Protecting Your Creative Mojo

the world is brighter after creation

Came across this article on my Twitter feed today: Protecting Your Creative Mojo

“If you want a really creative life, full of the color and temperature of your ideal world, you’re going to have to do something drastic: let everyone down.”

Do we really have the courage to do that? It may sound noble to say that you’re making sacrifices to pursue your creativity, but how many of us actually dare to set those creative boundaries and carve out the life we had always dreamed of for ourselves? Maybe someday.

“If you want to do mediocre work and just kind of be average, then yes you can make gray washes of so-so, keeping anyone from commenting, much less noticing. But if you’re trying to do anything honestly creative, chances are you don’t actually have a burning desire deep down inside for blandness.”

In other words, be extraordinary like you always dreamed to. Even if it only means something to you. It’s quite in line with what Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book, Big Magic (which is an inspiring, motivational book everyone should read, IMHO).

“When you let others down it means you are defining your edges. You are deciding what exactly you’re willing to do, where you’re willing to live, who you’re willing to surround yourself with, how you’re willing to work. Those edges aren’t just borders, they are definitions. And for the artistic type, when everything is a possibility, creating definitions is what keeps you on track.”

“We forget to be honest when we’re so busy being polite.”

Ain’t that the truth. Stay true to what makes you YOU, don’t apologise for the things that inspire you or the things you love. The right people will understand, the ones who love you will support, and the haters will be drowned out in a sea of white noise.

Keep pursuing your creativity, keep chasing the muse, and stay inspired!

Joyce xo

Words In Progress

We think it’s infallible. We think just because we have mustered our creative mojo once that creativity will always be palpable, readily at the surface every time we get to work. The problem with this assumption is life will inevitably get in the way. If we are not diligent in how we get to work, the magic dissipates. The wondrous act of creation becomes a memory from the glory days rather than a measurable, living, breathing practice.

There are many different reasons we lose our productive push: our energy levels drop, we don’t have an environment that supports our work, we don’t schedule time to work. It would make sense that if we truly wanted to live a life of creative fulfillment, we would easily be able to just do it. But there are other elements at play when we self-sabotage like this and one of those things is our need to please others.

Unfortunately, as obsessed…

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5 Writing Lessons from Sound of the Desert

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You know me. After watching a good show, I can’t resist analysing it deeper to find out what worked so well for it so I can apply that to my own stories. (That fangirl-y post I wrote previously doesn’t count as an analysis!) So here are some lessons about writing a swoon-worthy story Sound of the Desert has taught me:

 

1. Backstory give your characters depth 

… and makes your readers/audience more empathetic to your characters.

All the main characters in the show – particularly Xin Yue and Wei Wuji – have fully fleshed out backstory that isn’t served to the audience in huge doses (the equivalent of rambling expository passages in a novel).

Xin Yue is a very compelling protagonist. Her past is complicated – when we first meet her, she is living among wolves, her adoptive father was killed, and she’s roaming the desert, lonely and lost. It is only when she decides to travel to Jian An, of which her father had always told her wondrous stories, that she is filled with purpose.

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You immediately want to root for this brave, free-spirited girl from the desert.

Wei Wuji, too, is an illegitimate child who rose quickly among the ranks of the military to become a general at a young age and win every battle he ever fought. As the emperor’s favourite, he has to contend with gossip and people waiting for him to fail.

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In a way, those two are similar in that they are outcasts, underdogs. They don’t quite fit in where they are. Xin Yue neither fully belongs in the desert (she was roaming freely but aimlessly with her wolf pack), nor in the city with all its social hierarchy and rules and palace politics. Wuji distances himself from everyone because he doesn’t know whom to trust, and focuses on winning every battle because that’s the only way he can shut up the naysayers.

When two lonely souls meet, you know that’s a love story waiting to blossom.

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2. Everyone has a flaw

… and how they regard that flaw determines who they are and who they will become.

Xin Yue’s most notable flaw is that she chooses to stubbornly turn a blind eye to Wuji’s love, instead choosing to chase Jiu Ye and demean herself to the extent of begging him to love her and getting herself drunk when she is rejected over and over.

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Many times, I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. Get over it, you idiot! But I’m sure we all know what it’s like to to be in a one-sided relationship. Moving on is easier said than done, but we are SO MUCH happier once we decide and manage to – as Xin Yue is when she finally accepts Wuji and lets go of Jiu Ye.

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And as mentioned earlier, Wuji has trust issues because he feels that everyone around him in court is a fucking two-face. As such, he appears cold, arrogant, and aloof. But it is only when he’s around Xin Yue that he can be entirely himself and reveal his warm, romantic, playful nature. Even so, at the beginning, he is wary of her and didn’t give her his real name, which would eventually become his biggest regret because Xin Yue couldn’t find him when she reached the city and he thus couldn’t be there for her in her time of need (Jiu Ye found her instead). This thus makes him chase her harder to compensate for the lost opportunity.

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Jiu Ye is indecisive as hell. Which makes him one of the most frustrating characters to watch in the show. Make up your mind, for crying out loud! Here’s a girl confessing to you time and again, and if you’re going to reject her harshly then make a clean break and stop leading her on. Also, the fact that he keeps her at a distance and doesn’t tell her the truth about why he’s unable to accept her love is a recipe for heartbreak down the road. So we can all safely conclude that his wretched ending was entirely his own fault.

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3. Supporting characters bring out different facets of the protagonists

Where would Xin Yue be without her sister-from-another-mother, Hong Gu, who first took her in when she entered the city and had no job or connections? And how would she come to appreciate her father’s parting words for her to always look forward with hope in her eyes instead of remaining stuck in hatred in the past had she not met Qin Xiang, who enters the palace just to exact revenge on the royal family?

And if it weren’t for Jiu Ye, she would not have grown into the strong, confident woman whom Wuji regards as his equal. She blossoms under his love, and is free to be herself unapologetically.

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That look of longing hits a brick wall.

With Jiu Ye, she always has to second-guess herself, and is uncertain of what he’s thinking even though she tries to read the books he reads and bond with him over flute-playing. Jiu Ye was a necessary part of her life so that she could figure out what she needed and wanted to be.

For Wuji, his uncle plays the father figure in his life (after his actual father deserted him and his mom married another man), so a large part of his upright, loyal and honourable personality, unsullied by greed for power or money, is thanks to his uncle’s upbringing. Meanwhile, his uncle’s son is a snivelling little weasel who plays underhanded tricks and serves as a stark contrast to Wuji’s character.

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That powerful gaze! Eddie gives life to the character.

 

4. Scenes need to vary in intensity and length

Pacing is everything. Or at least, one of the most crucial factors that can make or break a story. A well-told story balances long, introspective or intimate scenes with punchy, high-octane ones expertly.

Between Xin Yue and Wuji’s cute banter and Jiu Ye’s mopey staring out the snowy window and flute-blowing, other subplots unfold. Scheming court officials, battles with the fierce nomadic Xiongnu tribe (Jolecole explains the history a bit more here, and also lays high praise on Eddie), et cetera.

Subplots are a great way to break up the main narrative, which can grow tedious on its own. If woven skillfully in, they can and should also further the main plot and add more dimensions to it while teasing out more character dynamics.

 

5. Character growth is one of the most gratifying journeys

Xin Yue had been adamant about having Jiu Ye right from the start. She only had eyes for him, and didn’t give a shit about Wuji always being there to comfort her when she gets her heart trampled upon by Jiu Ye, to protect her from the people in her past she is hiding from, or just there when she needs a friend in a new foreign city.

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Xin Yue is stunned by Wuji’s sweetness when he tells her she’s not alone in Jian An.

It was only after she decided to let go of her past – her hatred for the people who killed her father and her unrequited affection for Jiu Ye – that she manages to bravely move on to a new chapter in her life.

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As the audience, we grow together with her. We empathise with her predicament, understand the struggles she goes through to make her final decisions, and experience the same catharsis when she chooses to embrace a new life with Wuji.

 

And lastly, this lesson isn’t about writing, but love.

6. Love is about timing

As Dreaming Snowflake said,

(Sound of the Desert) has always been a story that tells us that love is about timing, however, also that love favours the brave and those who fight for it and never give up and Wei Wuji is the epitome of never-say-die attitude be in it love or in war.

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Gotta love a man who would fight valiantly for what he wants.

 

So while appreciating a mighty fine specimen like Eddie Peng, these truths are what I gleaned. Writing lessons can be derived from anywhere and everywhere, especially in the stories that move you. And the best lessons come unexpectedly, like from a drama like Sound of the Desert that I never thought I would ever watch.

What did you derive from Sound of the Desert or any other stories that moved you?

Oh Eddie, you slayed in Sound of the Desert

Excuse the radio silence. I’ve been preoccupied for the past couple of weeks with the aforementioned period drama, Sound of the Desert. And when I say preoccupied, I mean I am entirely consumed by this addictive series.

I can’t remember the last Chinese period drama I’ve watched. They had always put me off with their tacky acting, overdone plots, terrible makeup and gaudy dressing. Plus, palace politics get boring after a while.

But Sound of the Desert is quite something. It has beautiful cinematography, characters with depth and fully fleshed out backstory, credible acting, character development, and loads of swoon-worthy moments that makes a girl like me squeal.

(And of course, there’s Eddie Peng.

THAT FACE IS A JACKPOT.

I always thought he was just a pretty face, but this show made me a huge fan of his acting!)

Essentially, Sound of the Desert is a love story based on a book series by a renowned Chinese author called Tong Hua, who also wrote Scarlet Heart, another popular drama series that everyone was obsessed with about a year or so ago.

The story centres around Jin Yu (played by Liu Shi Shi), a girl who lived among a pack of wolves in the desert until her adoptive father found her. Her father brought her up to live among humans and regaled her with magnificent stories about the city of Jian An, so she has always wanted to visit the place.

After her father is murdered, she goes to the city to start a new life and changes her name to Xin Yue. Along the way, she meets this handsome, disabled young man called Jiu Ye (played by Hu Ge), who has links with the royal family and is in charge of Shi Enterprises, the biggest commercial player in Jian An. She tries to steal some new clothes and salt from him and his entourage, but is caught. Jiu Ye lets her go but gives her this STUNNING BLUE DRESS that looks like something out of a fairy tale.

She also meets the confident, charismatic, hot, cocky young general Wei Wuji (played by Eddie Peng).

The scene where they meet is so perfect and momentous, and everything unspoken lies in their gazes.

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Xin Yue rescues Wuji and his crew from a bunch of desert bandits and helps them return to Jian An, where they then go their separate ways.

Wuji is bewitched by Xin Yue upon their first meeting, and you can see his cold exterior stripped away whenever he interacts with her. While he’s all intense, piercing gaze and clenched, chiselled jaw with his comrades and soldiers, around her he’s all puppy smiles and bright twinkly eyes (yes, the author included that description in the book).

Eddieeeee you slay me! He has such expressive eyes and the cutest smile.


Anyway, so Xin Yue goes to Jian An, is roped into being a dancer in a dance parlour before Jiu Ye finds her (Shi Enterprises owns the dance parlour), offers her a place to stay as well as a job managing the dance parlour instead of performing there. Meanwhile, Wuji searches high and low for the exotic, mysterious girl he met in the desert.

A love triangle develops, where Xin Yue falls head over heels for Jiu Ye, who is calm, collected, beautiful, but detached from everyone. Xin Yue is a shy and uncertain thing around him, and she always has to second-guess her behaviour. Like some lovesick schoolgirl.

Around Wuji, though, she is entirely, freely herself. The way you would be around your best friend, even though you know he’s in love with you. Wuji doesn’t bother hiding the fact that he is smitten with her, even when he’s around his soldiers.

He’s attentive,

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He looks at her like she’s his world,

He openly flirts with her,

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So many cute moments between them! Is there any wonder why this pairing launched a thousand ships (and new fans of Eddie)? 

 

He’s there by her side to cheer her up when she gets rejected TIME AND AGAIN by Jiu Ye (although I don’t know what she sees in him),

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Look around you, you dolt! Here’s a hot, sweet, charming, brave young general who is willing to lay down his life for you and do everything within his power to make you happy! Why chase a cold, reserved guy who has rejected you harshly thrice in a row because he’s too busy feeling inferior due to his disability? All he does is play the flute, read, and stare out the snowy window in deep thought. YAWN. Wuji, though, is passion, fire, fun.

And Eddie has so much on-screen presence, he commands every scene he’s in. The casting director did goooood with him. I bet Tong Hua is pleased with the decision to cast Eddie as Wuji too, because he doesn’t just play Wei Wuji. He IS Wei Wuji. He fully embraces and revels in the role. In other words, he slaaaayed (the girls over at My Drama Tea feel so too!), and he’s the main reason why I watched the show.

Also, he has set impossible standards for all guys out there.

On the battlefield he’s like,

When he sees her he’s like,

Don’t you just love a guy who is fierce and driven when it comes to serious matters, but lets down his defences around you?

There’s palace politics and other subplots in the show that I could care less about, but the main focus is on this lovely OTP. It’s total “shippy heaven”, according to Dreaming Snowflake, another fan I found on Tumblr who does greater justice to the show in her elaborate and insightful episode reviews. Tong Hua must have been projecting her fantasies with General Wei when she wrote her books. In fact, she did mention that she wrote Ballad of the Desert FOR this character, based on a real-life general called Huo Qu Bing, a young general who has never lost a single battle in all of his 26 years.

 

Those sparkling wide eyes!

Wei Wuji doesn’t die in the show – the characters get their happy ending (okay, at least the important ones do) – but there’s a twist at the end that helps the story tie in with historical records. I’m not spoiling it for you, so go watch it! In the meantime, I’m going to go catch up on all of Eddie’s other movies.

Wow. That turned out to be a long post. And most of it was spent gushing about Eddie. Excuse the fangirling. It’s just been a long while since I’ve fallen head over heels for a character that makes me grin to myself like a fool and itch to write another in his likeness.

If you watched the show and are now, like me, irrevocably in love with General Wei and Eddie Peng, let’s spaz together I’d love to hear your thoughts!