What you are seeing in the picture above is my vision board that I created a few years back to reaffirm my identity as a writer. As you can see, it’s mostly uplifting phrases or writing mottos.
However, today I want to blog about a motto that isn’t up there (yet), that I’m feeling keenly right now. The motto is: The Chase has got to be worth it.
What does it mean in context to me and my writing? Well, I am very much a process-driven person as opposed to goal-oriented. So it’s not enough for me to have a goal dangled in front of me to push on. Nope, I need to be enjoying the actual process of doing something in order to be motivated to continue with it. So now I think you see how the motto applies to me directly: I need to be enjoying the process of writing a novel in order to continue writing it.
So why am I feeling it keenly? You can probably guess. I’m in a low energy phase with my WIP at the moment. This was a project first conceived by me at the end of 2016 and now it’s already nearing the end of 2020. I have still not completed a first draft for it. That will be my aim for next year.
And what am I doing about this? I’m doing another side project or pleasure project, to get me to once more feel the excitement of writing. I’m also trying to find different entry points into scene writing, thinking of trying on different methods other than my usual. I am also trying to keep myself accountable in terms of time use. At the time of writing, I’ve kept track of three weeks’ time use via an Excel file. I create a new sheet for each week and block out half an hour per row from 8:00am to 9:00pm. On each sheet I would make grey my day job hours as well as other major time commitments and then record down how I’m using the other half-hour slots around my week.
And that’s my share for this week. See you around next week.
In October I implemented a new writing routine. Each of my writing days were composed of the following 6 tasks:
A) Reading either published English fiction or non-fiction on writing
B) Analysis of a fictional work that touched me and trying to get behind how it triggers my emotions (5 chapters)
C) The self-learning writing exercise that I previously alluded to (100 words)
D) Doing a summary of all the knowledge I’ve gathered on writing’s craft (1 page)
E) Doing a writing exercise where I took the female protagonist of my WIP and dumped her into a bunch of romance stories (100 words)
F) My WIP (1 page)
To be honest, I was and probably still am struggling with my WIP and the 1 page initially took a bit of stretching the definition. And as it turned out, I had to quickly adapt my plans since I was told to change back to working FT until November some time. So I had to change the new writing routine yet again. Essentially, I kept tasks C, E, F as fixtures (although I cut down the minimum I need to write from 1 page to half a page) and rotated between tasks A, B and D (which I also cut down to half a page) on different days of the week.
And it’s been an interesting side effect but apparently I need at least a one-day break for my WIP but I could easily do tasks A-E 7 days a week.
The other major change is that instead of a 6 day week, I’m down to a 5 day writing week on the WIP. But arguably, I’m now on a full writing week schedule considering all of the six tasks.
Anyway, that’s it in terms of the new writing routine. And the blogging holidays seemed to have worked its magic. I feel once again energised to write for this blog again. I wish everyone the same luck in re-energising whatever needs re-energising in your lives.
I’m going to do another Q&A today with myself. It’s been a while since I last did a reflection on myself as a writer so it’s time for a revisit.
At what level do you assess yourself to be as a writer now?
Weren’t you calling yourself a beginning writer a few years ago? When did that change?
Yes, well, I forgot exactly when that changed but within the last 2-3 years, I would say.
What contributed to this change?
A combination of self-confidence and knowledge. Self-confidence is hard to say anything about but knowledge… I’ve done the usual learning through doing but I’ve also gotten into online writing courses. I highly recommend UBC’s How to Write a Novel set of courses offered through the edX platform. I’ve just finished the last of this set of 3 courses in Feb.
What are the 3 main lessons about writing you’ve learnt?
Every writing project is different. I used to believe that I can take a standard novel planning method across all projects but I’ve found that’s not even true. Take my WIP. Yes, I’ve kinda settled down on the default method or methods for outlining but it’s just different in so many other ways from other novels or short stories I’ve written or attempted to write. For example, I’ve had to move between outlining and drafting as opposed to having a clear divider between the two stages. For example, I’ve had to take detours and side tracks in order to get into scenes etc.
Find multiple points of entry to your work. This is what I learnt through one of UBC courses and I’ve never needed to do that so much as for my current novel. And it really helps. I used to think writing myself into a dead corner was a major problem for me but with this insight/advice, I can start to self-devise ways to tackle my WIP from a different angle. Some of the ways might not be the most efficient but I’ve still gained insights into the WIP from it and writing a novel is really a long game. You want to accumulate as many insights into your characters, your world etc. as possible and you never know which ones might blow your story right open later down the track.
The interplay between the external journey (the events in the story and its structure) and the internal journey (character growth and all that). This is important knowledge that I learnt through the UBC courses that I’ve never known before and couldn’t have picked up through learning by doing. Not only that, I’ve also picked up a whole set of tools to get these two elements right.
Aside from the about page, I don’t think I’ve properly introduced myself so let’s do this here up front. I’m a Chinese who migrated to Australia at the age of 12 after I completed primary school. Because I came from Hong Kong, I lean towards modern values (at least in gender roles and such) but I also lean towards the conservative at the same time (I have all these conceptions about proper behaviour for women like not swearing, not that I judge others on them, just that I don’t do that myself and I prefer women not doing them). I also love ancient Chinese literature: the lyrical prose of Chinese poetry, classics like the Dream of the Red Chamber and just in general the magic of the Chinese language which encompass idioms, folklore etc.
Now onto the meat of this post: in what forms do the Chinese influence in my writing occur? Well, one obvious answer is in my chosen sub-genre of Chinese fantasy. As a Chinese who loves fantasy, I write in the genre that I love to read and bring my ethnical identity into the genre. So that includes creating an entire world of fictional ancient China with fantasy elements, borrowing heavily from folklore and real history but ‘subverting’ them with my imagination as well as attempting to capture the essence and nuances of living as a Chinese in Chinese society.
Then, there are less obvious influences. One example, which I detected long after it happened, was during that abandoned attempt at novelling aka the Genghis Khan and wife story. From the get go, each chapter of that story takes the format of being driven by exactly two events when I outline it. The two events might or might not be interrelated but there are always two for each chapter. That wasn’t something I did intentionally, just the way my mind told me to structure it in. Then one day years down the track, like last year when I was outlining my WIP and taking an online writing course on outlining, it suddenly hit me that this 2-event chapters style was actually the influence of Chinese classics: essentially the ones I had read all had chapter headings that were in the couplet format. For those who don’t know, couplets are basically 2 phrases each of 5 or 7 Chinese characters and the words or characters in each part of the couplet are supposed to have correspondence to each other. A well-known example of a couplet is “Distance tests a horse’s strength, time reveals a person’s heart.” where the correspondences are distance to time, tests to reveals etc. I’ve now migrated away from this format but I was quite surprised that my Chinese reading managed to creep into my writing that way.
My fellow writer followers, how has your self-identify cropped up in your writing? Let me know in comments. For my reader followers, hope that you found this post interesting.
I don’t consider myself widely read in that I mainly read three genres (fantasy, mystery and historical fiction) and I only write in the genre of Chinese fantasy (actually I do have ideas pertaining to traditional fantasy but Chinese fantasy is what has my attention right now). In that sense, I think Chinese fantasy certainly encapsulates both the fantasy and historical fiction part of my reading diet.
Now, how does mystery figure into my writing? A few years ago, I would have told you that it doesn’t. But now I would say that it creeps into my outlining process. Those who has followed my blog for a while knows that my outlines are plot or at least events-centric so basically I have the tendency of adding something to the story (could be a minor character, could be an item, could be an event) that hangs there for a while. And it’s funny how I never spotted that before until I showed one of my writer friends that abandoned trial novel attempt and he actually commented that ‘hiding stuff from readers seems to be my style’.
Now, every writer is different. I know a writer who’s never read a murder mystery but is currently writing one (although it has a literary fiction bend and might yet be classified as one yet). How about you, my writer readers? Feel free to let me know in comments.
Every now and then I like to reflect on things and that time has rolled in again.
But first, a bit of context for those of you who hasn’t read previous posts: I started outlining my WIP in Dec 2016 and was originally planning to finish outlining at the end of this year. I deliberately decided to experiment with a more comprehensive outlining process to address the issue of writing myself into dead corners. But now there is a minor change of plans and I’ve already gone ahead into draft 1. Still, I think I should be able to claim that it was an outlining odyssey that I had undertaken (and I just like the sound of the word odyssey so bite me :P)
So what were the main take-aways from this journey that lasted 1 year and a half?
I’m happy with the general process now which mainly involves iterations on the traditional outline (just paragraph summaries of your scenes, you can put anything there, mine tend to be event summaries with bits of dialogue)- I think it allows me to produce outlines that are the tightest I’ve ever written so far
I use an Excel tool to supplement the traditional outline and it usually invites in my inner critic so bad that I can only use it in small doses every day. I think it’s a needed tool and gives me important insight but not sure if it’s worth the time inefficiency. Maybe move to the editing phase, not sure.
In between iterations, I have some natural cooling periods and I decided to use time more efficiently and invest them into collaborative short story ventures (think I might have mentioned this)
Micro goal setting is definitely a valuable accountability tool. If I just have a big goal and no micro goals then it’s very easy to get off tracks for months and not do anything writing related
That’s it for this week. Next week, I will talk about the idea of a new serial post that I am considering. Stay tuned.
Briefly, the article talks about the condition called aphantasia which is basically an inability to visualise things in your mind. And guess what? I’ve got this condition, I’m a fiction writer with aphantasia. So what’s the big deal? Nothing, I just never knew this condition existed before and many don’t. So this is a FYI post essentially. Plus, I don’t think I had it as severe as the author of the article. Sure, I can’t ‘see thing’ in my mind and I’m often not taken with prose that is very ‘graphic’ but certainly, the joys of reading isn’t down to appreciating concepts only. I appreciate the beauty of language and prose. Just as I enjoy reading fiction, I can write it fine and I am working to be a published fiction writer. And so, everything’s fine.
And oh, don’t run away just yet. I’m also talking about my reading plans today.
This is an update on my old post “What does Writing Mean to you?” that I wrote 3 years ago. Reading that old post again made me realise 2 things: 1) a lot of what I said still remain true: I see writing as freedom and self-expression and the intrinsic worth/quality of my work is important to me as opposed to commercial potentials; 2) I was a bit of a ‘tentative writer’ back then- unsure of whether I want to be published or not. But now I can confidently say that I do want to be a published author and I’m now working towards becoming one.
That was the broad picture and in this post I want to drill down a little bit into the type of writer I am and the type of author I hope to become:
I would want to focus on being a niche writer in Chinese fantasy which I define as fantasy set in fictional ancient China, starring ethnically Chinese characters. But I might dip into what I call traditional fantasy as well (basically epic/high magic/sword&sorcery fantasy).
I have a natural tendency to think up stories that best fit in a tight-fitting series ala LOTR style as opposed to what I call a standalone series in which books from the same series are only loosely related to each other. I plan to be publishing a complete series or at least blocks of 3 books all in one go (but don’t hold me fast to it yet *wink*).
I don’t plan to be an author producing high volumes every year because I don’t have the speed/level of skill to match and I also need as long as possible to produce something that matches my internal quality standard.
I’m heading towards the indie route because I feel it gives me the most control and flexibility I can have as a writer. I think mindsets are changing towards indie work but I might as well set it down clearly here: that does not mean I will be producing work of lesser quality than if I went for traditional publishing. I will pay for professional accredited editing, book covers and other services as needed.
That’s it for this week. Next week, I will talk about books again.
So before I go into the 2 lessons, let me first provide the context for this post: the ‘fast food’ reading in the title referred to the serial fictions written in my mother tongue of Chinese that I had been reading on the Internet in my period of ‘unemployment’ after I broke away from PhD. I still read them now. Why do I call them ‘fast food’ reading? Because most of them are written poorly, there’s a lot of trend following and in general I would say they are exactly what a biased stereotypical view of self published work is. Why do I still read them then? Well, for pure entertainment value, light reading and plus I get to pick up and drop a story at whim, allowing me to venture into a broader set of genres than I normally do with physical novels. And also, I guess, the serial nature of them works on me just like TV dramas work on me.
Anyway, back to the meat of this post. Here’s what I learnt from reading this type of fiction:
Character driven fiction- a lot of the novels I had been reading have no prose, full of internet speak and felt like someone had written an outline and then filled out the details via a factory production line. But I was sucked in by the MC and actually kept coming back to read these serial novels.
Emotion as a driver for fiction – despite the roughness of some of the novels sometimes I was touched to the verge of coming to tears. And that’s a big thing for me- I’m normally mild-tempered, cool-headed, rational and driven by logic.
So I’ve stopped updating the diary but I will just say that I reached all of my set monthly goals for the novel that I was outlining and now it finally had a tentative name- The Convergence of Paths belonging to a series called the Seekers’ Chronicles. Basically, round 1 outline for book 1 is now done and I’m getting some fresh eyes on it so that I can use such inputs to work towards round 2. Anyway, I thought I will also give a summary on what I learnt from this exercise just to wrap up this series:
This exercise really helped me to stay accountable on a day-to-day basis
I can also keep track of my progress over a long period of time as those who saw my prior posts from this series would know since I also compare each week’s progress with the week prior. For comparison over longer terms, I will have to keep flipping pages of course but at least the raw data will be there.
It’s also good for my morale since I learnt to recognise every minor things as an achievement. This is important since I have a tendency to not properly recognise my own efforts sometimes and generally give myself less credit than others might give me
Overall, I’m fairly happy with this exercise and I think I will incorporate it into my arsenal of writer self-discipline/accountability tools.
P.S. If you are interested in author interviews, they will come back soon but lately I have less opportunity to do them because it’s close to the end of the year and I’m busier at work.