Posing for a photo shoot, writer Lee Chuen twists a pen between his fingers and tries not to look too much like a book geek. “Because I’m not,” he shrugs. The lanky 27-year-old is dressed in a stylish overcoat, a white shirt buttoned up to the neck, and torn grey jeans. “Plus, I’m not the quiet type. I have a lot to say.”
So much to say, in fact, that every day for the past 18 months, he’s been posting short articles and memes about romantic relationships on his Facebook page and still hasn’t run out of things to say. “Once a girl reaches her twenties, sweet talk doesn’t get to her as much. She cares more about if a man can care for her and fulfil all the promises he makes. She wants someone she can fully trust and rely on, so she doesn’t have to be strong all the time,” he wrote last Sunday in a post that raked in more than 700 shares on Facebook.
Lee first fell in love with words when he studied Chinese Literature in Form Six. He carried his passion for reading beyond the classroom, particularly enjoying the works of 1Q84 author Haruki Murakami.
“He really focuses on life and portrays relationships with great depth. And he’s exactly on point about such things,” says Lee. “I felt like he was giving words to whatever I was feeling in my heart and helping me express that.”
The more he read, the more Lee wanted to write. After he became a Social Science student at Lingnan University, he was inspired by a friend to save money to publish his own book. The cost of publishing 500 copies was about HK$20,000, so Lee worked part-time jobs, and spent as little as he could. Sometimes he would skip breakfast, or intentionally sleep in so he could combine breakfast and lunch into a single meal, which cost HK$10 at the school canteen. During his freshman year, he published a novel and in his second year, he published a collection of prose pieces. All of it was about romantic love.
“To be honest, that was mainly because of marketing reasons . Everyone likes reading about love, and I am pretty shrewd observer so it works out,” he says.
Although the books didn’t sell well, it landed him an opportunity to be a columnist at Sky Post. But being too driven in his writing goals took its toll: his girlfriend broke up with him.
“Of course we had our problems,” he admits. “I used to be quite negative and I know that’s very emotionally draining. But mainly she didn’t see a future with me. I couldn’t even take care of myself financially.”
Heartbroken, Lee took a job as an interior design assistant after graduation, wanting to prove to his girlfriend that he could have a career. But two years later, after realising that she wouldn’t get back together with him, he quit his job and returned to writing. He needed a space to vent his feelings, and like most millennials, he turned to Facebook.
For the first three months, his page views were mediocre. But that spiked when Taiwanese singer Waa Wei shared one of his posts. A few months later, Lee wrote an article about celebrity Louis Cheung Kai-chung, who had shown loving dedication to his wife Kay Tse On-kei – despite flak from the public and rumours that she had an affair. The post sparked over 800 shares, and from then on Lee has had a regular stream of readers.
“You just have to be persistent,” he advises aspiring writers. “There’s an information overflow on the internet, so it takes time for people to discover your work. You should also keep improving by going back to your old work to see how you can make it better.”
Even though he later started work as a social media copywriter and writing columns for two online platforms, Lee made it a personal goal to keep writing one post a day, to be published at 6.45pm on Facebook. He has to wake up at 5am to get all his copy done, so he can spend time with his current girlfriend after work and during weekends.
Lee says most of his posts are written from personal experiences, and his girlfriend tells him about females’ perspectives. He’s learned to be a better boyfriend. “Most boys hate girlfriends who nag. They tend to avoid dealing with problems and dismiss their girlfriends’ complaints. This could spiral up, and the girlfriend becomes so disappointed that she wants to end the relationship, ” says Lee. “Now I keep a list of things about my girlfriend: things she likes, what she wants me to improve on, things she likes about me. I scroll through the list every now and then to remind myself of what I need to work on, and what I need to keep doing.”
Another inspiration for his posts are the many readers that confide in him for relationship advice. Some go so far as sending him screencaps of their Whatsapp messages.
“It’s come to a point where I really want to help my readers maintain a healthy relationship, and help them get out of bad ones,” says Lee. He doesn’t object to teens dating, but one of the biggest problems he’s observed is that they are prone to be trapped in relationships that don’t make them happy. “If one person always makes compromises and the other never does, usually it cannot work out,” he says.
Recently, Ming Pao Publications approached Lee and offered to publish a collection of his Facebook posts and columns, along with some new material. So after his Young Post photoshoot, he is off to another photoshoot for his new book cover, which is scheduled to be released in April.
It seems like a dream come true, but Lee isn’t getting his hopes up. “I’ve been up at the peak and I’ve fallen back down. I don’t dare feel too proud of myself,” he says. “I’ll keep writing, but I still think it’s impossible to make a living as an author in Hong Kong.”