Working Hard or Overexertion?

There are a lot of creatives who talk about pushing themselves really hard to get their projects done. It’s things like waking up early, doing the day job, and then spending the whole night writing with very little time left for sleeping. It’s hard work, it’s impressive, and it’s not an option for everyone, including me.

What works for someone else doesn’t have to work for you.

It’s a simple statement but one that I find myself often forgetting. Someone’s work ethic doesn’t have to be yours as well. It’s one of those things where you need to consider your own situation, your own capabilities and limits. Can you handle having less sleep? Can you manage churning out a couple thousand words tonight? If you can’t, do you beat yourself up about it? If you try anyway, is it really worth it or are you just hurting yourself?

The first draft of WTB took me a month, but it wasn’t just any month. It was the end of a semester when I had very few exams left that I’d been studying for the last few weeks. It was a quiet month for me, for the most part, with time to write between classes because I had my laptop with me all the time and no job demanding my time outside of school. Because I had no classes, I was able to read books in the morning and write in the evenings until midnight. With my day job and having to commute back and forth, I don’t have time for that kind of schedule anymore. My mental health won’t allow me to work like that anymore because I’m often exhausted after work or waking up to go to the gym instead of writing. If I do, I’m overworking myself and putting my mental and physical health at risk.

These days, I’ve been drowning in guilt that I haven’t worked hard enough, that I’m falling behind, that I’m failing myself in not writing every day. And that’s just not fair to do to myself. I should ont exhaust myself trying to get the words out. I should not force myself to write when all I want to do is lie down.

Some days, it’s easier to just relax. Some days, it’s better to just rest your mind and body so that you’ll have the energy to put your full effort into something you care about. It’s ableist to consider that the best method is the hustle of squeezing in time every day and night, even when work wears you down to aching muscles and bare bones. It isn’t kind. It may even be cruel to inflict such harm on yourself to force that work.

Recently, I’ve started accountability threads for the new first drafts I’ve been working on: #RivalAssassinsWIP and #BakingFigureSkaterBook. Both of them show my word counts and will eventually include my novel aesthetics. These threads aren’t to brag about how much I’m writing. In fact, you won’t see me writing consistently. I go back and forth these days, working on whatever I’m motivated to work on. I will not be writing every single day and, if I am, it won’t always be high word counts.

My accountability threads are definitely not to keep myself on track to write all the time. They’re really about seeing my progress, checking my consistency, and sharing that progress with others to excite myself and maybe them as well. It bruises my ego and dulls my competitive edge to see that others are further in their drafs than I am, that they’re writing and sprinting every day and I’m just opening my laptop, swiching around words, then going to bed.

Listen, I don’t work a lot but my job is exhausting for me. I have social anxiety and I am constantly on interacting with others for several hours at a time and trying not to be affected by other people’s negativity or even their rudeness. It’s exhausting. I barely want to speak to anyone after work and so my interactions are limited. And to write after wearing down my brain? Nearly impossible.

Do you know what it would be like if I was having a bad day? Nothing gets done. No one will get to talk to me. I’m trying not to hate myself for it or even beat myself up about it because – guess what – it’s not healthy to for yourself into those kinds of routines.

I treat my writing like a job some days. Other days, I treat it like a volunteering experience. It depends on my mood and my energy. I push myself and sometimes I push too hard. It’s important to learn your limits and stay within them. Work hard, but don’t overexert yourself.

Your book doesn’t need to be written in a month, or written every day. Play around with aesthetics or playlists or anything. Keep up your interest and excitement for your projects. Sometimes I just scroll through my Pinterest boards if I don’t have enough energy to write because it makes me feel like there’s something happening or, in the very least, something to look forward to work on eventually. I think that counts as working on your projects. That’s what I tell myself at least.

Take it easy. Don’t rush yourself because others talk about how they get words in every day.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t push yourself so hard that you’re physically and mentally and emotionally exhausted. Don’t make yourself resent your capabilities or even your project.

Do what you can do. Keep your eyes on your own paper.

You’re going to get there at your own pace. However you get there and however long it takes doesn’t discredit what you accomplish. And if you’re not yet where you want to be or done what you want to do, having those ideas and dreams and goals is good too. It counts. It matters.

So, work hard but don’t overwork yourself.

 

 

 

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Looking on the Bright Side of Writing

Writing is hard work. The journey to traditional publishing can be agony.

Is it worth it?

I’m sure it is, especially if that’s what you want to do.

Personally, I can’t tell you if it is because I haven’t been traditionally published. I haven’t gotten a book deal or even an agent. I haven’t even received an offer of representation from an agent at this point. You know what, though? That’s okay. I don’t need to rush. I want these things to happen and I want to make a career out of it, but I don’t need to hurry to get there or stress about not being there or let it get to me.

Of course it still does. I whine, I complain, I mope about, I’ve even cried. Staying positive in this journey is difficult. There’s a lot of rejection involved and even more envy along the way. Talented writers are everywhere. Writers spending more time doing writing than you are everywhere. It’s easy to fall into a place where it all feels hopeless and worthless and absolutely awful. What if my hard work means nothing? What if I’m just imagining my talent? What if my stories are awful? What if no one cares?

At the end of the day, I try to remember that my dream isn’t to have fans or get rich and famous – it’s to write books for a living. Literally a living wage. Money to sustain me, maybe money to spare for luxuries like shopping sprees or even vacations. I’m not dreaming big here. I’m just dreaming about doing what I love for a living. It’s as simple as that. To get there, however, there’s a lot to do and a lot to endure.

Here’s what sucks:

I don’t have time to write between classes or during classes like I did while I was in university. I don’t have the energy to write thousands of words every night like I used to. Sometimes I can’t get more than a thousand words a week. My job takes up so much of my time and I lack the motivation to work on my WIPs a lot of the time.

I received over a dozen rejections and at least another dozen more queries unanswered. I didn’t receive more than ten likes on tweets in DVpit, the only Twitter pitch event I participated in. For the queries I did send out, they were all rejections or no answer whatsoever.

I didn’t get into any mentoring contests I entered. I didn’t receive any special feedback. I didn’t participate in YA Twitter until late last year. I barely had any writing friends and hardly anyone I could talk to who could understand what I was doing and what I wanted to do.

Even though it took me a month to churn out the first draft of WTB, it’s still being polished up nearly two years later. I don’t have several critique partners or beta readers. I don’t have people raving about my book. I don’t have friends freaking out about what’s going on. I don’t really feel like it’s Some Amazing Big Thing, even if I do think it’s good. I don’t have the confidence to ask more people to take the time to read it because it is a full-length novel and people have more important things to do. I don’t even have the confidence to show it to friends and family even though it’s something that makes me proud.

Every other draft has taken me much longer to finish. WQC went through multiple incomplete drafts, rewritten until I found a draft I liked and finished and I’m still uncomfortable thinking about sharing it. THATS took a few months but a year of brainstorming and lots of crying and the first draft feels like it’s awful. #RivalAssassinsWIP has maybe 12k words so far while #BakingFigureSkaterBook has maybe 5k. I am no even close to finishing either of them.

That’s a lot of bad. That’s a lot of things to be upset about. Putting it all out there is like finally exhaling, like uncurling a fist and removing my nails from my palms, or getting off my feet after spending hours upon hours on them. I don’t dwell on every single thing all the time, but I do think about them often.

Lately, I’m in a slump. I’m still trying to get used to work because it’s not consistent and I’m often closing the store, which is a lot of work. But writing makes me happy. Writing is something to look forward to at night. I am regaining my focus and feeling more motivated and getting excited about my projects.

I go on a lot about how it’s garbage, it’s the worst, my writing sucks, etc etc. I apologize for the state of it. I don’t expect people to rave about it. The truth is that I LOVE MY BOOK. I LOVE MY STORY. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s so interesting. The characters are intriguing, the plot is thrilling, the magic is so SO COOL. Maybe other people won’t agree with me, but I’m happy with the way it’s coming along. I am KILLING these revisions. This new draft is going to be awesome and I can’t wait to send it out to agents, to show them how much I’ve changed and improved.

Those are a few good things. Here’s some more:

Within all the agent rejections, I did get relevant feedback from interested agents. They told me that they liked the premise, that my query letter was great, but they also gave me a heads up on what wasn’t working: too many words, a slow start, too much exposition in the beginning. And a couple of them asked me to revise and resubmit to them. And while one agent did end up rejecting me, she said she took some extra time because she really liked the premise. AND THEN I got a very delayed full MS request from a query I sent in October and had marked as a rejection (which has been super encouraging and provided extra motivation).

I finished the first draft of WTB less than two years ago. I hadn’t written seriously in several years before that. I now have several upcoming projects in various stages of development and two complete first drafts of exciting stories. My writing has improved substantially. I’ve developed my voice, my style, and maybe my brand of YA fantasy stories with criminally-inclined heroines who do what they want to get what they want. I’ve started writing #ownvoices stories and do it (most of the time) without shame or uncertainty.

I now have writer friends. I communicate more with others about writing. I have CPs and new eyes on my MS. I hope to obtain more readers before I start querying agents. I’m excited to have people read my work and I know there will be someone who will feel passionately about it.

These days, my mental health is much improved. I have some money now to buy things here and there that I wasn’t able to buy before. I have a job that is fun even if it is challenging and even exhausting sometimes. I have a significant other is everything and more than I wanted in a partner. I have my best friends and a belief in the stability of our friendships. I have a wonderful relationship with my mom. I am gaining confidence in myself and what I can do.

It’s hard to stay positive, but every day I start faltering, I start thinking about what I have done so far and what I have yet to do. I will accomplish what I want to accomplish. I’ve come a long way. I have further to go. It won’t be easy, but I know I’ll get there.

Seeing the good between all the bad doesn’t come naturally to me. I still see the worst in myself, the things that could be better, the things I need to do and haven’t done. The bad thoughts come in all the time and it’s never really easy to flush them out. It is possible though, and that’s what matters. At least, that’s what I’m focusing on.

Find the good stuff. Hold on tight. Stay positive. Keep going.

The journey will be bumpy, but it’s going to work out.

Counting: A Non-Fiction Piece on Ruru Reads

You can find the non-fiction piece referred to in this post here on Ruru Reads.

Non-fiction has always been terrifying to me. Writing already makes me feel so bare and vulnerable. Having this piece out there means so much to me, I can hardly explain it. With that said, it’s important to acknowledge that others might be affected by this piece in some way or have opinions. Feel free to email me about this if you must, but please do not discredit how it felt to me. Your truth might not match mine, but it is still my truth and experience.

To my ex-boyfriend who inspired the piece:

Know that I am not holding this grudge against you. We were young. I know I hurt you and, if you read this, then you know that you hurt me. The problem about our relationship was that we weren’t suited for each other. We also didn’t understand the complexity of each other and what we were together. I hope you’ve grown as a person, that you understand what you made me realize was wrong and that you showed me what I could or couldn’t bear. You taught me so much about myself and what I want in a relationship. You taught me to think about others’ happiness in addition to my own.

But bad things happened during our relationship, things that didn’t happen because of you or because of our relationship. It was not a good time for me. My mind was dark and my heart was broken and my life didn’t seem worth it. I wasn’t capable of handling a relationship while navigating my sadness and trying to adapt to my changing life after serious mental health challenges. Maybe, at another point of time, we could have tried to make it work. I don’t regret that it ended and I’m sure you’re much happier now with someone else, just as I am. I’m sorry I hurt you. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me, or to inspire such anger and resentment. We didn’t understand what we were doing or what was wrong. We were never meant to be.

To my high school classmates who didn’t understand why that relationship ended after so many were rooting for us:

The fear of disappointing you all stopped me from ending it sooner. The fact that so many people loved and cheered for this relationship made me feel like I was the villain, that I hurt this by who loved me so fiercely. The truth is that I didn’t feel loved, I felt like a piece to collect. This piece might shock you to know how I truly felt and you still might not understand what was so upsetting or what was wrong with what happened. I hope that you’ll eventually understand. I was a highly-visible minority and I felt the implications of that every single day. When it was highlighted even more, it hurt. I wanted to be more.

To other POC who faced similar circumstances:

I know it hurts. I wish we didn’t have to endure it. I wish it wasn’t so dehumanizing and belitting and painful. I wish we could be loved as individuals, that we didn’t have to realize that the person we loved treated our race and/or ethnicity as a commodity. It’s not a selling point on a person. It’s an identity, but not the only one that matters. I deserved to feel loved as a whole, not for pieces of me. We deserve that. Even if it’s not what they intended or they don’t realize what they’re doing, intent doesn’t erase the effect.

 

 

Getting Emotion on the Page

Note: You might completely disagree with what I have to say. I didn’t go to school for writing. I didn’t take classes. This post isn’t about bringing connection to a character or depicting an emotional journey. It’s about expanding on emotional moments, on the things I consider when I want to make someone feel strongly about something in my story. These points are super general.

Sometimes, emotion feels like the easiest thing to write because, hey, I have the ability to feel emotions. Other times, it’s my worst enemy. In the latter, I’m pulling at my hair and screaming at Word documents, trying to put emotion in pretty words and fitting it within action. Every now and then, I get comments about my writing where the lines are just right and inspire the intended emotions. The rest of the time, moments fall flat and it’s hard to make a connection to the main characters and everything that’s going on in the story.

I’ve read articles. I’ve received advice. I’ve noted lines that hit me right in the heart and bring tears to my eyes. Any writer can hit the mark with specific lines. That’s not the problem, though it might be a challenge to come up with that perfect line. A big thing is bringing emotion to the action, keeping the reader invested. There is so much involved in order to accomplish this and I’m constantly struggling with it. I know, I know, a first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, but it sucks to know your betas and CPs aren’t feeling the things you need them to feel.

Evoking the right emotions is how I know when I’ve gotten to the right draft. At this point, I haven’t reached that perfect draft. I thought I did late last year, but I didn’t. I know better and I am determined to work on this. Writing is just words, but stories are all about action and emotion. Don’t let your stories be lifeless. Give them depth. Bring on the pining, the heartache, the tears! Make yourself feel things and make others feel things. Think of your favourite book, the ones that pull a strong reaction, and note how, where, and why those reactions come forward.

Here are some points I consider when trying to bring emotion into my writing:

1. Use the senses.

When we feel things, it’s not just in our head. It’s in touch, sight, smell, sound, and even taste. Sensations are tied to how we remember things, to our memories themselves. Does the smell of lilacs remind you of playing in your neighbourhood as a child as they do for me? Is the smell of a bakery enough to calm the noise in your head like it can for me? Or maybe the soft, fluffy blanket reminds you of cuddling with a pet that always made you happy and brings back those happy feelings. Or you sip hot chocolate when days feel dull. Or maybe you need that caffeine buzz from coffee or tea to wake you up and get you going.

What about how the character sees the world? What details do they notice? Small details or the overall image? Do they see the patterns or the vivid colours? Do they take it in a little bit at a time or as a whole? Do they look at faces? Meet eyes? Do they look for exits or escape routes? Do they catalogue details or skim over them? Is how they’re feeling in the moment affecting how and what they see?

You could apply similar questions to all the senses. What do they notice? Why? Does their emotional state affect how they sense things? Think about how various sensations affect you and how they can be meaningful. Incorporate it into your writing. Give the reader a multidimensional experience! Show the reader what the character feels before explicitly describing how they feel, if you need to be blunt about it at all.

2. Match sentence length and structure to the emotion.

I feel like I’ve mentioned this before. Sentence length can do a lot for a scene. Long sentences for long, rambling thoughts. Short sentences for quick action, brief thoughts. Are their thoughts meandering? Or are they short and scattered? Are they feeling sharp emotions, like characters with short tempers? Or do they take some time in processing things? Are they mulling over something? Or are they struggling to think clearly? Do they move quickly? Are they sluggish?

Is it a short moment? Does it feel long to the character? Is it a long moment but feels like it’s happening too quickly? Is the world a blur or is it moving in slow-motion? Consider television shows and movies. Sometimes there’s a series of shots, so quick that you could miss them. Sometimes everything slows. Sometimes they use loud, booming noises – or there isn’t any sound at all. Think about those details that force a reaction and evoke emotions. Think of tv/film soundtracks and how they affect your reaction to the scenes. Have you noticed the difference between media that feels awkward to watch, like the editing doesn’t match how you’re supposed to feel? Whenever I’m uncertain, I watch movies and let them show me what filmmakers do to get a specific emotional reaction from viewers.

3. Be descriptive.

I mean, this is a no-brainer if you consider the previous points. Consider the senses and how that affect perspective and experience for the character. What details do you write down? What details really matter? Be descriptive of those details. Not everything in the scene needs to be described down to the smallest, most insignificant point. Focus on the details that affect how you feel.

Focusing on a character, describe their movements. What gestures are they making? Facial expressions? What does their body language say? Where is their attention? What catches their attention or switches their focus? If they’re speaking, what does their voice sound like? Scared? Certain? Steady or shaky? Don’t be afraid to let their actions and behaviour speak for themselves. Maybe even the spoken words don’t match the body language.

Another example: in a hospital, you might focus on the sterile scent of everything. Or maybe the character can’t stop smelling the medicine scent in the air. Or maybe it’s impossible to focus because they’re in the emergency room and there’s too much going on to focus on one thing. Is it calm or chaotic? Is it quiet or loud? Focus on the world from the character’s perspective. The reader needs that sense of being in the character’s head to feel what they’re feeling so the descriptions are importance. Describe the character, describe the world, describe the interactions between the two.

If you write too much, that’s okay. Cut it down later. If you didn’t write enough and feel like you need to add more, then figure out what matters and write more about it.

4. Draw out the moment.

It’s hard to evoke an emotion within a couple of lines. There needs to be some set-up, whether it’s been building up throughout the story, or if it’s part of that set-up to the climax. It can be a few sentences, or some paragraphs, or even a few pages leading up to that big moment. It can take a while to get to that emotional point, or it’ll be sharp and sudden.

Relate it to the character. Do they react instantaneously to things happening to and around them? Or do they need some time to process things? Are they highly sensitive or quick to anger? Do they consider others before themselves? Are they denying some kind of feeling? Are they oblivious? Is it something they understand immediately or learned a while ago or do they need to figure out what’s going on and how they feel?

Avoid quick sentences that basically come out as “and they felt __” because that’s boring and often doesn’t work. Put us in the character’s head, in their shoes. Building on previous points, tell us their sensations. Is their head pulsing? Does their heart ache? Are their muscles tense? Do they taste blood or see red? Are their eyes welling up? Get detailed. Get into it. Cut it down later if you need to, but make sure the words are there so the reader gets a sense of how important the scene is and what it means to the character(s).

5. Get the right words.

This is vague and generally unhelpful. I can just imagine you rolling your eyes and thinking, ‘wow, this is a waste of time’. Sorry. This is something that is somewhat objective, somewhat subjective. The right words are the ones that work best for your voice, your characters, and your story. You’ll know what they are when they evoke something in you and your betas/CPs. You’ll know what they are when they resonate, when they get that hard impact and leave a mark. Basically, you’ll know it when you figure out what they are and they work perfectly.

The right words mean you’re on the right track. You’ve set the mood, got the right tone, used an evocative voice, and ensured the emotions are there.

/ / /

As I wrote this post and before I pushed that Publish button, I started to doubt if I was even contributing valuable input. I’m trying to remember that these are the things I consider and art is a subjective experience. What I do is not the only way to do things. I’m a planner with a need for lists to get anything done. If this doesn’t work for you, there are other things to read. Use that Google search bar! Look up things when you’re uncertain about what to do. There are lots of valuable posts out there to help you, just as they help me. I’m always willing to learn more about writing and how to improve.

For more advice on writing emotional scenes, emotional journeys, etc., try these articles:

There are several other posts and articles to got through! These are just some that I found. I hope this post and the ones listed above can help you in your writing journey. ❤

February 2018 Reflections

LIFE UPDATES:

  • the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang
    • Team Canada!! Virtue/Moir!!! All the winter sports!!! I don’t care for sports in general, but I’m always drawn in by the winter Olympics. It’s the only time I get invested in sports. I basically watched nothing else but news and the Olympics.
  • Trying to sort of my scheduling for work, reading, and writing
    • The thing I hated about school was that it didn’t just end when classes ended for the day. I worked on school stuff before, between, and after classes during weekdays. On weekends, I worked on assignments: research, papers, lab reports, etc. I wrote in every spare moment. I binged books the rest of the time, often committing to one book a week. These days, it’s much different.
    • In general, I like my job. Change has always been a challenge for me though. Right now, I’m still in the process of settling into my job. I’m learning the ins and outs of it, increasing my product knowledge every day, figuring out how to make drinks, learning the faces and preferences of regulars – oh my gosh, there is so much to know. I’m learning quickly. The thing I haven’t fully figured out yet is scheduling my reading and writing. Luckily, I get my work schedule in advance, but I’m still struggling to fit in the stuff that makes me really happy.
  • New writing projects
    • This month, my writing muse is back! I plotted out the skeletons of my next projects: the WTB sequel; my rival assassins book; and my YA contemporary. They’re getting more fleshed out along the way, but the fact that I had enough inspiration to figure out the main details is HUGE. I even started drafting my rival assassins book, aka B&B (and you can follow my progress through my #RivalAssassinsWIP tag on Twitter or just the thread).
    • The Olympics have also fueled my inspiration for my YA contemporary, which is now going to figure both baking and figure skating – so that will be super exciting. I meant to finish B&B first, but the inspiration got the best of me and, whoops, I guess I have two WIPs going on at the same time plus revisions for WTB? My accountability thread is here with the hashtag #BakingFigureSkaterBook (it’s long, I know, whatever).
    • This isn’t a good idea. I do not recommend having multiple projects going on at the same time but I do not have self-control right now.
  • CP Notes and Revisions
    • My CPs have provided amazing feedback. My heart breaks each time I go over their notes because I wish I was perfect and the MS needed no adjustments, but that’s obviously not the case. I’ve started revisions and hope to have a polished MS in time for the next DVpit. That’s a little less than 2 months from now, which is loads of time for me!

BOOKS I’VE READ:

  • City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty ★★★★
  • The Courtesan Duchess by Joanna Shupe ★★★
  • Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne ★★★★
  • The Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe ★★★
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo ★★★★★
  • Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco ★★★★
  • The Cruel Prince by Holly Black ★★★★

FILMS I’VE WATCHED:

  • The Danish Girl (2015)
  • Riptide (2017)
  • Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)
  • Moulin Rouge (2001)
  • Mudbound (2017)
  • Baywatch (2017)
  • Seventh Son (2014)
  • Everest (2015)
  • Black Panther (2018)
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

TV SHOWS I’VE WATCHED:

  • This is Us (2016-)
  • Myths & Monsters (2017-)
  • Big Brother: Celebrity Edition (2018-)
  • Black Lightning (2018-)
  • Versailles (2015-)