On meeting Alwyn Hamilton and resisting the siren song of Shiny New Idea

I know. I KNOW it’s been two whole months since I last blogged, and if you actually visit this blog and aren’t in regular contact with me you might have wondered if I died in a ditch somewhere.

No, I just died in my writing cave.

i need help

Because while I wasn’t blogging, I was busy working on that fantasy novel. Once or twice, I did feel guilty for not updating this blog and toyed with the notion of posting something. But I didn’t really have much to say that wouldn’t bore the lights out of everyone anyway. Plus, I feel even MORE guilty for doing anything other than writing that novel. Like, all this time I spend blogging can actually be spent upping my word count! Do I really need to blog?

But now that I’ve hit word count for the day, yes I can and yes I shall. (Need is a very strong word, after all.)

So updates:

  1. Meeting Alwyn Hamilton!!
    The most squeal-worthy one, of course, is that I got to moderate a session with ALWYN HAMILTON, THE ALWYN HAMILTON. Best-selling author of YA fantasy trilogy Rebel of the Sands, which I’ve gushed and swooned over everywhere!!!

 

Yes, so I got to meet her and pick her brain and she was incredibly sweet and candid as she shared about her writing process and journey to publication and I tried not to wet my pants in excitement.

(If you haven’t read her books yet, DO IT.)

 

 

 

It’s always so inspiring to see other writers living the life I’ve always wanted, and to know that they came from the same place before too (in a job they weren’t entirely committed to because they didn’t see it as their actual career). It makes me that much more determined to get to that place too.

So with that event done and dusted, I promptly went back to work.

 

2. Working on LAND OF SAND AND SONG

I’ll admit. I ALMOST caved in to the YA romance that was calling out to me as I ploughed through LAND.

But then I told myself that if I succumbed to this sexy new project – looking all glorious with its cutesy premise and alluring character arcs – I would be letting LAND down (what, you don’t regard your works-in-progress as actual sentient beings??) and making the mistake that many amateur writers make: write, get stuck, abandon, move to new project, get stuck, abandon… You see where I’m going with this.

And – surprise, surprise – that’s not how writing gets done! The only way to finish a draft is to, well, FINISH THE DAMN DRAFT, no matter how shitty it looks right now.

The current WiP may look like me when I first wake up in the morning with my hair all over my face and my skin blotchy and eyes bleary and basically a giant mess; whereas the Shiny New Idea may look all seductive and make eyes at me from across the room. But I’d be an idiot to follow it out the room when it sidles close to me and asks if I want to go get some air.

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Prince Eric may be hot, but he’s also an idiot easily fooled by an octopus woman. Just saying.

Because guess what? That Shiny New Idea will lose its lustre halfway through LIKE ALL FIRST DRAFTS DO. It will gurgle and splutter and flop like a dying fish on land (WHO’S LOOKING SEXY NOW, HUH?) before you decide to take pity on it and toss it back to the sea.

So no, I’m sticking to the “I woke up like this” WiP, blotchy skin and all. Even if I sometimes feel like stabbing it, even when it blinks innocently back at me when I scream at it to work itself out, even when my brain produces word vomit instead of a stream of lyrical prose like I want it to.

And the good news is, writing has a funny reward system. The more you do it, the less stuck you get. The more word vomit you produce, the more momentum you gain, the less shitty the writing gets.

Oh, the word vomit will still happen from time to time. But eventually, that clears up to become prose that is somewhere between not-too-bad and lyrical. And then, finally, hopefully, one day we might look back on all that drivel we wrote and realise that we’ve actually written our dream book.

 

HANDS UP, those of you who are resisting “the siren call” (as Alwyn put it) of Shiny New Ideas at the moment! How are you staying loyal to your WiP? 

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Drama Review: Revolutionary Love

Bear with me, folks. I need to rave about this drama.

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Revolutionary Love (2017) is the story of a pampered good-for-nothing third-generation heir, Byun Hyuk* (played by Choi Siwon) who is cut off from his family after causing too much trouble (mostly through misunderstandings) and has to — gasp — work for a living. Through a nifty twist of Fate, he meets Baek Joon (Kang Sora), a girl trying to make ends meet with part-time jobs. As their worlds collide and he falls head over heels in love with her, he grows out of his sheltered, privileged existence to take charge of his life.

*The name Byun Hyuk means “revolution” in Korean, thus the title Revolutionary Love.

It sounds like a recycled plot, but there’s a lot to appreciate about this rendition that makes it seem completely original and addictive. Nine episodes in and I AM CRAZY IN LOVE WITH THIS SHOW.

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Hot male lead notwithstanding (Choi Siwon, you are such a bias wrecker. Stop being so beautiful. No – stop smiling like that. GO AWAY), this seemingly lighthearted rom-com actually has:

  1. Great main characters with complex backstories
    revolutionary love 3
  2. A lovable cast of supporting characters
  3. Intricately woven plot and character entanglements
    Fateful meetings! Power play! Betrayals! Double agents!
  4. Intense conflict and a plot that unfurls at breakneck speed
  5. Uproarious moments that make you cry with laughter
  6. WTH dialogue that also make you snort with laughter
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  7. Heartbreaking moments when you hurt together with the characters
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  8. Detestable villains
    So you don’t feel bad for seeing them ruined.
  9. Character transformation, i.e. well drawn-out character arcs
  10. Did I mention that Siwon also does FANTASTIC expressions?
    This goofball may have topped the list for the Most Handsome Faces of Kpop, but he’s not also called the king of derp for no reason:siwon whutsiwon derp 6siwon derp 3siwon derp 2siwon derp 8siwon whateversiwon derp 5siwon derp 1

    Still, he can turn on the charm when he wants to:
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    revolutionary love 8

    His confessions (yes, repeated) get me all tingly!

     

  11. Fluffy moments and great chemistry between the leads
    revolutionary love 5revolutionary love 1revolutionary love 4
  12. And last but not least, a pretty, infectious soundtrack that puts you in a soppy, giddily happy mood


BRB, off to drama-land!

siwon fangirling spazzing

siwon excited 2

 

Not too late for New Year resolutions, is it?

Excuse me, but it’s 2018 already? What are we, speed-racing through life?? Wasn’t it just last month that we were out partying going to bed at 11pm on New Year’s Eve and resolving to make 2017 less of a complete waste than 2016?

siwon wtf

You and I both, Siwon.

(Note to self: make less abstract resolutions next time.)

((Have to say, though, 2017 was less of a complete waste than 2016 where the writing is concerned.))

Given that it’s only been a week into 2018, though, I think it’s not too late to get the resolutions out.

So you can all hold me accountable to the following:

WRITING:

  1. Complete at least the first draft of LAND OF SAND AND SONG
    … Even though I’m only at page 56 and already despairing at how sucky it is. I mean, I know a first draft is supposed to suck, but this has to be way beyond the regular limits of suckage.
    Still, I’ll have to trust that this will all work itself out, like it always had (speaking from experience here). I’ve got a plot outline, I’ve got my character dossiers, I’ve got my Three-Act Structure.

    dean winchester you got this.gif

    Thanks, Dean.

  2. Work NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND to perfection
    That means NOT letting it languish in a folder. NOT sitting on it when it comes to querying time. NOT getting discouraged by (more) rejection letters. NOT giving up on this story I still believe in and want to share with the world.
    It means deleting or rewriting any part that seems remotely out of place in the story, and making sure every word deserves its spot in the manuscript.
    It means discipline and laser focus.
    It means putting in the work.
    Like James Ellison said, write with your heart but rewrite with your head.
  3. Write at least 12 short stories in a year
    … Which shouldn’t be hard to do, given that I’ve committed to our short story blog. Having deadlines definitely holds you accountable.
    jensen ackles eye of the tiger
  4. Don’t suck the fun out of writing
    In 2016, I beat myself up a lot for not hitting word count, not completing even one novel, not writing enough in general. I ended up burnt out from pressuring myself to churn out words. But writing doesn’t work that way, not with self-flagellation and debilitating guilt. The words only flow when you give yourself space to breathe, to wonder, to explore, to create.
  5. Explore more with Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand
    This fun little project of running a short story blog with a few writer friends turned out to be so much more bad-ass, and I find myself constantly inspired by Meredith, Nicole, and Becky who are the most creative, passionate, and generous writing friends a girl can ask for.
    So this year, we’re planning to ramp things up. Watch that space for more features and, of course, fantastic tales from a steadily growing community of writers!

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LIFE:

  1. Focus on the good
    2017 was rock-bottom for me, especially where my mental health was concerned. And though I wouldn’t say it’s all peachy now, I can now recognise the bad days for what they are and grit my teeth through them. A lot of the times, these moods are like passing storm clouds. You just need to wait out the storm and then you can breathe easy again afterwards.
  2. Eat clean at least three days a week
    I won’t bore you with a breakdown of my diet, but suffice to say I have days where I feel guilty for eating that plate of oily fried eggs. I’m not crazy enough to go on a juice cleanse or some extreme pumpkin soup diet; all I aim to do is eat cleaner and exercise regularly (i.e. daily), which brings me to the next point
  3. Listen to my body
    You know how it is – when you’re young, you tend to think you’re physically invincible and you keep pushing your body to extremes. Or you beat yourself up for “slacking off” when you have to miss a workout because you’re sick or injured. This year, I’m going to try to serve my body better so that it can in turn serve me better.
  4. Give thanks daily
    We complain too much and give too little thanks to the small pleasures and fortunes of every day life. From now on, my mantra will be, “Hey, it could be a lot worse,” just to remind myself how good I actually have it.

And on that note, I am deeply thankful to each and every one of you readers – whether you just lurk (I see you!) or leave a comment or send me a private note. You inspire and move me more than you know, and your encouragement, support, and kindness are what keep me going.

To all the dream-chasers, thrill-seekers, adventurers, peace-lovers, word warriors, and the stubborn, hopeful dreamers, may your cup always be half-full, your heart open and warm, your feet taking you closer to where you want to be, and your soul deeply, deeply alive.

Happy New Year!

this cruel world was not made for a soul like you

shinee-jonghyun

The K-pop world was shook this week in the worst possible way, when popular boy group SHINee’s lead vocalist Kim Jonghyun killed himself via carbon monoxide poisoning.

The 27-year-old singer-songwriter had been depressed for ages and sought help repeatedly before eventually deciding to take his own life.

I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the group in particular, but I do appreciate their contributions to K-pop and the entertainment industry. They were hilarious on Korea’s SNL, and their songs are super catchy. The boys always seem so humble and hardworking, and so friendly and kind to their fans. Their strong bond was also undeniable.

It’s heartbreaking to know that that someone who brought so much warmth and support to others had been in so much pain deep inside. Jonghyun had been an empathetic, deeply emotional soul who poured his heart out into his music. But in the end, the cry for help in his songs went unheard.

The worst thing is, this all could have been prevented. Depression can be cured, with patience, the right sort of counselling, proper medication and treatment, and lots of love and support.

Jonghyun was widely loved by friends, colleagues, and fans all over the world. He was loved by his mother, his sister, and his group-mates, who were like brothers to him. Everyone close to him was aware he was battling depression, but often we don’t realise just how bad it is. It’s not like a depressed person would go around telling everyone how miserable he is all the time, and especially not a celebrity who has to smile at cameras all the time.

As someone who has been through that downward spiral before, I know how dark it can be in the deepest recesses of our minds, how we can’t stop judging and berating ourselves, how absolutely tiring it is just to get through one more day, to put up a cheerful front in front of everyone but cry ourselves to sleep every night, how sometimes it seems easier to just sleep and shut out the world.

But Jonghyun couldn’t rest. He had group activities, solo activities, he had to travel, to perform, to train and practice, to keep producing music, and the pressure to remain at the top and meet everyone’s expectations must have been overwhelming.

If only he had held on for one more day. If only he knew just how many people loved him. If only he had found the right sort of help. If only someone was with him that day. If only the paramedics had arrived in time. If only he could have seen that pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel, he might realise that life could be beautiful even if it seemed bleak in that moment.

I know I did.

If he hadn’t gone through with the suicide mission, he might have woken up the next morning and received a phone call from a dear friend and eaten his favourite food and played his music. He might have realised that if he had killed himself the night before, he wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy all these little pleasures life could offer him.

If he had held on for one more day, he might not have made the decision to kill himself again. Sometimes, one day is all it takes to make a depressed person see the value of living again.

There are those who don’t understand a thing about depression who would say, “What’s he got to be depressed about? He’s rich and famous, with millions of adoring fans and a successful career.”

But with depression, it’s not about how much you have. It’s about how much you have to live for. And sometimes, in the moment when we get swept away by our emotions, we lose sight of that. 70 percent of those who commit suicide made the decision within the hour, which means the majority of suicides are committed in that moment when we are blinded by the fog of our toxic thoughts.

In the end, Jonghyun had given in to those thoughts. He thought himself lacking and worthless, when the world saw him talented and lovable.

jonghyun quote

Source: Koreaboo

(Also, to say that someone has “no right” feel sad is just about the most ignorant and cruel thing to say. Dismissing someone’s emotions based on what you perceive is the most effective way to make a depressed person feel even more trapped. Everyone is entitled to feel, to hurt, to fear and to cry. Everyone. Unless you live in everyone’s heads, you don’t get to judge who has the right to feel sad.)

I saw the pictures of the funeral procession, and the sight of Key breaking down in tears, Onew looking so broken as though he had lost his soul, Minho trying to comfort everyone when he was also grieving, Donghae’s longing stare even after the hearse had driven away, Taeyeon, Krystal, and Amber crying their eyes out, and Jonghyun’s mom and sister weak and pale and in abject pain made me cry harder than I expected to for someone I didn’t know personally.

These are the faces of the people left behind.

The only comfort they now have is that Jonghyun is no longer suffering from himself. And maybe the only thing left to do now is to heal. To bend to a new reality, and reshape their lives around his absence. To hold on for one more day.

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If you’re in a dark place right now, know that this too shall pass. This moment that you are living in right now will only be as long as you allow it to be.

It is human to question your existence, to want to matter and to feel insignificant when you feel like you are not heard or appreciated. It is human to have questions that you don’t have the answers to, to fear that you don’t matter at all. But you are not alone in having to live out those questions — everyone battles the same kind of insecurity, neuroses, and fears. And with time you might arrive at the answers made just for you.

You will be sad and stressed and tired and completely sick of the world at times, but you will also experience joy and love and kindness. You will bear old scars and you will continue to suffer new ones. But you will also heal, and in doing so find your skin tougher, your sight clearer after crying.

You just need to hold on for one more day, to give life one more chance, and you might just be thankful that you did.

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KimuTaku said it right in this classic Japanese drama, Beautiful Life.

unplugging

This post update from ex-literary agent Nathan Bransford came into my mailbox today, and I found myself relating to everything he said.

Lately, I’ve been growing tired of giving my attention to the outside world — irritated at being hounded by people and chased for things, pressured to respond at a “polite” speed (anything longer than three working days is considered rude).

I would have my phone in front of me all the time so that I see messages as soon as they come in, and reply almost instantaneously.

And as much as I enjoyed interacting with people on social media and chiming in in group chats, I was feeling burned out from being constantly plugged in. From responding to every ping and shrill of a notification. From checking Facebook and Instagram for updates or when I’m bored and need some distraction.

So I took a much needed retreat from social media. It’s been three weeks and counting that I haven’t posted anything on Facebook or Instagram, and I’ve barely scrolled through either. (Yes, I’m aware that this post itself is an update.)

Instead, I read — and ticked a few books off the reading list faster than I had in the past few months.

I wrote. I scribbled feverishly in my notebook, completed draft 8 of NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, and rewrote its query letter and synopsis.

I let my mind wander while commuting instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching yet another animal video or Insta story.

I pondered about story structure and brainstormed ideas for my novels.

I discovered new music, revisited old favourites.

I stepped into a different, quieter, calmer head space, and regained a piece of myself.

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There are so many articles and videos out there about the need to unplug. The need to distance ourselves from the fray, to take a step back from the virtual persona we’ve carved for ourselves so that we can find our true selves again, to reserve a part of ourselves instead of putting every inane thought out there.

I always nodded along to those articles, secretly marvelling at the sheer willpower it must have taken those people to set aside their phones for a while and take a moment for themselves.

But when it comes down to doing it, when you get to the point where you feel weary from being so connected, from having to respond to every urgent email and message, it actually doesn’t feel like such a feat to unplug. The world feels quieter, the storm inside my head calmer, and my thoughts are able to float to the surface like flotsam.

When I’m able to choose when I wish to engage, I feel like I’m more in control. Instead of being pulled in all directions, I start to prioritise the things that require more urgent attention.

And instead of reaching for my phone when I’m in the train or when I’m waiting in line, I pull out a book. (Right now, I’m binge-reading all of Marie Lu’s books in preparation for her Meet-the-Author session in November, which I’m moderating!!!)

Instead of scrolling through my newsfeed on the bus, I look out the window or people-watch.

Instead of burying my face in my phone, I close my eyes and listen to some music.

And all that white noise dies down.

I still check my emails as soon as I turn on my phone every morning. I still text friends and participate in group chats. I still visit Instagram to see what my favourite photojournalists have been up to (check out this guy‘s snapshots).

But only when I’m ready to.

It wasn’t too long ago when I didn’t have Instagram or became active on Facebook. I can remember how much more space my thoughts had to grow into story ideas, how much more time I spent collecting ideas by getting inspired by stories, film, and the world around me in general.

I didn’t worry about missing out on anything, on whether other people were living “better” lives, doing fun stuff without me, or whether I should be worried about my penchant for solitude. I was fully present, and it’s those moments that I look back on wistfully now.

disconnect to connect

I’m not saying we should all start unplugging. Far be it from me to tell you what to do — if you feel more fulfilled being virtually engaged, you do you. I’m just saying I don’t want to give away all of my time to replying emails on the go, or keep seeking external validation or “hollow instant gratification”, or feel anxious and stressed and guilty about not replying within the “polite” response period.

You may call this withdrawing, and I don’t know if this is the hermit in me taking over. But I do know that I’m liking the peace and quiet for a while. I think I’ll stay here for a little longer.

thoughts on turning 27

27 seems like an age people typically forget. It gets meshed together with the rest of our late twenties in a blur of work, anxiety, deadlines, bill-paying, anxiety, counting down to the weekends, anxiety…

So turning 27 typically doesn’t feel very monumental to most people. For me, however, turning 27 feels like somewhat of an achievement, all things considered. In the past year, I a) started questioning my life goals and trajectory, b) realised I might have anxiety, c) survived a depressive funk.

But thankfully, things were not all doom and gloom. In the past year, I also a) met many more book people (my tribe!!), in particular three incredibly smart women — Meredith, Nicole, and Becky — who share my love for writing and fiction, b) realised where I truly feel at home (not in fashion or retail, but in books and publishing), c) found and stuck to friends whom I know will have my back and never judge me for being myself around them, d) made progress with the Work in Progress (FINALLY we’re going somewhere).

Turning 27, I also learned these six things:

  1. Don’t label yourself.
    “Oh, I’m an INFP. This is just how I am.” You’re only limiting your growth and allowing yourself to stay stagnant with your flaws.
  2. Instead of tuning out that negative voice in your head, engage it in a (mental) conversation.
    Find out what it wants, where it came from, how you can come to a consensus with it.
  3. Don’t sweep the bad stuff under the carpet.
    That only ensures that they come back to bite you in the ass twice as aggressively. We need to look our emotions in the eye and acknowledge them. The only way through is through.
  4. Worry about one thing, you miss out on a whole bunch of other things.
    Basically what this article said. In particular, this:
    “While anxiety helps us focus on a task, it also blinds us to other opportunities. As a result, unlucky people miss out on prospects because they’re too busy worrying about one thing. Lucky people, on the other hand, are open to new experiences. They’re more willing to talk to new people, travel to new places, and try new things.”
  5. Don’t worry about what the rest of the world is doing.
    This is what my anxiety tells me: “You are missing out. You’re falling behind. Other people are having fun without you, having more fun without you; they’re on the fast track through life and ticking off everything on their bucket list, while you’re just doing the same shit day after day.”
    But that’s them and that’s their life. Not me and not mine. We don’t have to live by anyone else’s deadlines but our own.
  6. You’re miserable only because the gap between what you want and what you have is too big.
    Just do what you love and don’t expect it to bring you anything. Do what you love for the pure joy of it, and you won’t feel like you’re being owed anything.

Honestly, I’m still figuring this out and I don’t have all the answers yet. There are good days, and there are bad. But as long as the good outweigh the bad, I’d say we’re all heading in the right direction, no? One day at a time, is what I keep telling myself. Just focus on the next stone to step on and you won’t end up in the water.

So while I’m still a greedy piece of shit and want so much more out of life, these 27 years have been gratifying. Gained some, lost some. Aiming for the next stone.

Thank you to each and every one of you who have been a part of this journey so far. Your mark is indelible. ♥

 

Dreams - Poem by Langston Hughes

How Criticism Makes You Better: a Case Study of Lindsey Stirling

So it’s been about a month since my last post on Chester, and I just wanted to pop in and say that I’m still alive, that it’s not all doom and gloom in the past month. I’ve experienced some emotional dips and crests, but life is all about riding the waves and making it back to shore anyway, so I’m choosing to take it one day at a time and focus on the things I can change and the things that make life worthwhile.

And recently I came across this (relatively) old video of the dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling and was blown away by how much she had improved since she first got her start on America’s Got Talent Season 5.

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Image from Glamour

So you may know Lindsey when she first entered the spotlight back in 2005. She got voted off the show by the judges, but then went on to make incredible YouTube music videos that have garnered – wait for it – half a billion hits so far.

Check out part of her discography:

Song of the Caged Bird

Crystallise

Roundtable Rival

Lindsey is amazing, so talented yet humble and inspiring. I’ve been a huge fan of her since she first took the audition stage, a bright-eyed manic pixie girl who could dance and prance across the stage while playing the violin.

I call her an inspiration because, like a true artist, she is passionate about her craft and constantly, tirelessly, seeks improvement. Her audition at AGT was, objectively speaking, not the best. She was still pretty raw as a performer, like every artist would be at the start of the their journey. But she’s worked hard to fix her pitch problems and stage presence to become the absolute star she is now.

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Like a true artist, she is not content to rest on her laurels and stick to the tried-and-tested formulaic way of performing or playing. She does covers of popular tracks like:

Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Greenday,

The Scientist by Coldplay (with Kina Grannis and Tyler Ward),

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

Phantom of the Opera and Lord of the Rings medleys

As well as original pieces with her musician friends.

Like a true artist, she put herself out there, trying out for AGT and putting herself under public scrutiny and exposing herself to (often harsh) criticism, especially from the judges. Piers Morgan even said that she played like rats being strangled and that she wouldn’t be able to fill half a show at Vegas, and others said that the world doesn’t want to see a dancing violinist (basically implying that there was no place in the world for her).

lindsey stirling oh well

But like a true artist, despite feeling incredibly crushed after bring served all that criticism and voted off the show, she took all the judges’ feedback to heart and went somewhere with it. She knew that the judges were, in their own way, right. (Okay, they didn’t have to be so blunt but hey, take what you need from it and the rest is just white noise.) She became even better, more innovative and practised, in terms of her music and dance and craft and stage flair.

Almost 10 years later, she has released two original full-length albums and gone on sold-out world tours. Lindsey grew tremendously as an artist BECAUSE of the criticism.

 

And to see that rousing standing ovation she received at the end of her performance made me SO proud of her I cried. There IS a place for her music in the world after all.

She mentioned that despite being voted off the show, she still believed that she could make it, that she had something to offer the world. And she held on to that faith in herself. Turns out, there IS a place for her music in the world after all.

So perhaps, while we’re busy doubting ourselves as we take baby steps towards our dreams, we need to get out of our own way and hold on to the belief that the world will always have space for what we have to offer.

lindsey stirling fist pump.gif