2 Lessons I learnt from “Fast Food” Reading

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Writer’s Achievement Diary- What I learnt from this Exercise

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.

The Short Story and Me (2)

As a change, this week we are skipping author interviews. It will come back next week though.

Thought I will do a re-run on this since my stance on it has changed yet again now that I have broken off my association with the epub completely.
Previously, I’ve talked about myself as a writer and the pros and cons of short story writing as I experience it. In this post, I’m just going to cut to the chase and say that I’ve now definitely decided that for now, short story won’t be my focus unless I am doing a collaborative piece with another writer. Not only am I less experienced with the short story form but through personal experience, I’ve found that I really enjoy planning and writing a short story far less than I do of a novel.

I have a sprawling mind as I think Robin Hobb puts it, my natural tendency is to think up multi-plot stories held up by a substantial side cast. As such, I feel that it’s just a hassle to limit myself to the short story form which I feel, given my current expertise, is better for single-plot stories.
However, here comes the twist to the short story and me. Through chance, I’ve met another author on Facebook who has chatted me up to do a collaborative piece with him which is a short story/novella. We are going to finalise the story concept this month and then start writing this collab piece.

The Short Story and Me

So I’ve disappeared from the blogging world for 2 months and during that time, I was occupied by the revision for part 2 of Thread, my fantasy story based on an ancient Chinese setting published in issue 1 of Excursions from the Citadel. And now I’m onto the second round of revision for it. The number of participating authors in this venture of ours has now expanded to 6 from a basis of the circle of 3 including myself and it’s an outcome that I’m really happy about. Yet, lately I’ve been reflecting about the short story form and myself as a writer. And this is essentially what this post would be about.

I’ve previously blogged about why I write and now I think I should describe myself as a writer to put things into perspective. First point, writing is essentially self-expression to me and as such I don’t handle constraints very well. This includes the need to include specific elements, specific word counts, specific timelines etc etc. I’ve learnt to conquer the difficulty of specific elements encapsulated in a set theme that we have for this epub as reported earlier but I’m completely hopeless when it comes to time pressures (and we are aiming for quarterly publication though issue 2 has already been pushed back solely because of the need for revising my piece). I consistently overestimate my own speed at finishing a short story in the first place or revising it. I’m also likely to get very grumpy when I feel time pressure acutely because I have a high standard for my own work and I want to achieve a set standard in my mind. Secondly, I have by now a fair bit of experience by now with producing what I call “articles in prose” that is the main type of writing that we produce at my virtual writer’s home- the Citadel which tend to be around 2000 words. Dream-wise, I’ve always wanted to produce a fantasy series LoR style based on my Dragon Empire setting (fantasy ancient China essentially). And to be honest, short story is something that fits in between these two form, a form I felt awkward to deal with. Hence, my abandonment of the story that I had months on half way during the first issue. A third point is that I have a weird mixture of obsession with planning and impatience to start writing. Specifically, I can’t just have a vague idea in my mind and then start writing spontaneously, I have to do some brainstorming and planning first. And yet, after a certain point, I would get impatient with planning and jump straight into writing. For the short story, that is sometimes not a bad approach. I have previously blogged about how part 1 of Thread is such a joy for me to write-as-I-go. But sometimes I feel I am under-planning stuff. And all these that I’m sharing about myself is only the prelude to say that I think I prefer writing either a novel or something not considered publishable material but rather background information about a fantasy world but in prose is my preferred format of creative output.

Having said the above, I’m now going to go through the benefits of writing short stories/being part of this epub venture that I have personally experienced so that I capture both sides of the story. The foremost benefit is that it keeps me in practice. Sure, I have my bad days where I can’t even go beyond 100 words in about an hour (I write on train trips from and to work now that I’ve gone back to FT work) but I would definitely not have the two stories associated with my name that was published in issue 1 if I wasn’t part of this venture. While I sometimes feel very stressed with the pressure to contribute stories to this epub, I have to admit that it is such pressure that actually push me to not give up. While I could get practice via the Citadel too, there I can give up any piece with no consequence whatsoever and I don’t enjoy this luxury with the epub. Also, much as I don’t find the short story form to my preference, it is closer to the novel form than what I got to practice at the Citadel and so for nothing else, writing short stories would improve on my ability to plan a story and everyone following this blog would know that I’m big on planning. Plus I landed myself a long term collaborator who was the one who got me back into this enterprise after I abandoned it due to a complete stall that I just talked about. He stepped in to brainstorm with me on some loose ideas that I subsequently got but couldn’t get much further by myself. And he did this when we didn’t even know each other that well. I’ve told him already but I would like to say it again here: Thank you, you really were my saviour in getting me back into the venture with our collab piece, and you’ve been always available to me when I need support. Also, thanks for becoming the first fan ever in this world of Thread.

By the way, what prompted my reflection was that I’ve been feeling disenchantment and general fatigue with this epub venture due to a number of reasons. I had considered withdrawing from the enterprise entirely but now I’ve found a way for myself to be rid of the time constraints and so I will be fighting on.

Never give up, my fellow writers out there.