when life crowds out everything else

don't put your dream in your pocket

You know how when you get too caught up in the daily grind and its nitty-gritty demands that everything else falls by the wayside and suddenly you glance at the calendar and realise weeks have passed and your brain is still stuck in two weeks ago — no, 2015?

Yeah, that just happened. Again. Actually, it’s happened too many times before. And weeks, months, YEARS can pass just like that. When you stop to take a breather and realise that all this time has fled and you’ve done pretty much nothing that you can show for.

2016 was like that for me. A year where everything was a blur, weeks blended into each other and I had no idea when one ended and another started. My calendar was full of deadlines, and the to-do list for work jostled for the most space on my phone and desktop.

We get caught up the snare of day-to-day life unwittingly. It creeps in, slow and insidious, beginning as just regular ol’ anticipation for the weekend, when we have some alone time, some room to breathe, at last. We try to survive through the week, and then anticipate the next weekend.

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Pretty soon, the brief reprieve offered by weekends is the only thing that’s keeping us afloat.

Weeks can fly by when we’re counting them down like that. We can lose grasp of our time, our goals, our dreams, when we let real life rob us day by day. Commitments like the day job, socialising, chores, errands… Something’s got to give, and more often than not it’s the thing that asks the least of us that gets sacrificed. The thing that asks the least of us, but gives us the most joy.

For artists, it’s our art.

It sounds frivolous and indulgent, but it isn’t. Living isn’t just about survival. On top of that, it’s about finding a purpose, a calling, a reason for being, what the Japanese call ikigai.

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Everyone would have, by my age, typically found theirs by now. Otherwise, we’d all just stay in bed and wonder what we exist for.

For artists — at least, for this artist — the drive to create is what keeps me going. I can’t break down yet, I can’t give in yet, not until I publish another book, reach one more reader, finish writing another novel.

Therefore:

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When there is no space in our lives to create, or at least (in Liz Gilbert’s words) pursue our curiosity, life dims into a dreary pool of watery light. When our minds are so preoccupied with keeping up with the demands of everyday life to venture into the realms of creativity, we become ravenous, mercurial beasts, snapping at everything in our way and not understanding why. We grow heavy and lethargic in our hearts, to the point where we can’t seem to breathe, or where everything comes out in tears.

What Laini Taylor said in this blog post (which I keep going back to) was right:

You can be convinced you’re following your dream, or that you’re going to start tomorrow, and years can pass like that. Years.

The thing is, there will be pressure to adjust your expectations, always shrinking them, shrinking, shrinking, until they fit in your pocket like a folded slip of paper, and you know what happens to folded slips of paper in your pocket. They go through the wash and get ruined. Don’t ever put your dream in your pocket.

I let 2016 pass me by. I’m not going to let real life rob me of my time this year, I’m not going to put my dream in my pocket any longer. I will unfold it. I will find the time and space for it, if only because it is growing too restless sitting in my pocket and sitting in my heart and it’s manifesting itself as tears, despondency, night-time despair, and a bone-deep restlessness that is crowding out every other thought in my head.

But I don’t have time to go insane. I don’t have time for a mental breakdown (although physically I have, what with a high fever, sore throat, and the flu I’m just slowly recovering from). I don’t want to be lost and depressed anymore. Because there’s work to be done, and only I can get it done.

If nothing, I can at least say I tried, and it was all worth the effort.

I think the passion for an extraordinary life, and the courage to pursue it, is what makes us special. And I don’t even think of it as an “extraordinary life” anymore so much as simple happiness. It’s rarer than it should be, and I believe it comes from creating a life that fits you perfectly, not taking what’s already there, but making your own from scratch.

~ Laini Taylor

 

 

on writers festivals and … not writing :/

*blows the dust off this sad, neglected blog*

So I’m here blogging when really I should be working on my short story for Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand (pop over and check it out if you haven’t already!) DUE FRIDAY. Well done, Joyce. Such a champ at procrastinating. If I deliver a crappy story this month, you can blame this blog —

Okay, no. Just blame it on my procrastinating self because I have no idea what to write for this month’s prompt and I’m afraid it will suck so badly our readers will be disappointed so all I can do is ramble here because anything is easier than staring at that pile of steaming crap I just dumped on the page.

Anyway, on a brighter note, I spoke at two sessions during the All In! Young Writers Festival, about short story writing and commercial writing respectively, and that was a whole! lotta! fun!

Agenda for today! So lovely meeting all the young hopeful aspiring writers #youngwritersfestival #allinsg2017 #writerslife

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

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It’s always such a joy speaking with readers and writers at events like this. I especially love hearing what young adult readers have to say. As a YA writer, I have tremendous love and respect for my target audience (why else would I be writing for them?) because they are so passionate and wide-eyed and optimistic, but also incredibly smart and discerning.

A lot of them are just starting out as writers themselves, and they ask questions like, “How do you get past writer’s block?” and “Do you go into your story with a detailed plan or do you figure it out as you go along?” and “What advice would you give to writers who wish to cross genres?”

Plus, it was interesting to hear what the other writers had to say to these questions. Marla herself is a huge fan of writing endings – you can read her beautiful writing at her blog.

Shout-out to the National Book Development Council – thanks for inviting me as a speaker! I had a wonderful time ❤

(Also, my book, LAMBS FOR DINNER, was sold out at the festival bookstore, so yay!)

Now, back to the story I’m clearly not writing!

Drama Review: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

 

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I had fully expected it to be a lighthearted, fluffy romantic comedy. But last night, this show made me cry at the end of episode 10.

WEIGHTLIFTING FAIRY may seem like just another feel-good rom-com, but it actually tackles a lot of hard-hitting emotional and psychological issues – such as trauma, pressure, eating disorder, and depression – that not just athletes but regular people go through. And that’s what makes this show so relatable.

Beneath all that cutesy puppy love, adorable banter and squeal-worthy scenes between the impossibly photogenic leads also lie big dreams, passion and depression, friendship and kinship, and a raw humanity to each character as they go through life making decisions big and small, making mistakes, and realising what matters most to them in the end.

 

SYNOPSIS:

WEIGHTLIFTING FAIRY KIM BOK JOO is a campus romance about the titular character (played by Lee Sung Kyung) who has been training to be a national weightlifter her whole life … until she encounters her first love at 21. In college, she is reunited with Joon Hyung (played by the handsome, cute AF Nam Joo Hyuk), a national swimmer whose dreams are hampered by an unresolved childhood trauma. His cousin, an kind, gentlemanly obesity clinic doctor (played by the gorrrrgeous Lee Jae Yoon), is the heroine’s first crush, and Song Si Ho (played by Kyung Su Jin) is an overachieving gymnast gradually pushed to breaking point.

 

REASONS TO WATCH IT:

  1. It’s YA Contemporary at its best

It is a deceivingly simple story about athletes trying to achieve their dreams, with an essential host of characters like hilarious sidekicks and tough but well-meaning coaches. It’s everything you would expect of a young adult contemporary story. It includes hilarious drunken shenanigans, first crushes, jealous ex-girlfriends, competitive seniors, sneaking out after hours, and more.

2. The relatable characters

Kim Bok Joo is a likeable, relatable character who is positive, down-to-earth, unassuming but not a pushover. She’s loyal and honest, raw and flawed – it’s easy to see parts of yourself in her, and you find yourself identifying with her, wanting her to be your best friend, and rooting for her throughout the story.

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Dr Jeong, the object of her (initial) affections. And can you blame her?? The guy’s gorgeous.

Plus, she and her friends are total #friendshipgoals.

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3. The burst-out-laughing-and-clap-like-a-flailing-seal moments

 

4. The chemistry between the two leads

I enjoy every single scene between Bok Joo and Joon Hyung – from the hysterically hilarious moments to the cute banter to the surprisingly poignant and sweet moments. It just makes you yearn to fall in love!

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5. The realistic portrayal of depression

Despite her fast track to winning nationals, not everything is peachy in Bok Joo’s life. After a painful experience with unrequited love (to which I’m sure we can all relate), she begins to question why she’s weightlifting, whether she really loves it, what she’s doing it all FOR.

This scene at the end of episode 10 *spoilers ahead* where Bok Joo describes the symptoms of depression to Joon Hyung broke my heart:

It’s like she stole the words right from my lips. This scene made me realise that I was going through the exact same thing, that maybe I’m feeling just as lost and stuck as her at this juncture. (But more on that another day, perhaps.)

This is a major turning point in the story as she realises she no longer has any motivation or passion for weightlifting, the only thing she has known all her life. Now she’s lost, stuck in limbo, and has no idea how to recalibrate her life.

This depiction of depression feels on point. Bok Joo knows that something is wrong with her but she can’t pinpoint what it is – that’s what the first stage of depression is like. Sometimes, the person herself has no idea that she’s depressed but she knows something’s wrong with her. Joon Hyung immediately realises that Bok Joo is suffering from depression – sometimes, it’s the outsider who notices the symptoms first.

I like how the writers didn’t romanticise depression and presented it in the most raw and heartbreakingly honest way. The actors – both Lee Sung Kyung and Nam Joo Hyuk – did a great job too, as the sufferer and the bystander.

 

6. The swoon-worthy romance

Bok Joo and Joon Hyung collide (literally) into each other’s lives through a series of misunderstandings, then realise they were ex-elementary school classmates, and become good friends (best bros, in fact) before falling for each other. It’s a slow burn romance that viewers already root for right from the start.

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Dying from the fluff!

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I want someone who can stare out at the sea with me too.

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THE WAY HE LOOKS AT HER *__*

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Korean dramas and their picturesque scenes

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STOP BEING SO CUTE! ><

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I love this OTP because they understand each other very well as fellow athletes. Their affection and appreciation for each other goes as deep as kindred spirits’, and that is established even before the romance kicks in.

As fellow athletes, they can truly understand each other’s struggles, and encourage each other in significant ways: Bok Joo comforting Joon Hyung when he lost a race, and Joon Hyung regularly giving Bok Joo the best pep talks whenever she’s feeling anxious or nervous about a competition. They are each other’s biggest supporters.

Plus, I love that Bok Joo doesn’t need to be anything or anyone other than herself to inspire this kind of loyalty, affection and head-over-heels lurve from him. They started out as really good friends – bros, even – and maybe that’s why she can be entirely herself around him with no inhibitions.

 

7. The pretty soundtrack

NELLLLLLL!!! I can’t put into words how much I ADORE this soft rock band (if Muse and Radiohead had a love child, it would be Nell). The fact that their song fits so perfectly into this drama makes me so happy.

I’ve heard lots of good things about this acoustic indie band Standing Egg, but this is the first song of theirs I’m hearing and I’m in looooove.

How pretty and sad this song is! Perfectly encapsulates the phase where Bok Joo contemplates and reassesses her life.

 

TL;DR

This drama deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly things that college students, athletes, and really anyone go through. Don’t dismiss it as just a fluffy romantic comedy – it’s worth a lot more than that. Like all contemporary YA worth their salt, they stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

And if not, there’s always Nam Joo Hyuk and Lee Jae Yoon’s pretty faces (and abs) to ogle at 😉

 

Drama Review: The Legend of the Blue Sea

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Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this show so much. It started off pretty slow, and the female lead was a little annoying with her slapstick humour. But things started heating up around the fourth episode.

This highly-anticipated drama starring Jun Ji-Hyun and Lee Min-Ho has all the makings of captivating romance that transcends time. Inspired by a classic Joseon legend about a fisherman who captured a mermaid, it tells the transcendent love story between the son of a Joseon noble family and a mermaid captured by a mercenary. Their fates draw parallel with their modern-day incarnations, a skilled con-man (Lee Min Ho) and a mermaid he rescued (Jun Ji Hyun), who try to prevent tragic history from repeating itself.

You guys, this drama has INCREDIBLE plotting! The way the writers interwove past and present-day narratives is FLAWLESS and ingenious ( I am totally applying what I learned from this show to my manuscript), and the pacing is perfect. It has moments of levity, slow-burn romance (okay, awkward insta-love at the beginning, but it got more believable as the show progressed), a GORGEOUS, haunting, dramatic soundtrack (see below) and stunning cinematography.

Honestly, from MOON LOVERS to THE LEGEND OF THE BLUE SEA, these Korean dramas are spoiling me! Now I expect every show I watch to be this pretty and the soundtrack to sound this good too.

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The storytelling is expertly rendered as well:

  • There is always an undercurrent of conflict running through the story – the escaped convict out for the protagonist’s life, the mermaid’s inability to stay too long on land unless she finds her true love, the constant threat of the mermaid’s identity being exposed.
  • The folklore is rich (and well exploited), the world-building intricate, without overwhelming the story. All these come together perfectly to drive the story and central conflict.
  • Each character – be it main or supporting – has an integral role to play. To see their fates entwined with each other’s, to witness their transformation and trace their character arcs over the course of the story is SO satisfying.

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Also, how pretty is Jun Ji Hyun’s makeup (I want that pretty pink lipstick she’s wearing!!) and outfits in the show?! I did a more detailed analysis over at the fashion magazine, if you’re curious.

Did you watch The Legend of the Blue Sea? Let’s discuss plot and technique! (I feel like I should do up a plot breakdown and analysis to study what made this story work so well.) 

on self-care and forgiveness as a writer (and human)

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So from the 17475957274 things to do at work, Trump’s inauguration and the departure of the Obamas (goodbye to the last shred of class, grace, and decency in the White House!), to insufficient rest because of new working hours (those researchers are not kidding when they say interrupting ones circadian rhythm causing them to display the effects of being mentally and physically tortured – more on that in a bit), I think it’s safe to say that the past week has been a little rough.
At work, we’re getting started on all our 2017 sales campaigns and launches now and February and March are when EVERYTHING seems to be happening all at once – school collaborations, our very own style awards, trend campaigns, brand campaigns, birthday anniversary campaign … And on top of that I have a writing residency and writing festival to prepare for. I don’t even know where to BEGIN. Last Thursday, I found myself just slumping back in my seat in shock and resignation and waiting for an answer to hit me on the head.
The end of the week could not come soon enough. Except it did, and it knocked me over in one punch: I fainted on the train home.
I just closed my eyes for a minute there on the commute home and the next thing I knew I had blacked out and was sprawled on the floor, dazed and confused. When I opened my eyes everyone was in my face. This lady helped me up and someone else picked up my stuff, while and guy kept asking if I was okay. I leaned against the train door for a while to shake off the vertigo and we soon reached my stop. The lady kept holding on to me and followed me out of the train. She asked me if I could get back home on my own and I said I’ll take a cab. But I took a bus home and promptly crashed into bed. My body was breaking out in cold sweat when I woke up 15 minutes later (set my alarm clock for that so I wouldn’t oversleep).
This is completely unprecedented – I had never fainted before and it’s a scary feeling to not be in control of your physical and mental faculties. I’m the kind who whizzes around everywhere and works out without fail. You wouldn’t think I’d ever FAINT out of exhaustion or whatever the reason was.
Besides, it’s only JANUARY! Who gets burned out in January?! I haven’t even really gotten started for this year yet.
But I guess our bodies don’t demarcate time into years and think, Oh okay 2016 is over so I’m starting anew in 2017, like our brains do. The stress you pile onto it accumulates over time and your body doesn’t have a yearly quota or automatic Refresh button that it hits on 1 Jan.
It was probably the amalgamation of everything that had been going on in the past week. And that glass of wine I had on an empty stomach while meeting a content partner to talk business probably didn’t help matters much.
But I finally managed to grab 7.5 hours of sleep that night (wasted the whole of last night not writing though) and woke up feeling slightly better rested. But it kind of made me wonder if I’m really, like what everyone around me keeps saying, pushing myself too hard. Maybe I don’t realise it (because it’s my norm, the routine and structure that I’m used to) but everyone else sees it more clearly?
A friend of mine told me that my days are so structured and I’m so disciplined that I don’t allow any excuses for myself. For some reason, I started tearing up.
Why do I keep hanging on so tightly to this kind of routine? Why don’t I dare to step outside and explore things beyond my comfort zone? Maybe I’m more of a perfectionist than I thought, and the fear of slipping up, of being judged, of being seen as incompetent?
Still, though, this incident has put the fear in me. Not the useless kind of fear I usually carry around that hinders how I do (or NOT do) things, but the kind that makes me sit up and pay attention.
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Another friend of mine advised, “You may want the world to be a certain way. You may want your life to be a certain way. You may want the people around you to be a certain way. And you are, of course, responsible for working hard to bring all that into reality. 

“But there is one primary responsibility that comes before all that. And that is to take good care of ourselves first. Because we have only one piece of sophisticated equipment we need to get the work done – and that is our physical body (and the brain that comes along with it).

“If this critical machinery breaks down, there go all our chances of creating the reality that we want.”

He – and Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert – also said that self-love and forgiveness are two things that writers badly need but often don’t give themselves enough of.

“That fainting spell was your body telling you to take a hint,” said my friend.”Also, when you find yourself becoming accident-prone … hint, hint. It takes a measure of wisdom to recognise these limits and learn to respect them, before your very self starts to break down.

“It’s possible that your blood sugar may have dropped below a certain threshold, triggering the fainting spell. Digesting wine on an empty stomach burns too many calories and your body probably went into deficit. If you keep it up, the catabolic process will break down the healthy tissues in your body and burn those for energy.”

Which basically means I need to start treating my body right and stop thinking it’s invincible (sure feels like it when I’m working out, though).

So here’s me trying to block out the white noise of everyday life and paying attention instead to what my body is trying to tell me. The accidents – little or big, sustaining at least one injury every other day – the bone-weariness, the fainting … Maybe while being masters of our own body  we also need to serve it well.

I might have been doggedly pursuing that one major writing goal, to the extent that I’ve been leading a blinkered one-track life, for too long. And in the meantime, life happened; the day job continued to take its toll. Add alcohol to the mix and you’re probably not surprised things turned out the way they did.

I’ll listen more carefully from now on. And may YOU continue to be kind to yourself as you chase your dreams. You are all you have.

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Have a good week ahead! :0)

2017, here we go

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So we’ve left 2016 behind at last. Not a minute too soon, methinks. I remember how hopeful and excited I was to make 2016 a year I could look back on and be proud of how much I had accomplished. How 2016 was going to be different. Amazing, despite the changes that had already happened in 2015. I had a novel I was working on! I had just gotten promoted at work! I was making more writer friends! How bad could the coming year be, right?

Welllllll.

Maybe it was because I placed too much hope on last year. I asked too much of it. And when my hopes and dreams failed to materialise, my morale and my spirit shrivelled away day by day. I grew lonely, sometimes withdrawn, occasionally cried in bed, and tried to convince myself that I was fine. That this was just a rite of passage, all this shall pass, and that I didn’t need anyone or anything else to make me happy.

But happiness isn’t dependent only on the self. We can’t simply find fulfillment within ourselves and remain in that state of contentment just because our sense of self is so strong. Our state of mind, whether we believe it or not, is ultimately still very much affected by the world in which we live, the world that happens to us, and the world we choose to see.

So there were good days and there were bad days. Some days were particularly awful. Some days allowed me some reprieve and I saw a glimmer of hope and joy. Granted, there were days where I chose to see only the bad and neglected the good. Then there were days where I opened my eyes to the good and the beautiful.

There was the good:

  1. I visited Europe for the first time with my friends. Alone! But with besties! And in Italy!

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We had a grand ole time there, and I saw so much beauty that restored my spirit. Truly, it doesn’t get any better than that.

2. I met three incredible ladies online and we forged a friendship so swiftly and easily it was like we were fated to meet in the vast cybersphere all along.

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Clockwise: me, Nicole, Meredith, Becky

Nicole, Meredith, and Becky (and all the other writer friends I’ve met along the way) have been such a bright spot in the dark days of despair, self-doubt and loneliness. I find myself eagerly awaiting their long emails, craving the connection, and somehow we all just get one another. We exchanged stories about our lives and stories we write (which we publish on our short story blog Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand), and that’s how we’ve been pulling each other through it.

3. I travelled to Beijing with my dad like he had always wanted.

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Climbing the Great Wall was at the top of his bucket list, and he had always wanted me to go with him before he was – in his words – “old and grey and arthritic”.

4. I received several personalised rejections, a couple of revise & resubmit requests, and even went on a Skype call with a literary agent who was incredibly kind and generous with her feedback, advice, and compliments for NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND.

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Yes, the rejections bummed me out (SO close!), but they also offered clarity and hope.

But there was also the bad:

  1. My work BFFs left at the end of 2015 and early 2016, which left me all alone in the company. Okay, not quite alone. But with my old tribe gone, I suddenly felt stranded, exposed. And I had spent my entire time at work with these people, so I wasn’t as close to everyone else. It would be strange if I just attached myself to new people all of a sudden. I felt like a square trying to fold all my angles to fit into a circle.
  2. 2016 was the only year since 2009 where I didn’t finish writing at least one novel. I had completed at least one manuscript every year, sometimes 3 a year, until 2016, even though I started the year with BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU and planned to finish it by August at the latest. Nope. Didn’t happen. I wrote draft after draft, wrote myself into a corner, wrote the story to death before it finally spluttered to a stop at page 207 (48K words).
  3. All the deaths in 2016. Illnesses and wars. Need I say more?
  4. Singlehood. While I generally believe that it happens when it happens, and that I would rather be single than be with the wrong guy, that I’m a loner anyway and I don’t really need anyone to feel complete since I’m happy with my own company and my thoughts most of the time, that my books and manuscripts are all I need to keep me entertained… Yeah, in spite of all that, there are still moments – a Saturday afternoon with no particular agenda, for instance – when the loneliness creeps in and I wonder if there really is something wrong with me after all, that maybe I’m just too weird to ever find someone who would know me inside out and love me anyway.
  5. Trump. Don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I am entirely disgusted by the whole circus.
  6. And as if 2016 didn’t suck enough, I ended the year with a sprained foot after taking a tumble to the ground. Spent the last two weeks at home and in pain.

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Yes, all in all, I’ve still got it good. Despite the bad outweighing the good in 2016, I’m still alive and kicking, I have the people I love around me, I have a relatively cushy job that drains my soul once in a while, etc.

Yes, I get all that. I get that I should count my blessings, that I should be thankful. And I am. I am absolutely grateful for all that I have. But I don’t think I’m being unappreciative to want more than this – this routine life of the 9-to-5 white-collared worker. I know very well that this is not where I want to be, and I’m barely there yet. This is a mandatory period of struggle and frustration all aspiring authors have to go through in order to reach where we long to be. So is it wrong to want more than this, to not want to settle for the safe, predictable, comfortable life?

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This period of time when one year ends and the next one begins is a pretty strange one: it makes us nostalgic and retrospective, but it gives us slightly clearer vision and hope for better things to come.

I’m tired of wanting. Or wanting and not having. Of feeling trapped. Of staying at the same spot. I don’t want 2017 to be just another extension of the unproductive 2016.

So this is what exactly I plan to do this year in order to reach my writing goals:

  1. Finish My Shit

I’m committing to writing – and COMPLETING – a manuscript, be it the problematic BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU that has been full of false starts and no end in sight or LAND OF SAND AND SONG, the first of a fantasy series that’s been brewing in my brain for a while. This year, my motto is to finish what you start, dammit! 

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2. Write Something Every Day

To write consistently every day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, even if I can only snatch a pocket of time during lunch, on my commute to work. Every little bit counts. The idea is to keep advancing with the word count. No excuses. Not even the demands of the day job is going to keep me away from the WIP. And certainly not my own self-doubt and fear of failure or imperfection.

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3. Make NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND Come to Fruition

I still believe in this story. I believe in the emotions it pulled out of me, and it emotions it can evoke in my readers. I believe in it because there are others who believe in it – friends, agents, beta readers, critique partners. People I cannot let down. People who are rooting for me (bless their hearts).

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I know what the problems are with this manuscript (and if I don’t I will find out), what makes it less perfect than it should be in order to get represented and published, so it’s high time to whip this thing into shape.

4. Live a Little More Bravely

Okay, this one is not exactly writing-related. And I say this almost every year, but this year I resolve to live a little more. Take a chance. Head outside. Attend gatherings. Date more. Meet new people. Make new friends. Maybe open myself up to love, even though

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Let someone into my world. Speak my mind. Wear my heart on my sleeve. Then see what happens. I might be surprised, I might be mortified. But hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

 

So, dear readers.

Thank you for staying with me throughout the last year. I’m looking forward to more new friendships, soul connections, thought exchanges, and the kindness of strangers this year. What are some of YOUR New Year’s resolutions, writing-related or otherwise? Share them in the Comments section below. I would love to hear from you, as always.

Happy New Year and may 2017 bring you everything you ever wished for and more.

Joyce xx

may-your-coming-year-be-filled-with-magic-and-dreams-and-good-madness-i-hope-you-read-some-fine-books-and-kiss-someone-who-thinks-youre-wonderful-and-dont-forget-to-make-some-art-write

 

Drama Review: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

A friend of mine told me that I’ve had a major fall at least once every year since she’s known me. And she’s not wrong.

In 2014, I fell right smack on my tailbone and had to work from home for three months. In 2015 I fell while boarding the bus, split my lip and busted my knees. This year, I fell on my left knee and the side of my right foot while rushing to work from the swimming complex on Monday morning.

So I spent the whole of Tuesday like a downright slob, watching dramas and camping out on YouTube, using my injury as an excuse to procrastinate on the proper work. The self-loathing is real, guys :/

It feels terrible not being able to move about freely, go for a swim, or even do a jumping Jack. Now I know how frustrated and upset my granddad must have felt after he broke his hip. So pardon me for hiding out in drama world for a day (and wallowing in self-pity).

The plus side is, I finally managed to finish this terrific South Korean drama called Scarlet Heart Ryeo (AKA Moon Lovers), and now I’m in a COMPLETE WRECK thanks to it. I’d been putting it off for a month before finally deciding to watch it since people around me kept urging me to.

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And boy, was it worth the watch! I had never really been into time-travelling historical fantasies, but this drama completely changed my mind! Historical dramas are now my new obsession!
(Especially now as I’m planning Land of Sand and Song, a YA historical fantasy novel, I’ve been reading up on bloody monarchs, one of which includes Emperor Gwangjong. Scarlet Heart Ryeo is centred around this character, how he came to ascend the throne and gained his reputation as a wise, fair, but ruthless emperor known for the emancipation of slaves and the extensive purges of nobles who rebelled against him. This Tumblr post offers a detailed yet digestible explanation of the early Goryeo dynasty (Korean dynasty established in 918 by King Taejo).)
Scarlet Heart is based on a book trilogy written by a famous Chinese author, Tong Hua (who also wrote Sound of the Desert, if you remember my earlier blog post raving about it), and there’s a reason why people get so obsessed about her stories. She has perfect acumen in terms of plotting, and a particular knack for delving into her characters’ psyches, fleshing out delicious backstories, and then transforming them over the course of the story.
I didn’t watch the original Chinese version (because the number of episodes it had is quite daunting), so I went in without any expectations.
With the Korean adaptation, I was first blown away by the beautiful cast
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Then by the GORGEOUS costumes and cinematic visuals
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And the EPIC orchestral OST (more on that later!)
The Korean version, at only twenty episodes, was fast-paced and concise – every scene and dialogue is crucial and I couldn’t skip any scenes because they were all so gripping.
Scarlet Heart Ryeo is, in a nutshell, a palace drama with a twist, beginning with a 21st century girl down on her luck who goes into a coma after an accident and ends up in the Goryeo dynasty as Haesoo, the cousin of the eighth prince’s wife.
There, she meets the princes and is caught in the middle of their power struggle after the incumbent king takes ill. She soon falls in love with the warm, kind and sweet eighth prince Wang Wook (played by the cinnamon roll that is Kang Ha Neul) AND IT’S NOT HARD TO SEE WHY
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His smile can thaw the harshest winter

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THEY TRADE POETRY as a form of courtship. Can we adopt this practice for the 21st century please *__*

But things change when the fourth prince Wang So (who would eventually become Emperor Gwangjong) enters the picture. Abandoned when he was a child (sent to a live with noble family, but basically abandoned) because of a scar on his face, Wang So (played by the charismatic Lee Joon Gi) is the textbook misunderstood bad boy with a broken heart.

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The lonely, misunderstood, often feared Wang So. As much as the eighth prince’s smile captured my heart, I wanted to give the fourth prince a much-needed hug 😦

He watches as the power-hungry Wang Yo (third prince) claws his way to the throne, backed by the ruthless Mother Queen Yoo (also Wang So’s mother, but he gets ZERO loving from her, that cold bitch), watches him try to exterminate all threats to his position, including his brothers, and vows to become king so as to end the bloodshed and indiscriminate killing.
Along the way, Haesoo and Wang Wook’s relationship changes as the latter begins to yearn for the throne. Haesoo and Wang So grow closer as she helps him cover up his scar and becomes instrumental in his ascension to the throne. So there’s a lot of deception, mercury poisoning, emperors driven to madness, bloodshed, regicide, fraticide, betrayals, broken promises and broken hearts, and also a lot of romantic swoon-worthy moments in this drama.
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The final episode of Scarlet Heart destroyed me – I was literally sobbing into my palms. It’s a tragic ending (the kind most historical dramas tend to have) that completely rips your heart out, but it was gratifying to witness the way the entire story played out, how some characters came full circle and how others changed, for better or for worse, how history came to be written.
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Scarlet Heart Ryeo was the first Korean drama project for Universal Studios and had a budget of US$13 million. It was significantly less of a commercial success than the Chinese version, and I know some viewers were frustrated at how the story ended, but I personally LOVED it. It didn’t have the happy ending everyone hoped for, but I think if the screenwriters had pandered to the audience’s wishes and wrote the cheesy, predictable happy ending, the story wouldn’t have ended on such a strong note – one that is ridden with regret and sorrow, and the yearning for more.
ALSO, the orchestral OST is the icing on the cake. It is THE BOMB – I’ve had it on replay for days!
Have you heard anything quite as beautiful?! I think what made this drama such a fantastic escape and reprieve from reality is its keen sense of place, and the OST definitely helped set the mood.
So tl;dr contrary to what the naysayers think, I absolutely ADORE Scarlet Heart Ryeo. It helps if you just take the drama for what it is without comparing it to the original version. Overall, the plot and pacing and dialogue are tight, intricate, and pack a mean punch. It doesn’t have a happy ending, but its ending is perfectly sublime in the amount of catharsis and pathos it evokes. GO WATCH IT IF YOU HAVEN’T, THEN PLEASE COME AND FANGIRL WITH ME.
What are your thoughts on Moon Lovers? Any other recommendations for period dramas? I am officially a fan of Lee Joon Gi now and am planning to watch his previous dramas, Gunman in Joseon and Scholar Who Walks the Night!