Refilling the creative well

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

bride of the water god poster

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

bride of the water god 1.gif

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Need a Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

 

my babies.gif

 

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.

prince eric hello.gif

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? 

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.

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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