If an author isn’t writing stories, here’s why

They’re writing them in their head.

When people speak of writer’s block, most tend to assume the mind draws a blank in terms of creativity, leading to little physical output. And while that does happen with me every now and then, the real reason why I’m not a more prolific writer is because I’m too busy inventing narratives in my head and listening to inner chatter. And boy, has that been exhausting.

Since Beyond Belzerac was published, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hit with a tidal wave of self-doubt. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the why behind it all, and wasn’t so sure that if I kept writing it’d be for the right reasons. My headspace was so jumbled with thoughts and feelings—and extrapolations about those thoughts and feelings—I couldn’t Marie Kondo my way out of the clutter.

What I experienced on the inside showed on the outside, too. At events, I did not carry with me the same level of confidence I had after Tea in Pajamas. If I was onstage or in a classroom, I’d wonder what I was doing there or why anybody should care. I couldn’t look at my books. I couldn’t blog or write in a physical journal. I felt paralyzed in some sort of ridiculous existential crisis.

Needing a distraction, I threw myself into work. I sought to transition back into full-time employment, to be more present for the kids, to take better care of home matters and personal admin—all that day-to-day stuff. Writing would beckon eventually. When it’s time, I’ll know it’s time, I said to myself.

Well is it time? I don’t know, maybe. I’m blogging for a start since my last entry in March. That has to be a new record for the longest dry spell on this site—at one point, I even considered shutting it down completely so I wouldn’t be paying maintenance fees for nothing. Fact is, the stress from not putting out any fresh content was also becoming a source of anxiety in itself.

In the past whenever people asked me, “Why do you write?”, I’d answer, “Why not?”, believing in all my hubris that I had something good to offer the world. Several years on, I wonder whether I’ve lost my why or if it no longer exists.

But since I’m the writer of my thoughts and feelings (about my thoughts and feelings), I also get to decide how this dark night of the soul ends. As I sit here blogging on Christmas eve, with the new year a matter of days away, this much is clear to me. I want to go into 2020 with a braver and freer mind.

And I wish everyone else only the same.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

xx

Rachel

Top image via Pinterest.

Everything Takes Forever: A Story of Waiting (Part 18)

dragon

[Continued from Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16, and Part 17]

 

“You’re awake,” the girl says.

Dark green eyes peer out from beneath heavy eyelids. “How long have I been sleeping?” the dragon asks.

“About nine years,” she replies. “Maybe ten.”

The creature rouses itself to an upright position and attempts to flex its stiffened wings. “A whole decade?” It begins to recall some things—indiscernible conversations and events from a well of fragmented memories. “Was I awake, at any point, in these nine, maybe ten years?”

A wistful look crosses the girl’s face. A year or a hundred makes little difference to her in this dungeon cell, where time feels so immaterial.

“You awoke whenever I summoned you, but I’d put you back to sleep again,” she says. “Sometimes you’d fight to stay alert; other times you slept soundly.”

“Why’ve you summoned me again?”

“I never know if you’ll be brought back every single time. After so long, I got curious.”

She’s looking out of a pentagon-shaped window barred with iron grilles. The rest of the square-shaped cell is illumined by candle-lit sconces on rough stone walls. The entire place smells like stale wax.

Curious about what’s outside, the creature shuffles next to the girl to take a peek, but not before realizing the window has suddenly risen to a great height. Come to think of it, the girl herself appears to tower over the dragon, which only comes up to her ankles. “I’m … diminished,” it says. “How did this happen?”

She bends down and scoops it into her palms. “Relax, it’s only temporary.” There’s a hard edge to her otherwise girlish voice. “The more you slumber, the smaller you get. But the longer I keep you awake, the larger you’ll grow.”

“Well, then, never put me to sleep again!” the dragon demands.

“Impossible,” she shakes her head, “you become too mean when you’re big.”

“I won’t. I promise to be nice.”

“You’ve made similar promises in the past.”

“Have I? Well this time, it’s true!”

The girl remains resolute, however. “I’m sorry, that’s just how it is.”

“Fine, then, tell me how we ended up here,” the dragon persists. “Who’s holding us captive in this dreadful dungeon?”

“You and I both,” she says, with a sigh. “Nobody else.”

It snorts with incredulity. “If that were to be true—which I highly doubt—at least one of us will have the key.”

The girl looks bewildered. “You don’t get it, do you? There are no locks and there’s never been a key.”

As she releases it to the ground, the dragon throws its head back in laughter. “Who in the right mind would remain here if they could freely leave?”

The creature marches indignantly for the exit, stopping in front of a wooden door that’s held shut by an iron latch and pull ring beneath—both well beyond its reach.

“Do you need some help?” the girl offers. She strolls up from behind and slides the iron latch free. A final pull on the door ring is now all that stands between the dragon and freedom. “Shall I?”

The dragon has frozen. “No.”

“It’s easy. Only a little push.”

“NOOOOO!” it pleads, clinging to the hem of her long skirt in fear. Its dark green eyes have gone wide with panic.

“Why not?” she asks. “It’s so simple. I open the door, you leave.”

It hisses in anger. “Stop asking, you know why!”

“But I want you to tell me,” she commands, extricating the creature from her skirt fabric and setting it upon the window sill.

Its reply comes out in a hoarse whisper. “Because I don’t exist beyond these walls.”

The girl nods. “Do you want to go back to sleep?”

The dragon shuts its eyes in resignation. “Yes, please.”

 

[to be continued]

 

Photo: Pinterest

What Now? Am I Done?

Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

First up, shameless self-plug: the latest editions of Tea in Pajamas and its sequel Tea in Pajamas: Beyond Belzerac, are out at all major bookstores including Kinokuniya, Popular and Times, as well as online, via publisher Marshall Cavendish, or e-tailers LocalBooks.sg and Amazon. Both are also available for borrowing across all NLB libraries. More general info and the latest reviews can be found at the books tab of this site.

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I’m sorry I’ve taken a longer-than-expected break from updating this site.  Believe this, life does not magically transform the minute one becomes a published author of a book sequel. The sun still comes up and goes down, work days need to be clocked, deadlines continue to loom, bills have to be paid, relationships require nurturing, Donald Trump is still the biggest bully on Twitter… and from the time it takes for a book to be approved for press until it his a physical bookshelf, the world may well have moved on.

I’ll be honest: the weight of expectations that came with getting a new book out has dulled much of the joy and relief I thought it would bring. I’m also learning strange new lessons, such as the uncanny similarities between pregnancy and publishing. You think just because you’ve been through it once that you’ve got this entire thing down pat—easy peasy, no problemo. Yes?

Well, no.

In my first pregnancy, I contended with irritatingly persistent eczema until the (natural) birth of my son, while in my next, eczema and asthma came as a pair until my daughter arrived via the unplanned intervention of a C-section. What I’m saying is: whether it’s pregnancy or publishing, the end result of a new “product” may be the same, but that’s really where the similarity ends. A new book, like a new child, is a completely new journey that comes with its own set of ups and downs. And as any parent can tell you, the real work begins after your bun’s out of the oven. Come to think of it, it’s never going to stop feeling like the first time, since no matter how many books you previously published, your nth book will always be the first time you publish your nth book.

That said, based solely on my own experiences, here’s what I can tell you about how it feels to publish a second book for the first time.

The past is past. Media that featured you, schools that supported you, friends who came and bought your book the first round—they’re done, and they don’t owe you their continued support. Be grateful for these past opportunities, but brace yourself for the hard work ahead. Some of your existing contacts may give you the time of the day, but for most the novelty has worn off. Accept this.

Success markers are fluid. Some authors measure success according to the number of units sold, others by press coverage and public appearances, and there are those who feel validated by a vast following on social media. After my debut in self-publishing, I wanted to transition into traditional publishing, so that became my success marker. It was a big deal to be able to have my books readily available in the major stores and borrowable from libraries across the island. But now that those milestones have been checked off the list, does it mean I’ve succeeded? See next point.

The playing field is different. Ever heard someone ask if you’d rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fry in a vast ocean? When you’re self-publishing, you’re competing only with…well, yourself. Back in the day, I took for granted the ease with which family and friends, and friends of their friends, could purchase copies directly from me. These days, however, I encourage anyone considering purchasing my book at a store to first approach the information counter or look up the shelf number online. Fact is, not many authors enjoy prime real estate in the bookstores—most of us are fortunate to even occupy a tiny niche at eye level. [On the other hand, if you savor a good treasure hunt, then attempting to locate my books can indeed be a fun activity.]

It was and is worth it. I grew tremendously as a writer in the process of writing my sequel. This is a fact. I put ten times the heart and dedication into the second book than I did my first, and I know it may still be early days but, whatever the outcome, I value my growth in this never-ending journey of becoming a better writer. My effort won’t be diminished even if fewer people are excited about it all. At the end of the day, I’m still prouder to say I did it than if I didn’t.

Get used to uncertainty and vulnerability. Whether it’s an autobiography or work of fiction, being an author means you’re essentially offering a part of yourself to the world. That’s never going to feel comfortable or safe, knowing you will be judged or wondering if anyone would even care to judge you in the first place. If, like me, you’re sensitive and thin-skinned, and have proclivities for inventing negative narratives in your head, you may want to reconsider becoming a published writer—it can really mess you up. On the other hand, if, like me, you love writing to that point that only the loss of mental or physical faculties could keep you from it, then do it anyway. You’ll simply have to condition yourself to always feeling a little scared and queasy.

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“So are you done?” a few people have asked me, just stopping short of clarifying if they mean writing another instalment to make Tea in Pajamas a trilogy, or if—as with Singapore’s infamous “Stop at Two” family-planning campaign—I’m calling it a day as a writer.

On the latter, I can honestly say it’s a definite “no” (sorry, haters). I suppose sooner rather than later I’m going to jump right back into it—whether it’s a third-parter or a brand new piece. With these things, you never know till you know.

Until then, you’ll be hearing from me. I hope to make some exciting announcements about upcoming events once confirmed.

Peace and ❤ ,

Rachel