When Writing is Like Shouting into the Void

I’m, unfortunately, the kind of person who’s easily discouraged.

I could get a brilliant idea in the shower, come from the steam and open the laptop to write, but there’s another open window with the Goodreads page open. I would see a successful author in my genre, then remember the mediocre reviews on my book, and there goes the urge to write.

This year is a year for changing. I’m at a crossroads, having to face the reality of writing. I have to decide if I want to keep it as a passion or if making money sounds like a priority. I don’t know yet, but I’m not hurried to find out.

I’m exploring new things, new genres I haven’t touched before. New formats, like the sort of creative non-fiction I’m writing these days.

Sometimes writing feels lonely. And then that’s all I can feel.

I was once in a writer’s discord group. It was lively for a while. They were the only writing friends I had, at least in recent years. We talked about nothing and everything, but in the end, I realize there was never a true connection.

I know what a true one feels like.

All the way back to elementary school, I used to threaten my friends to write so I can have something to read. I was writing a novel even then. I wanted them to be like me, because the writers were cool. A few of them did, but gave up two pages in.

They preferred to read. Pen on paper in a tiny notebook I got from the nearby convenience store. That tiny notebook got passed around the class under the teacher’s eyes.

Now I haven’t heard a single notification from the group in months. And I haven’t been in contact with any of my childhood friends in years.

Except one, who visited me last summer. By chance, I just got my author’s copy in the mail. I opened the package in front of her. She was pleasantly surprised and thought it was unbelievable.

We met again in Beijing a few months later. Us two, and another friend of ours agreed on a reunion. We sat around in the back of a boba shop in a busy mall, each with a drink in front of us.

She said something I don’t think I can ever forget.

“It’s great that you actually went out to complete your dream.”

She said it in an almost wistful way. It made me stop for a few seconds to think.

We were all lost youth. Didn’t she have a dream she has yet to complete? Plenty of time left.

Also, was publishing a book my dream? I never really treated it as such.

When I was a teenager, I made a bucket list and one of them was “publish a book”. But it was obligatory.

I never intended for it to be just one. To publish more, of course, you have to publish the first one. I wasn’t going to stop, the idea of such is ludicrous. I wasn’t going to stop at just one.

I want to keep writing as long as I’m still alive.

That’s, I guess, is why I’m also easily encouraged. Just writing this article is making me feel better. There’s no profound insight here, just a writer, venting.

I don’t know who invented the phrase “there’s no going back now”, but he sure was an idiot. That’s what heroes say at the start of the third act. That’s not real life.

There’s never a way of going back. Not now, not ever. We can only look forward. Sometimes forward is the void.

Sometimes the abyss stares back.

How to Give Up on Your Work in Progress

This isn’t an article about never giving up

You are a writer and you have countless ideas. You have unfinished drafts too. You are working on something but it’s not working as intended.

You want to give up.

People have written countless blog posts about giving up. Articles are urging that you should finish everything you started, but sometimes we can’t.

So there are also posts about when to give up. Spotting the signs of a disaster in the making, a trainwreck too far gone. You should give up on your work-in-progress (WIP) then.

It’s not easy, not at all. Some may feel giving up is taking the easy way out, since you are refusing to do the work to see it through. Sometimes you know giving up is just as hard, because you realize it’s not working, and you can’t waste your energy on something that doesn’t.

Either way, there should be no judgment. It’s your work and only you can decide when it should end.

Maybe you have put in countless hours into it. You conceived this idea since the day you dreamed it up, and carried it with you ever since.

Understand this: you are basically a god. Not unlike the Lovecraftian deity Azathoth who dreamed up everything, ever. To your creation, whether it be a short story or an epic novel, you can decide where it goes from here.

Perhaps you are just putting it down for the moment. You have other things, deadlines to hit and life gets in the way. Perhaps you have plans to go back to it later.

Great.

Whether the giving-up part is permanent or not, now that you have decided on abandoning your WIP, how should you do it?


Braindump everything related

Go open a blank file and just write. Write down what’s frustrating you. Vent. Write down what makes you stop writing.

After the venting, write down your thoughts on the project as a whole, and your plans for the future. You might not remember it after you move on to the next project. Future you might find this helpful, and find ways to prevent past mistakes.

If it’s a novel, write down all the foreshadowing you have done.

This is important, because it helps you tremendously if you ever want to go back and finish the rest of the story. If you have to sift through your old writing to find the hidden details your younger self thought clever, you will be discouraged. Or worse, forget about the foreshadowing is even there and leave plot holes unresolved.


Never delete anything

Under whatever situations, you should never delete anything related to your writing.

Organize everything you have generated for this work. Your list of ideas, future chapter names, character ideas (even if it’s only a name and a gender).

If they are all separate in your chaotic Notes app (like mine), you can copy and paste them into one giant file called “ideas”, if you are lazy (like me). Or you can clarify from there. Character ideas, plot ideas, and scenes you have written.

Don’t delete any of your writing, and keep them together with your existing chapters. Don’t let them get lost in the sea of apps.


Finish the story —in a few sentences

I’m not telling you to write the next 40,000 words, just one or two sentences.

Every writer should be able to tell their story in a paragraph. Give it a beginning, middle, and end. At least you have one finished story, no matter how short it is.

One day you might realize, a story you loved so much just fade from your memory. It’s the worst feeling, like you lost a part of yourself.

The simple act of writing down a paragraph summary prevents it from happening.

Feel free to elaborate, though.

If it sparks a writing session, just keep writing. Finish that outline. Give each chapter a summary, or something like that.


Archive, and make backups

Even if it disgusts you when you spend one more second looking at it, you have to keep your writing safe.

The same should go to every project you ever work on. Archive your writing. If you usually write offline, make a copy on the cloud, vice versa.

While you are at it, make a few backup copies. External drives are cheap and spacious nowadays.

All your dead projects together on a USB thumb drive won’t cost you too much, certainly not more than the pain if you lose your writing.


So, you have given up on your writing project. Time to move on to the next one. Carry the lessons with you, and you might finish the next one.

While you do that, your abandoned project is safe. Whether or not you want to go back to it someday, your old writing will be waiting.

Don’t Force Yourself to Consume Something You Don’t Enjoy

Your time is more valuable than the money you spent.

Sometimes the things you resonate with come from the least expected places.

I was flipping through a typography book when I saw the following quote, used as a sample text. It’s a step above “lorem ipsum”, it actually carries some meanings.

“What is the cost of War and Peace? The cover price of the Modern Library Classics paperback edition is $15.00, discounted 32% by Amazon to $10.50. But what about the human cost in terms of hours squandered reading a super-sized work of literary fiction? If you can read 400 words permutes, double the average, it will take you 1,476 minutes (24.6 hours) to read War and Peace. Devoting just four hours per day to the task, you could finish the work in a little over six days. If you earn $7.25 per hour, the cost of reading War and Peace will be $184.50.”

— “Thinking with Type” by Ellen Lupton

This chunk of text struck a chord within me.

There is a wealth of content out there. There are more books, films, and music than we are ever going to consume in one life.

I’m not saying you should only fill your life with things you like. It may sound ideal, but when you are a student or learner, you can’t always stay within your comfort zone.

You eat food you hate because they are good for you.

Life is short. If it’s for enrichment and entertainment, don’t waste your time on things you don’t like. It’s simple. You have to be mindful of where your time goes.

Some people force themselves to finish every single book they read. Even when they want to chuck it out of the window 50 pages in. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Sure, you might want to finish that book if you’re a reviewer not want to be uninformed. But if it’s how you spend your afternoon at the beach, why are you torturing yourself instead of doing something you actually might like?

Your time is more valuable than the money you spent.

You can get the money back, sometimes, but never the time you wasted. I have wasted countless hours on YouTube watching mediocre content. I click close whenever the video lost my interest.

Blame it on my short attention span, but it’s still better than wasting more hours sitting through videos I don’t care about one way or another.

Don’t waste your time on things that don’t matter.

The time you waste on things you enjoy aren’t wasted time.

Breathing New Life into Unfinished Drafts

What to do with those 300-word drafts sitting in your files?

If you’re like me, you have a bunch of ideas and drafts saved in your word processor, waiting to see the light of day.

They probably won’t, unless you do something about them.

Some of them are only a few sentences, or even shorter. Some of them might look like this:

“The house was in complete chaos. Murder. Supermarket.”

What does it even mean?

I don’t know. It was probably jotted down in early morning, fragments of a dream I wanted to remember before falling asleep again.

But some of them are longer and more coherent. My mind was fully there when I wrote them, on the train or just before bed. Struck by a burst of inspiration and I needed to write them down.

Hundred-word long snippets, or opening paragraphs of something that looked much longer in your head. A scene to a novel that I have yet to outline. Or, an outline, but a rough one — one with the character named “MC” and “XX”, placeholders of their real names yet to be thought of.

They are not full-length stories yet. I can’t post them anywhere in that state, but they are the ones worth collecting.

It‘s always a good idea to save them somewhere, but what can you really do with them?


Get it to 1000 words

Then it’s a flash fiction, a short story. A 3-minute read. Good for publishing on Medium.

If it’s already a scene, then it’s simple. You flesh out the characters, describe the setting, and then give it an unforgettable ending.

Sure it needs some work before it’s publishable, but at least that’s a complete thing.


Write all dialogs

I do this when I’m lazy.

Imagine this: you are first drafting and heard all about “the shitty first draft”. They all tell you to go fast, type it all out. Mistakes, plot holes and all. You can rewrite them later.

Sure, it works. Guess what, what if you finished your shitty first draft but because it’s so shitty, you don’t want to look at it for another glance?

It’s possible. It happened to me.

When you’re lazy but still want to create, you probably don’t want to be stuck on the second draft forever.

There is something you can do: write all the dialogs first.

No dialog tags, no “he said” “she said”. No description. Just whatever is in the quotation marks. It helps.

Some advantages to this:

  • You have to differentiate who is talking, just by their words alone. Your character will look more fleshed out.
  • You can write very fast. Say, you’re aiming for a 2000-word chapter. You write 800 words of dialog, and that chapter is done. You can move on to the next chapter. 
    You can finish your first draft fast, and it won’t be shitty in the traditional sense. (Disclaimer: the dialog ratio is made up.)
  • Because the work is bare bone, you can do it any time. Waiting in a line? Write a few lines of your characters talking.

Later you can fill in the description.


Summary for a longer work

Sometimes an idea may look like a 80k novel to me, but I’m in the middle of another long project that needed to be done. I couldn’t spare the energy to work on two things at once, because then it usually means both of them will be half-finished.

Sometimes a flashy new idea looks so good it makes you fall in love with writing again, but you have deadlines to hit. It’s time to clear your head, and just brain-dump all your ideas for that project onto the page.

They are the notes for the future, and they aren’t going anywhere once they are on the page.

Tell that story in a few hundred words. It can tide you over until you can work on it again.


No excuses, now. You can start writing today. Create something, finish something.

Look through your old drafts, maybe you can fall in love again.

None of the Stories I Tell are Real

Then do we still need the tears?

Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash

Lately, I have been setting my fictions aside and diving into the world of nonfiction. As a young person, I might not have that many life experiences but some of them are rather unique.

I’m not blogging about a strange anecdote tied together with a life lesson to teach. I’m not trying to sell you anything.

I’m just trying to leave a mark on this vast internet.

I tried making listicles — they seem to be popular here — but they usually leave me feeling hollow inside.

That kind of emptiness is special. Only works I truly care about can fill that void. For me, it is fiction.

The sense of creating something out of nothing is real to me. It’s creating worlds. It’s like playing god.


When I was a lot younger, I used to walk past the newspaper stand on the way home and for certain, every week there would be a new issue of the YA magazine I follow. I would pay the smoking old man in scattered cash, and be on my way with the booklet.

The cover was always nice and illustrated by up-and-coming artists. The magazine was full of short stories, genre ranging from literary to science fiction. There were author interviews, too. Those acted as my muse and a glimpse into a future I would like to have.

There were several writers I like, with no one particular being my favorite.

A few months ago, while preparing for a trip abroad, I got distracted by the local social media and went stalking my favorite author when I was a child.

I came across a short poem. I will translate it here.


None of the Stories I Tell Are Real

By Qi Ci

None of the stories I tell are real
Then do we still need the tears?
Secretly saved in the pillow and the desk
Turning imagination bitter, making time rain dry
Then do you still need to use these clear blue drops
To save the blind girl you like?
Then do we still need to believe
Believing the deepest sky, the farthest land
Making the devil quiet, turning the claws soft
Believing in the gods walking past the rooftop
Trying to be the best little kid?
Then do we still need to believe, to journey?
To sail from the front gate to the next street
Still need to light up every single star sky
Light up the dark village?
Tell me, do we still need to set up
The last warm camp of this land?
Then do you still need me to tell you a story
My dear
How you wish to climb down from the bedtime story
And grow up
Leaving these old picture books, and the storytellers
By the dimming yellow light
Left blank, by you


If none of them are real, do they still matter? The stories I tell are just that, stories. They rarely expose real-world problems and never fix them, won’t solve climate change, can’t bring us one step closer to world peace forever. They aren’t even good utopias, the kind that allows an escape into fantasy.

Why do I still write if no one is watching? It feels like a solo ballet in an empty theater, and the spotlight is a gaze of mediocrity.

Why are there still stories when there are more than enough in the world?

Because the authors care. Because I care.

Because you do, too.


© Aurelia Wong 2019

Strange Days Are Good For Being Inspired

Photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash

It was January in California. I was living the low life. Sleeping twelve hours a day, waking up at noon. Doing work and then not. I ate very little, then a lot.

I went through whole days without talking to anyone. Even in our small room, my roommate and I barely exchanged hellos. I was surviving on peanut butter and instant noodle, the latter being the luxurious instant pho instead of ramen. I was looking at my electronic devices all day, watching other people achieving their dreams and not feeling a thing.

I wasn’t creating contents like I was supposed to do. I wasn’t creating anything. My thoughts still raced, but I was always tired, always too disappointed at the world to put anything down.

Among what friends I have, only one person still text me. And when he asked me if I want to go out to eat, I responded three hours too late. I was living in the confine of my room, biding time until the spring comes, waiting for a change to give me the reason to be irritated again.

I was in bed all day, under layers of blankets with the AC on cold. I was invincible at the safety of my room. I was in bed until 6 pm. I was invincible but only somewhat.

I crawled up and changed my sweatpants to a pair of jeans, put on a jacket and head out for a night lecture. Artists often visit my school throughout the school year, and now I was taking an easy class where all I had to do was sit in the lectures twice a week and get easy credits. Might be waiting the tuition I paid, but really I just want to get things over with.

The winding corridors were empty. The only sound was my footsteps. For once I was walking without my headphones on. Truly listening to the winds howling and all the creaking noises, the people talking in a faraway place or just behind the door.

The lecture hall was dimmed so I didn’t have to worry about seeing people’s faces. I signed in and sat down at the back row. I was on my phone, pretending to have something more important than this until the lecturer announced that he was ready.

The next two and a half hours was such an out-of-body experience I almost felt bored among all the strangeness.

The artist was one of those good speakers we rarely get, otherwise it could have killed me with secondhand awkwardness. Instead, he was brilliant and easygoing.

He mainly did installation works, worked with all sorts of material and sound. He took us through his life’s works in various types. A room-sized installation that looked like an escape room inhabited by aliens? Check. An outdoor opera through a hole in the chimney? Check.

I was always so cynical about fine art, never finding the point of it all. Told a friend that I’m not the type of person to feel emotions when I look at art and he was genuinely shocked. I truly didn’t.

Who’s gonna fall for this? I was a narcissist when it came to creativity. They could be producing masterpieces and still, I thought mine was better.

Of course, mine was better. I loved my world better than his rant about a fantasy world map he drew. Even though I never drew a map as complexed as his. Mine was better because it was all in my head, where they sat pristine in gestation, never tainted.

In the darkness, everything made sense. That was when I realized it couldn’t stay that way.

Everything in our headspace is always better. Every story sounds better in our own head. In my head, I won all the arguments, while in real life I only smiled faintly. Under the dimmed lights and having watched the improv performance the artists spontaneously did, we clapped in hesitation.

When it was over and I walked out, knowing the cafeteria would only have leftover food. I had a slice of pepperoni pizza for dinner the third time that week. Red-ish oil glimmered under the heating lamp.

I sat alone in the emptied dining hall, listening to the echoing sound. I knew at that moment, I needed to write something. For the first time in months, I felt the urge to write. I was writing before, but it was like a routine of typing words, and I would drop off the face of the earth for another few days, then came back trying to pick up the threads. It wasn’t working. I needed to write something else.

I was walking back home with my hands in my pocket, shivering all the while. I recently picked up an interest in the introspective personal essay. Am I telling a story? Or simply dumping my mind’s content on the keyboard? I started a first draft that later became this.

I don’t know, I don’t know. This feels like a journal entry.

Yeah, I do this very often. I get inspired by others quite easily. I got epiphanies a few times a month. The weightless feeling I was addicted to, the sense that you can do anything, you can accomplish anything. My mind turned into a different beast at night, or maybe I’m romanticizing the darkness.

I was back to my bed and blankets again.

I turned on my nearest screen. Turned on some soft hip hop. 
An old friend was online. The certain kind of friendship: know her in real life, friended her on social media. Never talk to me, never texted me, never liked my posts. Last time we met was five years ago in a dingy subway station. You know, one of those old friends.

She posted something, saying that she was crying because one of her favorite authors had passed away. We read some of his work in a grade school textbook, but it’s not an author I care too much about.

She thought otherwise. She posted a diary entry of four years ago when she wrote about being inspired by his work she just read. With the caption, “when I grew up, you’re gone.”

A sudden sadness came over me. Like it often did.

How I Deal With Too Many Ideas

As a writer and a creative, I have way too many ideas and too little time (as I tell myself). Therefore, I have to find ways to deal with them.

Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

Write everything down. Including every version of the idea as it evolves, because it will.

I carry around a pocket-sized notebook when I can, but sometimes I get lazy. The Notes app on my iPhone is filled with notes. Random musings, last night’s dream in a few words, story prompts that read like haikus.

Select a few and entertain them in my head.

I look through my notes and organize my ideas. The Notes app also contains to-dos and grocery lists, which get deleted after they expire.
Review the ideas are just as important as coming up with them, and I would add new insights as I go.
If an idea was hastily jotted down, it would make little sense a few years later. However, if you review it in a few days, it would still be mostly fresh on your mind, and you can add more details to it to make it clear. Think of it as a convenience for later.

Focus on the main work-in-progress.

New ideas are always shiny and full of potential. My current WIP would look dull and used in the comparison. Feel free to run with the latest idea, but if I do, I never end up finishing anything.
To me, the key is to focus on my current work and get it finished. Even though it’s not perfect, at least it is completed. A completed content is out of my head and onto paper, but an idea, no matter how full of potential it is, is in my head.

Combine ideas into one.

You can combine similar ones and save space in your document. Ideas for the same project should be grouped together, tagged, or put into a “WIP idea” document.
Another thing I often do was combine interesting but different concepts together to create an idea for a larger project, such as a novel. It would have depth and multitude. It would be weaved with subplots, character developments, and also challenge the tropes.

Decide what idea is for what.

When I get ideas for new stories, I go on to decide which is a short story and which is a novel. Short stories make it really easy if you just want to get the story down in a few thousand words, and it’s a complete project.
Novels could take months even years to write, and I don’t have time to write a few hundred novels.

Flesh out the idea, but still keep it contained.

If I don’t have time but still want to expand on an idea, I write micro pieces. They are usually a scene, a few lines of dialogs, a description of an environment.
The point is to get the idea out and make them into usable snippets, which is what I name the document that contains these, “Usable Snippets”.
Sit on them. Come back to them a month later, or a year. Sometimes I fill in or edit the prose, because my prose had improved with time.
Sometimes the snippet has stood up with the test of time, and I can just copy and paste it into the correct spot of my WIP.

Starve your brain if you don’t want to get more ideas, just for a while.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. If you really want to, you can stop yourself from getting more ideas. When reading, don’t be distracted by great concepts. Focus on the prose and languages. You can improve your writing skills without getting more ideas.
When listening to music, listen to it. Don’t analyze the lyrics and dream of the stories they hold. Listen to the rhythm, the beats.
When out for a walk, look at the colors of the trees, the shape of the hills. Live in the moment. Not in your head and in an imaginary world.

Document dreams and therefore have more ideas.

My dreams are usually really interesting. I dream every night, sometimes 3–4 dreams per night. I only write down the best or better ones, and of course, I had to remember them first. Oftentimes they just vanish from the first second I woke up.

Go out and find more ideas.

Ideas are cheap. Investing in even one takes energy. The execution is key.
I read through my idea document regularly, and add to it regularly. I separate the good ones from the others, but never delete anything. Anything.

Do regular braindumps.

Get things out of your head and onto paper. Clear your head. Disk capacity is cheap, brain space is not. And who knows, what if something were to happen to you and you suffer from memory loss or worse, but you’d still have your ideas recorded and ready to be executed.
But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Why this website exists​

I had been entertaining the idea of starting an author website for years now. I started a few and practiced my web design skills by exploring WordPress and such. It was fun, but it was expensive. The hosting and the domains all costed money, and I had no reliable income at the time. I can’t keep a website and have nothing up.

Still, I recognize the need to have a website. I knew I would be published one day and I need to have a place to direct the readers to. Social media would work, but a website would be more formal and can contain things more than the size of a bite.

I can have things related to my books here. Deleted scene, worldbuilding, lore, sketches, art, maps, or my writing process. I write what I want to read, and I believe there are people out there who would be interested in seeing these.

Then I got into short stories. I think it had to do with the fact that there were so many ideas in my head and I couldn’t possibly write them all as novels, and also because not everything was that complicated. I wrote some snippets when I got a burst of inspiration. They were few-hundred-word pieces, going nowhere. I had the impression that a short story has to be 4000 words and literary-magazine-worthy, but I forgot how to write for myself.

Right now most of the posts on this site are around 1500 words. They are short, weird, but they are fun to write. I experienced a period of depression in the Fall of 2018, and I couldn’t work on any of my books, so I began to write short pieces and put them up on the blog. It really helped, even though some days I didn’t touch the keyboard at all.

I’m trying to keep this site alive. My debut novel is coming out soon, and I want to have things here. Not just life updates (my life isn’t that interesting), cat photos (I don’t own a cat, or any pets at the moment), coffee latte art ( I don’t go to cafés nearly enough), but also an extension of the world I’m creating. I hope it would be a good and casual place to hang out on this vast internet of ours.

Okay.