Interview with Stuart Danker, Malaysian Author and Blogger

Kuala Lumpur, Petronas Twin Towers

Introduction:

I’m about the most average person you’d meet. A 39-year-old from Malaysia, who’s written for a living for almost a decade, and that’s after another decade just flitting from one job to another, trying to find his way in life.

Stuart Danker is a Malaysian author and a blogger, who writes on his blog Stuartdanker.com. he shares writing and blogging related tips there for free, giving advice to the people who wish to make writing their profession. He has also written some novels.

I came across Stuart, reading one of his articles about journaling and the advantages it can provide. At that time, I just thought it would be one of those countless comments which result in nothing. Maybe a like, probably a short reply, and it’ll be done and dusted. I won’t come across this person again.

Imagine my surprise about a few months later, when we ended up developing a blogging friendship of sorts, much like what I have with Page and Hetty. Not only that, Stuart shared his knowledge with me, such as making my questions bold, or putting cover images on my articles, even though I can’t see. He said it doesn’t matter, and I should try it anyway. he also has a wonderful guide about growing your blog through comments alone, which I recommend you should read. Now, without further waiting…

The interview:

Me: I like to start with a simple question. So, tell us a little about yourself?
Stuart: I’m about the most average person you’d meet. A 39-year-old from Malaysia, who’s written for a living for almost a decade, and that’s after another decade just flitting from one job to another, trying to find his way in life.

Me: How did you begin writing, did you use to write before you opened your blog?
Stuart: I’ve always written as a form of self-expression. Was already ‘blogging’ even during the days of Geocities and Angelfire, where we had to build every single page using Notepad and HTML. It goes back to my angsty teenage days too, so I guess writing has always been an innate part of me.

Me: You work as a freelance writer. Was it always this way?
Stuart: I’ve currently quit all formal gigs to pursue my fiction, but no, I’ve dabbled in many jobs across the writing industry for the past decade or so. This includes copywriting, marketing, content writing, journalism, travel writing, and even mentoring.

Me: What are the challenges you encountered as a beginner freelance writer, do you have some stories?
Stuart: I’ve been blessed in that I didn’t encounter many challenges during freelancing, other than the odd person who’d just disappear without paying. And for those, I just don’t work for them in the future. I make sure to take on jobs that are interesting to me, so that even if they don’t pay, I’d at least have had fun doing the work. Case in point was losing thousands of dollars for a falling out, but at least I got to travel across Myanmar.

I’ve currently quit all formal gigs to pursue my fiction, but no, I’ve dabbled in many jobs across the writing industry for the past decade or so. This includes copywriting, marketing, content writing, journalism, travel writing, and even mentoring.

Me: Did you have trouble with English when you started out? (I asked this question, not knowing Stuart has English as his first language, since I thought Malaysia doesn’t have English as its first language.)
Stuart: English actually is my first language, even though I have a strong accent where speaking it is concerned. You know how Russell Peters does his Chinese impression? Yeah, I sound somewhat like that. I do have second and third languages, but I’ve never had any problems with English.
Me: Were you born in Malaysia? or shifted there later?
Stuart: Born and raised in Malaysia 🙂
Me: I see how bloggers, especially beginners, put such a hard emphasis on SEO. I have even seen spamming a key phrase in the name of SEO. Do
you think that naturally written content is better, like it’ll automatically perform better when it comes to SEO? Or should every post be optimized to its max?

Stuart: SEO actually doesn’t need to be optimised the way we think it does. Google is smart enough to differentiate ‘soccer’ from ‘football’, for example, so it’s not to say that typing ‘soccer’ over and over is going to increase our chances for ranking for those words. What we fail to realise is that Domain Authority also matters, and that no amount of optimisation is going to help you if you don’t first work on your ‘social proof’. But then again, don’t take SEO advice from me, because all my experience comes from my previous jobs in tech companies, and not personal projects (which is what we should be judging people’s skills on).

I’ve been blessed in that I didn’t encounter many challenges during freelancing, other than the odd person who’d just disappear without paying. And for those, I just don’t work for them in the future. I make sure to take on jobs that are interesting to me, so that even if they don’t pay, I’d at least have had fun doing the work. Case in point was losing thousands of dollars for a falling out, but at least I got to travel across Myanmar.

Me: Do you think that the writing still has a place, despite the domination of
video platforms?

Stuart: I feel like writing will always have a place on the internet, since there are so many benefits to this medium that’s unavailable in other forms (ability to skim, SEO, and is the preferred way to process information for some people). It’s also a type of performance that’s different to other art forms. Even in the far future, when holographic advertising is invented, I still see writing being an integral part of our existence.
Me: What is your opinion on online freelance platforms? Upwork seems to have acquired a bad reputation recently, despite being one of the largest platforms for freelancers.
Stuart: I think it’s a good place for aspiring writers to start. But in the long term, trying to find work on a platform that encourages the lowest prices isn’t really the best place to grow your craft, especially if you’re not in the top 10%.

Me: Have you mentored someone in freelancing? If you do wish to mentor, what kind of students which you like most, and what kind of compensation do you ask for?
Stuart: I have actually mentored a few people in just writing, and am currently participating in a mentorship programme in partnership with the EU on mobile journalism. That’s besides my previous day job as a mentor for copywriting, SEO, and e-commerce. I don’t really have a preference on who I mentor, as long as they’re interested in the craft, and I don’t even care about compensation much too (most of what I’ve done was for free). Though I do take on mentees when I have time, so that’s the only limitations.

SEO actually doesn’t need to be optimised the way we think it does. Google is smart enough to differentiate ‘soccer’ from ‘football’, for example, so it’s not to say that typing ‘soccer’ over and over is going to increase our chances for ranking for those words. What we fail to realise is that Domain Authority also matters, and that no amount of optimisation is going to help you if you don’t first work on your ‘social proof’. But then again, don’t take SEO advice from me, because all my experience comes from my previous jobs in tech companies, and not personal projects (which is what we should be judging people’s skills on).

Me: What do you think about the advice like “Write daily”? (Of course, with some rest once in a while, that goes without saying.)
Stuart: ‘Just write’ and ‘write every day’ are my bread and butter pieces of advice. You can’t go wrong with those, no matter who you are or what type of writing you do. I know that some people don’t subscribe to this school of thought, but they do beat out other vague tips such as ‘use less adverbs’ and ‘show, don’t tell’.

Me: How important is it for a writer to read, especially things outside of their preferred books?
Stuart: Funny you should mention that, because I’ve just started reading Romance exactly because of this. There are writers who boast about not reading, and I’ve never understood them, because how are you going to move people with words, if you don’t plan to experience the same yourself? Reading is to writers what marching is to the military. Integral.

Me: What do you do for relaxation? You don’t appear to be the kind of person who is obsessed with his work.
Stuart: My ultimate indulgence? Firing up Lichess for a quick three-minute game. I do that more often that I’d like to admit, though I don’t learn much because there’s only so much learning you can do in Blitz. I also enjoy writing pen-pal letters from time to time. It’s quite relaxing.

But in the long term, trying to find work on a platform that encourages the lowest prices isn’t really the best place to grow your craft, especially if you’re not in the top 10%.

Me: This is not a question. I just want to tell you how great it is that you spent some time with wrestlers from India. Real wrestling is overshadowed by professional wrestling these days, in every country. So it was great reading about that.
Stuart: Aww, and I appreciate you appreciating that! That was really the highlight of my travel-writing career, and will be an experience that I’ll never forget. Am super humbled by the hospitality from the pehalwans of the Chinchechi Talim, as well as the sights and sounds I got from my first time in India (Pune-Delhi-Bangalore).

Me: What kind of writing routine do you have?
Stuart: These days, it’s blog admin duties (which involve lots of comment writing) right after waking up, then I move on to novel writing. After that, it’s exercising, then to blog writing. I exclude journalling, morning pages, and other forms of casual writing because they don’t contribute to the ‘big picture’. A simple life, really.

Me: Is there anything which you would like to do differently than you did when you began?
Stuart: Everything. I was a bum for most of my life, so I’d do everything differently, starting with not taking my time for granted. But then again, failing in my other careers was the only reason why I landed in writing, so maybe no? If you’re asking that question in relation to writing, then nope, I think my writing career has gone exactly how it needed to go.

Aww, and I appreciate you appreciating that! That was really the highlight of my travel-writing career, and will be an experience that I’ll never forget. Am super humbled by the hospitality from the pehalwans of the Chinchechi Talim, as well as the sights and sounds I got from my first time in India (Pune-Delhi-Bangalore).

Me: When I watch a movie or an anime. (Okay, hear it, really.) I often think about how I would have presented a particular scene in writing.
This happens to me in real life as well, when I start to think about how I would have written a real life situation in a story. Does this happen to you as well?

Stuart: Oh yeah. I’d hear a lady whining to her boyfriend in the coffeeshop about how he got the wrong order, and I’d think of the many different ways I could phrase that scene. Was she petulant? Playful? Or was her complaint a hint of the unhappiness in their relationship? They’re just random thoughts though, and not something I actively do.

Me: Do you see any advantages of learning multiple languages for a writer. Even though they may not use that language for their writing?
Stuart: I’ve been thinking about the exact same thing, and yes, some languages have terms that other languages cannot convey, such as the word ‘manja’ in Malay. There’s no English equivalent, but that doesn’t mean I can’t bring it up. For example, in the case of the petulant girlfriend above, if she playfully told her boyfriend that he got her order wrong, maybe pouting her lip as she did so, then she’d be categorised as ‘manja’.

Me: Any words of parting to upcoming writers and bloggers?
Stuart: Thanks for reading if you’ve reached all this way!

Me: Thank you very much, Stuart, for giving me your valuable time, and for having this wonderful conversation with me and my readers. Wish you every success in the future!
Stuart: And thank you for these wonderful questions, Tanish! Wishing you the same.

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Published by Tanish Shrivastava

I'm a guy who likes programming, chess, and writing.

8 thoughts on “Interview with Stuart Danker, Malaysian Author and Blogger

  1. You reeled in a big fish, Tanish! Nice job! Stuart’s a great guy and it’s amazing he shares so many original secrets with us. I’d keep them all to myself. I like this interview because you steered it into new territory.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Hetty. I actually started this interview thing exactly because of this, after all, why should podcasters have all the fun? Why should celebrities get time on our screens? I especially enjoy giving light to the guys like Stuart, and of course, you.

      Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get people from other fields to come here on this blog apart from writers. Maybe it is the popularity thing? I suspect Stuart probably did this interview just as a favor to me than anything else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think Stuart genuinely wanted to do it or he wouldn’t have given you such great material. I wouldn’t worry about the popularity thing. With time, you’ll get more. I’m sure anyone who interviews people has to ask a lot of people before they get someone to do it. Like applying to lots of jobs or sending writing submissions to many sites.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate this, Tanish! I love how you picked the Twin Towers as your feature image too. That’s a nice touch. I forgot that this interview had that many questions because they were so fun to answer, and I’m so honoured you’d find the time to talk to me. Definitely scale your interviews up to weekly if that’s your dream. I’d love to see where it goes!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll scale them up from next year. I like to prepare in advance, therefore I’m already collecting interviews.

      Also, I had fun talking to you. If I ever opened a podcast, I’ll definitely invite you.

      Thanks for the interview, Stuart.

      Liked by 1 person

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