Bring it on, 2020.

Things to leave behind in 2019:

1. Negative self-talk
2. Self-doubt
3. The feeling of not being enough
4. The fear of making the first move
5. The need to be busy constantly
6. The desire to please everyone.

Things to embrace in 2020:

  1. Serendipitous encounters
  2. Heart-to-heart talks
  3. Letting go of structure and routine, following my mood and curiosity
  4. Saying what’s on my mind
  5. Listening to my body
  6. Reading more books, watching more films, putting the phone down

Sometimes, the thought of how finite our time is terrifies me. It sends me into a desperate frenzy to do everything all at once. Pick up a new skill. Enroll in a new course. Pack my social schedule back-to-back. Work on several side hustles. Complete my work ahead of time. Read multiple books at once. Write multiple books at once. No rest for the weary.

I had this insane thought that I needed to achieve everything I set out to in my twenties, otherwise I would have wasted all my youth. We only have that many decades to live, after all.

But it was in my relentless pursuit in the race against time that I had, ironically, lost time. Time to live instead of merely carve out a life.

Maybe we’re not meant to do everything all at once. Maybe I’ve been sprinting all this time with the audacious hope that I could be the one to defy the odds, unwilling to accept my fallibility. Maybe instead of constantly trying to push our limits, we need to understand why they exist to begin with. Maybe that’s when we can finally grow beyond our past selves.

So as this decade begins, I’m staring the present right in the figurative eye before it, too, becomes another memory. Not every moment has been perfect, but I’m thankful for every step of the way – the tears and laughter, the sleepless nights and hazy days, the moments of crippling despair and the moments of unadulterated happiness.

May we all enter the new decade with the same audacity and hope, but also more kindness for ourselves. After all, we only have that many decades to live.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Do we have hope or do we have expectations? (Yes, there’s a difference.)

Image result for hope is the thing with feathers

Hope is the thing with feathers.

So said Emily Dickinson in her beautiful, timeless poem.

Hope is great. Hope is fuel. Hope keeps us warm in a frigid wasteland where dreams go to die. Hope keeps us going even though everything before us seems bleak.

And when you’re a millennial writer trying to achieve your publishing dreams, pay the bills and accumulate some savings, have a social (and romantic) life, get enough sleep, take care of your body, and spend adequate quality time with your loved ones, hope is the only thing you can cling to in order not to drown.

A friend and I were having a chat recently where she voiced her very familiar anxieties.

“I wish we can at least have a glimpse of what the future holds, or at least have an inkling,” she said. “If we know there is a bit of reward there, we can still hold out and survive to see our fruits of labour. How do we know this is the right way we are going? What if in the end, everything was a fruitless attempt?”

Which is true. We can never know. Maybe life is just one big anxiety trip, and we’ll just have to live with that discomfort of not knowing or kill ourselves wondering about the outcome.

I think all we can hope for is that at the end of it all, we have lived a life we can be proud of. Instead of one where we are trapped in a dead-end job we don’t love and that doesn’t fill our soul, one where we went out and did the things we wanted and loved, things that made us grow in the direction we wanted to grow.

Hope is a double-edged sword.

There’s a danger in conflating hope with expectation.

Hope is the belief that you are headed towards something good. Expectation is the belief that your sacrifices entitle you to something good.

You feel like there is a huge gap between what you want and what you have, where you want to be and where you actually are, and that gap is what keeps you craning your neck for what’s on the other side, always dissatisfied with what you have and where you are.

I used to feel like after all the time and effort I’ve put in, after years of writing and honing my craft and studying the publishing industry, that I deserved to get what I want. To get multiple book deals, to be a successful author, to go on book tours and sit on author panels and have lines of readers at my book signing.

But just because we put in the effort doesn’t necessarily guarantee that we get our desired outcome. I expected to get what I want because I put in the effort, and it made me really miserable because I kept asking myself what i was doing wrong or not enough of.

That, according to British philosopher Alain de Botton, is the problem with meritocracy. Because we celebrate the belief that those who work hard and are good enough achieve success, we also believe that the reverse is true – that if we fail or aren’t successful, that must mean we aren’t good enough or didn’t work hard enough.

New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks agrees. “The evil of meritocracy is that people who’ve achieved a little more than others are worth a little more than others,” he said in his TED talk.

Looking back, I was a pretty entitled little shit. I expected too much, and set myself up for massive disappointment as a result.

Hope is the light we need to turn on.

These days, I’m trying to focus on what I have instead of what I don’t, to find happiness where I am instead of expecting it to be round the corner, just out of my reach.

These days, I’m not aiming for happiness. Happiness is what we feel when we get what we want. It’s when we receive our paychecks, or when we score that promotion, that book deal, or tickets to the concert that sold out in minutes.

These days, I’m aiming for joy. Joy is when we feel gladness in our heart because we fully enjoy what we’re doing in the moment. Joy is when I discover a story after pursuing the thing that ignites my curiosity. Joy is when I’m so immersed in writing a scene I lose track of time. Joy is when I read a book that moves me to tears or makes me miss my stop. Joy is when I watch The Mummy for the eight millionth time and it still doesn’t disappoint (look, campy or not, it’s a fun cinematic adventure and justifiably a cult classic).

Sometimes we get so caught up chasing happiness that we lose sight of what brings us joy.

Hope and joy seem to go hand-in-hand. Because we have hope, we find joy. If we start trying to reach for happiness, we come to expect too much of what life can give us at any given moment.

Maybe it can be as simple as being present, doing more of the things that bring us joy and shutting out the voices that tell us we need more than that.

Maybe with hope, that’s how we can reclaim that piece of ourselves that has been worn down over the years by life and all its practicalities and demands.

Maybe hope is our steadfast friend, our only ally, one that will see us through till the end without, like Emily Dickinson said, asking a crumb of us.

Day 407 – Write Where You Are.

Herbie, writer

There are two points here.

The first is, literally, write where you are.

You don’t need a magic desk, or a sea view, or the sound of migrating Elk – to be honest I don’t even know if Elk migrate, but you get the point I’m sure.

Write in a notebook, write on your phone, write on your arm.

Keep your brain on its creative channel and don’t switch over to see what is on the other side.

I’m still learning this lesson.

The second point is, write where you are. Write from your thoughts, your experiences, the voices of the characters standing next to you.

Sometimes the people reading you will love it. Sometimes they won’t.

It’s like your favourite band. You don’t like every album they’ve ever made. Well not the same anyway.

You have preferred albums. This one blew your mind. That one made you wonder is…

View original post 77 more words

So much new Asian-lit in my TBR, I’m loving it

I am SO behind on my reading list.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the most easily distracted gnat you can find. Gone are the days when I could write 3k words a day without fail (seriously, how did I do that?). These days, I pat myself on the back just for reading an entire chapter without going on Instagram or Tumblr.

Still, that doesn’t mean I have to stop adding books to my To-Be-Read pile. It currently stands at 567 books, but you know, I’ll get through them all … some day. (I can read from my grave, right?)

And seeing so many new Asian literature – particularly in YA – makes me very happy indeed. (Book recs below!)

Related image

Confession: When I was a teenage writer still trying to find my voice, I tried to mimic the way Western – mostly American – authors wrote. I adopted their voice, their narrative style and characters’ mannerisms and speech.

But those didn’t sit right. The stories I wrote weren’t rooted in my reality, my country or my neighbourhood. They didn’t feature the people I interacted with daily. They were textbook characters created in the likeness of those from my favourite authors’ books. They even had Western last names. They went to high school (not secondary school, as we call it here), and they talked like the American teenagers I saw in movies.

Why?

Because I thought that if I wrote a story from my perspective, no one would be able to relate to it, much less want to read it. I thought that if I created a world based on my reality, my narrow slice of life in this little corner of the world, I would isolate readers from the rest of the world. I thought the Western reality was the only relevant one. 

Obviously, I no longer subscribe to that notion. It’s kind of sad and embarrassing, in fact, to admit this. To admit that I thought my culture was not relevant or significant enough to be written about in books. That I had to alter my reality to fit what I saw in mainstream culture, be it in movies or books.

And this is exactly why we need more diverse representation in literature, and why I’m excited about the increase in diverse lit in recent years. It shows young, impressionable readers (like myself back then) that there can be more than one culture other than the one typically seen in Hollywood movies or books. That other cultures are not in any way lesser than the one seen in mainstream media and pop culture. That everyone can have a voice, and those voices deserve to be heard. That all cultures and communities have a place in pop culture, and we don’t have to all subscribe to one “correct” or “common” culture.

I also used to think that fantasy could only feature boys, or Caucasian characters because the sort of fantasy books I could find involved Medieval settings, swords and stallions, taverns and corsets. But the surge of diverse YA fantasy in recent years (shoutout to Sabaa Tahir, Renee Ahdieh, Marie Lu, Julie C. Dao, Tomi Adeyemi, Roshani Chokshi, Alwyn Hamilton and more!) has made me see that diversity is – and should be – celebrated now more than ever before. And rightly so. Be it African, Middle Eastern, Russian, Indian, Japanese, Korean or Chinese, literature becomes much richer when many more cultures join the party, bringing to the table different stories, perspectives, values, folklore, beliefs.

Leigh Bardugo says it best here (timestamp 6:00 – 7:40):

(I recommend watching ALL her interviews, by the way. She is so eloquent and is never shy about putting things into stark perspective, calling out the bullshit in the system – misrepresentation, whitewashing, misogyny, etc., yet she’s always humble and jovial and relatable. If you read her books, you’ll also find that her characters are a diverse mix – in terms of race and sexual orientation – and she takes great pains to ensure they all properly represent the marginalised communities. She’s just THE BEST OKAY I LOVE HER.)

Anyway, Asian-lit reading list:

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane, by Joan He: a Chinese-inspired fantasy involving magic, a brave princess, vengeance and deception. DROOL. Also, that cover. DOUBLE DROOL.

36683928

Spin the Dawn, (The Blood of Stars #1), by Elizabeth Lim: Billed as Project Runway meets Mulan, it’s about a girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on a journey to sew three magic dresses. Yup, I’m on board.

39828159

I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn: Coming-of-age story about an art student rediscovering her roots in Kyoto. Reminds me of The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan.

42133479

Wicked Fox, (Gumiho #1), by Kat Cho: a fantasy-romance set in modern-day Seoul about a girl who’s a gumiho (the legendary nine-tailed fox from Korean folklore) who falls for a human boy. IT FEELS LIKE A KOREAN DRAMA. BUT IN BOOK FORM. I’ve always wondered what Korean dramas would read like as novels, and now I shall find out.

42051103

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, by Roselle Lim: a contemporary tale of a girl who goes home and reconnects with her estranged family after her mother’s death. Love me some family drama and low-key sobriety. Also, how cute is this cover? It’s giving me Love Fortunes and Other Disasters vibe, and it has a similar small-town charm.

tl;dr Yay for #ownvoices and diverse books!

If you’re a reader or writer of colour, what has your experience been like seeking diversity in fiction? How has that influenced your worldview or you as a writer? What are your thoughts on the rise of diverse literature? I’d love to hear from you!

Making time to write … and other (near) impossible things

chuck supernatural writing hard

We feel you, Chuck.

Juggling a demanding day job, two manuscript edits, and a new novel means some things fall by the wayside, and unfortunately this blog is one of those things. I have only two and a half hours of free time between dinnertime and bedtime to do everything I want to do, so something’s gotta give.

Actual image of me rn.

But I promise I haven’t forgotten about this blog, or the short story blog, where we’re dialling down things a little because LIFE. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ You might have noticed we haven’t been posting as regularly at Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand – and it’s not what we wish to do.

Believe us, there are so many things we had planned and still want to do for the blog, but time is just not on our side. We have full-time jobs that sap so much brain juice and head space and take up a huge part of our week. The remaining time we have is spent working on our manuscripts – working to make our author dreams come true – or spending time with our loved ones, reading and imbibing new narratives.

Same, Jo. Except in the present tense.

And writing short stories requires more time and brain cells than people realise. It takes work to make a story coherent and impactful, no matter the length.

writing is hard

Okay, Lisa might be a little dramatic here but she’s not wrong.

But the good news is – we’re relinquishing some of the space to guest writers in the coming months! We’re inviting other writers to try their hand at our prompts and have their work published on our blog, because we KNOW there are a lot of writers out there who are quietly plugging, honing their craft but afraid to share their work. And some of you are actually better than you think you are. You just need to take that first step, put your work out there, and it will get easier with every story you publish. Soon, you will dare to writing longer stories, you will dare to pitch your stories to agents, and one day you might just see your book on the shelves.

Imagine that glorious day.

So yes, this is an open call for submissions. If you want to give our prompts a shot, OR if you think you have something about writing you would like to talk about or some tips or insights you would like to share, drop us an email at museinpocket@gmail.com and we’d be happy to host you and your stories/posts!

Meredith, Nicole and I will still be posting from time to time, so you won’t have to miss us too much! But I think now is a great time to start featuring more writers – be it aspiring, new or experienced – on our blog and giving them a voice and platform.

We accept stories in any genre – as long as there’s no gore or explicit content. If you’d like to read some of our stories, check out these links below:

My stories

Meredith’s stories

Nicole’s stories

Becky’s stories

Guest writers’ stories

Okay, this was a quick one. Rushing off to work on LAND OF SAND AND SONG (only round 2 of edits, kill me) and maybe work on the next short story (March prompt) too! ❤

 

Do you find that there are not enough hours in the day for you to accomplish everything on your to-do list? How do you prioritise and manage your time? Share your tips with me in the comments, please!

The 5 Stages of Finishing a Novel

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

I’m finally done with not just the shitty Draft 0 of LAND OF SAND AND SONG, but the first round of edits too (i.e. Draft 1), before I send it out to critique partners and beta readers WHO MIGHT POTENTIALLY JUDGE ME FOR THE WORD VOMIT THAT COMES OUT OF MY HEAD.

rapunzel excited

excited.gif

This whole journey been far too long (from planning in late Oct 2016 to completing the first draft on 28 Feb 2019) with far too many starts and stops along the way, topped with a lethal mix of self-doubt and despair at ever finishing, and more rewrites than I bothered to count….

But hey, IT’S FINALLY DONE. I can finally dust my hands off this manuscript (at least for a while) and go work on something else.

bye sucker

And by something else I mean the 3428945076 other stories, including old manuscripts and half-baked new ideas, I’ve got brewing in the pot.

wicked witch cauldron

But then I kinda miss this world. Part of me wants to linger on. IS THIS WHY PEOPLE WRITE SERIES? Because they can’t leave that world they created behind? I’m convinced that has to be part of the reason. There is comfort in that mad little world we’ve created.

cheshire cat mad.gif

Then again, it’s time for me to resurface to the world and be a normal human being again instead of a writer burrito in my hermit cave.

ariel wanna be with people

*squints into sunlight*

But when I’m out in public, I can’t stop thinking about writing and what I’m going to write next. I’m scrolling through Tumblr for writing tips and prompts, I’m taking notes and creating story and character arcs in my notebook, I’m daydreaming about different lives.

stitch pull hair.gif

So I guess it’s back to the writing cave for me. Have fun out there!

pocahontas dramatic wave.gif

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a short story or two to devour, we’ve got some for you over at Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand! 🙂

Best of Blog: Round Up!

Too valuable a resource not to share. How’s the writing going, everyone? 🙂

Carly Watters, Literary Agent Blog

IMG_5222.JPGI spent 5+ years on this blog and I haven’t posted in awhile, but I wanted to share a great round up of some of my top posts throughout the years.

I think I’ve made this place a good launch pad for authors’ careers answering questions about all aspects of the writing and publishing arenas.

Let me know which articles were most helpful to you!

THE CRAFT

Top Tips for Writing / Editing:

On characters 30 questions to ask your main character.

On comparison to other writers 6 Tips on why writers shouldn’t (but might) compare themselves to others, and why they shouldn’t (what they should do).

On category and genre. Infographic: Do You Know The Difference Between Literary, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction? Helping writers understand the difference between these three categories so that they can market and sell (or query) their book better.

On writing page one: Tips To…

View original post 480 more words