Refilling the creative well

So in the vein of Self-Care Week, I’ve gone back to watching dramas, something I’ve denied myself for a long while because I was too busy writing and plotting and basically being stuck in WiP head-space. (If you recall, the last drama I watched was Revolutionary Love.)

bride of the water god poster

And just after watching four episodes of BRIDE OF THE WATER GOD, I’ve thought up a whole opening scene and developed a rough outline for another WiP (it’s contemporary romance, that’s all I can say for now). Plus, watching something vastly different from what I’ve been working on has pulled me out of LAND OF SAND AND SONG world and into another. It’s such a refreshing and much-needed change of scenery, and I feel myself getting hydrated and nourished again.

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I’m such a sucker for pretty, romantic scenes like this. Can’t quit, won’t quit K-dramas.

Also, I’ve gotten started on this week’s short story!! I have the opening line ready and I’m so excited to get started.

It’s amazing what pulling your head out of your ass can open your eyes to. I’d been doggedly planting myself in story world, thinking that I have to read books and watch shows and listen to music that are in the same mood as the manuscript so that I wouldn’t get influenced in any other direction. But all it did was make me weary of that world I had created.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate LAND (at least, not yet). I’m still enamoured with that story and that world.  I just hate chasing word count.

So I guess this self-care thing is working out so far, and it’s actually feeding my brain instead of robbing it of the space and energy to write. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed lately, I recommend giving this a go. You don’t have to stop creating completely – just tone down the intensity and leave some time to do other things that make you a happy and nourished writer. Fill up your well if it’s running dry!

Thanks to everyone who responded to my last post – be it here, on Instagram, or through private message/email. You have no idea how uplifting it was to hear from you, to know that you’re in the same place but that you feel less alone after reading that post, to exchange words of encouragement because sometimes, that’s really all we need – to know that someone out there is listening and looking forward to the stories we want to tell. ♥

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I Need a Break

This is something I don’t talk about normally. At least, not to people other than those in my inner circle. But I think it’s necessary to talk about the bad stuff as it is to celebrate the good stuff.

I think I need a break – from work, from writing – at least for a while. Like, step away completely for a week or so.

I feel like I haven’t caught a breath since April, when my dad was hospitalised for a bleeding tumour in his brain. Since then, I’ve just been taking care of him while trying to hit word count on the manuscript every single day. On top of the day job. On top of exercising twice a day. On top of recovering from my own partial thyroidectomy.

I don’t know why I do this to myself. It sounds almost like I’m punishing myself sometimes – that I need to exercise to “work off” my lunch (the only proper meal I have in a day), to write at least 500 words every day after getting home from the day job before going to bed and at least 1,000 words on weekends (free time? what free time?), that I need to get the manuscript done by a certain date and become a published author by a certain age. That I get so fixated on the finish line (although really, that thing is a moving target that will always shift just a little out of reach every time we come close to it) and I forget to enjoy the journey.

I might take a week off from work – but I get the feeling that I’ll just end up writing anyway. I can’t seem to take a break from writing or thinking about writing. Every minute I’m not writing, I feel like I’m wasting my life. There’s this voice in my head that goes, “Almost 28 years old and you still haven’t published your next book. How much more time are you planning to take to realise your dream?”

Which, I know, is completely unhealthy. We talk a lot about self-care, especially writers, who load a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves because damn we’re hard on ourselves sometimes. But often we don’t realise just how relentlessly we’ve been working or how hard we’ve been pushing ourselves until we get burned out. For the past few nights since hitting 60k on the novel, I’ve been crashing into bed early and taking naps on the weekend (something I NEVER do) because I’ve been so. tired. And this morning, I just experienced heart palpitations (which has occurred before).

I’m not writing this to offer solutions or preach about how we need to take care of our mental well-being, because heck, I’m just as clueless about this. I’m just here to share everything that’s been going on internally and hopefully – if you’re going through the same shit – make you feel less alone in this.

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So if you have any advice or suggestions on how to just relax and kick back without worrying about wasting time or not hitting your goals, please share! In the meantime, I’m off to hit up a bookstore and maybe have a guilt-free lunch to kickstart Self-Care Week.

Take care of yourselves too, loves!

updates from the writing bubble

I’ll be honest here. The reason I haven’t been blogging for so long is because I’ve been completely consumed by two things:

  1. THE NOVEL

    I’ve been making steady progress (average of 3K words per week) on LAND OF SAND AND SONG (moodboard below!) since the start of May and am at 54K words now, neck deep in Act 2. *happy writer dance*

    It may not seem like that much, 3K a week. But factor in the day job, commuting, exercise and sleep (both of which crucial to the creative process), and a semblance of social life, that leaves only a few hours of writing time each day. All things considered, this slow but steady progress is something I’m rather proud of.

    While I used to beat myself up for not hitting word count every day (“Seriously, Joyce. Is it that hard to write 500 words?”), now I just set myself a vague goal of 3K to 4K a week. If I hit it, great. If I exceed it, even better. But if I don’t, NBD. I’ll just write more the next week to make up for it.

    Besides, word count is not the only proof that a writer is hard at work. There are a lot of things that a writer does when not writing. We could be brainstorming, fixing plot holes, digging deeper into our characters’ psyches, developing character or plot arcs. A lot of the writing process does not take place on the page per se, but in our heads. So even if the word count doesn’t reflect my efforts, as long as I’ve developed the story further (which inevitably makes for faster and smoother writing), I can sleep in peace.

    Be kind to yourselves, writers!!

  2. CUTIES ON HIHO

    I’ve been HOOKED on this YouTube channel, HiHo Kids. Ernie, Austin, Crystal, Clara, and GG are so flipping adorable and sweet I could watch them all day (and hope they don’t grow up too quickly)!

    I first watched the “Kids Describe…” series with this talented Japanese-American illustrator Koji Minami and was smitten at the way he interacted with the kids.

Isn’t Ernie an absolute bundle of joy?

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Awww, I just heart these two!

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Koji + Ernie = pure love

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Look at the love in Ernie’s eyes! The kids love and look up to Koji so much, it makes my heart so full.

This one brought tears to my eyes, especially when Crystal asked sombre questions like “What is the hardest part about growing old?” and “Are you afraid of dying?”

Aren’t they all just pwecious?

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Austin!!! Did you know that he wanted to grow his hair long because Koji used to have long hair too?

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THOSE CHEEKS!!! And that little bow-tie!

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And just as I was already squealing over how adorable Austin is, his baby brother Adrian came along and I just lkdfajsdklfjsdkla

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Have a great week, everyone! ♥

manuscript roundup + aesthetics

Ask any writer and she’ll probably tell you that she’s working on several projects at the moment, whether they’re still slow-brewing in the recesses of her mind or already splayed out in their messy 56782th-draft glory.

(Note: We’re not talking about the weirdos who devote themselves to one project at a time.)

The question, then, is which one we should work on. The one that keeps us up all night and creeps into our mind when we drift away, of course. But what if ALL those plot bunnies are simultaneously doing the can-can in your head?

can can dance

It’s the classic case of too many stories, too little time. I CAN’T WRITE FAST ENOUGH for all you ideas, so if you could just form an orderly queue that would be really helpful thanks.

Will you, dear readers, help me decide? Drop a comment, send a private note or text if you have strong opinions on which WiP I should focus on now, because they’re all calling out to me in my dreams.

 

NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND

Pitch: With the help of her long-lost childhood friend, Gemma has to piece together her fragmented memories of imaginary adventures in Neverland to find out what happened to her missing parents.

Genre: YA contemporary

Status: Complete (Draft 9), but final edits required (damn typos will one day be the death of me, I swear).

 

BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU

Pitch: In a world where memories can be deleted, stored, and exchanged, Isabel and Lucas visit the memory killer to erase their painful memories, only to find themselves starting to forget everything, including each other.

Genre: YA magical realism

Status: Draft 1, page 217 (abandoned in early 2017 and I’m revisiting it now, but Act 3 does not want to reveal itself to me).

 

LAND OF SAND AND SONG

Pitch: After her chieftain father is ousted by rebel clans over a magical spring, 17-year-old Desert Rose seeks revenge by assassinating the person instigating the rebellion: the corrupt Emperor Zhao, who will stop at nothing to possess the elixir of life from the spring.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Draft 1, page 117 (WHAT FUN. MUCH EXCITES).

 

BLOOD PROMISE

Pitch: After her brother is captured for stealing fruits from the mercenary Traders who serve the fairies, April allies with a long-lost fairy prince and sets out on a rescue mission … only to find herself caught in a brewing fairy civil war where humans and changelings alike serve as pawns in the game.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Draft 6 (abandoned for two and a half years – it’s a hot mess, subplots all over the place, characters popping up in the middle of the story, convoluted story line, etc.).

 

 

LOVE POTIONS AND OTHER MYTHS (WORKING TITLE)

Pitch: The town of Blissville has the highest proportion of happy couples in the country. Dragging along her two best friends, “realist, not a cynic” Ravenclaw-girl Ruby Lou goes to investigate … and traces the source of all that romantic bliss down to a bakery owned by Henry Lee, a diehard romantic Hufflepuff-boy, who might just be Cupid in disguise.

Genre: YA contemporary romance

Status: Brewing, bubbling, simmering

 

A WORLD APART

Pitch: Sylvia is born with a condition that turns her insides to glass. To obtain the cure, she needs to find one of her doppelgangers in a parallel universe. Enter Wes, a runaway prince from another dimension, who is trying to save his war-torn kingdom HAHAHA I CLEARLY HAVEN’T THOUGHT THIS ONE THROUGH.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Fetus

 

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On meeting Alwyn Hamilton and resisting the siren song of Shiny New Idea

I know. I KNOW it’s been two whole months since I last blogged, and if you actually visit this blog and aren’t in regular contact with me you might have wondered if I died in a ditch somewhere.

No, I just died in my writing cave.

i need help

Because while I wasn’t blogging, I was busy working on that fantasy novel. Once or twice, I did feel guilty for not updating this blog and toyed with the notion of posting something. But I didn’t really have much to say that wouldn’t bore the lights out of everyone anyway. Plus, I feel even MORE guilty for doing anything other than writing that novel. Like, all this time I spend blogging can actually be spent upping my word count! Do I really need to blog?

But now that I’ve hit word count for the day, yes I can and yes I shall. (Need is a very strong word, after all.)

So updates:

  1. Meeting Alwyn Hamilton!!
    The most squeal-worthy one, of course, is that I got to moderate a session with ALWYN HAMILTON, THE ALWYN HAMILTON. Best-selling author of YA fantasy trilogy Rebel of the Sands, which I’ve gushed and swooned over everywhere!!!

 

Yes, so I got to meet her and pick her brain and she was incredibly sweet and candid as she shared about her writing process and journey to publication and I tried not to wet my pants in excitement.

(If you haven’t read her books yet, DO IT.)

 

 

 

It’s always so inspiring to see other writers living the life I’ve always wanted, and to know that they came from the same place before too (in a job they weren’t entirely committed to because they didn’t see it as their actual career). It makes me that much more determined to get to that place too.

So with that event done and dusted, I promptly went back to work.

 

2. Working on LAND OF SAND AND SONG

I’ll admit. I ALMOST caved in to the YA romance that was calling out to me as I ploughed through LAND.

But then I told myself that if I succumbed to this sexy new project – looking all glorious with its cutesy premise and alluring character arcs – I would be letting LAND down (what, you don’t regard your works-in-progress as actual sentient beings??) and making the mistake that many amateur writers make: write, get stuck, abandon, move to new project, get stuck, abandon… You see where I’m going with this.

And – surprise, surprise – that’s not how writing gets done! The only way to finish a draft is to, well, FINISH THE DAMN DRAFT, no matter how shitty it looks right now.

The current WiP may look like me when I first wake up in the morning with my hair all over my face and my skin blotchy and eyes bleary and basically a giant mess; whereas the Shiny New Idea may look all seductive and make eyes at me from across the room. But I’d be an idiot to follow it out the room when it sidles close to me and asks if I want to go get some air.

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Prince Eric may be hot, but he’s also an idiot easily fooled by an octopus woman. Just saying.

Because guess what? That Shiny New Idea will lose its lustre halfway through LIKE ALL FIRST DRAFTS DO. It will gurgle and splutter and flop like a dying fish on land (WHO’S LOOKING SEXY NOW, HUH?) before you decide to take pity on it and toss it back to the sea.

So no, I’m sticking to the “I woke up like this” WiP, blotchy skin and all. Even if I sometimes feel like stabbing it, even when it blinks innocently back at me when I scream at it to work itself out, even when my brain produces word vomit instead of a stream of lyrical prose like I want it to.

And the good news is, writing has a funny reward system. The more you do it, the less stuck you get. The more word vomit you produce, the more momentum you gain, the less shitty the writing gets.

Oh, the word vomit will still happen from time to time. But eventually, that clears up to become prose that is somewhere between not-too-bad and lyrical. And then, finally, hopefully, one day we might look back on all that drivel we wrote and realise that we’ve actually written our dream book.

 

HANDS UP, those of you who are resisting “the siren call” (as Alwyn put it) of Shiny New Ideas at the moment! How are you staying loyal to your WiP? 

still alive and writing

In case you were wondering, I haven’t been slacking all this time I’ve been MIA. Sure, the day job’s got me like

boo tired stoned

And some days like

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But I’ve been slowly but surely pulling myself out of that previous funk, and now every spare minute that I have outside of the day job is spent working on NEVERLAND or plotting LAND or WORLD or writing a new short story. When your time is in short supply, your productivity skyrockets.

Speaking of short stories, the Muses and I may have scaled down on the frequency of our posts (because life) but we have more head-space to work on our stories now.

The most recent one, Love in Free Verse, has just been posted, and I had so much fun with it. I’ve been back in my Eminem phase for the past week because of this clip from The Defiant Ones, a docu-series airing on HBO:

#LEGEND

Eminem’s life story is so inspiring. He not only went through the worst shit getting bullied as a kid (had no idea he had been so badly injured), going through the loss of a loved one, he also faced so many obstacles to make it as a rapper. But he stuck to his guns and persisted, sought opportunities everywhere, pushed for his dream, and was so hungry for it. It makes me ashamed of how I’m just sitting on my ass when he had tried that hard to earn his big break.

And he’s a brilliant lyricist; he’s got the whole rhythm and poetry genre nailed. I’ve been a fan of his since I was 14, when I first heard Mockingbird on the radio and proceeded to buy his album, Curtain Call, and I just can’t rave enough about how wildly talented he is. He can pack so many expressions, metaphors, alliterations, imagery, allegories, allusions and other literary devices into his songs he rarely ever repeats his lines (except for choruses).

Fun fact: did you know that he reads the dictionary so that he has all these words at his disposal when he write his rhymes?

This is how intimate he is with his art, how dedicated he is to his craft.

This is why he can rap freestyle off the top of his head and think up rhymes in seconds and set the world record for the most number of words in a song.

This is why Rolling Stone named him one of the Greatest of All Time, why Sir Elton John himself called him “a true poet of his time”, why even horror writer Stephen King and Barack Obama (as well as celebrities from Justin Timberlake to Rihanna to 50 Cent and Drake) are his fans.

Okay, I’ll stop now. But if you want to hear me rave some more, here’s an article I wrote on Eminem.

So tl;dr, inspired by the Rap God, I tried my hand at writing rap lyrics in this month’s short story. Amateur attempt, so please forgive the clumsy rhythm and perhaps cringe-worthy lyrics.

And in case you want more, here are some other stories I’ve written for the blog:

Worlds Apart

Leaving Neverland

We Were Meant to Save the World

Death Died of a Broken Heart

The Story Thieves

If you can, check out what the other Muses have written too! They continually blow me away with how creative and imaginative they are with their stories, and keep challenging me to bring my A game to the table. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I’m lucky to have found all of them.

If you’d like to share your stories on our blog, please feel free to get in touch with any one of us or drop us a note here! We would love to hear from you.

Till then, muse-chasers. I’ll be working on my dreams because Slim Shady inspired me to. ♥

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Quote: Eminem

enjoying the journey

 

“It’s impossible to put all your energy into something really difficult if everything is riding on the result. The people who are the best at reaching big goals have an obsessive drive toward the goal, but also, they are able to break down the process of meeting the goal into tiny, bite-sized pieces and then take pleasure in completing each part.

When someone is unable to relish the small steps, they just stop, because process starts to seem hopeless if you constantly focus on the end. You have to have a proclivity for hard work (which might be as crucial and inheritable as talent) combined with the ability to take joy in the process itself.”

I came across this article recently, and was struck particularly by the quote above.

It is, in essence, what writers and other creative types have heard often enough. But to glean this advice from a story as poignant and sweet as this helps to drive it home.

a little progress every day

I’ve been told often that this writing journey is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to enjoy the journey itself rather than sweat over how soon we reach our destination – partly because there’s always going to be a new ending point, and partly because focusing on the destination instead of the journey means we are losing sight of what really matters. Not whether we publish our next book or make the New York Times bestsellers list, but why we write and what keeps us going. Whether we enjoy writing our stories, whether we love the process of creating something out of nothing (which is basically what art is), of pulling our random ideas together painstakingly to form a coherent and moving story.

I’ve been so caught up in the fact that I haven’t completed a manuscript, haven’t hit the word count, haven’t had anything that I can pitch to agents, etc, that I’ve stopped making it fun for myself. And how fun any endeavour can be is mostly – if not entirely – within your control.

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Before, I agonised over the numbers, the outcome, instead of the process of creation and storytelling. In chasing the outcome, I’ve forgotten to let myself indulge in the joy of imagination, of pursuing ideas, in wonder and play.

But those are the things that will inspire us to write, not having a deadline constantly breathing down your neck and screaming at you to write, dammit, write! Because you can’t write a good story with that kind of negative pressure and guilt-tripping yourself when you fall off the bandwagon. All you’re going to do is make yourself miserable and crush your self-esteem and question your self-worth and identity as a writer. You’ll end up churning out pointless scenes and useless pages for the sake of hitting word count. You will plod along at a lacklustre pace for the banal sake of progress, when in fact you’re going nowhere at all.

So I tried to shut out all of that – all the doubts and anxiety and self-inflicted pressure – go on a partial technology detox, go stare at the sea for a bit, spend a weekend doing absolutely nothing related to writing or the manuscripts, drove around town with the stereo on full blast, belt along to songs like these:

And it’s not only been completely liberating (everyone should try screaming along to 2000’s pop punk hits on a drive if they get the chance to), it has also cleared so much more head space for thought and imagination. I’m watching dramas and TV series again, reading more extensively (instead of focusing on material that’s related to my works in progress), discovering new songs, and dreaming up new scenes instead of rehashing tired old ones.

In fact, I’ve found a way out of the fix that is NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. Not entirely, mind you. But I’ve circumvented several roadblocks that have kept me scratching the dirt at the same spot for the longest time. All because I decided to take a step back, take a chill pill, and then come back with a new outline! And since then, I’ve been working through Draft 7 bit by bit every day. But every bit counts, and I know I will arrive at a manuscript I am entirely satisfied with no matter how long it takes.

So deep breaths, baby steps, fellow (figurative) pen-wielders. We will get where we need to be in the time we need to get there. Trust in the journey. Relish it. Your writing will thank you for it.

enjoy the writing

(Also in the vein of self-forgiveness, I’m not going to sweat about the frequency of my posts. There are far more important things to concern myself with, like, you know, the quality of my posts.)

Hope you’re having a Zen hump day!