On Working and Over-Working

Today, just this:

writer at work

Well, not quite. I’ve been encouraged to blog about this. This being what’s been going on lately on the writing front.

I woke up last Thursday morning experiencing the strangest jitters and shakes. I was tremble-y and weak all over. My body was warm, but my insides cold. It turned out to be a result of stress. I know, who would have thought I’d be stressed out, right? I mean, I may seem antsy and highly-strung most of the time and have no patience for the waiting game, but I also do things to help de-stress, like swim or listen to Joe Hisaishi and Nell, or play a musical instrument. I promise I’m chill! (Except it’s usually the neurotic ones who proclaim that.)

But no, apparently I was having an allergic reaction to work. Not just work-work, but the other work I do after office hours. In short, my writing. I was stressing myself out because of the thing I love most.

Accomplished writers always tell us aspiring writers that in order to make it, we need to treat our writing as our second job, one of equal importance as our official one that pays the bills.

20130114 Laini Taylor writing advice

I don’t dispute that – writing requires discipline and effort. The only way through is to devote the time and energy necessary to creating the best possible story you can pull out of yourself. So after the nine-to-five (so to speak), I dive straight into my manuscript the minute I get home. No time for dinner. Just munch on some fruits as I pound out the words. Keep going until my eyes can’t stay open anymore. Next morning, wake up at the crack of dawn to swim before going to work.

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This routine seemed to work just fine for a while. I mean, I was hitting word count, getting shit done, living and breathing my story, doing what was required of me at work, and staying healthy. Right?

But it seems I might have been going about this the wrong way, if the recent bout of adverse physical reaction is any indication. Insufficient sleep, for one thing. And an all-consuming obsession to squeeze that story out and hating myself whenever I couldn’t get it going.

write all the words

This led to general frustration and resentment and other unpleasant emotions that, needless to say, made the problem worse. The stories stalled, and ideas spluttered to a halt. I kept trying to crank up the engine, but it just groaned and refused to cooperate. I made note-cards, drew three-act structures, tore down each manuscript to its bare bones, rewrote synopses, trying to get to the root of the problem and understand where I went wrong so I can pick up from there again.

When I wasn’t writing, I felt restless and guilty. (Even right now, as I’m writing this blog post, there’s this voice in the back of my head nagging at me to stop procrastinating and return to the manuscript!) But when I was writing, I felt stuck. Nothing was working.

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My dad remarked the other day that my modus operandi is unusual and not very efficient. “You work in sprints, two-hour bouts of manic energy and then you crash,” he said. “Regular people work at a consistent pace so that they can last longer. A slow-burning flame will keep you going further.”

This is in line with what I overheard a swimming instructor tell his student the other day in the pool: “No one is pressuring you; only you are pressuring yourself. You just need to try. Trying and failing is how you learn.” The kid he was coaching tried and failed gloriously, but managed a perfect length of backstroke by the end of the session.

I didn’t realise that I was creating my own problem until that moment. I was burning myself out because I was too impatient to get what I want. No one is pressuring me; I’m just hurrying myself to get the next book published. And the thing about publishing is that it takes a loooong period of time – years – from conception to publication. If there’s ever one job you need patience for, it’s writing.

We think that, because we’re in our twenties, we need to make shit happen already. It’s been almost four years since I graduated. Why haven’t I achieved something yet? (Okay, yes I published a book, but what about the next one? And the next? And the one after that?) When am I actually going to start living the life I always dreamed of?

But maybe our twenties is the time we lay all the groundwork for the career – and the life – we want in our thirties and forties and beyond. Maybe we need to work at our craft now with consistency and devotion, and focus on putting one foot before the other instead of staring off into the distance and wishing we were at the finish line at this moment. (Where is the finish line anyway? Don’t we just keep setting new goals for ourselves?)

Because like Rilke said,

have patience rilke quote

And like Hermann Hesse preached:

hermann hesse seek too much

And when all else fails, like Elizabeth Gilbert said at her TED talk, maybe all we really need to do is simply return to the one thing we love more than ourselves, “put our heads down and perform with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from us next”.

 

For all the dream-chasers out there, are you sprinting towards your goals or running a slow and steady marathon? Do you occasionally feel burned out? How do you restore equilibrium in your life? I’d love to hear about your writing journey!

 

[Related Story: How Wanting Makes Us Want More]

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Sorry for the synopsis spam!

If you subscribe to my blog and just received a bunch of notifications for new posts in your mailbox, and they’re ALL synopses for my manuscripts, I APOLOGISE.

I’m just in the midst of doing up a new page on my blog, Novels, and for navigation purpose I had to publish each of them as blog posts so the page doesn’t get too crowded.

So thanks for putting up with the spam! If you like any of the synopses, do click on the Like button so I know if I’m on the right track. Fellow writers would know how incredibly hard it is to condense a 75K word novel into a 150-word synopsis, so on top of working on BLOOD PROMISE and BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU, cleaning up my synopses is what I spent my weekend doing.

ugh synopsis and query letter

But while birthing a synopsis might be torture, it also brings you so much clarity. What is the story you are trying to tell? Sieve out the essential points – character and conflict – and then frame it up prettily in an enticing premise. This synopsis can serve as a guide – albeit a brief one – as you write your novel. Already, I’m seeing my WIPs in a brighter light!

Can’t believe this is the tenth manuscript already! This post by literary agent Kristin Nelson is a good reminder to keep going beyond that.

why do you write joanne harris

I started seriously writing novels in late-2008 (no, those written in primary and secondary school don’t count) and submitting them for publication in mid-2009, and every one of them is distinctive of a certain point in my life. It’s like how you listen to a particular song and get transported back in time. Every book is a zeitgeist on its own. They capture the mood and worldview (and state of mind) of the writer, and basically captures a piece of the writer’s soul.

A writer’s stories will probably never mean as much to anyone else but herself, but that’s okay. Because as long as there’s one person who believes in the story – even if that person is herself – that’s all she needs to keep the words coming.

Happy Monday, everyone!

FLIGHT AND FURY (RIPTIDES #1)

arms of the ocean

In a world where shape-shifters are divided into kingdoms, the sea children and sky children are at war over stolen magic.

Amber is a sea daughter, the last surviving royal who has been hidden on a remote island ever since she was eight. Training as an apprentice in a black market for dark magic, she has no recollection of the traumatic siege that killed her family … until a mysterious winged stranger shows up one day at her window, wounded and bloody.

As Amber plunges into her watery memories, she discovers an entire race of sea children adrift, waiting for her to piece back her fractured kingdom. To do so, Amber has to battle an unruly ancient magic, enemies out for blood, and the stirrings of her own heart.

FLIGHT AND FURY is the first installment of the Riptides Trilogy, a YA fantasy series.

BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU

remembering kills you

17-year-old Isabel is running from her memories, the ones that remind her of her hand in the death of her best friend’s sister.

When she finds out that her friend Wes has been visiting a memory killer, an illegal witch-doctor who erases memories, she decides to have her own painful memories erased too. Soon, Isabel and Wes are spiralling down the rabbit-hole of selective amnesia together.

But memory erasure comes with its set of side effects, including long-term memory loss. It doesn’t help that the memory killer suddenly vanishes. Now, they have to race against time to find the memory killer before they lose their memories for good, and ultimately decide if a life forgotten is a life worth living.

THE DREAMCATCHERS

the dreamcatchers

Contrary to popular belief, Becca isn’t crazy.

Sure, she can communicate with spirits through her dreams, and sometimes they make her do things while she’s asleep. But she’s learnt to keep her mouth shut when it comes to her dreams. So no one knows about the recent one she’s been having, where a woman keeps asking her to stop a boy from jumping off a Ferris wheel at the Midnight Carnival.

When her vision comes true and father goes missing after the chaos at the Carnival, Becca struggles to make sense of her dreams in order to clear his name. She doesn’t believe the two brothers she meets at the carnival when they tell her she’s a dream-walker who can traverse the different worlds of existence. But when they are all trapped in dream-state thanks to her, Becca has to embrace her dormant abilities to help them escape, as well as find her father back.

THE DREAMCATCHERS is the first of a YA fantasy series that stands at 61,000 words.

BACKSTAGE

backstage

17-year-old Chloe Song is forced to put school on hold and get a full-time job when her parents’ business venture fails.

Meanwhile, Ethan “Prince” Wane has fallen from grace after his hiatus from the entertainment scene. His lacklustre comeback is proof that he is being dethroned. On top of that, he’s lost his private suite and his assistant.

So when Prince decides to hire Chloe as his new assistant, it seems like a win-win situation. But fame is an entirely different ball game, and as the media gets wind of Prince and Chloe’s relationship, the latter finds herself the target of vitriolic fans, one of whom will stop at nothing to eliminate her from Prince’s life.

BACKSTAGE is a 73,000 word contemporary  YA romance.