Q and A: Lang Leav on love, critics, and how she gets over writer's block
"Nice to meet you," Lang Leav chimes politely, as she approaches the interview table and reaches out to shake my hand. "Thank you for coming to meet me," she adds with a genuine smile as we take our seats across one another.
In my hands is international bestselling author Lang Leav's newest book, Love Looks Pretty On You, the main reason why the poet has returned to Manila for the third time.
A literary hit with audiences around the globe, Lang Leav's collection of contemporary poetry and prose touch on topics close to home for many Filipino readers – from love, loss, heartbreak, relationships, self-empowerment, and to growing up.
Before her highly-awaited book signing fan event on the weekend of February 23 and February 24, Lang Leav took the time to sit down with Rappler, sharing with us her secret to writer's block, her perspective on critics, creative inspirations, what she loves the most about her Filipino fans, and other quotable insights.
RAPPLER: First of all, congratulations on your newest book, Love Looks Pretty On You. How do you think this book differs from your previous works?
Leav: I think this has a more uplifting quality to it. I definitely feel this is my most personal collection to date. This book is about taking stock of my life from the last 10 years, plus all the changes that have happened.
Change happens so slowly, that you almost don't notice it. But when you just get to the end of an era, or a decade, like I have, and then you look back – everything is completely different.
Ten years ago I was in Sydney and I was just working on my art at the time. That was when I met Michael, my partner. He was living in Auckland in New Zealand, and that's when I took a chance and went over there to be with him.
It's just been wonderful ever since. Everything has just blossomed in my relationship and my career – and that's something I wanted to project in my book.
Love Looks Pretty On You is said to have "feminist undertones," as it tackles pressing issues such as abusive relationships, mental health, and self-love. How relevant do you think your book is in today's society, especially with the youth?
Leav: I think it's important for the youth to learn and to recognize abusive behavior. Being a girl in your 20's and navigating the dating world is quite rough and dangerous, so it's really something we need to be made more aware of – that not everyone is nice or great.
These are just things to watch out for. My friends and I have traversed that era of our lives, and that's something I now want to impart to my readers, based on my experiences.
It's your third time here in the Philippines, welcome back. What do you love the most about your Filipino readers?
Everyone is so warm and welcoming! Everywhere I go in the world, whether it's Dubai, the States – there's always a big crowd to welcome me, and it's so wonderful. But there's this special connection I have with my Filipino fans, and it's been that way since the beginning.
Your work really resonates with your Filipino audience – would you have an idea why?
I think it's my background – from where I came from, growing up as a refugee, and my struggles in the past. I feel that's prevalent here too in many ways.
There's also a link that people can identify with what it was like for me. People who aspire to write can take inspiration from what I've achieved, by coming from an extremely humble background, and then just finding my way, step by step.
Could you tell us about your journey as a writer? When did you begin, and how did you become the Lang Leav we know today?
I've always been a writer – writing is something I've always been compelled to do and drawn to since I was a kid.
I fell in love with literature at a very young age. When you fall in love with something, you just want to create your own. That was a very natural progression for me. I was writing poetry as a kid, I was passing notebooks of my poetry around the school yard, and in a way, I'm just doing the same thing, just on a much bigger scale.
I've always followed my heart and my passion.
Where do you take inspiration from? Which writers do you look up to, if any?
There are writers you fall in love with, and they sort of become your first loves, and you never really grow out of that, especially at a very young, formative age. You're very impressionable and everything is so intense, emotionally.
A lot of poets I studied in school – Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost – they're still those writers for me. Every time I come back to their work in different stages of my life, it means something different, and I really love that.
In terms of fiction, I read Murakami when I was 19. I read Norwegian Wood, and it just spoke to me. It was really the time that I read it – it's that correlation.
Books tend to find you at certain times in your life. They just make a huge impact overall throughout your entire life.
I'm sure fellow aspiring writers would like to know – how do you deal with writer's block? What is your creative process like?
I've been really lucky! I always have creative ideas come to me. It's not that I don't get writer's block from time to time, but thankfully, I haven't had a period where there was completely nothing.
There was a lull though after Sad Girls, when I wasn't so sure what to write next. But it just eventually finds you.
Writer's block is really stressful, and you keep thinking, 'What if this goes on forever?' But it doesn't. It'll pass.
That's the important thing to remember. If you're waiting for inspiration, just live your life – it'll come when it's ready. You can't force it.
Being a writer, critics are inevitable. How do you handle criticism?
You get so much better at it as you progress in your career. The most important aspect about being a writer is to choose what voices to listen to. I'm very fortunate in my life with my agent, who was a professor in Yale. That's the sort of critical feedback that I take on board.
I'm not going to listen to some 15-year-old boy, angry typing on the Internet!
It's really important to find a mentor – someone who actually knows what he/she is talking about and can give you constructive criticism. I say that to all writers, "Choose who to listen to." That negativity can stop you, and if it does, you could be missing out on a wonderful career.
It's just not worth it, especially if it's with people who have absolutely no idea what they're talking about – they're not well-read, or very intelligent I find, generally. A lot of successful and good writers don't actually go out there and attack other writers and bring them down – there is no reason to do that.
How would you describe yourself as an author?
For me, there shouldn't be any preconceptions of what a writer is. You're a person, you're a writer, you fill many roles in your life, and it's not necessary for you to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, or act a part – there is no part.
It's something that's completely free-flowing, fluid, and I feel that I've never had to fit into a mold. I've been to a lot of writers festivals, so I know the type of writers who are more style over substance.
The only thing you have to do as a writer is to write. It's about your work – it's not about your lifestyle.
What is one thing – a feeling, a thought – you wish for your readers to always take away from your books?
I want them to feel understood. I want them to know that they're not alone. I've had so many people tell me that my writing has come to them at a time when it was really crucial for them to find that piece of work. That's the best compliment.
In my life, when I've had hard times, I found peace in writing that saved me. I feel that's the most important thing – it's not just a piece of writing, it's someone reaching out to you, someone who understands you.
Sometimes, that could be such a crucial thing.
Good Morning Manila See you Saturday at SM Megamall + Sunday Alabang Town Center. Registration starts at 10am See you there! pic.twitter.com/24sq0HM965— Lang Leav (@langleav) February 22, 2019
What would you like to tell your Filipino fans, who are all very excited that you're visiting the Philippines again?
I'm so excited to see them, too! I get to see them all this weekend and talk to them. Everytime I come here, it's so special. It feels like a homecoming every time. I always look forward to coming back. The biggest reason why is the people. – Rappler.com