Joyce was exactly like how I had pictured her to be.
We had been emailing each other since I reached out to her on Facebook a couple of months ago. And when I say emailing, it was mostly her giving advice. I kept waiting for the catch — maybe the next email would be an invoice for however many hours of consultation Joyce had spent on me. Instead, I received an invitation to her workshop on content marketing for freelancers.
I most certainly am not a workshop kind of person, but Joyce’s generosity and genuine interest in my work prompted me to say “Yes”. And, after spending months working away from the office in the company of two tabby cats, I was thankful for any excuse to get out of the apartment. Everyone at my day job had been working from home since the number of Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong began to multiply.
Joyce’s Friday night workshop was held in the familiar buzzy terrain of Sheung Wan, which had fallen strangely silent.
“Nice to finally meet you!” Joyce’s voice rang out as I stepped into the conference room. I could not have asked for a warmer welcome, and a greater pleasure than being one of the few in-person attendees.
I have been freelancing as an English copywriter and translator since I was an undergrad at university. Since graduating in 2013, I have never been out of a day job for more than three months. TL;DR: when I am not at work, I am doing client work.
You would think that after doing this for so long, I would have a clear picture of where I am going with my freelance career. Perhaps quitting my full-time job to focus on my copywriting-slash-translation business and fitness blog by 2024, or publishing my first book by the age of 35. Something like that.
Well, not quite.
“Your website is a mockup,” Joyce pointed out. She was right: despite having a namesake domain, my “website” was a WordPress template of an imaginary yoga studio called “MillieYoga”. I do not even like yoga. I will be the first to admit that I fail majorly at Joyce’s third top tip for slashers: “Establish your identity in the highly competitive digital landscape”.
The clients I have acquired over the years have all been by word of mouth. I seem to have become the person to WhatsApp when a client wants something “more native English”. Most of my work involves translating Chinese content to English, writing and editing English copies, and “de-Chinglishing” English content. I am beyond grateful and flattered, of course — I had never thought that word of mouth would get me this far — but Joyce made me realise that I cannot stay on the sidelines if I wanted to be known as more than just a good writer and “de-Chinglisher”.
The last time I wrote for myself was in 2015, when I told my life story in a 50-page Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing thesis.
Since then, I have almost exclusively been telling the stories of other people and brands as a journalist and copywriter. Maybe I had divulged too much in my thesis — the dissertation committee seemed to appreciate the gory details enough to give me a “Distinction” — or maybe I have been too preoccupied with work to let my pen wander. Maybe my 20s have just been embarrassingly uneventful. Maybe I have just been lazy.
Joyce showed me a different way of looking at doing content marketing for myself: done intentionally, my writing could potentially showcase what clients can achieve through me. It does not have to be a self-indulgent affair (well, not entirely) if I write with the right purposes in mind: to help, inform and entertain.
I had planned to write this blog post the weekend after the workshop, but fell back into the trap of prioritising paid assignments. As I ruminate and write the Sunday evening after, I realise that I am, in fact, writing for myself.
In the words of Joyce Tsang, “It takes you to do it” — it takes you to tell your own story. It takes you to show the world what you can do.
Stevie Tsui believes the most memorable stories are shown in the fewest words. She enjoys bodybuilding, strength training, "cheat meals" and staying in. She lives in Hong Kong with one husband and two cats. Stalk her on Instagram @steviewip; write her at firstname.lastname@example.org