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Photos from Cambodia
by Phina So
apsaras dancing in Cambodia
Temple column in Cambodia. Apsaras engraving.
Modern Cambodian house in background with banana trees.  Pond in the foreground.
Beautiful yellow flowers in Cambodia.

Advice to Self

  1. Don’t forget where you came from: Battambang, Cambodia. Never forget your Lok-Yeay, Lok-Ta, Lok-Pok, Lok-Mak, Pu and Meang. You are here because of them.

  2. Write out of love, not hate, for the subject of your obsessions. Your readers will be pulled in by the respect you show for your subject matter. They will understand why it matters to you.

  3. Don’t write the same poem or story. Surprise yourself and your readers.

  4. Let the poem or story come into its own form. Don’t force it to fit something it’s not. 

  5. Be attentive to dreams; be attentive to when and why your heart stops and starts beating; be attentive to the shape & sound, the rhythm & memory of each word.

  6. Take a small notebook and pen (or pencil) with you on your solitary strolls, which clear the mind of clutter and bring you closer to the heart of the matter.

  7. As with love, don’t force it. Writing should be as natural as breathing in air, screaming in pain, or fluttering of the heart. Take your sweet time; let the ideas and the words simmer to perfection.

  8. If you are the type who writes regularly, do it. If you are the type who lets your subconscious mind do its magic, then trust it.

  9. Do your daily chores, feed your children, punch the time clock, shop for grocery, make love, and sleep. When it’s ready, have fun since you will have no control over it anyway.

  10. When in a rut, turn off the computer and play with your kids. Your wife will like you better for it.

  11. Don’t forget to be grateful for the gift of each word, memory, and breath. You are lucky to be alive. It’s truly a privilege to be able to express yourself.

  12. Be grateful to editors and publishers, event organizers and the staff at your readings. Be grateful to your readers.

  13. Getting rejections is part of a writer’s life; things will go better if you learn to accept this. There are also times when you return to the rejected work and find yourself grateful that the editor didn't choose it for publication. 

  14. Don’t pay attention to book lists created by this critic or that organization. Those are about the people you know, networking, a popularity contest. You were never popular in high school, so why do you think it’s any different now? Instead, focus on the words in front of you; they are all that matters.

  15. As Morrissey once sang, “Hold on to your friends!” Your friends know when you are not being true and will tell you so; share your work with them.

  16. Support other writers, especially those starting out. There is no other way but to be generous with each other. Buy their books; write reviews. If you don’t have money, help spread the good news of their publications on Facebook and other social media.

  17. If you are a teacher, teach the books you love. It makes your job easier, and everyone will have fun.

  18. Don’t drink and write—well, except coffee and tea (for me, anyway).

  19. It’s not a matter of life and death. Be serious, committed, and disciplined to the craft, but also be kind to yourself, wife, and family.

  20. Take it easy, BK. After what you’d gone through in this life, everything else is gravy.


***Adapted from an earlier list published in Cultural Daily

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