6 years late in chasing my dreams 

Today WordPress sent me a congratulation message on the 6-year anniversary of this WordPress page. As you may notice however, the first published blog entry is only from a few weeks ago!

This was a poignant reminder to myself to get off my ass, push my sleeves up and get to work!

Six years ago I thought I would give a proper try at pursuing writing and maybe even one day lucky enough to call it my profession. I created this blog to share interesting and meaningful thoughts and hope to see it gain traction with an audience. Fear of failure, fear of criticism– in the end I left a bunch of stale essays saved in draft mode, never to be posted publicly.

In the end, I sat on my hands and didn’t pursue writing any further. I took up my day job as an accountant and that was that for the next 6 years.  
This reminder from WordPress comes at an opportune time for me. Progress is stagnating (procrastination my old friend, did you have to return so quickly?) as I begin working on a new idea. This reminder is the prod I needed to remember to not let another 6 years go past!

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take right? Even if my final work sucks, at least I’ll have finished writing it and given it a real try.

Flexing the writing muscle

To be honest, writing is hard.  Creating a brand new world is hard.  Creating characters who are almost living, breathing, changing creatures is hard.  Creating and maintaining a narrative that brings the reader on a breathless and captivating journey is hard.

I’ve never managed to maintain a long narrative.  The best I’ve done is a 40k word short story for my HSC major work (part of Australia’s university entrance assessments), and I never did love that piece of work too much either.

Now I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.  As I try to plan, all I’ve managed to do is find gaping plot holes in own proposed narrative.  The temptation to procrastinate is strong (I acknowledge I greatly lack discipline.)

Since I’ve never managed to finish more than a short story in my life and I’ve not actually written a short story in the last 4-5 years anyway, I thought I might be better off flexing my writing muscle by returning to short stories before trying to write a whole novel (or, gasp, trilogy!)

My plan of approach is to set myself a genre, use a random image generator to help that spark of inspiration, and try to write a couple of short stories.

Hopefully that exercise will help get my writing muscle going, and hopefully I’ll produce a few gems through this exercise too!

The most common advice I hear/read for aspiring writers is “write everyday, anything, something.”  What are your tips or tricks to try and improve your writing capabilities? 

A little trope never killed nobody

Continuing on from my last post, World Building Fears, I’ve decided to stop illogically fighting my mind’s natural inclination to borrow from tropes simply for the sake of fighting it.

Trope exists because it communicates a familiar and known set of information to the reader.  It is a useful tool that communicates more than just the words you have written on a page.  As I’m writing, tropes sometimes comes to mind at times because they are what I have learned and absorbed as a reader.

Just because something is trope doesn’t make it bad, just as being original and different from trope doesn’t necessarily mean good.  After all, there are countless stories set in good ol’ medieval Europe, telling stories of romance, politics, warfare, treachery, and the like.  Why some achieve success and others don’t is because of how the world, characters and stories can engage a reader.  

For example, George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire– he does not shy away from trope, such as the sexualised wicked woman trope in Cersei or Melisandre. These characters remain powerful, interesting and vital to the story because they are well-written and complex.  Just because the sexualised wicked woman is a well-known trope doesn’t automatically make the characters two dimensional and flat.  When he goes against trope, such as the invincible hero, his character deaths makes an impact to the story, not just an arbitrary event for the sake of denying trope. 

When I contemplated writing a concept borrowed from medieval European folklore in a medieval Asian world setting, this was not for a meaningful reason.  I just wanted to lean away from the medieval European tropes that kept coming to mind for no reason other than that.  It would not have improved the quality of writing.  Likely the opposite as I would be writing a poorly explained world and story which mismatched against the expected assumptions both I and a reader might apply from internalised understanding of tropes. 

Hope my blathering about tropes hasn’t bored you!  This was the closure I had finally reached regarding my fear of tropes since my last post so thought I should share my thought process.  

What have your own experiences with tropes been as a reader, and particularly a writer? 

World building fears

Today I’ve started putting earnest thought into world building.  The mood of the world is so important not just as a reader but also the writer.  How to be engaged in your writing otherwise?

I started off finding myself assuming my world should be a certain way because that’s the common trope world for the fantasy element my story centres on, and feeling bored and uninterested in it.  It is not a world that at this moment I feel drawn to, to live in, to place my consciousness within.

And then lo and behold, silly me realised that no, if you are world building from scratch, what on earth means you need to apply a trope or anything against your own preference?

I’m now trying to determine if I can apply a Medieval Asian world to a mythical element drawn from European folklore, and still create a believable story.  A part of me says, “yes this is my story so I’ll do what I want.” Another part of me says, “it just feels a little funny against a reader’s expectations.”

Tropes do after all also serve a purpose.  Assumed information can allow a reader to understand more than is immediately said.  

If I’m careful about how I draw in the European folklore into an Asian setting, perhaps it won’t create a jarring experience……… and certainly there may be parallels in Asian folklore that can be applied.

To be honest too, I’m just intimidated by the task of world building.  There have been some truly great fantasy worlds created by talented authors that I could not seek to equal. As I try to create, I constantly find gaps, flaws and inconsistencies in my own logic, things that don’t make sense in the world I’m creating.

The last fantasy book I read (or re-read for the millionth time) was by Jacqueline Carey set primarily in an alternate medieval France.  She has created worlds so rich and vibrant and broad that I could almost reach out and touch those worlds.  As I try to create, I can’t help comparing what I have on a page in front of me to her glowing complete worlds.  It makes no sense I know to compare my incomplete draft chicken scratchings to a published work, but I still, stupidly and irrationally, do.

Now I’m leaning away from recreating my own medieval European world and try to find another place that I might be able to better create from scratch, not having something so close to mind for comparison……..

In terms of action plan, I think I might create a rough framework of a world first and try to start writing a first chapter and at least see how it feels.  Does it feel right and bode worth investing more in?

I’m sure I sound quite asinine right now.  Any advice on defeating that voice in my head that constantly reminds me that I’m hopelessly incapable and leaves me muddling around indecisively is very much appreciated.  

The eve before the battle

I am lying in bed with my heart drumming out of my chest. I love to read grand tales of brave princesses and fearless warriors fighting against all odds for the sake of home and hearth, one’s country and loved ones… And although my life is a fairly easy one in comparison with no fierce and bloodthirsty enemies of any kind to face, I find myself commiserating with them, sharing the heady rush of fear and tension commingled with adrenaline on the eve of battle. I am lying in bed, unable to sleep, mouth dry, and heart beating-beating-beating, quite ready to drum out of my chest.

The reason is because I finally am about to embark on my personal great quest– my lifelong goal to become a published novelist. 

As a child, I dabbled in creative writing at home and at school, and wrote a novella of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt.  I always thought writing would be something I did when I grew up, and as a child it was something I did for fun without giving more thought to it, that it’s never too early to start doing more.

As a teenager, I dedicated myself to writing a short story as part of my Higher School Certificate (the university entrance exam/assessment in a Australia). I regret to say I cannot find a final version of my short story, but I remember hating it and being disgusted by its lack of polish, it’s undeveloped characters, and a general feeling of “urgh”. Fortunately, despite my own lack of engagement with the entire piece, my assessment markers enjoyed it enough to give me a strong final grade.  Still, the general feeling of “urgh” lingers.  I’m grateful for having done the piece because it let me understand how very very much of a procrastinator I was, and to be extremely conscious of need for self-discipline.  Yet I’ve never quite forgotten the feeling of “urgh”. I think it results from my constant deprecation of self and anything I create, but what if if those feelings are right and what I create might just suck?

I’m afraid that anything else or new I create will always be simply “urgh”, and I fear to show it to the world or to even create it.

For years I dallied.  After spending my whole young lifetime wanting nothing but to write fiction, I instead studied accounting and business law in university.  I stopped creative writing, and wrote structured essays, analysis and research papers instead.  I began an accounting job during university and then after university, I continued studying and working to gain my Chartered Accountant qualification.  And after 6-7 years of nothing much but academic writing and technical accounting work papers, I truly feared a lifetime of dreams and hopes would be crushed by the complete lack of creativity left in my dry lacklustre husk of a being. 

I’m fighting to recapture the creativity that seemed to come so easy during my childhood.  To throw off the shackles of technical accounting writing and recapture my dreams.

After playing around with half-formed ideas over the past 6 months that simply did not resonate with me, finally something has formed, created into the beginnings of an idea, a world and characters I believe in and want to breathe life into.

It’s almost enough to make me forget what “urgh” feels like. 

So I lie awake, heart beating fast. Eager to face tomorrow’s battle and face this challenge to breathe life into this idea, my would-be child, bringing myself back onto the path I always wished to follow.

Please wish me luck.  Thank you