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!

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:

sarah dessen the truth about forever.jpg

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.

steve jobs connect the dots.png

when life crowds out everything else

don't put your dream in your pocket

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.

rinse wash repeat.jpg

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.

ikigai.jpg

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:

writer court insanity kafka.jpg

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

 

 

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 

read-a-lot-to-write

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

Some chicken soup for the creative soul is brewing…

I know. It’s been more than a couple of weeks, and I did promise I’d blog at least fortnightly, if not weekly. But in between a back sprain and nonstop events for work, it’s only now that I managed to squeeze in some blogging time.

It’s been two week of aches and pains (which means I have to do everything slightly slower now so I don’t aggravate my back – this is torturous for someone who typically walks at 6.5km/h), and with all the work piling up in the office, I’ve been completely overwhelmed. Well okay, I got to attend a movie premier and a couple of makeup launches which weren’t quite so bad but man, the day job just doesn’t quit (pun intended)!

Thanks for the invite, @cloverfilmssg! #CallofHeroes Date with 🐴🐝 @yuyanpeng

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

Anna Sui's new collection is soooo dreamy can I haz it allll 😍😍😍 #perksofthejob

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

Lost in Anna Sui wonderland (and spazzing over customised palettes and new fragrances)

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

#friyay #tgifridays #onassignment

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

I’ve only been able to snatch a few moments here and there to work on the manuscript , but at least I’ve got some inkling of where it’s going. I’m at page 186 now so things are gaining speed, as they should. If only I can devote the time to write! As it is, I’m still trying to catch up on work and finish up a report (UGH, Excel. UGH, number-crunching)
Still, the plus side of my job is that I get to write about the things I like, such as:
insta 3
insta 2
insta 1
So there’s that, at least.
Also, I’m preparing to launch a series of interviews with creative types called Create Your Life.
The name for the interview series came about from the quote above. We’ve got a lot of storytellers in our midst – writers, artists, songwriters, musicians, and people who champion the arts – who have a lot to share about their own creative processes, inspirations and hangups. And as a writer myself, I am fascinated with how others find their stories. How they carve out a path for themselves as they venture into the unknown. How they satisfy their imagination and curiosity. How they overcome all the odds to make their dreams a reality.

#qotd for the dream chasers @yuyanpeng

A post shared by Joyce Chua (@thewritesofpassage) on

I think this is one of the main reasons why I like Eddie so much. Not just because he’s a pretty face – there are many pretty faces around, but what makes me relate to Eddie on another level is because he is someone who is incredibly passionate about acting. He’s not just a celebrity – he’s an artist. He revels in the process of delving into his characters’ psyches, experiencing the world from their shoes, and presenting it on the screen. To him, the process of understanding and portraying his characters is what brings meaning to his job. He gets to experience life from various points of view. To him, the outcome (box office success, awards, etc) doesn’t matters as much as the process.
As writers, we aim to do the same. We want to view life through different lenses, from different perspectives, and create characters that readers can relate to, root for, and find solidarity in.
And sometimes, when it seems like the manuscript is never going to be done, or that I will never be able to find the time I need to finish it or devote more of myself to my craft, I turn to Eddie-isms, his quotes on fighting for your dreams. He’s suffered setbacks before in his career (he even considered quitting before), but through sheer grit and hard work, the willingness to take risks and to devote himself entirely to his one true passion, he has now made a name for himself and is able to do what he loves for a living.
Here are some that I return to every time I feel stranded on the same spot:
The places you’ve been, the things you’ve seen, will shape your life. If you get stuck along the way, never let yourself remain stuck. Tell yourself this is what you have to go through now so that you will come to cherish the fruits of your labour even more.
Some dreams start off very far away from us. But the more you strive to achieve them, the closer you get to them.
Stay grateful for everything you have experienced and you will find the road to your dreams a lot easier to endure.
This is the reason why I’m doing the Create Your Life series. It’s to understand other artists’ journeys towards their dreams, their struggles, their fears, what drives them, what defeats them (temporarily). Hopefully it will awaken the dreamer in the rest of us and inspire us to make something good out of our one wild and precious life 🙂
Joyce x
[Psst! You may like to read more quotes here: Writing Inspiration for the Week]

The Muse Waits for No One

wishes and hope laini taylor

~ Laini Taylor

You know how you’re in the middle of charging through a scene and you don’t really want to stop for any interruption in case the Muse decides to go play with someone else?

^ Current situation as I make the leap from act 2 to act 3 of Before I Remember You.

So I’m just sharing this inspiring TED talk by Lisa Bu before I bounce back to the manuscript. Enjoy!

QOTD: “I have come to believe that coming true is not the only purpose of a dream; its most important purpose is to get us in touch with where dreams come from, where passion comes from, where happiness comes from. Even a shattered dream can do that for you.”

This is incredibly important. Don’t give up on your dreams no matter how shattered or bruised they may be! They are what make you stronger and more resilient. Find a way to fix that dream, and protect it with all your heart.

 

Joyce ♥

Sorry for the synopsis spam!

If you subscribe to my blog and just received a bunch of notifications for new posts in your mailbox, and they’re ALL synopses for my manuscripts, I APOLOGISE.

I’m just in the midst of doing up a new page on my blog, Novels, and for navigation purpose I had to publish each of them as blog posts so the page doesn’t get too crowded.

So thanks for putting up with the spam! If you like any of the synopses, do click on the Like button so I know if I’m on the right track. Fellow writers would know how incredibly hard it is to condense a 75K word novel into a 150-word synopsis, so on top of working on BLOOD PROMISE and BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU, cleaning up my synopses is what I spent my weekend doing.

ugh synopsis and query letter

But while birthing a synopsis might be torture, it also brings you so much clarity. What is the story you are trying to tell? Sieve out the essential points – character and conflict – and then frame it up prettily in an enticing premise. This synopsis can serve as a guide – albeit a brief one – as you write your novel. Already, I’m seeing my WIPs in a brighter light!

Can’t believe this is the tenth manuscript already! This post by literary agent Kristin Nelson is a good reminder to keep going beyond that.

why do you write joanne harris

I started seriously writing novels in late-2008 (no, those written in primary and secondary school don’t count) and submitting them for publication in mid-2009, and every one of them is distinctive of a certain point in my life. It’s like how you listen to a particular song and get transported back in time. Every book is a zeitgeist on its own. They capture the mood and worldview (and state of mind) of the writer, and basically captures a piece of the writer’s soul.

A writer’s stories will probably never mean as much to anyone else but herself, but that’s okay. Because as long as there’s one person who believes in the story – even if that person is herself – that’s all she needs to keep the words coming.

Happy Monday, everyone!