Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Finding your Voice Talk

Perdana Leadership Foundation invited Kenny Mah and I for a talk at MPH in conjunction with their essay competition. This is a write up by Alicia Loh which was published in The New Straits Times on 20 September 2012.

The first writing forum organized by PLF (Perdana Leadership Foundation) together with Maybank Foundation this year took place in MPH Megastore One Utama on August 11 2012, in conjunction with this year’s Maybank Foundation-Perdana Leadership Foundation Essay Competition. The special guests who spoke were Lydia Teh, author of six published books, including Honk! If You’re Malaysian, and Kenny Mah, whose blog Life For Beginners is one of the longest running blogs in the nation.

Lydia began the talk first, sharing some passages written by famous authors such as Bill Bryson, and showing what makes each of them unique, telling us that it is their style that makes their writing easy to pick out even before you know who the author is.

Besides style, another thing she stressed was the voice of the writer. “Voice is your thumbprint in writing,” said Lydia, who places great importance on having a unique identity in writing. For Kenny, the old adage on finding one’s voice doesn’t quite hold true. “Finding your voice, to me, doesn’t exist,” began Kenny. “There is no such thing… You cannot find your voice because it’s not lost. You have a voice right now, even if you’re writing little posts on Facebook… You have your style of writing. It’s not so much about finding your voice, but… appreciating the fact that your voice will change over time.” That alone, however, is not enough, and Kenny made sure to tell us that, “The thing you need to do before any of the tips… is to commit to writing.”

Both writers underscored the importance of both reading and writing, as it is through practice that one hones the skill. Lydia also gave a rather interesting piece of advice, and that is to emulate the style of other writers. “I’m not saying you should copy… That’s called plagiarism. What I’m saying is that you [should] copy the style, what sort of tone…” Next, she advised writers to keep their audiences in mind. People have different ways of talking to people of various ages, and this should translate onto paper, too. “Use the right words,” she added.

When a young girl in the audience asked what the right timeframe to become a good writer is, Lydia replied frankly that she didn’t know. “It’s all up to you; how fast you learn, how much you read,” she said, “And let nobody say that you can’t write. You can learn to write. It isn’t an inborn talent… It’s a talent that can be developed.” Kenny had a different approach, saying that, “I think the aim is just to be a good writer, because it’s very hard to define what is a good writer… Instead of asking that question, why not set a goal for yourself?”

As for why young people should write, “It’s a means of escape,” answered Lydia, “And when you write down things, it helps you analyze.” For Kenny, writing is important to record events in one’s life, and the things that shape a person.

If you’re interested in writing, or want to find out more about it, PLF has another writing forum scheduled on the September 30, in MPH Megastore. As for the Essay Competition, the Grand Prize winner will walk away with RM8,000, whilst the other winners will also receive attractive prizes. The deadline for the competition is October 31, 2012. You can read the details at

For pictures of the event, hop over to PLF's Facebook page.