A Touch of Solitude

By Sean Tan (with additional reporting by Ajay Nair, Ren Jia Qi)

“First people change their notebook. Then they change their app. Then they change their laptop. Then they change their environment. Then they move to Bali!” - Don Bosco

As he lowered his voice, the room faded into a calming silence. The entire atmosphere had changed. He sounded more calm, he heard his thoughts better, and his words now punctuated the air with more weight. “Step 1”, he said, “Relaxation and Silence”. “Creative Writing shouldn’t shout back at you.”

Loud and clear the silence was, but how to relax? Apparently, the answer was Meditation, only without the customary advice on breathing techniques. “Feet flat on the ground. Loosen your knees.” Then, “imagine someone you really like. Imagine you finish the last word of your story.”

For Don Bosco, writing and selling are 2 sides of the equation. Realising that many aspiring writers do not know how to publish, he gave away two free E-books, “Keep Calm and Upload E-Books” and “Official 100 Writers”. Hoping to grow the community, he often features indie writers and DIY publishers on his website.

Now in this room on the seventh floor of the National Library, he wants us to focus only on writing. He tells us we can write anywhere. To prove his point, he says quietly, “3rd Step: Write.” And, we all did.

Why did you choose to focus on writing for teens and children?

DON BOSCO : Some years back my two sons started to read a lot, and were very curious about how stories became books and got delivered all over the world. So in 2011 I started Super Cool Books as a project to help them explore this, and try making our own books just to let them learn about the industry. But once I got started, our stories and projects seemed to just roll on and on and get bigger and bigger. Young readers and parents and teachers and publishers suddenly appeared and they seemed to really enjoy what I was doing. I even started to get fan mail. I still remind myself today, I didn't choose to write for teens and children, but it's like I was chosen instead.

Was being a writer a passion you have had since young?

DON BOSCO: As a teenager I was more interested in playing the guitar and creating my own music. And also hanging out with my friends. Later on, I had a chance to write music-related articles for some local magazines. And much later I got into writing for TV, books, websites, education materials, etc. I always read a lot, though.

Who are your favorite writers?

DON BOSCO: I enjoy all sorts of writing, both fiction and nonfiction. I like writers who are playful and are committed to changing your perception of a genre or topic. These include Jorge Luis Borges, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Stephen Jay Gould and Jaron Lanier.

You seem to be very involved with the community. What are other initiatives that you have started with other writers?

DON BOSCO: I often feature indie writers and DIY publishers on my website. It's a great way to make new friends and also grow the community. I'm part of the StoryCode Singapore organising team, and we hold meetups to promote cross-platform storytelling. We've looked at all sorts of new ideas for storytelling: digital video, location-based story apps, educational storytelling, comics, story games, etc. And students sometimes send me their project proposals and I help to mentor them mostly over email because that's more convenient. Last year I came up with a way to be more efficient about all this: I started a fiction publishing incubator called 100 WRITERS, and produced two free PDF guides for writing and publishing your own stories. You can get them from my website. And so this allows everyone to benefit from what I've learnt so far.

For your workshop, you focused a lot about the need to calm down and focus. Why made you choose to focus your workshop on that?

DON BOSCO: Some people think the most important tool for writing is a pencil, or pen, or tablet, or laptop, or a particular app, or a specific template, etc. But really, the most important tool is your own brain. You use it to imagine, arrange and share ideas. Neuroscience research has shown that the brain works best when it is calm, focussed and happy. It makes sense that writers should take this advice.

What makes you continue every day?

DON BOSCO: Oh, I think it's the other way around, I keep asking myself, what does every day want from me? And then I try my best to do a good job.


Sean Tan is a student from Victoria Junior College, and a member of the Victoria Press.