As promised, I will start off this year with a post summarising my take-away from the personal reflection spell I alluded to in my last blog post last year.
But firstly, let me describe what happened that brought it on. Well, the main culprit was this mainland Chinese dating show that I stumbled upon that I could watch like TV drama (I’ve always like watching TV drama due to the fact that it’s something I can follow over a period of time, I like immersion in a story, same reason why I prefer series to a standalone book). I got a bit addicted to watching it to be honest. At the same time, my WIP has an anti-romance/romance plot that I was trying to figure out and I was majorly blocked because I had always been single.
Then, I don’t know why but from some time in July I stopped being able to go back to sleep when I woke up in the middle of the night. Instead, my mind was somehow concocting mini-stories of how two particular guys on that dating show found their matches. And why these two men on the show stood out was because they made me feel I could potentially befriend them. This was special because:1) I am quite selective in who I want to befriend as a rule and 2) I had never wanted to befriend someone out of the blue in my 37 years of life (actually I was 36 when I had the personal reflection spell but I digress). I had known my best friend ever since we were both 14 but it was she who was perpetually taking the initiative in keeping in touch. From the start, she was the one pursuing my friendship and it was clear that she would be doing this and willing to do this for her whole life.
Anyway, I had no idea how it happened but I was really into the love stories I was concocting in my sleepless brain, so much that I was crying in bed. The form of crying where I had to blow my nose as well as wiping away at tears. And I don’t usually cry- somewhere during my teenagerhood I decided I would never cry again, ever (I only relaxed this after I started visiting a psychologist to sort out my phD fiasco and he told me that I shouldn’t have created this rule because it’s not healthy, much better to let the negative emotions flow out with your tears. Still, you are not going to catch me crying in public or admitting to it, at least.). So this is just a bunch of strong emotions that suddenly got sprung on me. And it didn’t help that the female characters in these two stories were too much me, too close to my core personality and values. So essentially, my personal reflection was triggered.
I suffered from a period of lack of concentration (due to sleep loss) and negative feelings as bad memories re-surfaced during the personal reflection phase. But the following are my overall takeaways from this experience:
- I managed to clear some cobwebs to do with bad relationships. They were basically stuff about my biological father and cousin, both of whom I had decided to completely forget and remove from my world. But apparently my memory or heart was still harbouring something about them in a dark corner. So it was good that they got pulled out into the light again and I could examine them and truly lay them to rest or burn them out of my system.
- It made me realise how precious my friendship with my best friend really is. So much that I was moved to tears thinking about her (and she’s the only one out of people I actually know in real life who could do that to me other than Mum). In addition, it provided a point of contrast for me to put into my perspective the relationship I had with my cousin who I grew up with and used to love like a brother. We had lived together under the same roof for more than half of our lives at one point but ultimately he chose to let our relationship just go. In retrospect, that made my love for him feel like an attempt on my part to force him to love me (that was never my intent: I had never even wanted him to love me in return. What I really thirsted for was just him as a play-mate. Me and him were both an only child so I was lonely. I had not always loved him even though I was very close to. Then I was 14, I was learning about inner circles in health, I realised I was so close to loving my cousin- literally one step away. For multiple reasons, I decided to take the plunge into loving him). Meanwhile, my best friend had a great desire to be BFF with me from the get go and had already given me a friendship that had lasted for more than half of our lives up to now.
- I was forced into re-examining the role of romance in my life which I’m not sure I really appreciate but perhaps it’s just due. To be honest, this is one aspect that I’ve neglected for as long as I can remember. Like, ever since high school and until uni, I was of the attitude that I would never marry and never even date. Reason? My core personality contains being serious. That means if I ever allow romance into my life, I want to be serious about it, treat it with a serious attitude. Anyway, long story short is that I had convinced myself that if I never intend to marry, I should never date because that is not being serious enough about romance. Then I think I reconsidered and told one or two of my friends that I change my mind about romance that lasted maybe a couple years. But then I started doing a PhD and I’ve always had the attitude that I won’t date when I’m studying. So then things got back to square one. Then I had the career change crisis after the phD fallout, the rediscovery of fiction writing as my passion, the return to FT job, job change etc. As of currently, I’m juggling between a FT job and trying to write the first book of a debut set of 3 novels. So I’m feeling time constraints keenly and just don’t feel that I have the spare time for a boyfriend yet and truth be told, perhaps never. Or maybe after 50. Absolutely no idea to be honest.
The previous two posts have all been about my writing so I thought I would change the pace a bit by talking about a topic that leans towards the reading side: a reflection of the attributes of my favourite characters and what they show about me.
Firstly, I like a female protagonist who is proud. I mean, I like Mr Darcy too so it’s not just female necessarily but I definitely have a special fondness for female protagonists who are proud so Lizzy Bennett is of course high on my list. As for connection to myself, it’s probably obvious but I am proud (though most probably won’t guess it) and I like being proud. That is not at all the same as being arrogant, just saying but you get the idea.
Secondly, I have a fondness for characters who are a bit ‘bumbling’- that’s the closest word I can come to. I cannot think of a good well-known example in fantasy example for your clumsy mage archetype and the ‘duckling to swan’ female protagonists that are more prominent features of women fiction. In similar veins, I like characters who are a bit odd in some way or socially awkward. For example, I’m rather taken with Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, a female sleuth who has a general people issue that crops up in many areas including relatives, romance and when she works on her cases.
Finally, I have a preference for characters who are morally good. If you wonder how come I’ve never given an example in relation to my favourite genre of fantasy, well, this is where it comes in. In at least 80% of the fantasy I’ve read and enjoyed, they are good triumph over evil stories so you get the picture. Having said that, I think I’ve come to appreciate grey more than black and white as I age so my definition of good has changed or relaxed. But I’ve never been interested in a ‘fallen into the darkness’ story such as how Anniken Skywalker became Darthvader. I think this reflects my own moral stance but also I think it’s just part of my reading taste in general.
And there you go: I think that’s a pretty neat summary of myself at your disposal. 🙂
To an event experienced yesterday and the one who sent me the email:
Forget and forgive,
I’m not ready for you.
Fully aware of my own faults,
I was nevertheless hurt.
I’m applying the best cure for my wounds:
Time and Distance Away.
On a more uplifting note, concurrent to the above event I remembered the following from when I first got my graduate job after being one of the latest of my Honours cohort to get an offer:
Don’t lament Closed Doors,
They are often the wrong ones for you.
The Right Door will open
If you are Patient and Persistent.
Continued on from my post last week, here’s what I learnt about communication and collaboration from my involvement in the epub:
- Never speak to each other under the influence of emotion. This doesn’t mean you push your own emotions aside or never speak up for yourself. Just wait till you feel you are calm before you start compiling your email responses or in the case of chat, just say “I’m not calm now, I don’t want to speak any more, we carry where we leave on now another day”. But make sure that you do actually come back to it with the other person promptly otherwise it’s like leaving stuff on the burner without attendance.
- Words can hurt and there’s no means to undo or take back hurt. It doesn’t matter that your intention wasn’t to hurt and the other person misunderstood your intentions. If someone actually tells you that they have issues with your words/conduct, acknowledge their feelings first and then explain about your original intention. Please don’t rush to dismiss the other’s feelings (remember that all feelings are valid, you can disagree with other people’s opinions, you can’t disagree with other people’s feelings) and justify yourself by saying that the other person is just over-reacting or have an agenda against you.
- To fulfil the purpose of real communication, both parties need to be assertive as opposed to aggressive or submissive. It’s not good enough that you intended to communicate but phrased things so aggressively that the other person gets offended and you effectively say “I’m just being yourself, I’ve always been like this, if you understand my true intentions, why are you taking me up on phrasing issues?” Well, if you really mean to communicate, the basic idea is to get the content of what you want to say across to the other person, not some negative tone underlying your words which then triggers adverse feelings in the other person who then closes down in intellectual comprehension due to such feelings. So really, everyone please read over your own emails before sending them off and when someone reports that they are upset over certain phrasing of yours, just acknowledge this as being valid.
- This is specific to my own personality but it is almost a prerequisite for me to actually work out some basic premise of the conditions surrounding the collaboration before joining rather than jumping on board based on emotions and specifically friendship. I already had a taste of this when I automatically agreed to be my best friend’s bridesmaid but then pulled out upon further consideration. I’m happy to report that this didn’t end up blemishing our friendship but instead made it stronger. But in terms of the epub, this jumping on board on my behalf has been entirely disastrous. I actually wanted to discuss between all collaborators at the very start so we can work out differences or just compare notes in visions. But one collaborator of mine convinced me and everyone that we have an experimental enterprise and it’s better to fine-tune things as we go. And then it’s basically constant warfare between me and him because of our differing visions. Again, this is specific to me and him but I think in general, working out common grounds before a collaboration even started is a good strategy for ensuring group harmony.
- When disagreements occur, don’t go for compromises. Instead, go back to square 1 and actually try to find the lowest denominator of agreement between the two of you over the issue and start from there.
- Trust each other as collaborators. Don’t hold back when you encounter problems. Notify each other promptly. Especially don’t hold back with the view that you are sacrificing for the common good. If all of you are true collaborators, no self-sacrifices are needed, that is just some excuse you make up yourself because you are conflict avoiding in some way. And you can’t trust yourself to hold onto such a martyr attitude for the long term.
- If you genuinely believe yourself to be incompatible with a collaboration, gracefully exit. No matter of your emotional attachment, if you’ve been genuinely accumulated a large stock of negative emotions associated with a collaboration venture and you just can’t resolve this with your collaborators, then just cut your ties. It’s really not worth your time, effort and emotional attachment to stay in a collaboration where you can’t work with people who share the same values with you.
That’s all of my self-reflection on the epub and it’s probably obvious that I went through some intense communication and relationship problems during the course of the epub. But I’m happy to report that I still feel that I gained more than I had lost and I have much more promising collaborative creative writing projects planned ahead with my other collaborator who co-wrote Empress with me in issue 1 of Excursions from the Citadel. I won’t be appearing in future issues of the Excursions beyond issue 3 but I’m not disappearing as a writer. You will continue to hear about writing updates from me so stay tuned.
Even though I ultimately decided that I’m a bad match for the Excursions epub, it has been a fruitful and educational enterprise for me across multiple areas. In this post, I would like to document all of the things I’ve learnt about myself as a writer and a person and about communication and collaboration. This is both for personal reference and general sharing.
Moonlake as a Writer
- I am less a short story writer compared to a novel writer even though I had yet to finish a novel to date but had at least had a collaborative piece published in issue 1 of the Excursions from the Citadel and finished the first draft of my serial story Thread. I’ve always suspected this but through this epub, I actually find out exactly why: A short story is best matched to a single tight plot but I have a personal penchant for thinking up and preferring to write complex stories with multiple plot lines running parallel to each other AKA I’m Miss Complexity.
- Some writers can write very fast and believe in writing very fast. I don’t. I like to work at my own pace and occasionally let things simmer so my speed fluctuates. But bottom line is that I am a slow writer overall. Sometimes I wish I’m faster but mostly I don’t. I like taking my time with things. It’s part of my life philosophy.
- While I tend towards planning before writing (in fact, I just cannot completely wing it, I really need to plan somewhat before I can start writing anything), I still often under-plan. Part of this is an inability to completely imagine myself in the scene 100% of the time.
- I’m very inflexible when actual writing starts deviating from m plan.
- I really need to do pre-writing which I did for my stalled novel where I expand each scene out almost completely before I write actual words for a story. I discarded this completely for Thread, my solo serial for the epub and now things are in a mess in terms of revision.
- I insist that I can’t function as a writer without feedback but I also need to balance this eager embracing of/chasing after feedback with an ability of reconciling feedback with my own author’s vision for the story where they differ. For Thread, the latter became an issue but luckily, I asked another contributing author for issue 2 for help and she very correctly encouraged me to pursue my own vision as the author.
Moonlake as a Person
- I’ve always classified myself as mild-tempered and this is also my public image. Also, I’ve always abhorred conflict, whether it’s being involved myself or even just observing it. But when it comes to something I really care about, then my real temper can show and it did show for this epub. While it had led to ugliness, I celebrate the fact that I had stood for myself and my genuine feelings.
- I still hold back too much, especially my own emotions. This only gives them a chance to fester, leading up to explosions later and grudges being built up with long shadows.
- My intuition is strong and I should learn to trust it more.
- While I tend to get along with everyone, there are certain communication styles that I dislike. I should accept this aspect of myself and remember it for future reference.
- Internet friendships are to be taken cautiously as there are little that they are based on other than the words you write on a keyboard to each other. I shouldn’t have the expectation that they would be as steadfast as real life friendships. While this might not be true of and for everyone, I should again accept that this is just my nature.
“If you think you’ve given other a lot but they are still unhappy with what you gave them, then you need to start thinking about whether you’ve given what they want/need.”
~dialogue from the Hong Kong TV drama, Between Love and Desire.
Does this resonate with any of you? It certainly does with me, especially in light of recent events.
I’ve put in oblique references to these events before in earlier blog posts but let me talk about them directly here to provide the context for how this quote relates to me on a personal level. But before I do that, let me start at the beginning, which is the collaborative epub venture started at the Citadel – my chosen virtual writer’s home, a site for writers and gamers (or most likely writer-gamers). It started some time towards the end of last year and we released the first issue of Excursions from the Citadel on 1 March this year. We are now working on issue 2 and I will exit this enterprise as a writer after the publication of issue 3.
Why am I exiting? The predominant reason is that I find myself a bad match to the enterprise which needs a writer that can produce a short story that’s ready for public eyes within a set time period of about 3 months. I am just not that type of writer. I talked about this before but what I’ve never made clear explicitly is that there is a secondary reason that has at least 20% weighting in terms of pushing me towards the decision of leaving the venture that I had helped to build from the ground up and invested substantially in both in terms of time and emotion. By the way, I know this to be true of the original circle of 3 who were the only contributing authors towards issue 1 of Excursions. And yet despite this common passion, periodic rows always erupt between me and a specific person out of my two collaborators. Both of us had exploded at the other, one each across the two issues respectively. Big and small disagreements and arguments have peppered all throughout our collaborations and it just made me absolutely exhausted. But this is not a rant post and I will stop here in terms of talking about contexts. Also, the good news is that despite this personal disagreement, I parted from the epub and this particular collaborator of mine in peace.
Now, onto the actual meat of this post. I’ve been reflecting on this rather nasty turn in the communication and relationship between me and this collaborator of mine (who I actually considered friend at one point). There were multiple contributing factors of course but I really feel that the crux of the matter lies in the opening quote. I think that each of us believe in some sense that we had done a lot for the other that was underappreciated (he specifically said this in one correspondence between us and I must say that I echoed this sentiment too and told him so in my own way later on). I would say that we are correct in thinking that we each had given a lot to the other in terms of support in our respective creative endeavours and tolerance of unintentional bad choice of wording etc. But what I now feel is that each and both of us should take the opening quote to heart as the lesson to be learnt out of our disagreement and parting. When we peel back all of our emotions and just examine cold hard facts, I think we will find that we have each compromised on the other’s behalf but what often happens is that we ‘forget’ this about the other’s efforts and sacrifices in the heat of our emotions and unconsciously revert back to demanding having what we each wanted fully. But this means that we each become stuck in our subjective realities and that’s not a way we can operate on a long term basis as collaborators. The opening quote gets me out of this unhealthy mindset and now I would share it with everyone.
Anyway, this is the end of my own reflection. What about yours? Care to share below?
Recently, I’ve had a first hand experience of how words hurt though of course I didn’t do anything so dramatic but I admit to not being on my best behaviour. It’s more or less over with me now but I still feel for the original author who wrote this. Secondly, during this incident that I’m referring now, me and the other person have been alternating between aggressor and victim and now I think that both of us should have read this post.