“It’s not too late” — and other reassurances a writer needs to hear

May be an image of text that says 'THE FUTURE belongs to those nho believe in the BEAUTY of their doeams'

It’s been a simultaneously eventful and uneventful few months since my last post — with Covid-19 restrictions tightening and easing, vaccination drives rolling out at last, finding and settling into a new job, working from home (yay!), working on structural and copy edits for the novel (watch this space for updates! I’ve got news to share!), rediscovering my love for poetry, planning new initiatives with a writer friend, etc.

Life is far from back to normal, but it’s slowly inching towards a new normal, one that I’m pretty comfortable with at the moment and very thankful for.

With so much going on, my time spent on social media and general socialising has gone down, though productivity has gone way up (double yay!).

I recently came across this Instagram post by Laini Taylor (if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’d know how much I adore her and her books) on how time doesn’t stop for any writer in pursuit of her publishing dreams — and it made me reflect on my own anxieties as an author in my twenties (granted, that’s not very long ago, but I like to think I’ve grown some in the past few years).

For the entirety of my twenties, I was laser-focused on getting traditionally published and becoming that author who made it to the bestseller list before 30 (which, to me, was akin to making to the Forbes ’30 Under 30′ list). I was wide-eyed and hungry — even at times desperate — for success. I spent days, evenings, wee hours of the night, and weekends writing book after book, and then querying agent after agent, eager to get better at my craft, to put myself out there and get as much feedback as I could.

At the end of every year, I’d ask myself, “What have I accomplished this year?” and feel dejected when the answer was a resounding “nothing”. But I didn’t know then that was not true. I hadn’t accomplished nothing, even if it seemed that way at the time. All that time I had spent slaving over my manuscripts, trying to perfect every word, querying agents, receiving rejections, making new friends at writing conferences and online, and getting through life in general all added up to something — something intangible: experience.

Which author doesn’t dream of being that wunderkind who publishes her first novel and hits the bestseller list at 21? (Yes, there are people who do that. The rest of us mere mortals slowly work our way up.) But I think there’s also something to be said about the grind, the hustle, the years and years of toiling away in silence that makes the journey just as beautiful and rewarding.

Too often, writers (who are 99% worrywarts plagued with anxiety) stress over “missing our prime” — we think that just because we haven’t achieved anything much in our twenties that we are doomed to a lifetime of failure or a mediocre life where our work dies in obscurity and we settle for a drearier Plan B.

But while it’s obviously a dream come true to skyrocket up the bestseller charts and live that coveted #authorlife with the publication of our first book, it’s often not the case. Many authors I know have had to hustle HARD and work their way up rung by rung — to build their readership, build their audience, grow their network, get better with each book they write that, sadly, may never get published.

But their unadulterated passion isn’t easily annihilated by the brutal reality of the publishing industry.

What’s really inspiring is not the fact that they become wildly successful; it’s often their backstory, their road towards achieving their goals, and their tenacity to keep going in the face of setbacks. What’s inspiring is that they continue to forge ahead with their dream cupped in their hands, doing it for the love of the craft, the love of dreaming and telling stories. It’s hearing stories from wildly successful authors who once had to struggle like the rest of us to get their stories out into the world, who almost lost hope and almost gave up but didn’t. Ultimately, they did it for the love of writing itself, and their success came almost like a side-effect of that (and of course, lots more hard work that extends beyond just writing the book).

My 27-year-old self was fraught with anxiety and desperation (will it ever happen for me? should I give up?) and that nearly killed the love I had for writing. Burning out at 27 is worse than getting published at a later age.

So yes, I do believe that it’s never too late to write your first book, publish your first novel, switch genres, switch mediums, hit the bestseller list, what have you. It’s not too late, and the only “prime time” is the time you are ready as a writer, after having grown from all your experiences (be it in your life or your publishing career) and after you have found your voice. You can’t enjoy the destination fully if you don’t go through the journey, after all. And while we’re at it, we might as well enjoy the ride. Plus, you need time to become a better writer — some people take longer, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So tl;dr: It’s not too late. You are right on time. The journey towards becoming a better writer is never-ending, the goalpost is always shifting. We can never reach perfection, but we will never stop trying to reach it. It keeps us on our toes, gives us something to work towards, something to live for — and that’s the beauty of it all.

What are some of your writing goals, and how do you pull through your struggles?

I Need a Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

self care.jpg

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

Take care of yourselves too, loves!

Not too late for New Year resolutions, is it?

Excuse me, but it’s 2018 already? What are we, speed-racing through life?? Wasn’t it just last month that we were out partying going to bed at 11pm on New Year’s Eve and resolving to make 2017 less of a complete waste than 2016?

siwon wtf

You and I both, Siwon.

(Note to self: make less abstract resolutions next time.)

((Have to say, though, 2017 was less of a complete waste than 2016 where the writing is concerned.))

Given that it’s only been a week into 2018, though, I think it’s not too late to get the resolutions out.

So you can all hold me accountable to the following:

WRITING:

  1. Complete at least the first draft of LAND OF SAND AND SONG
    … Even though I’m only at page 56 and already despairing at how sucky it is. I mean, I know a first draft is supposed to suck, but this has to be way beyond the regular limits of suckage.
    Still, I’ll have to trust that this will all work itself out, like it always had (speaking from experience here). I’ve got a plot outline, I’ve got my character dossiers, I’ve got my Three-Act Structure.

    dean winchester you got this.gif

    Thanks, Dean.

  2. Work NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND to perfection
    That means NOT letting it languish in a folder. NOT sitting on it when it comes to querying time. NOT getting discouraged by (more) rejection letters. NOT giving up on this story I still believe in and want to share with the world.
    It means deleting or rewriting any part that seems remotely out of place in the story, and making sure every word deserves its spot in the manuscript.
    It means discipline and laser focus.
    It means putting in the work.
    Like James Ellison said, write with your heart but rewrite with your head.
  3. Write at least 12 short stories in a year
    … Which shouldn’t be hard to do, given that I’ve committed to our short story blog. Having deadlines definitely holds you accountable.
    jensen ackles eye of the tiger
  4. Don’t suck the fun out of writing
    In 2016, I beat myself up a lot for not hitting word count, not completing even one novel, not writing enough in general. I ended up burnt out from pressuring myself to churn out words. But writing doesn’t work that way, not with self-flagellation and debilitating guilt. The words only flow when you give yourself space to breathe, to wonder, to explore, to create.
  5. Explore more with Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand
    This fun little project of running a short story blog with a few writer friends turned out to be so much more bad-ass, and I find myself constantly inspired by Meredith, Nicole, and Becky who are the most creative, passionate, and generous writing friends a girl can ask for.
    So this year, we’re planning to ramp things up. Watch that space for more features and, of course, fantastic tales from a steadily growing community of writers!

hobbit party.gif

LIFE:

  1. Focus on the good
    2017 was rock-bottom for me, especially where my mental health was concerned. And though I wouldn’t say it’s all peachy now, I can now recognise the bad days for what they are and grit my teeth through them. A lot of the times, these moods are like passing storm clouds. You just need to wait out the storm and then you can breathe easy again afterwards.
  2. Eat clean at least three days a week
    I won’t bore you with a breakdown of my diet, but suffice to say I have days where I feel guilty for eating that plate of oily fried eggs. I’m not crazy enough to go on a juice cleanse or some extreme pumpkin soup diet; all I aim to do is eat cleaner and exercise regularly (i.e. daily), which brings me to the next point
  3. Listen to my body
    You know how it is – when you’re young, you tend to think you’re physically invincible and you keep pushing your body to extremes. Or you beat yourself up for “slacking off” when you have to miss a workout because you’re sick or injured. This year, I’m going to try to serve my body better so that it can in turn serve me better.
  4. Give thanks daily
    We complain too much and give too little thanks to the small pleasures and fortunes of every day life. From now on, my mantra will be, “Hey, it could be a lot worse,” just to remind myself how good I actually have it.

And on that note, I am deeply thankful to each and every one of you readers – whether you just lurk (I see you!) or leave a comment or send me a private note. You inspire and move me more than you know, and your encouragement, support, and kindness are what keep me going.

To all the dream-chasers, thrill-seekers, adventurers, peace-lovers, word warriors, and the stubborn, hopeful dreamers, may your cup always be half-full, your heart open and warm, your feet taking you closer to where you want to be, and your soul deeply, deeply alive.

Happy New Year!