Making time to write … and other (near) impossible things

chuck supernatural writing hard

We feel you, Chuck.

Juggling a demanding day job, two manuscript edits, and a new novel means some things fall by the wayside, and unfortunately this blog is one of those things. I have only two and a half hours of free time between dinnertime and bedtime to do everything I want to do, so something’s gotta give.

Actual image of me rn.

But I promise I haven’t forgotten about this blog, or the short story blog, where we’re dialling down things a little because LIFE. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ You might have noticed we haven’t been posting as regularly at Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand – and it’s not what we wish to do.

Believe us, there are so many things we had planned and still want to do for the blog, but time is just not on our side. We have full-time jobs that sap so much brain juice and head space and take up a huge part of our week. The remaining time we have is spent working on our manuscripts – working to make our author dreams come true – or spending time with our loved ones, reading and imbibing new narratives.

Same, Jo. Except in the present tense.

And writing short stories requires more time and brain cells than people realise. It takes work to make a story coherent and impactful, no matter the length.

writing is hard

Okay, Lisa might be a little dramatic here but she’s not wrong.

But the good news is – we’re relinquishing some of the space to guest writers in the coming months! We’re inviting other writers to try their hand at our prompts and have their work published on our blog, because we KNOW there are a lot of writers out there who are quietly plugging, honing their craft but afraid to share their work. And some of you are actually better than you think you are. You just need to take that first step, put your work out there, and it will get easier with every story you publish. Soon, you will dare to writing longer stories, you will dare to pitch your stories to agents, and one day you might just see your book on the shelves.

Imagine that glorious day.

So yes, this is an open call for submissions. If you want to give our prompts a shot, OR if you think you have something about writing you would like to talk about or some tips or insights you would like to share, drop us an email at museinpocket@gmail.com and we’d be happy to host you and your stories/posts!

Meredith, Nicole and I will still be posting from time to time, so you won’t have to miss us too much! But I think now is a great time to start featuring more writers – be it aspiring, new or experienced – on our blog and giving them a voice and platform.

We accept stories in any genre – as long as there’s no gore or explicit content. If you’d like to read some of our stories, check out these links below:

My stories

Meredith’s stories

Nicole’s stories

Becky’s stories

Guest writers’ stories

Okay, this was a quick one. Rushing off to work on LAND OF SAND AND SONG (only round 2 of edits, kill me) and maybe work on the next short story (March prompt) too! ❤

 

Do you find that there are not enough hours in the day for you to accomplish everything on your to-do list? How do you prioritise and manage your time? Share your tips with me in the comments, please!

The 5 Stages of Finishing a Novel

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

I’m finally done with not just the shitty Draft 0 of LAND OF SAND AND SONG, but the first round of edits too (i.e. Draft 1), before I send it out to critique partners and beta readers WHO MIGHT POTENTIALLY JUDGE ME FOR THE WORD VOMIT THAT COMES OUT OF MY HEAD.

rapunzel excited

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This whole journey been far too long (from planning in late Oct 2016 to completing the first draft on 28 Feb 2019) with far too many starts and stops along the way, topped with a lethal mix of self-doubt and despair at ever finishing, and more rewrites than I bothered to count….

But hey, IT’S FINALLY DONE. I can finally dust my hands off this manuscript (at least for a while) and go work on something else.

bye sucker

And by something else I mean the 3428945076 other stories, including old manuscripts and half-baked new ideas, I’ve got brewing in the pot.

wicked witch cauldron

But then I kinda miss this world. Part of me wants to linger on. IS THIS WHY PEOPLE WRITE SERIES? Because they can’t leave that world they created behind? I’m convinced that has to be part of the reason. There is comfort in that mad little world we’ve created.

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Then again, it’s time for me to resurface to the world and be a normal human being again instead of a writer burrito in my hermit cave.

ariel wanna be with people

*squints into sunlight*

But when I’m out in public, I can’t stop thinking about writing and what I’m going to write next. I’m scrolling through Tumblr for writing tips and prompts, I’m taking notes and creating story and character arcs in my notebook, I’m daydreaming about different lives.

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So I guess it’s back to the writing cave for me. Have fun out there!

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Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a short story or two to devour, we’ve got some for you over at Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand! 🙂

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.

focus on the journey.jpg

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!

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.

true-friend-and-good-writer

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

nicole-evans

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)