Creating a writing timeline

Today is one of those rare days where I have finished work early. The winter sky is still bright but gloomy, there’s a cup of hot drink in my hand and I have about 6 hours left of the day.

I’ve decided to draw up a schedule for the second draft of my book. I know that when I have no pressure and deadline for a project, I could work on it for hours and hours without progressing anywhere.

When I wrote the first draft for this soon-to-be book, I was able to finish it in eight weeks, because I told myself I was going to enter it into a writing competition, which I did.

Now that I have no looming deadline in place, my writing has slowed down. There is less of a frantic rush towards the finish line and when it comes to contemplating whether to watch TV or write, TV always wins.

I got a little kick in the butt over the weekend for my complacency when I realised that someone important to me didn’t believe that I could finish writing a book. It brought me back to those old days when I was called out for being naive and dumb for no particular reason. Not a pleasant feeling.

Anyway, I don’t like dwelling over unproductive thoughts like those, so the only thing I can do is put my head down and keep at it.

What I’ve learnt from writing the first draft is it’s important to map out the key stages in the writing process and set a deadline for each stage. That way I know what I am working towards and can see if I am making any progress.

Here is a rough outline of my writing schedule for the second draft of my soon-to-be book.

Writing timeline for second draft (Rough draft)

  • Complete rewritten outline: July 15
  • Complete ending: July 30
  • Complete events leading up to ending: August 15
  • Complete climax: August 30
  • Complete hook: September 15

Within each of these stages, there are roughly 3 chapters that I need to rewrite, (so twelve chapters in total). I’m currently plotting them out in a calendar, so will have that ready by tomorrow.

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.

Letters to grandpa

Dear Grandpa,

You clasped your hands like an old buddha, fingers intertwined together. You did that out of habit, even when you lay there unconscious on the hospital bed. We’d unclasp them and watch you clasp them back together. That small action told us you were still there.

The caretaker told us a funny story. Even though you had forgotten who most people were, you knew what 300×450 was. You’d work that out on the back of the pillow, your fingers drawing out long, imaginary strokes.

You were so excited that we had arrived, your breathing became too frantic and I had to stroke your chest, the lest I could do to soothe the pain.

There were so many questions that I wanted to ask you. Like how did you find your way out of your village and into the big city? You were just a small boy then, and the roads were unpaved, but you took that journey all by yourself.

It is comforting to know that you did things like that. If you can do it, then I can do it too. After all, we are related, I just haven’t found my stride like you did.

Had I known earlier about your feats, before your memory faded away, I would’ve asked you over and over how you did it, until your memory became mine.

I know you forgot about a lot of things. Dad filled me in on your condition over the years. But when I leaned over your white hospital sheet, and shouted my name into your deaf ear, I saw you nod and shed a tear behind those closed eyelids.

Because as forgetful as you are, that gentle nod told me that no illness can make the heart forget.

So grandpa, even though you are not there to answer my question: how did you find your way into the big city, when you were just a little boy?

When I leaned over and saw your teardrop, you gave me your answer.

The heart always knows.

Written on the two year anniversary of my Grandpa’s passing.

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.

Overcoming writing anxiety

I was in my last year of high school when I experienced my first bout of writing anxiety. A sudden, overwhelming panic that I couldn’t write, that I wasn’t good at writing.

I was sitting the end of year exams. The all-important exam that would get me into university. Halfway through, I realised that I had interpreted the question wrong. There was half an hour left on the clock. The essay I had written was brilliant, but it didn’t answer the question correctly. So I scratched out the entire essay and decided to rewrite everything.

That decision cost me my love of writing. Although I ended up getting a B on my essay, something changed inside of me when I wrote.

I would pick up the pen to write something amazing that had popped into my head, but my chest would twist into knots. I became critical of every word, every sentence, every flow. It had to be right, it had to be perfect or else I would scratch it out and throw it away. My writing stalled. For seven years, I couldn’t write.

Near the end of those seven years, I realised that every time I tried to write, I was being transported back in time to the exam room, where I was being tested and judged under the clock. The beautiful, flowy way I used to write, morphed into a rigid, emotionless piece of writing.

I cared more about whether my writing would fit into a particular style, or earn me money. I dabbled in instructional writing, advice writing, copyrighting — writing that would earn me money, as those were the only ‘right’ kinds of writing. Before beginning any piece of writing, I’d ask myself, “Is this what other people wanted to read?” It sucked the soul out of me, and I fell out of love with the laborious act of writing.

The day I started to break out of my writing anxiety, was the day I stopped holding my writing hostage to an invisible clock inside a dark exam room.

I began to be more playful. I set myself a writing challenge during lockdown, where I wrote a 20,000-word story for children. I started writing more personal stories on my blogs, nysgirl.com and almondeyedwanderer.com, as well as on Medium as @almondeyedwanderer. None of these blogs are shared across any of my social media platforms. None of my friends or family have ever read my blog. Instead, I made the decision to give my writing a private space to grow and nurture.

Slowly, I began to crawl out of that dark exam room and into the light. There are moments now, where I can see my old self shine through my writing.

I wrote a 20,000 word story during lockdown

It might seem as though I haven’t written in ages, but that’s only because when I’m not writing here, I’m writing elsewhere.

During lockdown, I decided to make use of my time at home, by writing a book. I decided to enter a writing competition, because the only way I was going to finish writing a book, was to have a deadline.

It was one of the most mentally draining things I’ve ever done. Mostly because I still had to work from home, with deadlines being thrown at me left and right by my boss and our clients. To top things off, I got a 20% pay cut due to the lockdown, so I was starting to feel like I was slowly chipping away. The only time I had to write was during the evenings after work, but I was already so tired that I barely got much done.

But I was determined to finish. I wrote one word after another until I got to 15,000 words. By now you’d think that thing would start looking up for me, that I’d start to get my juices flowing, but it took a turn for the worse.

Three days before the deadline, I realised that I still had another 15,000 words to write. That was a painful blow. The goal that I set in mind, was beginning to fade away. I was running out of time. It was impossible to finish, so I did the only thing I could. I started writing anything. It didn’t even matter how good it was, I just needed to put one word in front of another to hit the 30,000 word mark.

On the second to last day before the deadline, I stayed up till 4am just so I could write 5000 more words.

And then I read the fine print. It said: 30,000 words is the minimum standard, but we’ll still read you story even if it’s under 30,000 words.

So I basically butchered my story just to reach 30,000 words, only to realise that I didn’t need to in the end.

If I were to describe this writing process, I would say that it was like running a quarter marathon (I’m referring to a quarter marathon because I’ve never run a full marathon before) where the last 2 km are just so excruciatingly painful that it feels like your ankles are going to fall off. But you keep running anyway, because you don’t want to be the person who gets stuck in the middle of the road and needs a lift to get back to the finish line.

Anyway, I’m still glad I wrote the story, because I’m treating that as the first draft and now I’m rewriting it a second time. Things are much clearer, I know how to make it flow, what’s going to happen, which parts I’m going to keep, all because I wrote a crappy first draft that exposed all the story’s flaws and shone a light on its strengths.

20,000 plus words is the longest I’ve ever written. Doing this has given me the muscles to write longer, and write better. I’m super proud of my story. I really am. I can see it coming together nicely and I can’t wait to show you guys a little bit of what it’s about.

Anyway, I’ll stop writing now because I’ve got to go sleep and I’m super tired. It’s 12:30 in the morning and I have to wake up early for work tomorrow (or I mean today). Goodnight!

The heart is brave enough

In every single love story that I have ever lived through, I am the bad person. That’s what I’ve always told myself and others. I am the bad person because it always ends by my doing, by my hurtful words. Because in the end, like every story, it is the final act and not the opening scene, that matters. And although I may have the most wonderful opening scenes, I befall to the most tragic endings.

Before I write any further, I want to address the long break I have taken from writing, unplanned, ofcourse. Many times I had thought of writing something, but nothing came out of me. And so I started living a more external life, spurred on by a psychic’s advice, and little by little, the juice came trickling back. I was never worried, really. I had always known, that writing would call me back.

So here I am again, a few months later, when that thought passed through my head and I just had to write it down. This little story that’s been in my head for a while. The one that says it’s all my fault. But that’s only part of the truth. It is a simpler narrative, to paint myself as the bad person, because then I don’t have to waste too much of my breath telling someone a more complex version of me.

But if anyone were interested, if anyone is reading this, I would tell them that in every single love story I have ever been in, I tried to listen to my intuition. I tried to do everything that was right by me. I told men that I wasn’t interested in them when things felt off, I told guys that I couldn’t be friends with them because I didn’t want to lead them on. But that is the funny thing about men. When you are not interested, you are the world to them. When you give them a chance because it is the kind thing to do, and you develop feelings over time, you’d think they’d be happy, but no, suddenly you are lights out to them. Can you see how frustrating that is?

One man once told me that he enjoys the hunt. I can’t remember what he was referring to, the sport or the women, but in my life, things aren’t a hunt for me. I like to build and create. I like to make long lasting contributions. The shortest hobby I’ve ever had was for a year, and even then I felt bad for giving it up.

I felt bad. That is what I’ve always felt for telling the truth. Bad. And so for a while, I completely shut down. My voice, my willingness to even utter a sound. Gone. Why bother? When standing up only hurt you and the people around you? Over the past few months, I have come to find a sad truth. People only like you when you say things they want to hear. When you say things that sound nice to their ears. So I just became silent.

But like I said earlier on, I have been living life externally, taking up a few hobbies, picking up a particular set of skills, and somehow the energy is starting to return to me. I am beginning to have words to say, things to write again. It is like entering spring after a long winter. Who knew writing has its seasons too?

I guess that is all I will write for now. Tomorrow is another day, and more thoughts will come to me. In the meantime, this girl’s gotta get herself to bed.

Sweet dreams.

The climb

My friend and I have set ourselves a goal: we’re going to climb the 45 degree wall at our rock climbing center.

I call it the 45 degree wall, because at the halfway point, it juts out at 45 degrees, making it near impossible to climb. I’ve seen some experienced climbers falter at this point and fall down. Just watching them climb makes my palms sweat.

My friend, Chris, and I got the idea to climb the wall when we were on a plane ride to Japan. We sat there on our 8 hour flight watching Free Solo, a movie about a professional rock climber who scaled the El Capitan, a 900 meter vertical wall in the Yosemite National Park.

We couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards. The way he was able to find grips in the wall and cling to them with the tip of his fingers, it was like watching someone who had memorised a map of the wall in his mind.

Not that Chris and I are planning to climb free solo. No way. We’ll be strapped in our harnesses, with experienced staff around us. We just want to do it for the challenge and to gain confidence in ourselves.

Chris told me that he used to climb regularly with a friend of his back at university. He said that his friend started climbing when he got a lung transplant, and hasn’t stopped since. Now he climbs regularly, scaling these great big walls. It’s pretty inspiring.

I haven’t told Chris about my heartbreak last year. It’s not something I want to keep talking about. But a big part of climbing the 45 degree wall, is to distract myself from the pain.

Anyway, to make this goal happen, Chris and I will be meeting up regularly and training our upper bodies. So far, I can climb the kid’s wall, and do 1 lap of the monkey bars. That’s pretty much how strong my arms are.

Chris says that I’m lucky. I’m slim enough to easily gain muscles and pull my body up. He’s a bit bigger. He says he’s got chicken arms. Even his dad who used to body build has chicken arms, so it’ll be harder for him to pull his weight up the wall.

We are planning to climb to the top of the 45 degree wall by the end of May. Right now, I can’t even lift myself up the wall because the grips are too tiny.

I will try to keep this blog updated with my progress. I really want to achieve this goal. Imagine being able to climb Excalibur in the Netherlands! Anyway, I am thinking too far ahead.

I’ve learnt that if you are always chasing the thrill, you will never be disciplined enough to commit. So I’ve got to start small and practise consistently. Challenge accepted!

Not all hearts want to be cured

I was naive to think that the heart wants to be cured.

Sometimes the heart enjoys wallowing in its own self-pity, curled up in a blanket replaying scenes from a happier time.

Other times the heart forgets it was broken in the first place and carries on living half-heartedly.

But this kind of amnesia of the heart is dangerous. It makes excuses for evenings spent on the couch, invites left unopened, and meals left uncooked, all in the name of comfort.

It’s comforting to do nothing in the dark, when the moon curls up, wrapped in the shroud of night.

But darkness is for sleeping, withdrawing and the closing of curtains. The heart mistakes this for comfort, because the light blinds us in the dark.

But the heart needs to wake up every morning to breathe in the freshness of the morning dew. That’s how it knows it’s still alive.

To wake up every morning to the rising sun is something I sorely miss.

Love hypothesis

I started off this year with a single question: “How does one possibly get over heartbreak?” Much like a scientist in search of an answer, I sought out a number of sites, articles, and videos from so-called love experts, and whittled down my research to five hypotheses.

To get over heartbreak, you have to:

  • Do something meaningful with your time
  • Cut off all contact with the person who broke your heart
  • Go out and meet new people
  • Share your feelings with your friends
  • Give it time

I set out to prove/disprove each of these hypotheses, hoping that along the way, I would find a cure for this fragile, and weary heart.