Saturday, April 14, 2012

That one morning when I got up at the buttcrack of dawn to study chemistry

It’s a scenario familiar to most, if not all, university and college students: that one exam that you’re concerned isn’t going to go so well. There’s at least one every semester, and you find yourself studying for it a little more than the others, even despite the fact that you know, deep in the pit of your stomach, with every fiber of your soul, that you need to study for EVERYTHING in university unless you want it to eat you alive. Clearly, as the good university or college student you are, you limit your partying or whatever else you like to do during exams week, and you study for the God forsaken things – but sometimes you study too much for the exams you think you’re going to get shitty grades in, end up passing those with flying colors, and bomb the easy insert-best-subject-here exam you thought you were guaranteed an A+ in.

Well... this is not at all what happened to me in my second semester of second year (this time last year). In fact, the exact opposite happened. What on Earth does this have to do with writing, you ask? You’ll see, in due time.

This time last year I had six classes and a lab on my plate, including two very difficult courses: methods and stats in psychology II (which is objectively a difficult course because it contains two exams, ten pieces of homework and a 30-50 page term project including statistical analyses) and solutions chemistry (which is difficult to me because my feelings toward general chemistry can be compared perpetually to the average person’s reaction to a 100-year-old mop dipped in a puddle of mud, with flies buzzing around it, and containing approximately seven dead mice). As you may have guessed, at the end of the semester, the chemistry exam was the one I was most worried about. But did I study adequately for this exam considering I was already failing the course at that point? Of course not. Instead, I spent all my time concentrating on my stats exam and my term project. I ended up making an A in that course, a grade of which I was very proud considering I am not naturally good with stats or anything math-related. But that’s nowhere near the point.

All this to say that a couple days after my stats exam sat the chemistry exam, looming nefariously in the near distance. I therefore began studying for my chemistry final the day before. This was clearly not a smart decision, so that night, I decided I would stay up for as long as possible to study, go to bed, wake up at five o’clock and resume (my exam was at 8:30 in the morning).

So that’s exactly what I did. And guess what? It wasn’t enough. I failed that course. And looking back... it really freaking doesn’t surprise me. At all.

That stats course I took last year taught me a lot of things about university, and so did the chemistry course, despite the fact that I failed one and passed the other with a 4.0. The primary lesson they taught me was that you don’t have to be good at something going into it to come out with an A+. I’ve learned that natural talent and intelligence have very, very little to do with your grades in university. Hard work, perseverance, and motivation are everything. As someone who’s always been intelligent and who never had to study for anything to get As in high school, this was a lesson I guess I just had to learn the hard way. I’m not good at stats, and I got excellent grades in chemistry in high school... but look what happened here. I was highly motivated for one and didn’t give a shit about the other – and what do you know? That was all it took to make the tables turn.

They taught me another difficult lesson, too – this one perhaps even more difficult. If I’m going to succeed in university – if I’m going to get the grades I want, and need to get into medical school – I need to stop prioritizing my writing over everything.

It’s tough, but I’m finishing up my third year now and I really do need to start thinking about my future first. Not working on my story for a few days makes me cranky, so I still try to sneak it in for a moment or two during a not-so-busy day... but if I don’t get to work on it for a while, you know what? It’s not going to kill me. At this point I need discipline and perspective, and I need to realize that my writing isn’t going away – it’ll still be there at the end of the semester and I can concentrate on it all I want then.

This semester, I finally was able to detach myself enough from my own work to concentrate primarily on my education. The results are fantastic. I’m looking at a 3.8-3.9 session GPA if everything goes according to plan, and that chemistry course? I’m making a B right now, hopefully bringing it up to a B+ or an A- with the final. I’ve already started studying and my exam is only in two weeks. And the best part is, so far it’s looking like that morning where I woke up at the buttcrack of dawn to study chemistry isn’t going to have to happen this year. Of course, it doesn’t mean I’m any less of a serious writer... all it means is that I’m learning to prioritize. And what I’ve realized is that having your priorities in order is far less stressful.

Lesson learned.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

More of a short-ish update on my progress with the story than anything – currently, I’m undertaking the reworking prep stage, which consists of very extensive planning before I start the reworking (bringing the story from a draft to a manuscript). The prep stage has three goals:

- Working out little details that are necessary to the story (for example, making sure all dates are correct).

- Research and fact-checking (I already did quite a bit of research in the preliminary planning stage, but that was just enough to write the story convincingly. The drafts were about the storyline itself while the reworking is more about making it publishable).

- Scene work (figuring out where the story is going to start, where it’s going to end, and which scenes stay and go. Currently, I’m making the second draft scenebook, which records all scenes in the story in order – they will most likely not remain in that order).

Since I am trying to get the series back down into one book for publication (for several reasons), these stages consider the entire story as a whole and completely stop differentiating the two volumes.

Right now, I have “Life in Black and White” as the final manuscript’s actual title, with “Resolution” and “It’s All Inside My Head” (I love this title too much to get rid of it) as the part titles. I’m not going to lie, getting back into the one-book mindset after it being a two-part series for so long is kind of weird and difficult, but I’m starting to get used to it. I know this is what’s best for the story going into publication (it’s EXTREMELY difficult to get an agent to accept a series from a new author, among other reasons I’m going with one book in the end), and it’s a step forward – even though it feels like a step backward sometimes.

In closing, three small tips for writers who are envisioning the editing process (or starting it) for the first time:

1. Everything they’ve told you about editing is true. It’s not always longer than the writing process (it wasn’t for me), but it is definitely ten times harder. It’s no longer the fun and games you enjoyed while writing the first draft. Editing with the intent of getting published is serious business, and it’s truly a process (at times rewarding, at times very frustrating) – so if you’re not serious about the story you want to edit, my advice would be to either start writing something you’re more serious about or just be content with the first draft.

2. Things are going to change, and that’s okay. Look at your story as objectively as possible when editing (get input from people you trust or a critique team if necessary). No matter how much you love a scene, if it’s doing absolutely nothing for the story it probably shouldn’t be in there.

3. Most people have to revise their story three, four or even five times before it’s ready. It’s probably still not going to be perfect in your eyes the first time you edit it – and listen to your gut. If you’re not satisfied with it, it’s not ready to go.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing pet peeves

Listening to: Vitamin String Quartet renditions of Coldplay songs
Should be doing: Tomorrow's anatomy lab report/physics homework

Instead I'm finding myself thinking about the two things I think about most: writing, and things that piss me off about people. Here are my top ten pet peeves related to writing and being a writer (comment and tell me if you relate!):

10. "When are you getting it published??" - Ah, shit, hang on! Just let me finish revamping my entire story, do a big old bunch of research, and find a really good agent! BRB IN FIVE MINUTES.

Like, seriously, while I really appreciate the support (<3), people who don't write cannot even begin to understand how complex and LONG and DIFFICULT this process is. But trust me, when I get accepted for publication, the whole world will be like the first to know.

9. This article.

8. The awkward and very common assumption that being a fiction writer automatically makes you an English major. You don't even get how many times I've had this legit conversation with people I run into from high school (I was "the writer" in high school):

Them: Hey how's it going?
Me: Good, how are you? What are you up to these days?
Them: Oh, you know, *blablablatheirlifeblabla* ... what about you? How's school going? You're in English, right?
Me: Uh... no. Actually I'm in pre-med and psych.
Them: Oh! I just figured you were in English since you write so much!

That awkward moment.

7. People (most notably my mom and my grandparents) not understanding, no matter how many times I tell them, that there are FOUR YEARS of my blood, sweat and tears on my netbook and USB, and therefore, I'd jump headfirst in a fire before I "left my bag in the car". -_- The bag comes with me, deal with it.

6. Being "the writer" doesn't mean I can just change:
- My character's gender ("He's so emotional, wouldn't it be easier if he was a girl?" - Reaaaaaaaally? Dude he's got a MENTAL DISORDER THAT CAUSES MOOD SWINGS. That doesn't make him a girl.)
- My ending
- My subplots
- My characters' more-than-occasional use of profane language (seriously, we've got a psychopath, a rebellious and emotionally disturbed teenage dude, a girl who gets suspended from school like every day and a girl who didn't finish high school because she was in the hospital every two weeks for suicide attempts, IN THE SAME GROUP OF FRIENDS. IT WOULD BE HIGHLY OUT OF CHARACTER FOR THESE PEOPLE NOT TO DROP F-BOMBS ONCE IN A WHILE)
- My characters' names (most of them start with J, and some people find that "confusing" I guess)
- My setting ("oh, why don't you set it in NEW BRUNSWICK INSTEAD?" - Why don't you go live in Taiwan?)
- Etc.

No, my characters aren't "making me do things". I COULD change all these things. I have the technology. But if I changed them, the story wouldn't make any freaking sense! And asking a writer to change their characters' names is just not cool. That's like me asking you to just change the name of your four-year-old kid or your pet.

5. The fact that awesome ideas or the sudden fire of inspiration never come to me when I’m trying to WRITE. They come at one of three times: At work, when I’m hanging out with friends, or at three in the morning.

4. The three following types of writers:

- “I don’t need to revise my work.” Oh, honey... I’m sorry you feel that way.
- Writers who brag constantly about how good their story is and how everyone likes it. I like talking about my books as much as the next writer, and I do think it’s a pretty decent story, but no matter how true it might be, bragging constantly about your story and characters makes you look like a big d-bag. There’s also the fact that a lot of these people get super personally offended if you don’t like their characters or say anything negative about them. I’d be pretty screwed if I was one of those people, let me tell you that.
- People who call themselves writers, and who try to fit all the stereotypes, but who DON’T ACTUALLY WRITE ANYTHING OF SUBSTANCE. Writing is a VERB before it’s an identity people! These folks give writers who actually work and make the necessary sacrifices for their writing a bad name, and it’s not cool.

3. Anyone who is not the author having any kind of sense of entitlement over a story – or especially a character. Best example I can think of is fans getting all personally offended when J.K. Rowling outed Dumbledore. This pretty much comes with the territory of being published and having a fanbase for your work, yes. Is it going to stop me from getting my stuff published? Obviously not. Does it piss me off any less? NOOOO. Related to this, I also HAAAAAAAAAATE with a capital H the “when you put a novel out into the world, it becomes the reader’s” mindset. No, it doesn’t. Yes, the reader can choose how to interpret the story and the characters. Doesn’t mean they are any less the author’s intellectual property. And if the author wants to make a change or announce something about a character like J.K. did, it remains totally in his or her right to do so! Good freaking lord.

2. “Every writer is also an avid reader.” – I am not an avid reader, and never have been, which is why this gets on my nerves. Most writers also love reading, but it’s silly to say that you “have” to love one thing in order to love another. Writing and reading are two different processes, fundamentally, and let’s all just remember that people write for different reasons. Not everyone writes because they love reading novels and want to write their own drawing from inspiration they got while reading. Personally, I write because I love the craft of it, and I have stories and characters floating around in my head that need to come out. Writing for me is a way to immortalize the stories that crowd my overactive imagination. Nothing to do with reading whatsoever.

1. “Write what you know.” – Not so much the adage itself, but rather the VERY MANY (you’d be surprised) writers and especially non-writers who take it too damn literally. “Write what you know” means know what you write – as in, if it’s not something you’ve personally experienced, you need to do the necessary research to make sure you’ve got your facts right and to make sure your portrayals are accurate. It doesn’t mean that you ABSOLUTELY CAN’T write about something you’ve never experienced yourself, which is how so many people take it. The idea that some people think not having a mental illness myself makes me unqualified to write a story about mental illness is honestly an insult to my intelligence and to my imagination. It’s called research, guys, don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing.

Monday, July 11, 2011


This is just another quick update between coming home from Starbucks and starting up my editing again.

I finished the second draft edit of Part I on schedule on June 30, 2011. Now I'm working toward a deadline of August 8, 2011 (G's 23rd birthday!) for the second drafts of Parts II and III.

This seems really unrealistic considering the time it took me to complete Part I, but it's going extremely well so far. Part III is very nearly complete as of now (14/17 chapters ready to go). Part II is a little less far along with 3/18 chapters, but I've already done my first readthrough and the great majority of my chapter plans. Therefore, I know exactly what I want to keep and get rid of, and which scenes go where.

I have been editing pretty much nonstop for the last couple days. If I can keep this up without wanting to pull my hair out, it should be all good.

In other words, a big THANK YOU to the members of my reading team that have begun reading Part I. You've already provided so much awesome feedback, and I'm really happy with this entire thing so far!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Deadline tomorrow - very quick update!

So, I don't have much time to make a long post right now, but considering my second draft deadline for Part I is tomorrow I thought I'd drop in for a quick update!

I have one full chapter left to edit (chapter 2) and three scenes (within two other chapters) to complete before Part I is ready for printing!! This is one of the most exciting things ever. I mean, printing out an abridged version of Part II for a readthrough was exciting enough - but that was a first draft. I absolutely cannot wait to see a second draft (all pretty and formatted) in print. My printing is on Saturday and I am going to be a proud mama!

Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of Part I's edit:

- A full readthrough of the novel was done from February 13th to mid-March. My edit of Part I began in mid-March and will end tomorrow, so that's about two and a half or three months if you consider the breaks I took to retype Part III chapters and do a highlighter readthrough of Part II, times during which I did not work on Part I at all.

- The first step of the edit was reading the whole draft and removing irrelevant scenes. Then I actually remade all the chapter plans, followed by scene plans, to fugure out exactly which scenes I wanted where. Just making the plans took me about a week and a half because of other life obligations I had at the time.

- The first draft of Part I was 19 chapters and around 300 pages. The second draft is 10 chapters and approximately 90 pages.

Tomorrow, I will finally be able to say, "That's a BIG job done." Haha! And then comes time to work on Part II, which is the biggest problem area in the story right now. But now that I have some experience with editing, I feel confident that I'll be able to get through it!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Self-set deadlines and why they don't work for everyone

Hey all! I know I haven't updated this in a million years, but I've really been thinking about starting it up again lately. Since I just got home and I'm going out for supper with my grandparents in less than an hour, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to throw a post your way.

For a while now, I've thought about kind of changing this blog so that, instead of it being just me talking about my own material, it can be more helpful to other writers that may be struggling with the same issues as I do. So, while I'm still going to be posting updates on my progress with my series (more often, I promise!), I'm also going to make themed posts (like this one) about issues that a lot of writers may deal with and my tips on how to properly deal with them.

This post: Self-set deadlines.

If you're like me, YOU PROCRASTINATE. While writing is probably the thing I can honestly say I procrastinate the least on, it's still important to me to get stuff finished within a period of time I consider reasonable. I set myself deadlines for the completion of different writing projects for three big reasons:

- I want my stuff to get done, and if I have a date to have it finished by, I can kind of strive toward that. Having a deadline really motivates me to work on it.

- If I ever become a published author, I will almost certainly have to deal with deadlines. Might as well get used to them now.

- If there's a date that has a particular significance to the project in question, I will try to finish it on that date. This was the case for the first drafts of both novels in my series, completed on May 31, 2010 (Life in Black and White) and February 12, 2011 (It's All Inside My Head).

So far, I've had no problem whatsoever abiding by my deadlines. And then I started macrorevision.

For those of you who aren't extremely familiar with writing terminology, macrorevision is the first part of revision. It consists of re-reading the entire first draft of a book and pinpointing plotholes, inconsistencies in plot or character, and what you want to remain in the manuscript/what you need to take out. It's basically the process of changing your novel so that everything you want to be in there is in there, everything you don't need is taken out, and most importantly, everything is cohesive. This is an extremely long process - even longer, it seems, than I (and my June 30 second draft deadline) could foresee.

It's June 23, and at this point, I'm almost 100% certain that I won't be making the June 30 deadline for my second draft of Life in Black and White, which is unfortunate, because I have a reading team assembled to start reading it on July 2. Luckily for everyone, I do believe Part I will be ready as planned on the 30th, so at least my readers will have SOMETHING to read while I do my best on Part II.

It's discouraging, I won't lie. I usually know what's realistic and not realistic for me. I remember when I started working on It's All Inside My Head - about this time last year - and I was telling everyone, "I'm going to finish this in February." People were generally supportive, but I don't think anyone really believed I could write that book in eight months (especially considering it took me almost two years to write Life in Black and White). My mom in particular blatantly told me several times that she didn't think I was going to make it. But I did.

So what happened this time? Would I have worked harder if June 30 meant something to me?

I was at work the other day when the answer came to me, and it was so obvious.

I'm used to writing novels, but I'm NOT used to editing them.

It's true, this is my first time editing a long work of fiction. And let's be honest here for a second: the first draft of Life in Black and White (which I started writing when I was 17, mind) is a REAL piece of work... For me to have expected to jump head-first into the unknown and expect to come out four months later with a fixed-up draft was foolishly ambitious. My advice to other writers going through this is simple: Sometimes, we all have to accept defeat. We're not always going to win. There's no shame in not being able to make an unrealistic deadline. Life happens, you know?

Also, if you don't meet a deadline you were so sure about, it's okay to be a little depressed about it. I'm not going to tell you to "smile and keep your head up", because I've been there and it's no fun. But please, don't do what I did and let it keep you from your project for a week. Do what you have to do, listen to inspirational music, go for a walk, take a break for a couple days to think - but get right back at it! It's okay to fall down, but you have to get back up and keep going. :)

Keep in mind as well that self-set deadlines are great for some people, but they certainly aren't for everyone. Some writers find it too stressful, and that's no good. A writer on one of the websites I visit frequently said something very wise the other day: "What inspires writing is good. What inhibits it is not." If you find that a deadline inhibits creativity or makes you rush through a project in any way, it's NOT worth it! Deadlines can be motivational, but if they make you rush your art, drop them. I don't care if it takes me four more months to edit Part II, for instance, I'm not rushing through it. Forget the deadline.

First and foremost, every writer is different! If deadlines help you, great! If they don't, also great. You do what you have to do to keep that story moving. :)

Short update on my progress: Macrorevision of Life in Black and White - I have 6/10 chapters edited for the second draft of Part I; it should be done on June 30.

Part II - First readthrough completed and I know essentially what I want to keep, change and get rid of, but no big changes have been made yet.

Part III: Second draft edit almost complete.

It's All Inside My Head is on shelf until I'm done the second draft of its prequel. I've poked at it a couple of times though and I occasionally have some empty-nest syndrome if you will about it, which is usually when I'll go and reread some parts. :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010


So, as planned, I finished the first draft of libaw on May 31st. :)

Aaaaaaaaand the dry month (June - where I couldn't touch the thing like, whatsoever) was brutal. It's a darn good thing I had Yumyum (It's All Inside My Head - the sequel) to plan, or else, as G would say, I would have most likely gone totally shitbat!

But now it's July. Which means what?


Basically, this is the first stage of editing that I have to force myself through - the part where I look over the first draft, go "Nope", and change it completely.

This should be interesting.

I'll keep you posted.