Some of us live in the worlds of our ideas and fictional universes, while others are able to realize them into whimsical tangible places. As a rom-com fanatic and bookworm, Ling Low is a writer and filmmaker who shares her unique lens to the world. Below, we talk to the award-winning writer on what it means to be a self-aware artist, tips on how to be better storytellers and more.
When did your venture into the creative industry start (both personally and professionally)?
From a young age, I loved reading and spent a lot of my childhood absorbed in books. As soon as I could draw, I started making my own “books”–drawing pictures in blank notebooks and asking my family to help write the stories because I couldn’t spell yet. Eventually, I wrote the stories myself–and now I’m still writing stories.
Professionally, my first paid creative job was writing for a magazine. But before that, I was already experimenting with short stories and teaching myself how to make films.
What is your life ethos and how does it relate to your creative journey?
For me, the process is really important. Especially when it comes to a collaborative medium like filmmaking, where so many people are involved. It’s important to me to approach that situation in a way that is self-aware, grounded, and considerate of others. The way you do something is important, even if your audience never sees the process.
There’s a myth that creatives sometimes believe in, which is akin to “no pain, no gain.” But sometimes, this mentality slips into justifying arrogance and even abusive behaviour. Of course, the creative process can be really hard. But my goal is to be open and receptive through the collaboration process. If we’re making art about humanity, and what it means to be alive, surely we have to start by thinking about the people around us.
What are some of the things your artworks are constantly seeking to explore?
I like to explore the ways that we try to connect with others, and conversely, how we actively avoid connecting. I’m interested in the stories we as people tell to describe ourselves, and how those stories might be flawed. I’m also interested in how places and migration shape us.
How do you see the world?
That’s a big question. The answer probably depends on the day you ask me. Right now, I’m feeling a lot of weight from the world–as I think many people are. I’m aware that the world can be a very inhumane and exploitative place, and we’re living in systems that can make it hard to fight injustice. But I also see hope, in the people who want to fight and make a difference. I’m inspired by that.
From short stories, journalism pieces to writing and directing music videos and short films, it's safe to say your writing knows no bounds! We believe there are so many aspiring filmmakers and writers in Malaysia wanting to tell their stories too. Can you share with us your top 3 tips on how these creatives can be better storytellers?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t let perfectionism stop you from trying to create something. Accept that your work is always going to be flawed, and then do it anyway. Later on, you can go back and learn from it. We need to keep learning and developing different skills. So get feedback and look for ways that you can improve with each project.
Listen to and observe people. While we inevitably learn about the world through the media we consume, it’s important to pay attention to the things happening around you. How do the people in your neighbourhood really talk? What do they care about?
Listen and observe yourself. What do you care about? What shapes your taste and perspective? Let that guide your work. Maybe you won’t figure everything out straight away, but over time, patterns will emerge. Your work will slowly be more and more unique to you. There’s a quotation I’ve come across, attributed to Miles Davis: “Man, sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself.”
What is your favourite and least favourite part of the creative process?
My favourite part is when I’m in the flow of creating and trusting my instincts, at the moment; and when I feel the energy and chemistry between the people I’m collaborating with. My least favourite part is when I look at the draft and wonder if what I created is actually not very good.
How would you describe your creative and artistic style? Do you feel much has changed?
I’m drawn to stories about relationships, especially unexpected connections between people. I think there’s humour, as well as longing and melancholy, in my work. I observe life with a sense of wryness that is often bittersweet.
What’s your guilty pleasure(s)?
While I wouldn’t call it a guilty pleasure, I love the films of Nancy Meyers. I think Parent Trap is just a fantastic film.
Your written works have been shortlisted for numerous awards such as the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2021 while your short films such as "Closure" premiered at the 2014 at Brussels Short Film Festival. Getting published in Malaysia is notoriously not easy due to the lack of publishing houses but in your opinion, what are some ways aspiring creatives can get their works and stories out there to be published, seen and heard by the crowd?
You can usually find out about writing submission opportunities online, through Facebook groups like the Malaysian Writers Community. Several local publishers welcome new and emerging writers, as long as your work fits within the genres they publish.
Look out for regional publications too, such as New Naratif and the Mekong Review. For international submissions and prizes, a lot of information gets shared on Twitter: follow other writers, as well as literary agents, to find out about these. Finally, don't forget you have the option of going DIY and making your own zine, or sharing stories on your own website or social media! Remember that not every publishing avenue works for everyone, and that's okay.
...my goal is to be open and receptive through the collaboration process. If we’re making art about humanity, and what it means to be alive, surely we have to start by thinking about the people around us.
Who is someone you would love to collaborate with and why?
There’s a Malaysian visual artist called Amani Azlin, whom I’ve never met, but her work with photography and choreography is really arresting, sensitive and sensuous. I would love to collaborate with her.
Please share with us who/what you are constantly inspired by!
I’m inspired by other works of art: books, films, TV and visual art. But I think most of all, I’m inspired by people who are able to create amazing art while also galvanising and giving back to their communities. I’m inspired by people who are not afraid to be vulnerable about their craft, and who reassure others that it’s okay to be vulnerable. Throughout our lives, we will become beginners again, in some way–so perhaps we should embrace that.
It’s important to me to approach [the creative process] in a way that is self-aware, grounded, and considerate of others. The way you do something is important, even if your audience never sees the process.
What type of artist do you wish to be, and what's your ultimate goal as a creative?
I want to create stories and films that resonate with people, which let people feel seen and held, while also shifting their perspective and showing them something new. I want to work across different formats, from fiction to screenplays. And I also want to work in a writer’s room, because that would be a new experience for me.
Lastly, please shoutout 3 of your favourite local creative crushes and their IG handle!
Sharon Chin @studio_chincarok
Tess Pang @tesspang
Al Ibrahim @failedimitator