The PS lady; Joanne Kwok
Photographed and interviewed by Audris Adabella
Hi Jonk! When would you say your passion for storytelling/ writing begun?
J: Actually, since I was about 5. My mom handed me pen and paper; I started writing and realized my poems were rhyming.
At 17, it became clear. In Junior College, we were given this career book, naming all kinds of choices there were in the world from A to Z. When it came to “C” there it was, “Copywriter”. I searched up what a copywriter does and realized it was what I have been doing on the side for so long at church; making posters, coming up with snazzy lines, using words to promote an idea. It resonated with me.
On my third year in university, a particular module called “Creative communications” confirmed it. That mod was fun, it made me feel so alive! We were learning about brand story, I aced my assignments and got an email from my lecturer (who is a copywriter himself) after the mock test. He asked, “Have you ever considered being a copywriter?”
Prior to that, I had shut down the idea of being a copywriter. Others had hoped for me to become a lawyer but that email re-ignited something in me. I was so certain after, that I would apply for a job in copywriting and advertising.
Hah, listen to your prof man.
Why do you do what you do- write?
J: In the world of advertising, we are constantly selling people what they don't need. But I want to sell people things that they really need- and what do they really need?
People need to be told things like; They are worth it, they are important, they have a purpose and that they are loved. I do it because I think communicators can use the exact gift to do that. For me, it guides every kind of writing I do.
I know I was made to write and I think it's such a waste if you deny the world of what you do well. If you don’t speak (up), you are denying the world of your gift.
This year especially, I know I need to start writing actively again. I just want to play my part.
Share a particular story you heard that impacted and stuck with you till date.
J: It is a story of this guy who had recurring nightmares of a lion chasing him. He was seriously upset, and could not sleep properly. So he approached a pastor to figure why. The pastor gave him a piece of advice, “The next time you dream of the lion, stop and ask, ‘who are you and why are you chasing me?’”
So he did.
And the lion said: “Why do you run from me? I am your courage.”
That really stuck with me. Sometimes the thing that scares us the most, is the very thing we need to turn around and face. Confront it, do it! That is the greatest lesson of “courage”. It has been applied to so many parts of my life. Every time I see a lion, I think of that story. Love it.
We are going to ask for your secret to writing! What is your thought process like when crafting a story?
J: I think the secret to writing is to live- to live it.
If you are not out there living, experiencing, feeling, then what are you going to use to write when you’re seated on your writing chair faced with a blank paper/ screen? I have to be able to put myself through the grind of living to observe it enough to put language to it.
“My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living” - Anaïs Nin
This is a little weird… I would close my eyes and run the lines and words through my head. I ask myself, “Is this THE word to describe that particular experience?” I want to replicate the human experience in words, so the reader can go, “Yes, you just gave language to my feelings and experience. Now I feel less alone knowing someone else has also gone through it“ But you really have to think through the words- sometimes they are very simple words or phrases! It has to encapsulate the human condition.
The lack of words, isolates. People feel “I am the only one going through this. I have no words for it.” But the gift of writers is this, you have a special bank of words and the ability to weave them together, in a way that it brings people closer to a feeling of home and being understood.
We unite the world by giving language. This is why I think words are so timeless, and they must be written. It’s a friend that never goes away.
In your opinion what is the most powerful medium of storytelling today and why?
The most powerful medium? *Pauses to think*
I’m going to say something very lame… but it is very true.
Audris: Let’s take a pause here. This one hit me hard. I needed a moment to process and reflect. Okay, let’s carry on with the interview.
Seriously! Nothing has beaten heartfelt writing. And heart-breathed writing. It comes from somewhere very deep. People are getting so out of touch with the heart, consumed by the face of things (how it should/ is being presented), we forget to connect with the pain and feelings of the heart. We shortcircuit our hearts to try and put a story/ content out there.
Someone sent me this article with a statement going something like this “If you haven’t finished processing and going through something yet, don’t write it. It is like plunging something cooking into cold water. That stops the cooking process.”
The truth is; life cooks us, it brews us. The high and low points of life create something in us, especially the lows- it refines us. Don’t miss the heart of it.
Don’t try to use someone else’s language. It is your own that will count. Your experience is different from any other person’s. Stay with how long your heart needs to take to write itself (the message) upon your heart.
It’s obvious when you read a truly good piece because you know the writer is so connected with what’s going on inside. They were able to give language to that experience.
Once it's brewed, you’re done. You’ll drink it, grow from it, the tonic will heal you, and now, someone else needs to hear it, to heal too. Your writing is also for someone else. Nothing beats heartfelt writing, it gives the reader an internal response.
What do you do when you get a writer’s block?
J: I get so stressed out with datelines, I can’t even eat in peace. What I do is I… Walk away.
Don’t force yourself into it. If you encounter a wall in front of you, your job isn't to bash through the wall. Go back up and do something else! Sometimes the way around the wall is there, but you’ve been standing right in front, you can’t see. Walk away, go eat or sleep or take a break. A lot of people get toilet thoughts, I have tons!
Writer’s block is scary, but overall there is always a way out. Go and live. Talk to people, they may have the answer. You'll never know, if you pray hard enough, maybe God might send you the answer.
Can you share with us one recent writings/ reflection/ story and tell us what it means to you?
It’s a piece called, “Praying for the dying.” I cried writing it.
It was written for my friend’s first death anniversary, it means a lot to me. Writing it was a process of reflecting upon the entire situation a year later.
What it means to me is “God’s closeness and nearness”. The external situation may not be changing, but God always wants to give us more of Him and somehow this is it, even though it may not look like it. I learnt what faith looks like in an almost impossible situation.
What would you say to fellow and/or aspiring writers?
J: Just write. Okay, kidding.
Honestly, people need to read. It’s a bit of strange advice but really, it’s not just about writing.
Read, read, read and then write.
Reading other people’s writing is not for you to feel bad about yourself. It’s for you to live in the community where gifts activate one another. Reading someone else’s writing gets you writing your own. You will learn to see how other break down their encounters/ experinces in words.
So yes, read, read, read, then write.