when existential angst seizes you on a Thursday night

WAIT.

It’s been more than A MONTH since I wrote my last blog post? Not just, I don’t know, two weeks?? Where did all that time go???

I honestly thought it’s only been at most three weeks since I last blogged. The past month, like all those before it, flew by with deadlines and events and the mad rush at work to clear my Inbox (when will I ever have zero unread mail?) and check things off the never-ending to-do list.

Every time I realise how quickly time has passed and how completely oblivious I have been about that, this suffocating sadness settles over me.

And along with it comes even more panic.

On top of worrying whether I’ve replied all the urgent emails and cleared everything flagged as top priority on my to-do list and accounted to all the relevant people, I also worry about all the time I’m wasting NOT doing the things I love or actually care about.

Sometimes, I don’t know if this anxiety and sadness (I won’t call it depression because it would discount what true depression sufferers are going through) is normal, if everyone my age feels the same way, as though we’re juggling multiple things in our lives and may lose our grasp on any one of them any second, or if things will get better as soon as I make the bold leap out of my current circumstance.

What if I’m just leaping into another big mistake?

What if this is as good as it gets, and I just need to grit my teeth and get through it?

What about all the other unexplored possibilities out there?

What am I giving up by staying in my comfort zone?

What if I sacrifice safety by venturing out?

Is there any guarantee at all for anything??

Okay, that just got way too heavy for the night. I’m not here to mope and moan again. This was supposed to be a quick update on the WIP, the short story blog, and other (frankly, nonexistent) life updates. I just got triggered by the time that has lapsed since my last post.

I’ll leave the trend-of-thought rambling for sessions with my therapist. For now, there’s always Rilke and his sagely advice

Okay, updates.

  1. On Neverland

On the writing front, I’m still working my way through draft six of NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. It’s slow-going, especially for Act II, and I understand why some of the agents I queried pointed out the saggy middle. Because the middle IS saggy. I got bored reading it, which means my readers will too.

The question, now, is how to create more tension in Act II and keep the story plodding along. And I can’t move on until this is resolved. Hence, a brief stalemate.

2. On the short story blog

The four of us have decided to take down the pace a notch over at our short story blog. I explained it in this post, but basically we felt that one short story a month, on top of other posts every week, was too hectic given our respective commitments with our day jobs, family, our own WIPs, and everything else.

So instead of a weekly short story, we’ll be posting one fortnightly. Better a short story that we’ve spent time and effort on than one that we churn out for the sake of meeting deadlines, right?

3. On life

Well, what more is there to say? I’ve been cooped up in a bubble, ricocheting between work and writing, work and writing.

Thank goodness for steadfast friends who keep me sane and are unfailingly patient, ceaselessly encouraging, and immensely kind. (And you, dear reader, for being forgiving of my liberal use of adverbs).

A friend of mine said that we, as writers, need to feed our soul in order to create stories that in turn feed others’ souls. That we shouldn’t see the time we spend not writing as wasted, but as nourishment for when we do sit down and write.

Another friend told me that we shouldn’t see life as a race to the destination. Even if we have a goal in mind, the journey itself is worth paying attention to, and we need to live in every single moment that takes us to our destination eventually, even if that means watching YouTube videos or taking a day off just to roam around the city.

(Seriously, how are my friends so wise and in the know?!)

It reminded me of a quote from one of my favourite YA authors, Sarah Dessen:

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And of course, that Rilke quote about living the questions now so that we might one day, finally, live into the answer is a timeless source of comfort.

Looking back on 2016, I was sooo hung up on not having completed a manuscript. I kept feeling like I had wasted an entire year. And I put so much pressure on myself because I told myself I have big plans for my life and can’t afford to slacken.

But if I hadn’t spent my time reading those books, watching those dramas, pursuing those ideas, attending orchestra concerts on weekends, going through the necessary angst, or giving myself the time and space to do things outside of writing (i.e. living), I wouldn’t have come up with two new novel plots that get my heart racing and my fingers itching to write every time I think about them.

Sometimes, I think my gaze is so fixed on the finish line that my view becomes entirely blinkered and I ignore everything else around me. Still working on that.

I guess what I’m trying to say, after all this rambling is, I will learn to trust in the journey. I hope you will too, dear reader, and I hope you’ll find your forever in the moments you’re living right now.

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when life crowds out everything else

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You know how when you get too caught up in the daily grind and its nitty-gritty demands that everything else falls by the wayside and suddenly you glance at the calendar and realise weeks have passed and your brain is still stuck in two weeks ago — no, 2015?

Yeah, that just happened. Again. Actually, it’s happened too many times before. And weeks, months, YEARS can pass just like that. When you stop to take a breather and realise that all this time has fled and you’ve done pretty much nothing that you can show for.

2016 was like that for me. A year where everything was a blur, weeks blended into each other and I had no idea when one ended and another started. My calendar was full of deadlines, and the to-do list for work jostled for the most space on my phone and desktop.

We get caught up the snare of day-to-day life unwittingly. It creeps in, slow and insidious, beginning as just regular ol’ anticipation for the weekend, when we have some alone time, some room to breathe, at last. We try to survive through the week, and then anticipate the next weekend.

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Pretty soon, the brief reprieve offered by weekends is the only thing that’s keeping us afloat.

Weeks can fly by when we’re counting them down like that. We can lose grasp of our time, our goals, our dreams, when we let real life rob us day by day. Commitments like the day job, socialising, chores, errands… Something’s got to give, and more often than not it’s the thing that asks the least of us that gets sacrificed. The thing that asks the least of us, but gives us the most joy.

For artists, it’s our art.

It sounds frivolous and indulgent, but it isn’t. Living isn’t just about survival. On top of that, it’s about finding a purpose, a calling, a reason for being, what the Japanese call ikigai.

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Everyone would have, by my age, typically found theirs by now. Otherwise, we’d all just stay in bed and wonder what we exist for.

For artists — at least, for this artist — the drive to create is what keeps me going. I can’t break down yet, I can’t give in yet, not until I publish another book, reach one more reader, finish writing another novel.

Therefore:

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When there is no space in our lives to create, or at least (in Liz Gilbert’s words) pursue our curiosity, life dims into a dreary pool of watery light. When our minds are so preoccupied with keeping up with the demands of everyday life to venture into the realms of creativity, we become ravenous, mercurial beasts, snapping at everything in our way and not understanding why. We grow heavy and lethargic in our hearts, to the point where we can’t seem to breathe, or where everything comes out in tears.

What Laini Taylor said in this blog post (which I keep going back to) was right:

You can be convinced you’re following your dream, or that you’re going to start tomorrow, and years can pass like that. Years.

The thing is, there will be pressure to adjust your expectations, always shrinking them, shrinking, shrinking, until they fit in your pocket like a folded slip of paper, and you know what happens to folded slips of paper in your pocket. They go through the wash and get ruined. Don’t ever put your dream in your pocket.

I let 2016 pass me by. I’m not going to let real life rob me of my time this year, I’m not going to put my dream in my pocket any longer. I will unfold it. I will find the time and space for it, if only because it is growing too restless sitting in my pocket and sitting in my heart and it’s manifesting itself as tears, despondency, night-time despair, and a bone-deep restlessness that is crowding out every other thought in my head.

But I don’t have time to go insane. I don’t have time for a mental breakdown (although physically I have, what with a high fever, sore throat, and the flu I’m just slowly recovering from). I don’t want to be lost and depressed anymore. Because there’s work to be done, and only I can get it done.

If nothing, I can at least say I tried, and it was all worth the effort.

I think the passion for an extraordinary life, and the courage to pursue it, is what makes us special. And I don’t even think of it as an “extraordinary life” anymore so much as simple happiness. It’s rarer than it should be, and I believe it comes from creating a life that fits you perfectly, not taking what’s already there, but making your own from scratch.

~ Laini Taylor

 

 

on writers festivals and … not writing :/

*blows the dust off this sad, neglected blog*

So I’m here blogging when really I should be working on my short story for Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand (pop over and check it out if you haven’t already!) DUE FRIDAY. Well done, Joyce. Such a champ at procrastinating. If I deliver a crappy story this month, you can blame this blog —

Okay, no. Just blame it on my procrastinating self because I have no idea what to write for this month’s prompt and I’m afraid it will suck so badly our readers will be disappointed so all I can do is ramble here because anything is easier than staring at that pile of steaming crap I just dumped on the page.

Anyway, on a brighter note, I spoke at two sessions during the All In! Young Writers Festival, about short story writing and commercial writing respectively, and that was a whole! lotta! fun!

Agenda for today! So lovely meeting all the young hopeful aspiring writers #youngwritersfestival #allinsg2017 #writerslife

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

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It’s always such a joy speaking with readers and writers at events like this. I especially love hearing what young adult readers have to say. As a YA writer, I have tremendous love and respect for my target audience (why else would I be writing for them?) because they are so passionate and wide-eyed and optimistic, but also incredibly smart and discerning.

A lot of them are just starting out as writers themselves, and they ask questions like, “How do you get past writer’s block?” and “Do you go into your story with a detailed plan or do you figure it out as you go along?” and “What advice would you give to writers who wish to cross genres?”

Plus, it was interesting to hear what the other writers had to say to these questions. Marla herself is a huge fan of writing endings – you can read her beautiful writing at her blog.

Shout-out to the National Book Development Council – thanks for inviting me as a speaker! I had a wonderful time ❤

(Also, my book, LAMBS FOR DINNER, was sold out at the festival bookstore, so yay!)

Now, back to the story I’m clearly not writing!

on self-care and forgiveness as a writer (and human)

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So from the 17475957274 things to do at work, Trump’s inauguration and the departure of the Obamas (goodbye to the last shred of class, grace, and decency in the White House!), to insufficient rest because of new working hours (those researchers are not kidding when they say interrupting ones circadian rhythm causing them to display the effects of being mentally and physically tortured – more on that in a bit), I think it’s safe to say that the past week has been a little rough.
At work, we’re getting started on all our 2017 sales campaigns and launches now and February and March are when EVERYTHING seems to be happening all at once – school collaborations, our very own style awards, trend campaigns, brand campaigns, birthday anniversary campaign … And on top of that I have a writing residency and writing festival to prepare for. I don’t even know where to BEGIN. Last Thursday, I found myself just slumping back in my seat in shock and resignation and waiting for an answer to hit me on the head.
The end of the week could not come soon enough. Except it did, and it knocked me over in one punch: I fainted on the train home.
I just closed my eyes for a minute there on the commute home and the next thing I knew I had blacked out and was sprawled on the floor, dazed and confused. When I opened my eyes everyone was in my face. This lady helped me up and someone else picked up my stuff, while and guy kept asking if I was okay. I leaned against the train door for a while to shake off the vertigo and we soon reached my stop. The lady kept holding on to me and followed me out of the train. She asked me if I could get back home on my own and I said I’ll take a cab. But I took a bus home and promptly crashed into bed. My body was breaking out in cold sweat when I woke up 15 minutes later (set my alarm clock for that so I wouldn’t oversleep).
This is completely unprecedented – I had never fainted before and it’s a scary feeling to not be in control of your physical and mental faculties. I’m the kind who whizzes around everywhere and works out without fail. You wouldn’t think I’d ever FAINT out of exhaustion or whatever the reason was.
Besides, it’s only JANUARY! Who gets burned out in January?! I haven’t even really gotten started for this year yet.
But I guess our bodies don’t demarcate time into years and think, Oh okay 2016 is over so I’m starting anew in 2017, like our brains do. The stress you pile onto it accumulates over time and your body doesn’t have a yearly quota or automatic Refresh button that it hits on 1 Jan.
It was probably the amalgamation of everything that had been going on in the past week. And that glass of wine I had on an empty stomach while meeting a content partner to talk business probably didn’t help matters much.
But I finally managed to grab 7.5 hours of sleep that night (wasted the whole of last night not writing though) and woke up feeling slightly better rested. But it kind of made me wonder if I’m really, like what everyone around me keeps saying, pushing myself too hard. Maybe I don’t realise it (because it’s my norm, the routine and structure that I’m used to) but everyone else sees it more clearly?
A friend of mine told me that my days are so structured and I’m so disciplined that I don’t allow any excuses for myself. For some reason, I started tearing up.
Why do I keep hanging on so tightly to this kind of routine? Why don’t I dare to step outside and explore things beyond my comfort zone? Maybe I’m more of a perfectionist than I thought, and the fear of slipping up, of being judged, of being seen as incompetent?
Still, though, this incident has put the fear in me. Not the useless kind of fear I usually carry around that hinders how I do (or NOT do) things, but the kind that makes me sit up and pay attention.
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Another friend of mine advised, “You may want the world to be a certain way. You may want your life to be a certain way. You may want the people around you to be a certain way. And you are, of course, responsible for working hard to bring all that into reality. 

“But there is one primary responsibility that comes before all that. And that is to take good care of ourselves first. Because we have only one piece of sophisticated equipment we need to get the work done – and that is our physical body (and the brain that comes along with it).

“If this critical machinery breaks down, there go all our chances of creating the reality that we want.”

He – and Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert – also said that self-love and forgiveness are two things that writers badly need but often don’t give themselves enough of.

“That fainting spell was your body telling you to take a hint,” said my friend.”Also, when you find yourself becoming accident-prone … hint, hint. It takes a measure of wisdom to recognise these limits and learn to respect them, before your very self starts to break down.

“It’s possible that your blood sugar may have dropped below a certain threshold, triggering the fainting spell. Digesting wine on an empty stomach burns too many calories and your body probably went into deficit. If you keep it up, the catabolic process will break down the healthy tissues in your body and burn those for energy.”

Which basically means I need to start treating my body right and stop thinking it’s invincible (sure feels like it when I’m working out, though).

So here’s me trying to block out the white noise of everyday life and paying attention instead to what my body is trying to tell me. The accidents – little or big, sustaining at least one injury every other day – the bone-weariness, the fainting … Maybe while being masters of our own body  we also need to serve it well.

I might have been doggedly pursuing that one major writing goal, to the extent that I’ve been leading a blinkered one-track life, for too long. And in the meantime, life happened; the day job continued to take its toll. Add alcohol to the mix and you’re probably not surprised things turned out the way they did.

I’ll listen more carefully from now on. And may YOU continue to be kind to yourself as you chase your dreams. You are all you have.

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Have a good week ahead! :0)

2017, here we go

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So we’ve left 2016 behind at last. Not a minute too soon, methinks. I remember how hopeful and excited I was to make 2016 a year I could look back on and be proud of how much I had accomplished. How 2016 was going to be different. Amazing, despite the changes that had already happened in 2015. I had a novel I was working on! I had just gotten promoted at work! I was making more writer friends! How bad could the coming year be, right?

Welllllll.

Maybe it was because I placed too much hope on last year. I asked too much of it. And when my hopes and dreams failed to materialise, my morale and my spirit shrivelled away day by day. I grew lonely, sometimes withdrawn, occasionally cried in bed, and tried to convince myself that I was fine. That this was just a rite of passage, all this shall pass, and that I didn’t need anyone or anything else to make me happy.

But happiness isn’t dependent only on the self. We can’t simply find fulfillment within ourselves and remain in that state of contentment just because our sense of self is so strong. Our state of mind, whether we believe it or not, is ultimately still very much affected by the world in which we live, the world that happens to us, and the world we choose to see.

So there were good days and there were bad days. Some days were particularly awful. Some days allowed me some reprieve and I saw a glimmer of hope and joy. Granted, there were days where I chose to see only the bad and neglected the good. Then there were days where I opened my eyes to the good and the beautiful.

There was the good:

  1. I visited Europe for the first time with my friends. Alone! But with besties! And in Italy!

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We had a grand ole time there, and I saw so much beauty that restored my spirit. Truly, it doesn’t get any better than that.

2. I met three incredible ladies online and we forged a friendship so swiftly and easily it was like we were fated to meet in the vast cybersphere all along.

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Clockwise: me, Nicole, Meredith, Becky

Nicole, Meredith, and Becky (and all the other writer friends I’ve met along the way) have been such a bright spot in the dark days of despair, self-doubt and loneliness. I find myself eagerly awaiting their long emails, craving the connection, and somehow we all just get one another. We exchanged stories about our lives and stories we write (which we publish on our short story blog Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand), and that’s how we’ve been pulling each other through it.

3. I travelled to Beijing with my dad like he had always wanted.

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Climbing the Great Wall was at the top of his bucket list, and he had always wanted me to go with him before he was – in his words – “old and grey and arthritic”.

4. I received several personalised rejections, a couple of revise & resubmit requests, and even went on a Skype call with a literary agent who was incredibly kind and generous with her feedback, advice, and compliments for NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND.

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Yes, the rejections bummed me out (SO close!), but they also offered clarity and hope.

But there was also the bad:

  1. My work BFFs left at the end of 2015 and early 2016, which left me all alone in the company. Okay, not quite alone. But with my old tribe gone, I suddenly felt stranded, exposed. And I had spent my entire time at work with these people, so I wasn’t as close to everyone else. It would be strange if I just attached myself to new people all of a sudden. I felt like a square trying to fold all my angles to fit into a circle.
  2. 2016 was the only year since 2009 where I didn’t finish writing at least one novel. I had completed at least one manuscript every year, sometimes 3 a year, until 2016, even though I started the year with BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU and planned to finish it by August at the latest. Nope. Didn’t happen. I wrote draft after draft, wrote myself into a corner, wrote the story to death before it finally spluttered to a stop at page 207 (48K words).
  3. All the deaths in 2016. Illnesses and wars. Need I say more?
  4. Singlehood. While I generally believe that it happens when it happens, and that I would rather be single than be with the wrong guy, that I’m a loner anyway and I don’t really need anyone to feel complete since I’m happy with my own company and my thoughts most of the time, that my books and manuscripts are all I need to keep me entertained… Yeah, in spite of all that, there are still moments – a Saturday afternoon with no particular agenda, for instance – when the loneliness creeps in and I wonder if there really is something wrong with me after all, that maybe I’m just too weird to ever find someone who would know me inside out and love me anyway.
  5. Trump. Don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I am entirely disgusted by the whole circus.
  6. And as if 2016 didn’t suck enough, I ended the year with a sprained foot after taking a tumble to the ground. Spent the last two weeks at home and in pain.

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Yes, all in all, I’ve still got it good. Despite the bad outweighing the good in 2016, I’m still alive and kicking, I have the people I love around me, I have a relatively cushy job that drains my soul once in a while, etc.

Yes, I get all that. I get that I should count my blessings, that I should be thankful. And I am. I am absolutely grateful for all that I have. But I don’t think I’m being unappreciative to want more than this – this routine life of the 9-to-5 white-collared worker. I know very well that this is not where I want to be, and I’m barely there yet. This is a mandatory period of struggle and frustration all aspiring authors have to go through in order to reach where we long to be. So is it wrong to want more than this, to not want to settle for the safe, predictable, comfortable life?

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This period of time when one year ends and the next one begins is a pretty strange one: it makes us nostalgic and retrospective, but it gives us slightly clearer vision and hope for better things to come.

I’m tired of wanting. Or wanting and not having. Of feeling trapped. Of staying at the same spot. I don’t want 2017 to be just another extension of the unproductive 2016.

So this is what exactly I plan to do this year in order to reach my writing goals:

  1. Finish My Shit

I’m committing to writing – and COMPLETING – a manuscript, be it the problematic BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU that has been full of false starts and no end in sight or LAND OF SAND AND SONG, the first of a fantasy series that’s been brewing in my brain for a while. This year, my motto is to finish what you start, dammit! 

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2. Write Something Every Day

To write consistently every day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, even if I can only snatch a pocket of time during lunch, on my commute to work. Every little bit counts. The idea is to keep advancing with the word count. No excuses. Not even the demands of the day job is going to keep me away from the WIP. And certainly not my own self-doubt and fear of failure or imperfection.

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3. Make NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND Come to Fruition

I still believe in this story. I believe in the emotions it pulled out of me, and it emotions it can evoke in my readers. I believe in it because there are others who believe in it – friends, agents, beta readers, critique partners. People I cannot let down. People who are rooting for me (bless their hearts).

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I know what the problems are with this manuscript (and if I don’t I will find out), what makes it less perfect than it should be in order to get represented and published, so it’s high time to whip this thing into shape.

4. Live a Little More Bravely

Okay, this one is not exactly writing-related. And I say this almost every year, but this year I resolve to live a little more. Take a chance. Head outside. Attend gatherings. Date more. Meet new people. Make new friends. Maybe open myself up to love, even though

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Let someone into my world. Speak my mind. Wear my heart on my sleeve. Then see what happens. I might be surprised, I might be mortified. But hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

 

So, dear readers.

Thank you for staying with me throughout the last year. I’m looking forward to more new friendships, soul connections, thought exchanges, and the kindness of strangers this year. What are some of YOUR New Year’s resolutions, writing-related or otherwise? Share them in the Comments section below. I would love to hear from you, as always.

Happy New Year and may 2017 bring you everything you ever wished for and more.

Joyce xx

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on writer friends and fun new projects

These two weeks have been a whirlwind ever since I got back from Italy. Work events, mainly, but also application for a writing residency and a SHORT STORY BLOG!!

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Ever since I first discovered Maggie Stiefvater in 2009 (after reading her beautiful, lyrical YA fantasy novel SHIVER), I’ve been a HUGE fan. So imagine how rabid I got when I found out that she had a short story blog that she set up with two other writer friends, Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff!

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Since then, I’ve been toying around with the idea of setting up a short story blog with writer friends. But it’s hard because everyone’s schedule and level of commitment is different. Like Maggie said, it takes a while to find your tribe. The tribe of writer friends with whom you just manage to click on pretty much every level – in terms of temperament, life experiences, preferences in books, authors, and more – and who share the same aspirations as you.

The people you surround yourself with are so important, especially those who not just understand, but encourage your dreams. The three ladies – Meredith, Nicole, and Becky – I’ve had the amazing fortune to meet in the vast cybersphere (seriously, what are the odds?) are everything I had always yearned for.

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Growing up as an only child, I mostly only had books for company. It seemed like a natural progression that I’d end up wanting to create stories as much as I enjoy reading them. Not everyone shares this love for books and writing, though, so I mostly just wrote in isolation, shutting myself in my room for hours and typing feverishly, or wandering around lost in the worlds I’ve created, thinking, breathing, living the stories I wanted to write. I’ve heard family, friends, and acquaintances remark on more than one occasion, “She’s always lost in her own world,” and most of the time I’m cool with that.

Sometimes, though, it gets lonely. And that’s where writer friends are a salve, a warm cup of tea on a rainy day, a reminder that I’m not alone in my pursuits, my weirdness. There are people out there who share your dreams and insecurities, your hopes and doubts, and who are willing to listen as much as they share.

This is how I met each of them:

Meredith

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We have Chuck Wendig to thank for this one. He encouraged writers to post the first paragraph of their manuscripts in the comments section, and Meredith’s passage leaped out at me. I left some feedback, not holding back in my gushing (as usual), and she actually emailed me a thank-you note, and asked if I would like to stay in touch. Would I ever! She’s PhD student who’s just completed her dissertation  and writes mostly historical fiction (one of which I’ve had the privilege to read), which means she gets as psyched as I do over art and ancient architecture. I’ve known her the longest out of the three, and I’m so grateful that we’ve still got this going. Her constant encouragement and kind words have had me keeping the faith in this whole writing endeavour.

Nicole

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I can’t remember how I stumbled upon her blog, but after reading a post she wrote about her writing aspiration I was struck by her tenacity, her optimism, her genuine love for writing and trust that it will take her to amazing places. It reminded me a lot of the starry-eyed teenager I was when I first told my teachers I wanted to be a writer, and I just find it so rare and precious that Nicole still has that fire burning so strongly in her. She also blogged about her struggle with her weight and food, something that I battled with when I was 17, and I was in awe of her courage and maturity to share that with the world. So of course I had to reach out to her. She was just as warm and friendly – if not more so – in email, and I knew this was one writer friend I would love to collaborate with in one way or another.

Becky

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She first reached out to me via Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Love Connection, after I posted my synopsis for one of my novels (was it Until Morning or No Room in Neverland?), and her synopsis in turn hooked me. Turned out we were both fans of Leigh Bardugo (if you haven’t read her books, seriously I would’ve thought my earlier posts about her awesomeness would have converted you already) and Holly Black, so of course we hit it off. She writes YA fiction and has a knack for delving deep into her characters and bringing out the nuances in their psyches (she made me see aspects of MY characters I had never considered before!).

So I asked them individually if they would like to be part of a writing group that posts short stories (and plays and poetry and anything else – we don’t discriminate against forms!) weekly like Maggie used to with her Brenna and Tessa, her critique partners. And to my delight, they were just as excited about the proposition as I was!

After introducing them to each other (though Meredith already knew Nicole through the latter’s blog – I told you her posts speak to the heart), we started bouncing ideas off each other while exchanging life updates.

Ever since we all gathered in one email thread titled “SHORT STORY BLOG!!!” (which perfectly conveys the amount of excitement we have about this project, methinks), the four of us have been exchanging emails pretty much daily, and it’s always a joy to wake up every morning (we live in different time-zones) and see their long, sincerely thought-out emails in my Inbox.

This is our final product: it’s called Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand.

We’ll publish a short story per week, written by each of us based on a shared prompt that will be posted at the start of every month (so you can try your hand at writing a story too!). In between, there will be other fun stuff like music recommendations, guest interviews and stories, polls and more. We hope you’ll check out the site, and hopefully enjoy what we have in store for you! :0)

How to Revive that Dying Manuscript

Last week, I came thisclose to giving up on that memory erasure novel. THISCLOSE.

This would not be the first time I gave up on a manuscript. In fact, it’s always around this part (the middle of Act II) that I contemplate abandoning this piece of shit that has sputtered and stalled towards the end of Act II. Like NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, I tried dragging it on for a while before admitting to myself that the story isn’t working and that it’s not going to turn out the way I want it to. It’s commonly known as the “dark night of the soul” for writers, where we languish in the pits of inferiority and debilitating self-doubt.

writers-block

I came across this article recently, How Writers Mourn Their Dead Novels, which perfectly describes what it’s like to have a dying novel in your hands and it’s up to you to bring it back to life.

You’ve spent years falling in love with an idea, working out its intricacies, populating its contours with characters that become like family. And now, after months building it word by word, you have a thick manuscript, mostly finished, that flops about on the desk like a dying fish. “Save me,” says the fish. “I can’t,” you say.

And then it dies.

I’m standing at that point between the flopping and the dying. And as someone whose manuscripts have survived several near-death moments, here are a few tips I can offer to those who are in the same boat as me right now:

1. Keep Your Eyes on the Finish Line

Some days, it feels like you’re never going to finish the damn story. It feels like it will never be done, and that you’re just crawling your way to the end with a boulder tied to your back.

I know.

when-the-words-flow

Snoopy knows too.

The only reassurance I have – and am clinging on to – right now is the knowledge that I’ve been through this before. I’ve had to contend with several flopping novels on the brink of death before, and somehow managed to salvage. NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND is something I’m sort of proud of (even though it’s still not perfect), partly because it was a manuscript I had almost abandoned but managed to COMPLETE (at last).

Think about what you first set out to do with this story, think about what you’re trying to say. Think about the magic that first inspired you to write the novel, and forge your way towards realising that magic.

2. Enjoy the Ride

Yes, it’s painful.

The whole process of creating something from scratch is like carving out a piece of your flesh with every word you type.

The first draft is ALWAYS shitty. Because that’s when we’re still figuring out the story as we go along, even though we may have plotted it extensively before diving into it. We can never know for sure EVERYTHING that we want to say until we actually say it. So a lot of what we’re saying the first time round comes out garbled and incoherent.

It’s verbal diarrhea.

his-was-a-story-that-had-to-be-told

But it’s the process – that journey towards The End – that makes the destination that much more beautiful, after all. Why else would you want to keep doing it, story after story? Knowing how far you’ve come since page one, seeing how different – better – the finished product looks from your first draft, realising that you somehow managed to find your way to the end eventually makes everything worth it – the blood, the sweat, the tears.

3. Work on Something Else

Instead of tearing your hair out and squeezing your brain dry while you agonise over the WIP that is just not working (which NEVER works for me), maybe a distraction might help to get the writing juices flowing again. No, not Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest.

Another WIP.

A Shiny New Idea.

j law wink.gif

How those other Shiny New Ideas are calling out to me right now.

I’ve found that it helps for me to work on another story simultaneously, so whenever it’s going terrible for one you can take a break and turn to the other. Sometimes, you just need some distance between you and your WIP to approach it again with fresh eyes. It usually works, at least for me.

The whole idea is to not lose momentum. Keep writing – another WIP, a short story, a poem (if you’re into that – personally, I make a terrible poet) – and you might just find a diamond in the rough.

4. Time for a Change of Scenery

do-something-worth-writing

Benjamin Franklin

Artists are anything but drones. We’re human beings who are constantly seeking new experiences, new scenery to reignite that spark.

Which is why my upcoming Beijing trip is well-timed. Not only is it a change of scenery (all! those! palaces!), it also provides a reprieve from REMEMBER, and I can focus on plotting the Oriental-inspired historical fantasy novel I’ve had brewing in my head ever since I watched Sound of the Desert and read Rebel of the Sands. Shiny New Idea, let me give you some loving!

5. Stay Inspired 

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Image from Hoover’s Corner

How do you write a novel when you’re stuck in your own head? Keep reading new stories, watching new stories, listening to new music, and experiencing new things, and never stop asking what if questions to keep the stories coming!

 

So tl;dr I’m not going to give up on BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU just yet. And if you’re thinking of abandoning your WIP, don’t. Just give it some time and space. It’ll get better. Trust that it will!

keep-calm-and-edit-later

By the way, I’ll be in Beijing for a week, so I won’t have access to conventional social media and texting platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp (*cries*). I can, however, still be found on Skype (joyce.chua259) and Instagram (@thewritesofpassage), where I will spam travel photos!

It’s going to be crazy times, y’all! Stay inspired.

 

Until we meet again,

Joyce xx