying as an American but having the visual knowledge of Asia, Chu got the trust of the studios and for the first time as a director felt as though he would be working on a project that will bring his name to the forefront. 

One of the first action Chu took once getting the gig as the director was to hire a writer of Asian descent to go over Chiarelli’s script. Adele Lim, Malaysian-American screenwriter, who spent most of her career writing for television, including shows such as Las Vegas, One Tree Hill, and Dynasty, was considered perfect not because of her writing experiences but rather her life experiences: Lim’s parents live in Singapore and her husband is caucasian. Chiarelli was said to have focused the script on the plot while Lim added specific cultural details to the story. 

It was this distinction that ended up causing a divide between her and the studio, who were paying Chiarelli significantly more than Lim: at a rate of approximately 8 to 10 times more. The studio claims that the rates are based upon industry standards, which evaluate the experience of the writer. To make an exception for Lim during the negotiation for the Crazy Rich Asians sequels was to set a bad precedent. Lim took it as a slight from the studio, viewing her contribution to be merely “soy sauce” on top of a meal, and declined the partnership with Chiarelli again.

There was indeed something empowering when working on this movie. A Hollywood romantic comedy with an all-Asian cast was the first of its kind, but filling the roles was not easy for Chu. Before casting began, Chu offered up a dream list or what he called “The Avengers of Asian Actors,” included on the list was martial arts legend, Michelle Yeoh most notable for her role in Crutching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; rising star of British television series Humans, Gemma Chan; Silicon Valley’s Jimmy O. Yang, Daily Show correspondent, Ronny Chieng; and Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu. 

In 2016, Constance Wu auditioned for the role of Rachel. Jon Chu as good as offered the part to her, but due to a scheduling conflict with her television series, Wu was put in a tough position. Contractually, she would have to turn Crazy Rich Asians down. But Wu didn’t give up — how could she? She remembered 10 years of her life waitressing in order to make ends meet. She now played an important role for Asian American actors on television — as Fresh Off the Boat was the first American sitcom with a core Asian cast — and couldn’t simply pass on an opportunity to experience the same impact on cinema. 

Wu wrote a letter to Chu expressing her connection to the character of Rachel. “Dates are dates,” she wrote, “and if those are immovable, I understand. But I would put all of my heart, hope, humor, and courage into the role.” Her passion wasn’t ignored by Chu, who would go on and delay production of Crazy Rich Asians by approximately 5 months to April 2017. And with that, the role of Rachel was cast. 

Next was to find someone to play the male lead, Nick Young. This was a major challenge for Jon Chu. After looking through all the finalists in a Los Angeles and China audition, he wasn’t able to find someone who could deliver Nick’s British accent as described in the novel. Chu was beginning to feel the pressure, so much so, he decided to launch a social media campaign to not only fill the role of Nick Young but also for all the Asian characters in the story. Candidates from around the world posted a two-minute video audition on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube with #CrazyRichAsiansCasting. Thousand of videos were submitted and once again we see that Crazy Rich Asians was a movie that intended to break away from traditions, in an effort to remove the gatekeepers that were holding many Asian actors back. 

Perhaps it was this reason that made it so upsetting to many when Malaysian-English actor, Henry Golding was cast in the lead role of Nick. Golding was brought to Chu’s attention by the production company’s accountant: Lisa-Kim Ling Kuan. With minimal experience in the industry and zero Hollywood credit on his resume, all Golding could do was charm Chu with his personality and accent — which he did. 

The criticism was simple: for a movie that was claiming to go all-in with an Asian cast, with a critical role, they decided to pull back and fold. To many, Golding was not Asian enough. And it’s fair: Golding was biracial, there was no hiding that. Many felt that casting Golding was simply to make the movie more digestible for an audience that was used to white actors on the screen. 

Japanese-English-Argentine actress, Sonoya Mizuno who earned the role as Araminta Lee, would also face the heat for not being full Asian, meanwhile, Korean-born actress, Jamie Chung, who was declined a role in the movie for not being ethnically Chinese made everyone wonder where the line was being drawn. 

As hurt as Golding was about all the comments concerning his legitimacy as an Asian, he acknowledge the validity of the criticisms and encourage more conversations around the topic. Whether you agree with the casting or not… whether you think Henry Golding is Asian enough to play the role of Nick Young or not, all Asian actors can agree that it was one small step for Asians; and one giant step for Asian-American cinema. Because of Crazy Rich Asians, many Asian actors are working that wouldn’t have been otherwise. 

Much like casting, one of the most pivotal decisions Chu and the studio had to make was regarding the distribution rights. In late 2016, Netflix began aggressively bidding for the worldwide rights to the project, including the sequels. They offered full “creative freedom,” and an upfront seven-figure-minimum payout for all the stakeholders. Such an offer was hard to ignore — because everyone involved would be instant millionaires. But a Netflix exclusive release, would ultimately diminish the impact of the all-Asian movie. 

Sure some Netflix movies do get theatrical releases, but since it’s streaming at the same time, few theatres would put it up on screen. In the end, in order to make any cultural impact, Crazy Rich Asians went with Warner Bros. to bring the movie to the theaters.   

On August 15, 2018, Crazy Rich Asians was released and grossed $174.5 million in the US and Canada, and $64 million internationally. This ended up being an incredibly profitable gamble for the studios. However, the reception from the Chinese audience was lackluster, much to the disappointment of Warner Bros. The Chinese didn’t find novelty in seeing Asians on screen, they watch Chinese dominated entertainment all the time. Additionally, the plot surrounding those with excess was off-putting to many movie-goers in China. 

Then there were the critics, who were not all on the same page. While many celebrated the film for making history, for being visually appealing with its glitz and glamour, and for stand-out performances from Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong; and rapper-turned-actress, Awkwafina — others had problems with the movie. 

Some said it was a cliche North American rom-com with all the same tropes and archetypal characters. It wasn’t bad per se, but it’s about as revolutionary as 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Then there were those that felt the movie didn’t help the Asian reputation, stating that the movie, right from the title, reinforces the stereotype that “Asians are rich, vulgar and clueless.”

Lastly, others deemed Crazy Rich Asians to have committed the ultimate sin. Hypocrisy. With a story that was meant to bridge racial divides, the movie might have done otherwise simply for some laughs. Singapore is an ethnically diverse country with not only those of Chinese descent, but also those from Malaysia, India, and many more regions of the world. In the scene where Rachel and Peik Lin arrive at the mansion, they get frightened by some Sikh security guards. This scene has no explanation and was a clear glossing over of a troubled racial political climate in the country, where Indians are marginalized. In the novel, the guards are described as some of the finest warriors in the world, but in the movie, they were relegated to comic relief at best. 

It might not have been a grand slam, but it was at least a triple with two runs batted in. Crazy Rich Asians did a lot right. For one, it increased tourism to Singapore, particularly to a few on-screen locations including the Marina Bay Sands and Raffles Hotel. Next, it increased book sales for Kwan’s novel by over 300% in 2018 after the release of the movie. And lastly, since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club based on the novel by Amy Tan, there hasn’t been a modern movie with an ensemble Asian cast that captured the attention of the North American public. 

The adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians happened at the perfect time during a cultural shift. What the world needs now are more Asian artists in all fields to feed off the spark that had been ignited. Unlike The Joy Luck Club, Asian creators cannot wait another 25 years for another at-bat. As race continues to be a hot button in Hollywood and the rest of the world is eager and watching, Asian artists need to bring everything they have to the table, because whether others agree or not, they are now in the game thanks to Crazy Rich Asians. However, the question remains: Is Crazy Rich Asians a trial blazing movie? Or is it an outlier? 

What are your thoughts on the cultural merits of Crazy Rich Asians? Do you think it helped the public perception of an all-Asian cast? Or was it just another cookie-cutter movie, albeit a fortune cookie? Let me know in the comments below. 

For more in the series of adaptations, please check out this YouTube playlist here.

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