[EXCLUSIVE] Author Lang Leav on Getting Inspired By Her Readers And How To Hold Your Own Works In High Regard
Off the record, Lang Leav simply loves putting pen to paper — in the literal and non-literal sense. To her, there’s nothing quite like the feel of starting off her literary works with a pen and paper, she revealed to us off-camera, as we were getting prepared for her interview in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Lang Leav, the best-selling poet was in KL for a day for a brief book-signing at Times Bookstore, Pavilion KL, and #TeamCLEO was lucky enough to meet her before her event to chat about her newest book, Poemsia.
While we were prepping for the interview we bantered and had a great chat about writing and reading on print and screens, the burgeoning crowds that turn out whenever she does a book tour, to even the topic of child marriage (we went deep!). She was warm, inviting and smiley as she introduced us to her mum (whom she brings with her everywhere when she goes on book tours), as well as her make-up artist for the day.
As we were already big fans and knew her and her works from way before (she speaks to all our sad girl feels!), it was easy to dive right into the stuff we really wanted to know. Here, we spoke to her about how it all started out for her, how she stays inspired, what it takes to get noticed or published, what Poemsia is about, and how it’s really like for a writer to live with another writer.
How did this journey start out for you? We read that it started in 2013.
I was writing before that for a while but I guess 2013 was when I released my book ‘Love And Misadventure’, and I guess it was around 2011 when I was discovered and my writing went viral on Tumblr and really took off. I was getting lots of requests every day: “Are you going to have a book”, and so on. So I saved the money and went into self-publishing and I was just hoping that maybe I would make back what I spent in putting it all together. The sales started to snowball and within 3 months I sold over 10,000 copies, which was a huge amount for a self-published book.
I was starting to make the bestseller list and get the interest of New York publishers and agents and I was signed up — it all happened really really fast. It was funny because it was this one we went everything happened and I was getting on to Facebook at the time and my partner at the time Michael was be waking me up and say, “You won’t believe who just Facebook messaged,” and he showed me and it was the head by at Barnes and Noble.
It was the same week and then that my agent got me a publishing deal in just a couple of days, and my writing just got so much traction.
View this post on Instagram
It is hard to find words to describe the experience of bringing a whole universe to life. Creating worlds is the most beautiful, intoxicating feeling and I can’t wait to share with you, the world I have built with my new novel Poemsia. Out October 1st. Preorder now. LINK IN PROFILE ♥️ xo Lang #poetry #langleav #writing
Did you ever envision yourself getting here or that your writings would have such a reach?
To be honest I didn’t really think about it too much I just was I was at a stage in my life where I was pouring my heart out into a blog that I thought people didn’t really care about. A literary blog came in reblogged it and it just took off. I certainly didn’t expect it. But yeah, my career was on the same tangent as social media. it hit at the right time.
Even if it hadn’t been for the internet, the work obviously resonates with a lot of people. So I think that before that I was getting enquiries from publishers and things but it wasn’t an area that I was putting a lot of focus into at that time.
Did you always dream to do this or did you have any other aspirations for this?’
I think as a creative person I think it’s something that you all you think about is the next project. You think, “Do I have enough to do the next project?” — and “enough” means finances to cover my cost of living and make sure there’s food on the table and any resources I need for this project.
I feel like my creative life has been a cycle of projects in what’s the next thing and I think I have been so lucky. I think I’m just so lucky that now reached that the Holy Grail for where I can create and I don’t have to worry so much about the bills.
View this post on Instagram
Your concerns are very practical — do you have anything you need in your “creative well”. have you ever had writer’s block?
I do have writer’s block. All authors do get it, and I’m just naturally blessed in that I always have ideas like come to me all the time but I think writers get writer’s block — that is, deciding what idea to go with and what direction to to head to next.
Do you ever think you have “too much” and you don’t know where to focus on or output next?
Yes definitely, I wish I could work on several projects at a time simultaneously and it never really works out if you do that I think when you got a project you got to pour your heart out into it. It’s weird analogy like monkey bars in the sense that there needs to be another another project and I think creatives are obsessed about that when I’m in between projects I’m extremely restless. I’m at my happiest when I’m in a project.
“Literature almost acts like a mirror. You see parts of yourself in it and it’s one of those things that changes over time.” – Lang Leav on her favourite books
Is there any specific point in time, where are you most inspired, or does it just come?
Just having a change of scenery. I’ve been writing a lot since I came to Malaysia so it’s nice to be able to get away sometimes because you need to get out of your day-to-day. But I find that inspiration can come from anywhere and it’s so unexpected. It normally likes to come when you’re trying to fall asleep at night and you have to get up to write it. If not you’ll lose it. There’s no way you’ll remember even if you tell yourself that. It’s somethingI’ve just really trained myself to do.
I think if you do an activity to stimulate creativity, it can sometimes be counter productive. It’s one of those things that you need it let to come to you it’s like a cat, almost. You can’t force it. I’ve got two cats and you can call their names and ask them to come, if they’re not interested they just won’t come. If the cat chooses you you’re ordained, you’re the chosen one.
Can you tell us about poemsia?
It’s fiction, so it’s a look at a backstage glimpse at the modern poetry movement which is something that is really taken off in the last few years. Since the release of Love and Misadventure in 2013 when poetry and books had a lot of poetry category, it was falling on the wayside, it was as popular as knitting. It’s had a huge resurgence and that has been really magical to see.
Do you prefer poetry or prose?
I like both and I like experimenting with combining the two. There’s a sense of what’s a poem and what’s prose and when do the two intersect because it’s really hard to tell sometimes because there’s no clear line between the two and I love that.
A lot of my favourite writers like Margaret Atwood and Murakami they do that. They’ll write something and it’s prose and it’s so poetic. I like the idea of experimenting with that.
And my favourite book? There are so many that I like. One of my favourites is The Land of Laughs by Jonathon Carroll because it’s so weird and wacky and it’s fun to read. It’s one of my favourite books. The books that I fell in love with in my formative years was Norwegian Wood (by Murakami) I read that when I was quite young. You have your comfort foods and authors. This was my comfort book. It seems to always speak to me differently at every stage of my life.
Literature almost acts like a mirror. You see parts of yourself in it and it’s one of those things that changes over time. Sometimes can mean something to you at one time and something at another time. Something you didn’t pay attention to suddenly jump out at you. It’s magical.
Do you wish this for your own works as well?
I get that from my readers. I think it’s definitely something that’s associated with poetry especially because with poetry you are the protagonist. You are putting yourself into the lines. I really hope that my books are something that are picked up different points in time and it speaks in a different way.
Are your works based on real life or they’re something you create?
As an author especially if you’re writing poetry of a confessional nature I think it’s always important to put a separation between yourself and the work. It’s one of those things that’s pretty tricky thing to manage but I’ve been doing it for many years now in that my inspiration comes from so many different places. From my own life, from people that I love that affects me, even my readers who share beautiful stories.
“You can’t be listening to some teenage boy in his parent’s basement because there are so many conflicting viewpoints. You have to channel it out and listen to the voices that matter.” – Lang Leav on filtering out the haters
Do you get inspired by your readers?
Yes absolutely. When I first started out when I got this huge following on Tumblr and people were writing in with their stories and I was doing poem requests and it was a lot of fun. I tried to put myself in their shoes and tried to imagine what it would be like from their point of view. And that was creatively exciting and wonderful thing to do.
It’s probably the first time in history with this generation of authors that we have been able to interact and do that. Growing up I don’t think I even know how my favourite authors looked like. You don’t. You might get a picture in the book but aside from that some don’t even have author pictures so you have no idea.
Any tips for anyone who’s trying to put their works out there?
You have to have that self-belief and have to put yourself out there and know that there’s a lot of negativity online. It’s a scary place which is what I wrote about in Poemsia but you just have to get yourself out there and see what happens. It’s one of those things that you can’t avoid the negativity. And the haters. You just have to choose what voices you listen to and I believe that’s one of the most important things for a writer is to have a few people you hold in high regard and that you respect their opinion.
Like my agent Al Zuckerman, he lectured at Yale so he’s someone I absolutely have faith in to judge my work. And that’s what you’ve got to do. You can’t be listening to some teenage boy in his parent’s basement because there are so many conflicting viewpoints. You have to channel it out and listen to the voices that matter.
View this post on Instagram
do you have a favourite piece ever?
I love September Love. Initially I was contacted by a magazine to write a piece for September but they couldn’t get it into their September issue so they asked me to change it to October Love but I decided to hang on to it.
The reason why I really like it is because I feel that it has a real lyrical quality, it sounds like the ocean.
You’re married to a writer as well, Micheal. How does that work with you guys?
He’s got a different way of writing in that he can write at a cafe which is weird for me because I need absolute quiet. He gets quite inspired by the conversation and people around him. I don’t like noise. Unless I’m watching something or listening to something, otherwise I like silence. He’d like to have music on and so on. That’s a different work style we have. We share ideas all the time especially when I’m writing fiction, he’s got fantastic ideas and turning points and characters so we discuss the characters like they’re real people like they’re our children.
It’s a lot of fun living with a writer. It’s creative, we’re constantly always talking about creativity.
Watch our interview with Lang Leave, here: