state of mind for 2015

So here it is. We’ve made it over to the other side. 2015. How should it be any different from 2014? 2014 was a mess of a year, rife with natural and man-made disasters, and social turbulence, tragic accidents … Ugh, good riddance to 2014.

This time, I don’t want to pin too much hope on 2015. Because that’s what I did last year. Built up all that expectation and anticipation – I want to write two novels this year, enter this competition and that, write a short story and a blog post every week, post it up on forums, make more writer friends, take up a new hobby! THIS is the year I land a literary agent and get published and start leading a more fulfilling life! – only to meet roadblock after roadblock for No Room in Neverland, and receive rejection letter after rejection letter.

I’m not saying I’m going to be completely pessimistic and dour this year, in case you’re thinking I’m starting this year as a grumpy puss. No, I’m just tempering my expectations, taking whatever comes along for what they are. I’m not going to get ahead of myself, just do what needs to be done – rewrite that novel for the fourth time? Bring it. Edit and polish old manuscripts and look for new platforms to gather feedback. Read more books, read outside of what I typically read, watch more movies and drama series, find more new music, to collect fresh, new ideas. Just the gritty work that are a lot less pretty than those daydreams of being published. As happy as I am for authors who achieve mega success because heck yeah they deserve it, I’m done with sighing wistfully over their writing and wishing I could have what they have.

These novels, all this effort into editing and rewriting and pitching to agents, may amount to nothing. And it’s easy to get caught up in the whole quest of getting published. But really, what I really need is to write a book that doesn’t suck, that people would want to read.

As Chuck Wendig said,

Writing a book and putting it out in the world is an act of ego — not egomania, but the willingness and decision to create a story out of nothing and push it forward into the world is a bold, brash, unflinching act. You say: this story matters, and it matters that I wrote it. It is a demonstration of your belief in the story and the belief you possess in yourself as a writer, storyteller, and a creator. It takes a rather epic set of genitals to write something that’s 300 pages long and then say to someone: “You’re going to sit down and you’re going to read this and you are going to love it the way I love it. You are going to take hours, even days out of your life to read the little ants dancing across the page, ants that make words, words that make this one big story full of people.

That said, I’ve been considering other options outside of traditional publishing. Chuck Wendig, as well as many authors and publishing experts have been touting hybrid publishing and embracing crowd sourced novels for a while. Forbes also laid out the pros and cons of hybrid publishing. Some even go so far as to call hybrid publishing the future of publishing. I’m still reading up as much as I can about it so I can decide whether to take this route. If anyone has any thoughts on this matter, I’d love to hear them!

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s hoping for a less turbulent, more forgiving 2015.

What commencement is really about (hint: not you!)

 

I was talking to a friend lately and he told me he was not going to attend his commencement (i.e. graduation) ceremony. Until recently, I had no idea there were people – and many of them, at that – who don’t attend their commencement ceremony.

 

“Why wouldn’t you?” I asked him.

 

“Because I don’t believe in going to uni to get a degree,” he said. “So going on stage to receive it is against my principles.”

 

Seriously? I wanted to ask. Are you really going to skip commencement because of this principle? While I have nothing against his belief – university IS more than just getting a degree – I think it’s too staunch a conviction for which you’re choosing to forgo your graduation ceremony.

 

It was at this point that I remembered I’d had a similar response as him towards it.

 

My own commencement wasn’t too long ago – just last year, in fact. (I graduated one year late because of some glitch in the system. Long story. I’m over it.) But the memory wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as it could have been. And it was entirely my fault.

 

I couldn’t care less about it. I’d thought the whole thing was contrived, putting on a huge cheesy smile as I posed with my scroll. I’d thought it was no big deal, since I was just one of the few thousands that year who was donning that robe and going on stage to receive that scroll. There was no need to make a big fuss about it.

 

But it WAS a big deal. If not to me, then to my dad.

 

 

 

He had been looking forward to my commencement, preparing his outfit for that day, scoping the place days beforehand for parking spots, making space in his SD card and charging his camera battery, asking me if I was inviting any of my friends to the ceremony…

 

And I had let him down. I had no idea where to go and what to do on that day, and was almost late for the ceremony. All because I couldn’t care less. All because I thought it was no big deal. We could have arrived earlier and taken photos, chilled, and I could have shown him around a little before the ceremony began. But we did none of that, because we arrived on the dot and I had to scurry into the hall with the rest of my cohort while donning my robe.

 

I would go back and do it all over again PROPERLY if I could.

 

 

 

I received my scroll and my dad and I posed for photos, but the moment was incomplete. Imperfect. Marred by my indifference. My dad didn’t smile as proudly and joyfully as I knew he would have.

 

You see, commencement isn’t really about you. Sure, it’s an entire elaborate ceremony – robes and speeches and all – dedicated to handing out certificates to you and your peers. But it is NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about your parents. Your guardians. Your friends. Your teachers. And everyone else who had put in time and money and effort to see you through to that moment.

 

So even if you think attending your graduation ceremony is pointless – “no big deal” (I will never forget the look on my dad’s face when he heard me say that) – don’t deny the people who most deserve to see you walk through that moment the experience. Attending it – being fully involved in it – is the biggest thank you you can say to them.

 

[This might be a little late, but if I hadn’t made it explicit enough, thank you to everyone – especially my dad – for everything you’ve invested in me so that I could attend my own commencement ceremony. Thanks to my dad for the late-night cramming sessions, the looooong journeys on weekends to the tuition centre, the time and money spent on my books and tuition classes and little treats whenever I felt tired along the way. It’s been a fruitful 15 years.]

for the love of books

Several good links to share:

1. The ever brilliant storyteller, Laini Taylor, draws inspiration from SPIRITED AWAY’s creator Miyazaki to explain her thought process on pacing.

As a storyteller, it’s something I’m always trying to structure. Plus this: often I find the “at rest” moments to be the most fun and rewarding. From my very beginnings as a novelist I’ve been trying to strike the balance between imperative forward momentum and enjoyable interludes that exist purely for color, character development and fun … You can’t indulge in too many of them or you slow down the plot. But if you don’t have them at all, at least for me, I find that I careless about the plot. There has to be a feeling of life and reality extending beyond the plot. There has to be an established threshold of “normal” that is being overthrown by the high stakes of the current situation. Or else … EVERYTHING IS LIFE OR DEATH yawwwwwn …

Personally, I love that lull in between action scenes. The emotions just come out that much stronger, as though you’re still riding on that momentum from the last action scene that’s seguing into the next.

Unfortunately, sometimes you need to know when to build up the action again. Otherwise, you’ll end up with TOO GREAT a lull and your story slows down. Which is really the last thing you want. (See: a literary agent’s feedback on BLOOD PROMISE)

2. Writer Darcy Pattison shares her thoughts on what the wretched first draft means to her:

“The purpose of the first draft is to figure out what story you are telling. The purpose of all other drafts is to figure out the most dramatic way to tell that story.”

The first draft is usually a huge mess that lurches in spits and stops, weighed down by unbalanced pacing and sometimes stilted dialogue and exposition. It causes much agony. It is often regarded as eeeevil. Even Hemingway says so.

But without the first draft, there won’t be anything to edit or rewrite later. I guess as much as we might agonise over it, we just need to stick it out or give up on our story entirely. No one’s forcing us to write it, after all.

3. And here, Laini Taylor waxes lyrical about books, independent bookstores and the thrill of little discoveries that make huge impact. And when I say wax lyrical, I mean wax lyrical in that quintessential Laini Taylor way:

“I love bookshelves, and stacks of books, spines, typography, and the feel of pages between my fingertips. I love bookmarks, and old bindings, and stars in margins next to beautiful passages. I love exuberant underlinings that recall to me a swoon of language-love from a long-ago reading, something I hoped to remember. I love book plates, and inscriptions in gifts from loved ones, I love author signatures, and I love books sitting around reminding me of them, being present in my life, being. I love books. Not just for what they contain. I love them as objects too, as ever-present reminders of what they contain, and because they are beautiful. They are one of my favorite things in life, really at the tiptop of the list, easily my favorite inanimate things in existence, and … I am just not cottoning on to this idea of making them … not exist anymore. Making them cease to take up space in the world, in my life? No, please do not take away the physical reality of my books.”


And she said something that completely resonated with me: 

If I love a book, I want it. I want it sitting there so I can pick it up and leaf through it and maybe just hold it.”

I was like, I KNOW! My friends think I’m crazy and wasting money when I buy a book that I’ve already read, having borrowed it from the library. But they don’t get it. It’s just not the same if you go back and borrow the book again, or even own the e-book. When I love the book, I want to hold it in my hands, stroke its spine, gaze lovingly at the cover and know that it’s right there on my bookshelf whenever I feel like revisiting a particularly lovely passage or listen to the voice of a particular character.

Which is why I own every Maggie Stiefvater and Sarah Dessen book ever written – and catching up with my Deb Caletti and Laini Taylor collections – even though I’ve read all their books before. (Let’s hope my dad doesn’t read this, or he’ll launch into another rant about my book-buying habits and how my books are encroaching on my living space, which is ridiculous, because there is ALWAYS space for more books.)

Exactly.


As convenient and space-friendly e-books are, they’re just NOT THE SAME as physical books. Imagine a not-so-distant future where browsing for books and reading reviews online has COMPLETELY taken over discovering new titles on your own in bookstores – where’s the fun in that?

Also, Laini laments the dearth of letter-writing and worries that books are headed in that direction too.

I am of the old guard, and I cannot embrace this new technology, not for what it is but for how it will change and demolish one of the institutions dearest to me in life. The world is barreling in this direction — towards this shiny sci-fi future — that lacks … texture. Already our grandchildren will never find boxes of letters in our attics, bound with faded ribbon. We have killed letter-writing (some people can barely hand-write anymore, for any length of time; our hands don’t have the muscles for writing with pens anymore!!), and we have killed music stores, and we’re out to kill books too. It doesn’t mean we won’t still have stories; we will, in this there-but-not format, but to me, what we are losing is a very great thing. It has begun, and I think that in some places there are enough of us who love books and bookstores that the stores will continue, and publishers will keep printing books on paper for a while longer, hopefully a good long while, hopefully the rest of my life. But … the rest of my daughter’s life? And her children’s lives?”


She is clearly a passionate bulwark of all things old-school, but it’s nice to know there are people like her around who still love books and will continue buying them just because.


Given that a number of things (not too significant, so don’t hold your breath, if you are) have happened since the last time I blogged, I think I’ll make a list of updates this time.

I. Bidding period begins.

Can you feel the anticipation, the territorial vigilance with which everyone is camping out before their computers, lying in wait for the next bidder so that they can one-up him and throw in a higher bid? I know seniors get priority (well, not exactly priority – just that they have more points accumulated from past semesters and can afford to bid higher), but with so few options this coming semesters, competition for English modules is tough! And because of some administrative failures last semester, I absolutely have to take five English modules next semester so I can graduate on time. So I HAVE – did I mention HAVE? – to secure all five. The only five, in fact, because I’ve taken the rest before. You’d wonder why they offer so few English modules for this coming semester. I could ask the same.

So if everything goes according to plan, I’d be taking:

1. EL3204, Discourse Structure
2. EL3206, Psycholinguistics
3. EL3252, Language Planning and Policy
4. EL3880E, Second Language Learning,
5. EL3257, Investigating Language in the Media

I know. Hardly inspiring or scintillating. But, you know, school is school. No more fun modules, like Playwriting or language modules. Speaking of which, I got the A I wanted for Playwriting, and did better than I expected for my other modules. It’s different when you feel passionately about the things you study, indeed.

II. One more semester and I’m done with school. Can you believe it? Not to sound completely corny, but it feels just like yesterday that I attended my first 10am lecture at LT11. I was rereading Megan McCafferty’s Charmed Thirds, the third of the Jessica Darling series, where Jess attends Columbia University. And I just felt like it was such an apt book to be reading, because I could totally relate to what she was going through. The uncertainty, in the new environment and in herself, the diversity, and the stuff she was learning, the what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-after-I-graduate brand of anxiety. My three years of tertiary education is coming to an end, and I feel more than ever the pressure to make a decision, pick a path already, plan plan plan your life, don’t waste time or you’ll fall behind.

I admit, a lot of the pressure comes from myself. My dad’s not putting any pressure on me to earn my first million by the time I’m 25 or whatever, but I do want to achieve something quick so that I can show my dad that I will get by in life and that he doesn’t have to worry so much.

But 2012 seems bleak, at least on the job market front. And that’s not something I can control. So in the words of my dad, let go of what you can’t control.

III. So Christmas has come and gone. Next up: New Year’s. Excited? Not really. Thankful, though? Definitely. We’ve all lived through another year, at the very least, and that’s always something to be thankful for.

IV. I’m currently reading The Grift by Debra Ginsberg. This is the third time I’m attempting to read it. I don’t know why I didn’t manage to get through it the previous couple of times, because it’s actually a pretty well-written story. Not so much about plot, but about character, and it’s high time I learnt how to write a character-driven novel without sucking instead of falling back on plot every time my story stalls.

And remember when I said my goal was to finish writing Fifteen Minutes Down Sunset Avenue by the end of this holiday? Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Unless I manage to write, like, ten pages a day every day until 9 January 2012, the first day of school (after which I won’t have time to write at all). At the rate I’m going (about three pages a day), that seems highly unlikely. Still, it’s making progress. And I’ve finally come up with an idea on how I’m going to raise the stakes and resolve the story. All that’s left is to write it. Which is always easier said than done.

V. The National Arts Council is organising a competition to select five young adult manuscripts to publish. And I was considering sending in Fifteen Minutes, but that doesn’t seem possible now. With all the editing to do, it’ll take me months before I deem the final manuscript ready. Besides, I’m still too attached to Lambs for Dinner to pass it up for this competition. But one of the criteria is that the story should not incite violence. And Lambs is really a little dark. Maybe not gory, but it might incite violence, how should I know? So I either risk submitting something that may or may not go against their criteria, or submit something that’s not ready yet. I don’t know about you, but the latter seems much worse to me. So Lambs it is. I believe more in it than Fifteen Minutes anyway. At least for the moment.