Len Tran, author of Split Up by the Sea shares how his writing journey began. One small thought turned into a big result - publication of his debut memoir!
Three years ago, while sitting on the 10th floor in my office and staring through the eight-foot ceiling glass window, I was mesmerized by the fall scenic view of orange leaves covering miles of the city of Alexandria, Virginia. There was always something about Fall for me—the temperature got colder, the wind was much stronger, and daylight was certainly shorter; I started to feel the blue. I needed a jolt of optimism.
Suddenly, a thought came to mind as I turned to my right and saw inspirational books stacked on my bookshelf. Rather than picking up one of the books to uplift my spirit, I thought to myself, why couldn’t I write something motivational? After all, I was currently in a leadership position at work and supervised more than twenty employees for the past twelve years. If anything, I should have a lot of wisdom to share about leadership and how to motivate employees.
Immediately, I picked up a pen from the table and started to jot down inspirational ideas on a yellow, 8x10 notepad. I even tried a startling approach by envisioning myself as the prominent Zig Ziglar and Jim Rohn, while scribbling life strategies. I had bullet points from the top of the page all the way down to the end with examples of stories to complement them. Then I noticed a theme across these bullet points. The stories that I jotted on the paper were the ones about my journey to America in 1982 on a small fishing boat to search for freedom. The theme was to stay the course to your dreams no matter what obstacles you are facing.
Here was the scary part. I was an engineer and only had a technical writing background. I could write pages of how to design a distillation column to summarizing graphical analysis of data extracted from experimentations, but the thought of descriptive writing took me out of my comfort zone. However, I didn’t want to allow this thought to stymie my goal of writing this motivational piece. I bravely turned to my computer and started to type. Just like how I would write my engineering report, I had a headline and then explained the subjects underneath.
After writing two pages, I had to take a break. I was feeling emotions that I hadn’t felt before. It had been more than three decades that my dad and I left my country, Vietnam, on a small fishing boat with twenty-three other people. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnam was never the same. People were starving, but most importantly freedom was lost. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were fleeing the country, mainly by boat, in search of freedom. In 1982, we took that daring trip not knowing what to expect at sea.
I had spoken about the escape on the boat to many of my Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese friends. Every one of them listened attentively, wondering how many deaths arose from an escape like this. Luckily, no one died on my boat, but others weren’t as lucky. Through my years of telling this story, I was sad, but this time writing on paper was a different kind of feeling. Sitting all alone in my office, reminiscing the times I was facing death, I was going through an emotional roller coaster. The more I typed, I could vividly re-live those near-death experiences. My heart continued to pound as though I was there facing it one more time. As I continued to have these feelings, although my eyes teared up, I forced my fingers to dance across the keyboards so that I could capture those emotions into words.
In that moment, my goal shifted from writing something motivational to writing a memoir. The more I described my stories, I found it therapeutic. I was finally able to slowly replay these images in my head as I continued to write. I decided to annihilate the thought that an engineer would never be a descriptive writer. I wrote and wrote until I felt exhausted before taking a break. Three years later, that one small thought of writing something memorable came to fruition. My memoir, Split Up by the Sea, is now published.
If you have something that you wanted to write and share it with the world, just start out by simply writing it. Don’t overthink things. It is more important to have the stories on paper that are messy than to still be thinking with nothing written.
About Len Tran
With over 25 years as a successful engineer and 35 years of martial arts experience, Len founded Kinetic Mind in 2020 with the vision of helping clients engineered their busy minds to maintain focus and improve everyday life.
Len came to the United States in 1982 from Vietnam as one of the “Boat People.” Through many obstacles, twenty-five days at sea, eight months at refugee camps in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and then settled in the U.S.A. with no English, there were times he felt hopeless. With the constant struggling to fit in and being bullied at school and the neighborhood, he felt stuck and confused.
After meeting his karate master, he was taught the art of discipline to maintain his focus. Len was given three keys: control, courage, and confidence, to overcome obstacles and achieve his goals.
Whether it is done virtually or in person, Len will engage the audience with the techniques that will make them R.I.S.E. from their seats.