Writing the second draft ~ doubts and indecision

I’ve begun writing the second draft of my novel and I am plagued with doubts and indecision.

Most of the time it feels like there’s a gremlin sitting on my shoulder critiquing everything I write.

The main reason why I find this story particularly difficult, is because I haven’t figured out the right tone of voice.

Shall I make it sound realistic, with a touch of magical realism, or should I go all out and make it fantasy?

Who am I writing it for? Children? teens? or adults?

Thinking like this gets me nowhere and I end up going round and round in circles for hours with nothing to show.

I think the reason why I’m so critical of my writing is because I’m afraid to address the root of the issue: What if nobody likes my story? What if nobody reads it?

And so I try to write to please an imaginary audience.

Obviously, it’s not working.

Going back to the humble origins of the story

This story began as an ending. I wrote the last few paragraphs first, spontaneously while in bed, and forgot about it for a few months.

It wasn’t until lockdown that I took it out and reread it. What struck me about it, was its simplicity; a few paragraphs that said a lot. That was the tone I wanted to capture.

Now that I think about it, what I didn’t like about the first draft was how dramatic it had become; overly exaggerated storylines, unnecessary characters, like I was trying too hard. It lost its tone of simplicity and didn’t have the same sparkling effect it first had.

So I think I will work backwards. Start from the point of certainty, and branch out from there.

Why I started writing Asian stories for a mainstream audience

Two years ago, I had the worst dating experience with an Austrian man.

We met while staying at a backpacker’s lodge on Christmas Eve. He seemed fascinated about history, especially Chinese history. The more ancient it was, the better. We got to talking, and surprisingly, I found it really easy to open up to him.

We caught up a few times afterwards at his place, and that’s when I began noticing things, niggly things that started bothering me.

My point of view

We’d order takeaway online and instead of offering to come to the store with me, he’d sit on his couch and wait for me to pick it up.

It was raining that day and I wasn’t too familiar with the area, so I got a bit lost in the rain while walking from my car to the store. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling and made me feel like I wasn’t worth his time, especially since we were just getting to know each other.

When I brought this up with him, he told me that it was such a petty thing to bring up, that if I really wanted him to come, then I could’ve just asked.

I found this to be really weird. I’m pretty sure that there is an unspoken rule of hospitality, that the host is responsible for serving food to the guest, and not the other way round.

Maybe the rules of hospitality don’t apply when you’re dating. But why would you treat someone you’re dating worse than the way you would treat a guest?

This honestly perplexed me. I asked him what his previous girlfriends had thought about his hospitality, and he said that they didn’t care. If they wanted him to come, they’d ask. If they didn’t ask, he didn’t come. He made it seem as though his actions were totally normal.

The book seller’s magic

The lady at the bookstore, I saw her today, wrapped in a heavy shawl outside the bus stop.

Her hair was pinned up with a little black clip, a dark statement against her wispy white hair.

Four words popped out as soon as I saw her. Straw-like, stuck out, and slightly unkempt, but she seemed to flow of a magic that only book seller’s have.

One day, I hope to be a part of that same magic too.

And though I wanted to speak to her, I felt mute underneath the vast night sky. Some small feeling inside of me was holding me back from the book seller’s magic.

In my bolder days, when I’d spoken to her, she told me that she lived far away from the bookstore. Her children thought it was silly of her to travel all the way to the city just to work there.

But people who aren’t part of the magic don’t know. When you find a place of belonging, you’d do anything to keep it alive.

And though I am scared, pretty much every day now, I know I’d rather be scared than to stop being a dreamer.

I can’t help but continue on this path. It’s the only one that seems to ring true, the sweetest melody that makes all else bitter.

Now I can see that whatever happens, I will strive for that magic that booksellers have.

I am an adventurer

I am an adventurer.

Not your typical skydiving, globe trotting, jet skiing adventurer, but a more solitary, peaceful kind.

You see, being adventurous means being brave and following your heart.

My adventure happens right here in my room, where I am writing stories, becoming the author that I want to be.

There are it’s challenges; distractions, heartbreaks, financial woes, and work that gets in the way. But an adventure wouldn’t be called an adventure if it was one smooth sailing ride to the finish.

One of my major challenges this week has been my freelance work. Due to distractions, loss of a close friendship/romantic interest and feeling down in the dumps for the past week (months), I’ve let the quality of my freelance work slip.

My client is not too happy about it, but he has given me another chance to fix it, which means less time spent working on my novel.

Luckily for me, this weekend is a long weekend so I can, if my mind permits, focus on getting things sorted.

I currently work 2 jobs, a 40 hour a week day job, and a ten hour a week freelance job. So I’m forgiving myself for being a bit stressed and making mistakes.

But it’s really got me thinking. I need to pull myself together and stay organised so that I can get the work done and still have enough time to write my novel.

I’ve only spent a few hours this week writing it, which is nothing compared to the time spent freelancing and working.

I’m thinking in a few more months, something needs to give. I’m waiting a bit longer to make a decision. Seeing how things turn out first.

Anyway, what challenges have you guys faced while reaching for your dreams?

Hope the stars can work in our favour for the rest of this year.

Writing with intuition

So I bumped my head into the car door yesterday and now I’m left with a nasty bruise near my temple. It hurts to yawn and chew, but the writing must go on.

Luckily, I’ve discovered that writing depends a lot on intuition, and when my head isn’t overthinking it, my intuition comes out to play.

This past week, I’ve been working on a story for my zine, Where the wild stories grow, and as an overthinker, I’ve changed the story three different times.

Here’s the rough illustration of the cover:

Each time I come up with a story, I end up thinking: it’s not good enough, it sounds too simple, or nobody would like it. Perfectionism really is a curse for achieving nothing.

So I’ve decided to leave my brain out of the equation and stick to the first story I came up with. It’s simple, but intuitively, it creates the feeling I wanted.

These are the draft opening lines to the three different stories I came up with. Even though I won’t be using two of them, I can still save them for another day:

Story number 3:

I met my friend on Christmas Eve. The day I met him, I thought he was my Christmas gift. That was because I had always wished for a friend. Every candle that I blew out, every shooting star that passed by, every firework that lit the New sky was for him. Or her. It turned out to be a him. But you know what they say? All wishes are double edged, so be careful what you wish for.

After reading it again, I realised this sounded a bit too chic lit for me, which was not the tone I was going for. I think I wrote it because I missed not hanging out with my friend.

Story number 2:

Wild stories grow in the back of my neighbour’s garden, where the weeds are cut too long, and the hayfever makes my eyes itch. I brave the elements and carry with me a shovel and a small, tin can, and make my way up through the overgrown weeds.

This sounds too much like a literary story. Again, not the tone I was going for.

Story number 1

Ginny Cooper had been writing all night when she accidentally knocked over the bottle of black ink.

It splashed all over the pot plant beside her, and as she mopped up the spilt ink, the flowers began to grow.

This was the first story I came up with right after I had drawn the illustrations for my zine. Because it was the spontaneous result of what I had drawn, I’m going to stick with this story.

What do you think? What story suits the tone of the illustrations?

I know it’s quite simple, but I wanted to create a story that I could make before Christmas. And since I’m designing the cover and illustrations, I didn’t want this to turn into a complex novel. I thought it would be a great gift for a friend.

Since it’s turning out to be a rainy day today, all plans are cancelled, so I’m going to spend the morning finishing off the majority of the story, using my intuition and getting things done! Then I can sit back and get ready for Christmas.

Writing is like having a conversation

Writing a story is like having a conversation with a friend who has stopped listening to you. It’s like writing them a letter about all the things you wish you could say, and then halfway through, those words turn themselves into a story.

That’s the wonderful trick with writing. You can finish all those unfinished conversations you never had, say the things you always wanted to say, and get to be right about everything. All these things can be achieved through writing. 

I first discovered this when I started writing a letter to a guy who I liked. There were certain things that I wanted to get off my chest and the more I wrote, the more I started creating stories that made me forget about my own problems. I think my childhood-self gave me this idea. I used to write notes to my dad whenever I had upset him and I’d leave them on the dining room table for him to read. 

Over the years I’ve discovered that writing is my soft spot, the place where I allow myself to become vulnerable. In the safety of words, the best parts of me shine, and in my words I can trace my emotions back to their roots. My characters are the carriers of my emotions and through them I find a way out. That’s what storytelling has always been for me, a way to tell someone how I feel.

But wouldn’t it be nice if one day I didn’t have to write letters to people anymore, what if I could just tell someone how I felt and they would stay there and listen.

Where the wild stories grow

After a fever-induced week of dizzy spells and delirious thinking, I took a day off work and spent my sweet time writing. Since I’ve been trying to create some zines for a while now, I thought I’d use my sick leave wisely and do something a little more creative.

There are a couple of weird looking plants around my house, and on that particular day, they were starting to look a tad bit stranger than usual, (probably brought on by my deliriousness). I kind of fell into a strange twilight zone while staring at them, which inspired me to draw this wild thing:

Now, I’m not a great drawer, but it kind of looks like a forest with giant flowers. Am I right? I’ve been trying to work off of this picture all week, coming up with a story for my zine. I imagine it to be a place where wild stories grow and… I’ll come up with something wild. 

The title for my zine: Where the wild stories grow.

That’s all there is to my zine so far. But I’m going to push myself into productive mode to get it finished. So, here is my zine-making to do list:

  • Come up with a story
  • Finish the illustrations
  • Lay out in InDesign
  • Print out the zine
  • Distribute to friends and family or online

I’ll keep updating this blog with my zine-making progress. Since it’s my first time making a zine, it might take me a while. But here’s to hoping that wild stories can grow out of a frenzied state of mind.

How far can you go?

My grandfather walked 156km from his farming village to the city, when he was just a small boy, so that he could attend middle school. A journey like that would’ve taken him days, but he did it alone, all by himself, with nothing but the road signs to guide him.

I learnt about this story on my last visit to see him, when he was lying in hospital, in a vegetative state.

When I asked my mum why he had done that, she said: “He had a vision.”

What she meant was that he was the first of his family to get an education, when nobody else thought to do so. And in doing that, he led our family out of a life of poverty.

My grandfather had such strong blood in him. I didn’t see it then, because he was just a tiny, fragile old man. But I see it now.

He fights and claws at the caretakers when they stick tubes down his throat. He stares them down if they cover his hands with mittens because he likes to take the tubes out of his nose.

He is very much a leader trapped inside a dying body.

But he was strong enough to wait for us to come back so that we could say goodbye.

He was strong enough to walk 156km for an education that would otherwise never have been given to him.

I am not strong like him, but on the day of his passing, I realised he had left a legacy.

So I asked myself, what would I walk 156km for?

What’s in a story?

Tamora Pierce once said that writing is like training for a marathon.

“Don’t worry if you never finish all the stories you start. You wouldn’t expect yourself to run a marathon straight away. You train yourself by running short distances. So keep practising, keep writing, and you’ll build up the muscles you need for the full novel.”

This takes me back to my first few attempts at storytelling. I always wondered why I could never get past the beginning:

In primary school, I set up a beautiful description of a haunted house and then nothing happened. The story just fizzled out.

In intermediate, I was so fixated with perfecting every word, that I never got past the first sentence.

And then somewhere in adulthood, I decided to get one word past the beginning, then one line past the beginning, and then, one sentence!

I can now write two chapters in one sitting. Kind of ok, right?

So, this is what it looks like when you start training yourself for that novel:

When you write often, you begin to see the kinds of stories you care about.

When you write long enough, you begin to use your own words.

When you write everyday, you begin to develop the ability to sit still for hours.

When you write even when you hate your writing, you develop patience and endurance.

And when you write each and every day, you’ll realise how powerful words with direction can be.

That’s what a story is. Not how perfect the words are, but the direction they’re taking you; towards that sentence, towards that paragraph, towards that chapter and finally, towards that last word in your novel.

How great would that feel?