Okay. I’m employing the lazy method of updating.

1. I’m on my first round of editing for Red December Skies. And can I just say that if I see another ‘finally’ or ‘wondered’ again, I will cry? I know many authors use certain words way too many times, and mine are apparently those two (and a whole lot more). I definitely relied too much on adverbs when I was working on December. But I know better now, and I am cutting out the deadwood. Adelante!

2. I’ve finally decided to read the Wake series by Lisa McMann. I was sort of hesitant initially because it’s written in a sort of third-person diary form (with distracting times and dates) and the writing style was sort of disjointed and curt. For example:

January 1, 2006, 1:31 a.m.

Janie sprints through the snowy yards from two streets away and slips quietly through the front door of her house.

And then.

Everything goes black.

She grips her head, cursing her mother under her breath as the whirling kaleidoscope of colors builds and throws her off balance. She bumps against the wall and holds on, and then slowly lowers herself blindly to the floor as her fingers go numb. The last thing she needs is to crack her head open. Again.

She’s too tired to fight it right now. Too tired to pull herself out of it. Plants her cheek on the cold tile floor. Gathers her strength so she can try later, in case the dream doesn’t end quickly.

Breathes.

Watches.

It makes for easy reading, and I know she’s trying to create immediacy, but the curt sentences can get a little annoying after a while. Still, that’s not the main point.

I’m reading Fade now, the second of the Wake series, because I couldn’t find the first one in the library today. And my heart plummeted after I learnt what the book is about. Because its premise sounds like my Dream-catchers. In fact, the main character in the series is a dream-catcher. Oh, they’re different of course, McMann’s dream-catcher and mine, but the idea is still there. I realised that dreams are not an uncommon theme for fantasy fiction. Take Inception, for example. Dream-hacking. And Wake: ditto. Mine doesn’t really dabble in crime/thriller like those two, but the idea is still there. I don’t want people to think I copied their ideas or anything.

Anyway, I decided to read McMann’s series. Because one of the most common advice literary agents and editors give to writers is to read widely in your genre and out of your genre. Know what books and ideas are out there so that you can come up with something entirely original and fresh. So call this market research. That said, I’m enjoying Fade so far.

School’s starting next week, by the way! Does it make me a geek to be excited about the things I’m going to learn this coming semester?

Oh, who am I kidding. I am a geek.

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7pm, 18 May 2010: I am done with the first draft of Red December Skies! Word count: 71, 700.

That totals the writing period to about six months, since I started it around November. I remember hiding in a stairwell, writing it while waiting for my Philosophy exam to start. (Hey, it was Philosophy – and it was an open-book exam.) I banged out the last hundred pages this past week, straight after my exam (so that’s an average of ten pages per day, approx). Writing seriously demands discipline. You can’t edit a blank page, after all, as Jodi Picoult says. So the three-hour-a-day concentrated writing sessions really helped a lot.

And now it’s done!

Well, of course, this is only the first draft, and I’ve got LOADS to edit. I just hope it doesn’t seem too fragmented or draggy. This is my first attempt at alternating between two voices in the first person point-of-view. I felt weirded out writing from Jerry’s POV initially, because first off, I don’t know how to think from a guy’s point of view. Guys are an alien species to me, as far as I’m concerned. So all I did was try to tone down on the imagery and insert more action, less talk, in my prose for Jerry. Another problem is that because I’m writing in Jerry’s POV, I have to, like, be in love with Ethel. It’s weird to be gushing over a girl (not that I made Jerry gush – still, it’s weird), or at least noticing things about a girl that I expect guys to. Writing from Jerry’s POV has made me consider things about him that I didn’t know I had to know, and I love how that pushes me to dig deeper into my characters.

Next up: Lambs for Dinner. I’m addicted to writing in alternating POVs. I never knew it was that much fun to delve into both the heads of my main characters!

Done with the brief update. Now I’m off to do some intimate character sketches (get your minds out of the gutter). Later!

My Writing Journey (unabridged)

I was never one of those precocious, assertive kids who knew what they wanted to be at age five. It took me quite a while to figure out what I really loved, and that was to write.

I love stories, have loved them since my dad brought me to the Central Lending Library every Sunday (back when it was still at Stamford Rd, instead of Bras Basah) ever since I’d learnt to read and my kindergarten teacher told my dad I had the potential to start reading earlier than my peers. (Maybe that was a ploy and she told all the parents that so the kids in her class would be early starters, I don’t know. But let’s not get cynical here.)

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who share my love for stories, and who probably love them more than I do (goodness knows I’m a picky reader). But despite how much I love to read, how much I enjoyed English lessons and how it was the class I was most enthusiastic about, being a writer didn’t occur to me until I was eleven. I had never considered the possibility of creating stories myself, stories that I would love and would want to share with the world, stories that chronicled the changes in me and the way I regarded the world.

Maybe it was because I never got sufficient encouragement that helped me believe I – like anyone who believes him- or herself capable of it – could weave an entire story out of my limited imagination. But when I was eleven, change came in the form of my English teacher, Mr Martin Chan. Now, I don’t mean for this to turn into a thanks-giving post, but hitherto, I’ve believed that he was the one who, if you wish, ignited the flame of passion in me for creative writing. (Sorry for the horrible cliche!) He introduced me to Shakespeare, through giving us a watered-down version of Macbeth (which remains my favourite play to date), and recommended stories like Lord of the Rings (even playing the cartoon version for us) and Lord of the Flies (which remains my favourite book to date, no lie – Golding is a genius). He made us practice flash-writing, which are exercises where you write a passage where the action or emotion are the most intense. It’s a drill for concise and tight writing, and after that we’d share our writing with our peers, and I felt like I learnt so much. English lessons in primary 5 and 6 were so rich.

And that was where I fell for creative writing – head-first and hard. I started with writing journal entries because then, I was under the influence of Princess Diaries, which I had started reading. I would turn up to class with a notebook under my textbook and scribble furiously about everything that was going on around me and within me.

With the Budding Writers story-writing contest that Mr Chan encouraged me and several others to take part in – along with other writing contests – I began to appreciate the craft of writing. How do you look at things the way other people can’t? How can you express the way in which you look at things? How do you make that way connect with your readers? The first complete story I wrote was of the detective/mystery genre, because we were all into Nancy Drew then and plot-driven stories were easier to write. I didn’t win, of course – my writing was hardly any good – but the experience of working on a story, crafting a plot, thinking of the appropriate words that would convey the meanings concisely, was enough of a prize.

When I went to secondary school, I continued writing, and wrote several trial novels, which I often begged my friends to read and tell me how they felt about it. I remember how Yvonne liked reading my diaries (I never really had much to hide, so keeping a diary wasn’t really about secrecy to me) and Stace and the rest would ask me about my progress for the novel I was working on then. All through secondary school, I kept notebooks and filled them up sooner than I expected. In upper secondary, I started watching The OC and attempted to write a third-person POV series about a girl who goes to a hoity-toity school. And then the idea for When the Lilies Turn Orange (then, it was still titled An Old Scent) came about, raw and unpolished and waiting for me to tap into its reserve that was overflowing with potential and possibilities. Because of the O’levels, I only properly began working on it in JC. In the meantime, I wrote short stories, tried my hand at poetry (which will never see the light of day, if I can help it), and read, read, read, taking in ideas and imbibing various writing styles and understanding, step by step, how writing, such an arbitrary art, works.

In JC, I was swamped with schoolwork. I was lucky if I had time to think about my stories, let alone write them. So I only properly immersed myself in Lilies after the A’levels. In the three months after A’s, I worked relentlessly on Lilies, so addicted to the writing process was I. I brought my notebook and pen everywhere (that was when I was into walking, and trekked all over Singapore for the fun of it), and wrote, wrote, wrote. I even woke up at 3a.m. to write till dawn broke. My dad was so worried I was losing it.

I consider Lilies to be my first official novel, one that I’m satisfied with enough to want to see it published.

Towards the end of Lilies, the idea for Bedful of Moonlight came half-formed. But despite finishing Lilies, I couldn’t tear myself away from Wroughton, the private estate in which the story takes place; I couldn’t bear to part with the characters – Raven, Connell, Reilly, Tate, and the motley crew. So I set Moonlight in Wroughton as well, with main characters completely disparate from Raven and Connell. This time, the going was tougher, maybe because all the research on writing I’d done while writing Lilies had left me feeling more cautious, more stifled (in a way), about approaching my work-in-progress (WIP). I was left confused, bewildered even, as to what my characters really wanted and how they were trying to go about getting it, and how they changed in the end as a result of doing so. How could I make them seem real, with genuine flaws that we can all relate to and therefore sympathise with? How can I make their motivations strong enough to fuel the story?

While I was sorely dismayed – depressed even – after completing Lilies, I felt a sense of relief after finishing up Moonlight. All that with a huge dose of satisfaction, of course. But finishing a story leaves you bereft, exhausted, over-the-moon, exhilarated and relieved all at once. I call it the writer’s high. That’s what I experienced when I first started writing, when my characters surprised even me by saying the things they said, doing the things they did, and thinking the way they did. That’s what I experienced when the words flowed from me so quickly I barely had time to tap on my keys to keep up. That’s what I experienced when I wrote from 9am to 3pm once (when I was in secondary school, working on High Grounds), and looked up to realise it was 3pm and my stomach was growling.

My third attempt wasn’t quite as smooth. If I thought Bedful of Moonlight was a bumpy ride, Mint was a road riddled with potholes and death traps. I had the setting, I had the characters, but I just couldn’t dig deep enough into them to find out where the conflict lay and where their motivations clashed. I had committed the mistake many amateur writers make, and that is plunge headlong into a novel without laying out the basic structure of it. Much as you’re excited to delve into writing your next novel, you have to do what you need to, even though it’s painful. You have to find out what drives your novel, and know very clearly how your character changes – for better or worse – by the end of the story. All these I have learnt from working on Mint. I abandoned it at page 166, halfway through the story. Perhaps someday I will return to it. But for now, I’m thankful for the experience regardless of the time and effort spent (sunk costs, as any economist would declare!) on it. For now, I’m thankful for what it has taught me.

So right now, while working on my current WIP, Red December Skies, and writing short stories on the days where the words just can’t flow. It’s a much smoother writing process for December, and though I haven’t published anything yet, I believe I will one day. One day, I will dare to put my work out there. One day, I will write well enough to get a solid offer, instead of the almost-misses from literary agents.

In the meantime, I will keep writing, keep reading, keep honing my craft by studying how other writers write. After all, as Monica Wood (author of The Pocket Muse) said, Money schmoney. If you write, you’re a writer.



I guess, it being the new year – a few days after the new year – I should at least acknowledge it. 2009 wasn’t a bad year for me, really. I had eight months of slacking around after A’s, and Semester 1 of uni was pretty okay because for the first time in my life, I can plan my own timetable.

Anyway, New Year’s was spent at the Tanah Merah Safra Resort chalet with Vonne and the gang. I love that place. It’s literally a stone’s throw away from the sea, and recently I’ve been addicted to the sea, maybe because my current WIP is set there. Speaking of which, I REFUSE to let Red December Skies be eaten up by the mid-story goblin. I’m at page 144 now, and it’s starting to slow down, because of some details I didn’t consider when I first started writing the novel. Triv and I were discussing them yesterday. You’d think that after three novels (one abandoned precisely because of the lacking of detailed planning halfway through the story) I’d learn my lesson and do more intricate planning before I plunge into a Shiny New Idea. But I’ve always thought the beauty of creative writing -especially novel-writing – is that the story can embark on one of the millions of possibilities and take you anywhere. Too much planning can kill the spirit and essence of a story, and take the fun out of writing it. So with a relatively solid idea, I always go straight into it and let it work out the kinks itself later on. I’m not completely stuck for Red December Skies; there are just some details I have to consider that I hadn’t thought were so significant before.

School’s starting in less than a week. Here are the modules I’m planning to take, the first three of which have already been allocated to me (successful bidding):

1. EL3254 – Media, Discourse and Society
2. EC1101E – Intro to Econs (to fulfil my exposure-module requirement – we’re required to take 5, including one for our Major)
3. SN1101E – South Asia (another exposure module, to fulfil the Asian Studies requirement)
4. PC1322 – Understanding the Universe. I planned to take this as a GEM (General Education Module, the university requires everyone to take one Arts and one Science). It’s like Cosmology and stuff, sounds cool. Unfortunately for me, many FASS students think so too. The other Science modules are too science-y for us, like Nano-whatsits and Bio-whatever and Quantum-whotheheckcares. So this is practically the only module left for us to take. I was considering some Math module, but it was too much like A’level Math. I’m through with A’level Math. I believe I barely scraped by that A, because I still struggle with H2 Math when I revisit it now. So anyway, I was outbidded for Understanding the Universe (GEK1520), so I have no choice but to take it as a Breadth module (which also requires us to take 2 modules not from FASS – it can be from Business, Science, Computing, Design, etc).
5. SSA1203 – Singapore, Asia and American Power. Singapore Studies – requirement module. Enough said.

My intention is to clear all my requirement modules asap, so I can concentrate on my Major and Minor modules, as well as my Unrestricted Electives (we’re required to take 7 modules (or more if you have time and money to spare) that we’re interested in, like language modules, or Intro to Creative Writing, Intro to Prose Writing, and many others). The good thing is, there’s no project work required for EC1101E, and the exam is not essay-based. Also, there’s no exam for PC1322 (but bidding hasn’t started for it yet). And, there’s no tutorial for EL3254, just a three-hour lecture once a week, so I don’t have to go back to school so many times or worry about bidding for the tutorial timeslot.

Plus, if anyone needs secondary-level English/E*Math/A*Math tuition, or knows anyone who needs them, drop me a comment and let me know. Thanks.

I’m working on my New Year’s Resolution now. I don’t usually put much stock in it, because I end up breaking every one on the list anyway. But this time, I will become a vegetarian.

I know. It’s laughable. Me, a vegetarian? I can’t go a day without meat. But eating less meat brings about two benefits:

a) Less demand for meat – although this is rather insignificant, because I’m just one person. But if everyone ate less meat, less land needs to be cleared to rear cattle or other animals that provide meat. That means less forested areas need to be cleared. That means more trees and more wildlife!

b) Meat contains lots of carcinogens, which increases one’s risk of getting cancer. Enough said.

So, yes. Vegetarian. I’ll still eat fish and all that, of course. But no more chicken or pork or mutton or duck (I don’t eat beef).

Anyway, I had a desperate desire to go to the Marina South Pier yesterday, so I dragged my butt all the way there. Had to take two buses to get there, one of which made me wait for half an hour. But I was dying for some sea air. Plus, it would be good inspiration for my work-in-progress, Red December Skies. I’m at page 120 now, still as excited about it as when I first started it. That feeling so reminds me of working on When the Lilies Turn Orange.

Just finished rewatching Mars yesterday. Am feeling empty now, because there are no other dramas that can match up to it. It’s like reading a really good book, one of the best, and then not being able to find another that can quite match up to it. Ugh. Don’t like this feeling. Can anyone recommend any other drama or book that has madness and romance in it? See why my first standalone novel (Lilies) is about madness and romance? There’s not enough of such stories, which is why I’m writing them, if only to satisfy my own craving.