YEN-RONG WONG: “I never thought I’d be a proper writer”

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Yen-Rong is a writer, reader, musician, scientist, and an aspiring academic. She is the founding editor of Pencilled In, a magazine dedicated to showcasing work by young Asian Australian artists, and is a Queensland Writers Centre Ambassador. Her work has been published by The GuardianFeminartsyOverlandThe Lifted Brow, Brain Mill Press, and more.

We first published your work in July 2016 when we launched The Regal Fox, and since then you’ve continued to build yourself as a writer. What have you learnt about yourself and your writing in the last 18 months? 

One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that I’m actually quite good at non-fiction and it seems to come more naturally to me than fiction, which is what I’ve been writing for basically my whole life. I’ve learned that I can be extremely hard on myself and my writing, and I’m working on trying to be kinder to myself, but unsurprisingly, that’s easier said than done.

Regarding my writing, I’ve learned that most of the time, it’s never as horrible as I think it is – that I can actually produce good writing. And in the same vein, if a piece is hard to write, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. If I’m being honest, it’s still a lesson I’m trying to consolidate.

What is your pitching/submitting process like? How do you discover new places to submit your work to?

I suppose it depends on what I start off with – if I have a pitch and am trying to find somewhere to send it, or if I’ve seen a call for submissions from a publication and am trying to find something to write or pitch for them. Either way, a pitch needs to be written and sent!

Pitching can be difficult for me because I might have an idea in mind, and I might fully intend to write to or around that idea, but I know that most of the time, I usually find a juicier idea halfway through – and it’s hard to know what that might be if I haven’t started writing. But if the piece ends up getting commissioned, it’s good to have something to come back to, to keep me from going off track.

I have a pretty standard email template for pitches, and it’s served me well so far. So I use that, and then it’s often a fair bit of waiting for an editor to get back with either a yes or a no. As for submitting, most places use Submittable nowadays, and if they don’t, then it’s just a matter of an email trail with an editor – I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do this without the internet!

Social media plays a large part in how I find new places to send my work. I am on Twitter a lot, and I see a lot of calls for submissions there – and I’m in a number of Facebook groups that are pretty good at promoting opportunities. Otherwise, Writers Bloc has a great section on their website where they list a whole bunch of competitions and opportunities, and Submittable does a good newsletter each week where they do the same.

You studied a Bachelor of Science/Arts, majoring in Biomedical Science (genetics) and English Literature. What made you pursue the writing side of the degree? 

I never thought I’d be a ‘proper writer’, and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t actively pursue a writing degree. When I realised I wasn’t going to be a scientist, I set my sights on becoming a huffy English literature academic, and on the way, I kind of fell into the writing I’m doing now. I do want to go back and do my PhD in English literature and I do miss academia but I want to give this a red hot go first. And who knows – I might even end up doing both at the same time!

To be honest, the reaction to my post on the Lionel Shriver incident was the catalyst for my pursing writing as a career. I received so many nice messages, but one in particular came from a woman who told me my post had made her reconsider her thoughts on the whole subject and that really struck a chord with me. I’d never considered the fact that the words I wrote could affect others in such a way, because I didn’t think of myself as a ‘proper writer’. So I resolved to write more and to try to get my voice out there a bit more, and here we are!

I’d never considered the fact that the words I wrote could affect others in such a way

How do you deal with self-doubt? How do you motivate yourself to keep writing?

I deal largely with self-doubt by surrounding myself with a bunch of the most supportive friends I could ever hope to have. I usually just need to talk through any concerns I have about whatever I’m writing on, and it’s good to know I have people who will be there for me when I need to do that, and who will be in my corner no matter what.

When it comes to motivation, deadlines are great, especially if they’re imposed by someone else – mainly because I’m petrified of letting other people down. Self-imposed deadlines can work all right, but they’re usually less effective. I’ve also been known to reward myself with food! But if I’m working on a specific project or a piece, I tell myself to just write 200 words a day, which is usually manageable and not-demoralising.

You are the founder of Pencilled In magazine, dedicated to showcasing work by young Asian Australian artists. Has that experience influenced your writing? 

I don’t know that it’s consciously influenced the way I write, but I always end up being incredibly inspired by everyone who sends in work – whether or not they end up in the particular issue I’m putting together or not. It’s made me realise how important it is for me to keep writing, to be part of a collection of Asian Australian voices out there, speaking or drawing or communicating our truths and experiences.

What do you prefer to write: fiction or non-fiction?

For now, non-fiction! Every time I try to write fiction these days it ends up being creative non-fiction. But I recently attended a workshop with Laura Elvery about short story writing and that’s given me a whole bunch of ideas and tricks to try, so I might be hopping back on the fiction bandwagon soon.

You’ve had a few speaking engagements in the last year, including the National Young Writers’ Festival. How important do you think these opportunities are for writers? 

I think they’re fantastic, especially for younger and emerging writers. I’m sad that there aren’t more writers festivals in Brisbane because they’re great development opportunities, and great ways to meet other writers that you might not otherwise get to know. I still get a bit nervous every time I’m on a panel because I’m not used to having to speak about my writing or my experiences (there’s a reason I write!) but I’ve never regretted saying yes to speaking engagements. Writing can be such a solitary and isolating pursuit, and it can be really encouraging to talk and listen to others who know what that’s like.

And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I’m refining a piece on the model minority myth, and I’m in the early stages of a memoir-type essay collection that discusses the reality of Asian Australian women and sex (and relationships) while under a Western gaze.

You can follow Yen-Rong Wong on Facebook and Twitter. You can also visit her website.


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