AH: 4 Questions to Ask Before Shelving Your Book

Hullo, world! 

It’s so great to be able to be back writing this post. Now that summer is creeping up on us (although it still feels like winter!!) time is speeding past me and I can’t believe how many things are right around the corner. I feel so underprepared. 

But worries aside, there’s been something that has been on my mind for the past few weeks…and it is on shelving books

As authors, I think we feel conflicted whenever we have to set aside our beloved WIPs. It’s even harder when your identity as an author is tied to that book. For me, I came to the tough decision of “permanently shelving” a WIP I’ve been working on for the past five years–and went right back to it this week. (I know, indecisiveness is key to all writers. Or maybe it’s just me, IDK.)

So for today’s Author Health, I’ll be looking at 4 Questions to Ask Before Shelving Your Book

Without further ado, let us commence!

A. Are you hungry? (Or simply tired?)

Yup. That’s a legitimate question to be asking yourself. I find that when I’m physically running on empty, I tend to get cranky and moody. Everything is falling apart!  My book is falling apart! Wahhhh!! 

That automatically makes me sound like a toddler, but are we actually that different from adolescents? Like, really?  

So take a break and eat real food. Boil pasta, bake bread, eat curry-on-rice, what have you. Chances are, you’ll be able to make a better decision after that. 

Food is life. Be more like Sasha.

B. Does this story matter to you?

This sounds obvious, but take a deep look at yourself and ask, Does this story matter to me? 

One of the biggest reasons I thought I had to “shelve” my WIP was because I didn’t feel like this story mattered to me anymore. My siblings kept cheering me on (in fact, this was the only story they were waiting for me to write) but I didn’t think it mattered as much to me as it did back when I started. A lot of this was due to question A–I was probably hungry. (Okay, that’s oversimplifying the matter but it’s true! I wasn’t eating well.)

If you don’t know why the story matters to you, then it’s a big warning to take a pause and list all the reasons it matters to you. When you know the story matters to you and why, you can keep going on even when it gets tough. 

Mikasa’s reason for everything.

C. Do you love any of these characters?

A big tell to shelve a book temporarily or permanently (hopefully never) is if you, the author, do not love any of the characters you write about. Now, I’d say this is probably rare. However, I did have instances when the plot took superiority and just dragged the characters away. This spells disaster because characters are what makes your story come alive. I know some people may disagree with me over plot over character over prose (sometimes), but if you don’t care about your characters, neither will the reader. 

Contrarily, if you love your characters to pieces no matter how terrible the story seems to be, there’s hope. Take a moment to reflect on each of your character’s stories and listen to how they play off each other. 

How can you not love this boy??

D. Can you stop thinking about your book?

Lastly, even if you’ve answered no to all of the above, if your answer is yes to this last question, don’t shelve your book just yet! I have so many ideas and I often don’t know where to start  (or stop). That’s just because they’re all in different stages of creation. 

One WIP has been on my mind for four years and I’ve written a third of the story and have it stewing. 

One WIP takes a long time to write, but when I do write, I can pound as many word counts in it as I need. 

One WIP is still brewing in the clouds although I know perfectly how the story begins and ends. 

Sometimes, all you need to do is to sit back and let your mind roam free. Try not to think about your book. If you can’t, then it’s still probably dying to be told. 

IDK, I’m nostalgic for Narnia…

Practical steps to take:

  1. Eat real food. 
  2. List out all the reasons the story matters to you.
  3. Listen to your character’s stories. 
  4. Try to stop thinking about your book. 

NOTE: Also, shelving books doesn’t have to be permanent. It can always be temporary!

And that’s it for today!

Thank you for reading! What did you think? How do you find out if you need to shelve a book? Have you shelved books before? Let me know your thoughts in the comment below; I’d love to chat with you!

AH: My Depression Journey & What I Learnt From It

Hullo, world!

Today is uncharacteristically sunny here in Raincouver, I went out for a run, and there are many daunting books waiting to be read. My perfect kind of day. 

 

It’s always exciting getting back into blogging after a break, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot–taking breaks. It reminds me of the time I understood the importance of saying no to good things to have truly great things, when I felt like I had to break myself trying hard, and living was hard. 

Yes, it’s that little thing called depression

I suffered from depression for the past five years. And while I wouldn’t say writers, in general, might suffer from it from time to time, it has been true for me. I wasn’t a depressed writer. I was depressed and wrote. 

So pour yourself a cup of tea and take a deep breath. It’s not pretty, it’s really tough for me to write about this, but I hope that this can be encouraging to someone out there who might be feeling like me. 

This is my depression journey

Year 1 (Grades 8 jumped to 10)

We moved from Japan to Canada. We knew no one (everyone we knew lived in other provinces), my father’s job position was tough, and overall, we were struggling. I was feeling burnt out but didn’t want to acknowledge it. As the oldest sibling, I thought I had to have it all together to set an example for my siblings. Housing search, new homeschooling system, and various other things sort of choked out our weariness and I kept pressing on. Writing sustained me in so many ways through this time. 

Year 2 (Re-grade 10)

I ended up ‘failing’ the entire year with the new online school system. (Looking back it’s kind of comical since we had a terrible internet connection and a low-speck computer. I think I’d fail a school year again if I had to use the same computer!) 

This was a huge blow to me because a large part of my identity lay in my academic rigour and strength. We switched to another school and I was determined to pull myself back together. I met new friends and found solace in extracurricular activities. This was where I began my Japanese blog. 

Year 3 (Grade 10-11)

Meanwhile, my depression kept festering. I worked hard, pushed myself to the limits in every part of my life, and in short, burnt myself off. My grandmother was in the ICU in the fall, so Mum flew back to Japan. I took on more responsibilities around the house. Even though my grandmother recovered and Mum came back, our family was falling apart due to many factors and I really wanted to rest. 

But I thought I couldn’t. 

If I stopped functioning in my dysfunctional home, I thought our family would fall apart. I met a really great writer’s community around the summer and finished my first novel’s draft. I went on to participate in my first NaNoWriMo and wrote my second novel’s draft. 

This was where things fell apart.  

A week before the end of November, I took 100 Advils in one day. It was a Sunday, I still remember it well. I was hoping someone at church would notice our family, notice me, but no one did. I felt really nauseous in the evening and told my family. I went to the emergency, but nothing was wrong with me. They sent me home that same night. To this day, I still think it’s a miracle. 

Year 4 (Grade 11-12) 

Because of my ‘suicide attempt’, I was sent to counselling. I think they meant it well, but I was in denial–I only wanted to rest, I kept telling myself–so I stopped going once they made sure I wouldn’t do it again. Plus, they kept on telling me there were worse people out there who was really on the brink of despair. Compared to them, my case was light. 

I think what I really needed back then was someone who would tell me that it wasn’t okay. It wasn’t okay what happened to me, it wasn’t normal the way our family was functioning back then, it was okay to take a break if I was tired. 

But I had no one. 

I remember calling the health lines when things got really bad, but they were like the emergency people–they offered first aids, but nothing more. Every day was so hard, waking up was a challenge, I just wanted to rest. 

Except I didn’t. I picked myself back up, went back to my insane study-extracurricular schedule, and began this blog. Yup, that’s right. Just when I should have been focusing most on taking a breath and recovering, I added more and more responsibility to myself

Year 5 (Grade 12 + beyond)

I ended up switching my online school again. This, added with other big changes, was the final straw that broke me. My relationship with the people around me was going down the drain; someone I’d trusted with my future had disappeared, and I knew I had to get out of my home. Except, my old teachers were not willing to write me any recommendations to American colleges, and my plans of over six years in the making came crashing down

Then the pandemic hit. 

I feel so bad saying this, but this was what ultimately helped me stop. Like, literally, the world hit a break, and I was forced to stop. I had to take a close look at where I’d driven my life to–off a cliff. 

Our family had officially broken down. I still tried to fill my life with more things–more blogging, more writing, more studying, anything, really, if only I didn’t have to think about what was happening–and this time, my family shook me awake. They banned me from doing anything. And I’m so grateful they did that, even though at the time I resented them. 

Through lots of prayers and finally meeting someone willing to mentor me, I began to realise that I’d been severely depressed…and I wasn’t okay. I finally took time to rest, going back to where I’d started–back to God. I still struggle from time to time with being an overachiever trying to mute everything with hard work, yet through taking life at a slower pace, I’ve learnt this vital principle: It’s okay not to be okay. 

The Things I Learnt:

  • When you’re burnt out, stop what you’re doing at that exact moment. The world won’t end even if you stop. 
  • When someone asks you, “How are you doing?” and you’re not doing well, don’t say you’re fine. Sure, you might make other people uncomfortable, but that’s better than making it a habit of lying to yourself. It will take h**l of an effort to break with God’s grace alone.  (Excuse my language. That’s how strong my sentiments lie.)
  • Don’t isolate yourself from others. Always make sure you have someone behind your back who’s in a better mental state than you’re in. If you feel like you don’t, try being honest and transparent in your struggle with someone you know. This might open new avenues and strengthen friendships. 
  • If you’re a believer, go back to His Word daily. One of the biggest problems I had was that I stopped taking time to soak in the Scriptures. Remember, God’s word is light and truth, offering comfort to those in need of it. Let Jesus carry your burdens instead of doing it all alone. 
    • Also, try reaching out to a pastor or someone at your church. (My first church experience was bad, but my second church family really helped me out. If you feel like you won’t be able to get the help you need at your church, maybe it’s a better idea to contact other churches. They’re still your family in Christ.)
  • Be mindful of what you’re consuming, not just food but also media, the people around you, &c. When I was depressed, I tended to take in super dark media just to assure myself my situation wasn’t that bad. This is a terrible strategy and I wish I can go back and shake myself awake. There were also a lot of toxic people around me. Since resting, I’ve learnt to draw boundaries and not allow these things to get to me. Sometimes, it’s necessary to follow 1 Corinthians 10:23–“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

Lastly, I just want to add this: If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or anyone else in your life. There are always people out there who genuinely care about what’s happening to you and will forever blame themselves if they couldn’t notice you needed help. But sometimes, you have to take the first step. 

I see you. God sees you. You were created in His image with an immeasurable plan so wonderful we have no way of knowing its full extent.  You’re fearfully and wonderfully made, even before you were born, you were given a purpose and life. Trust in that. 

And that’s My Depression Journey & What I Learnt From It. 

Thank you for reading! Are you habitually taking time to stop and reflect? Do you practise mindfulness? What are some things that have helped you when you were feeling burnt out?  Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to chat with you!

AH: 5 Truths to Remind Yourself On Painful Writing Days

Hullo, world!

The weather is starting to warm up, the cherry blossoms are starting to open up, and rain days are diminishing by the week…it’s starting to look like spring! Without a  doubt, spring is my favourite season of the year. In Japan, it’s also the start of a new school year–so I guess that also reminds me of new beginnings. Plus, we have Easter and my Christian birthday…spring is absolutely the best

But enough about me gushing about spring. 

Today, we’re back for our monthly Author Health series. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the week I look at stigmas surrounding writing and mental health and offer tips/encouragement that worked for me. 

Our topic today is *da-dun!* 5 Truths to Remind Yourself On Painful Writing Days!

We all have one of those days when you’re facing a blank screen or a black screen filled with what you deem ‘trash’. Or your mind is scrambling around busily conveying all the wonderful ideas you have  in your head, except you can’t seem to process it enough to turn into words. Or worse yet, you spend all of your precious writing time scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram feeds. And you think, Why is this so hard? Why is writing so…painful??

Which is where I come in with truths about writing. 🙂

1. Writing takes time.

This, I find, is actually a huge truth we tend to miss by the kilometre. (Yes, it’s that highway sign you were supposed to be on watch for and totally missed.) Writing is a task of arranging 26 letters into words that make sentences that set the mood, music, paint, and animate all at the same time. No wonder it might take some time!

I know a while back, I did a post on Stephen King’s On Writing. If you’ve read it, or know anything about his writing habit, it’s that the man writes fast. Like, insanely fast. Or maybe we can say he’s the guru of writing almost everyday. 

Which I’ve tried, and it works to set a routine, but I still realised this: Writing still takes time, even if I write everyday. Sure, you might get down word counts faster. But that doesn’t mean it’s polished. As a whole, writing is a business that takes lots of energy and time. It’s okay if you’ve been writing the same book for the past five years. Donna Tartt, the author of The Secret History and The Goldfinch (a Pulitzer winner) took ten years to write just one book. 

The editing process be like:

2. You’re the only one who can write this book.

The second most common trap a writer falls into is comparison. Once upon a time, I was a happy-go-lucky writer who paid no attention whatsoever to how other people wrote, or when they got published. I would come across articles about comparison and think, “Well, that has nothing to do with me!”

Needless to say, I was wrong. 

The more I grow as a writer, the more I reach my milestones and word counts and project goals, the more I should, in theory, gain confidence. And don’t get me wrong, I did gain confidence, too. But at the same time, I also realised there’s a lot of writers out there. 

You start to realise that there are genres you lean towards, and stories that sound a lot like yours. While before you were proud of your little darling WIP, now you may hesitate to introduce your WIP to the world of writers out there, nervous it won’t receive the novel attention you thought it would attract. 

Yet the truth remains: No matter how similar a story may be, you’re the only one who can write your story. Why? Well, there’s only one of you. No one else here on this earth has gone through the experiences you went through, lived with the exact same culture, grew up with the exact same people around you. And that’s why your story, however similar it feels, will always be different. 

Writers lying in wait for good ideas.
There goes my inspiration!

3. There will be someone out there who’s dying to read your book. 

And yes, I will say this on the pain of sounding cliché: There are 7.8 billion people on mother earth. There will be at least one person in there who’s dying to read your book. Just think about that. 

Someone out there waiting for your book

4. It’s okay to write for yourself.

That being said, I think one of the things I tend to forget is that a first draft is always written for myself. I have a habit of dedicating a book to my Ideal Reader before I start any project, but it’s perfectly fine if that IR is yourself. 

For me, I was writing Juliet before my depression, through it, and after it. It’s influenced my life in more ways than I can count. 

And then there’s Elektriem and Woodstone. Those were the two projects I worked the hardest on when my college plans fell apart. By writing these stories, I was able to reconcile with myself that it’s okay to let go. It wasn’t admitting defeat (something every overachiever Asian should know), and it wasn’t running away. Sometimes you just had to let things be, let go and let God work in your life. 

Waiting for ramen…me, always and forever 🙂

5. The only way to go is forward. 

Lastly, writing is always moving forward. Even when you’re stuck in this excruciating rut of a slump, or just a day when everything you write comes out wrong, everything you put into your writing helps you move forward, not backward. That time you spent staring at the blank screen furiously going over fictional conversation? It’s called visualising what you’re going to write. That time you think you wasted scrolling through Pinterest? It’s called worldbuilding and getting a precise picture of your story. 

Writers write, even when they’re not writing. And that, my dears, is the beauty of being a writer. 

What did you think? Do you have “painful writing days”? What are some ways you remind yourself writing is worth it? What is the biggest thing you learnt as a writer? Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to chat with you!