Monday, February 22, 2010


By Mingmei Yip

Woody Allen once said that “Success is ninety-five percent showing up.”

A great, modern Chinese painter expressed something similar: “To be a great painter is to never put down your brush.”

So, to be a successful writer, just keep writing. It’s that easy. And that hard.

Keep writing is only the first step, there is endless reading, thinking, revising. But don’t lose your nerve. Just do it one step at a time, as Anne Lamont tells it in BIRD BY BIRD. Or expressed by the old Chinese sage Laozi 2,500 years ago: “A journey of ten thousand miles begins with the ground under your feet.”

However, just plugging along may not be adequate. No one is born with talent but don’t panic -- everyone can cultivate it. According to the great Chinese poet Du Fu, if you read more than ten thousand books, your writing will be smooth and brilliant as if aided by the gods. So if you want to write, keep reading.

For my first novel PEACH BLOSSOM PAVILION, I read as many books as I could about courtesans and also those by my favorite authors. For novels, I particularly paid attention to imagery, sentence structure, rhythm, symbolism. When I had difficulty in writing smooth transitions and ending a chapter on a “cliff,” I realized, besides getting pleasure from the words, I should also analyze them to see how to make them entertaining, compelling -- even philosophical.

A good sentence has the power to make you swoon, like the moment you met the man of your dreams. Consider this one by Eileen Cheung:

Life is a gorgeous gown crawling with bugs.

Personally I love writing odd but striking images like Cheung’s. To achieve that, I always try to push myself to think one level higher and deeper. Here’s what I think is one of my best sentences:

For nothing can hurt a soul in a mirage. As no one can steal the moon reflected on a river.

If odd sentences like this are not what you want, just write from your natural heart, not your scheming one, and you will have sentences like this by my other favorite author Echo:

Once I was a beautiful woman. My smile, like a spring flower, could move anyone.

This is what I quoted in the opening of my third novel SONG OF THE SILK ROAD about a woman adventurer who attracted danger, as well as men, like bees to honey.

We were all born beautiful, only if we are aware of it.

Keep writing and being beautiful!♥


The story of a young woman who escapes her dysfunctional, ne’er-do-well family to become a Buddhist nun – only to realize she had run away from her own heart.

Mother choked and spilled her tea. "Ai-ya, what evil person has planted this crazy idea into your head?"

I was twenty and had just told her my wish to become a Buddhist nun.

She stooped to wipe the stain from the floor, her waist disappearing into the fold of flesh around her middle. "Remember the daughter of your great-great-grandfather who entered the nunnery because she was jilted by her fiancé? She had no face left; she had no name, no friends, no hair.

"She just sat the whole day like a statue; the only difference was she had a cushion to sit on. And she called that meditation." Mother looked me in the eye. "Is that the life you want? No freedom, no love, no meat?"

Before I could respond, she plunged on, "Meng Ning, there are only three reasons a girl wants to become a nun: before she meets the right man, after she has met the wrong one, or worse, after the right one has turned out to be the wrong one."

Mother clicked her tongue and added, "Not until after you've tasted love, real love, then tell me again you want to be a nun."

That had been ten years ago but my wish to be a nun had not faltered.

Not until 1987, on a hot summer in a Buddhist retreat in Hong Kong.

Bio:   Mingmei Yip immigrated to the US from Hong Kong in 1992. A published writer since fifteen, Mingmei now has eight books to her credit and two others -- another novel and children’s book -- under contract. Her books in English include: PETALS FROM THE SKY (2010), PEACH BLOSSOM PAVILION (Kensington Books 2008), and CHINESE CHILDREN'S FAVORITE STORIES (Tuttle Publishing, 2005) which she both wrote and illustrated.  In her novels, Mingmei likes to scribe strong, female protagonists who represent different women’s role, worldview, their courage, struggle, and ultimate triumph in Chinese society. With a Ph.D. in musicology from Sorbonne, the University of Paris, Mingmei is also a professional musician and painter/calligrapher. She performs frequently and taught calligraphy at City University of New York. Her recent concert was sponsored by Carnegie Hall. Visit her at


  1. Beautiful post Ming and gorgeous book covers. I hope to see you next month


  2. Interesting post, I look foward to reading your books.


  3. Awesome covers on both books. I look forward to reading both of them.

  4. I adored your first book, and look forward to this one. I am in amazed that you can write in English - a language that has nothing in common with Chinese. You credit editors. They are wonderful, and you are wonderful to have trusted them.

  5. What an uplifting, encouraging and wonderful post, Mingmei! Thank you for sharing your lessons and your beautiful work. I have your first and am anxiously awaiting my chance to buy your next book. Best of luck with the newest title and congrats on all your hard work and successes.

  6. Chiming in late (jury duty has been the culprit). Be that as it may, what a wonderful post, Ming Mei. We can't wait to welcome you as our guest at the March 1st Lady Jane's Salon. And I'm very much looking forward to picking up your latest release that night and, I hope, having you autograph it. A bientot...Hope