Growth Pain – Even Writers Get Them

The first pang of growth pain that I felt as a writer was with The Runaway Courtesan. For almost four years now, I worked on TRC, and while I revised the story several times, the original structure of the story remained. The very story I wrote at eighteen was the very story I was fixing by the age of twenty-one. It was only a year later that I realized that this was a problem. It’s like a twelve year old trying to squeeze her feet into the shoe that she wore at the age of three. Just as the passing of time made her feet grow, time has made me grow psychologically and intellectually—especially after entering into university.

Somehow I didn’t realize this – trying to squeeze feet into an infant’s shoe – was what I was doing. But it was. I would read over TRC, feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction, but no matter how much I tweaked the story, I would still remain dissatisfied. And yet I remained wilfully blind to the answer of what I had to do with the manuscript.

I love the story; don’t get me wrong—I’ll still cry as I read Amanda and Lucas’ story. And though the second half of the story needs to be worked on I’m happy with it, and it’s most likely because I wrote it when I was older. Others noticed this too. They say the story blooms in part two. But in the first half, there was something about the character’s personalities, their thought process, their belief system….that was somehow immature.

Our Writing Group

It didn’t dawn me until my editor Kerrie told me that a rough draft is a rough draft. A rough draft is getting to know your characters. From there you write from scratch. I’m sure it differs from other writers, especially those who have written several books before and are now able to write a decent first draft. But what Kerrie told me was something I needed to be told. For four years I was clinging onto the words written by an eighteen year old. There were so many memories attached to my original draft that I ignored the obvious: Rewrite. The past agent interested in my work asked me to rewrite. The rewriting I thought I was doing was actually tweaking.

The second pang of growth pain hurt much more than TRC. With TRC I was more excited than agonized by the thought of rewriting. The acknowledgement that I needed to rewrite the first half of the story from scratch was liberating. But this second growth pain occurred recently as I was trying to get back into working on book 2: Fall of the Sparrows.

After two years of studying English Literature, it’s difficult to look at writing the same way. For nine years I’ve loved writing romance. For nine years I’ve loved writing flowery prose. For nine years I’ve loved writing in chronological order. But after reading and falling in love with contemporary lit – I found myself writing the old way that I do while glancing longingly at the writing style that is minimal, “indifferent and impartial” (as Sapphire put it), and a story with a broken timeline, and a romance that doesn’t always work out, or is an un-romanticized romance, or where romance is minimal and the focus is on other issues in humanity.

Not that the said attributes are what constitutes modern literature per se. But, nevertheless, I’m coming to find the qualities of modern/post-modern literature more and more attractive. And this thought frightened the heck out of me for some odd reason. The thought of me departing from the romance genre. The thought of me trying to break away from a writing style that suited me as an eighteen year old. I guess the fear came in part from me questioning myself—if I could actually succeed in this different realm of writing.

But I’m all good now. I think I was doubting myself because I hadn’t been writing for so long because of school. Now that I started writing again, the question of how I’m to write  doesn’t matter so much anymore, but rather, my focus has returned to: I love writing so much that as long as I can write and share my story that’s all that really matters in the end.


There is one thing that has not changed in the nine years of writing.

My love for writing about history.

I once told my mom that I would never stop writing stories set in England’s past. Maybe one day I’ll write about Canada’s past. Or some other country’s past. But the past… There’s just something about history that makes my heart beat madly against my chest. Not the history of events per se, but the history of people. A history of people making decisions. A history of people rising and falling. A history of people fighting, loving and dying. Maybe it’s the fascination for people who thought so differently to us—and yet, at the same time, knowing that human nature has remained pretty much the same. Or maybe it’s this feeling of detachment, history being forever lost to us, and yet, at the same time, engraved within us—and therefore allowing myself to tell a story less restricted within my awareness of the present cultural context. I don’t know. I’m not even sure if I’m making sense. I guess it all comes down to: The past is always so much more romantic.

Dear Readers, What has and has not changed for you as a writer?

Listening to:

Here are some of the tweets/FB updates to summarize why I was not updating my blog for the past while:

Stephen Dedalus from ‘A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST…” always seems like he’s high on drugs.

I need to sleep so I stop missing classes. So my hand automatically picks up PORTAITS OF A YOUNG ARTIST. Hmm…

ugh, just finished my european history paper. Just brutal. Let me say that I’m doneee with feminism

Another successful all nighter. Am now at Starbucks #amwriting in my journal before working on history paper # 2

I am so burnt out. Mention the name “James Joyce” and I’ll burst into tears!

Looking over history lecture notes. Can you find where my mind (half-asleep) began to think about creative writng?: “…who controls the land, had existed even before 1663, under their part, land divided up as small plots, until he realizes the he has captured beauty…”

Faulk it, I’m not reading William Faulkner ‘Sound and the Fury’.

Discovering so many stirring assertions while doing my readings: “…men were born free yet everywhere they are in chains.” -Rousseau

Dear Rebecca Black, please make a song about TUESDAY! While Friday is a day of partying, Tuesday is the day of liberation. Why? Because that’s when I finish my last exam. Woooooo

Writing Tip: Live, Learn, Record

Two days ago, I was struggling to write about Lenore Winstead (from  Fall of the Sparrows) recalling the death of her husband. I was at school working this scene, coming up with the most stereotypical emotions. I just wrote and wrote, not really feeling emotionally attached.

On that very day I came home and asked my younger sister where my younger brother was. She told me he’d been in bed all day long. That pushed the alarm button for me. I went into his room, it was pitch black. I sat by his side and rested my hand on his shoulder. He was feverish and trembling slightly…

As I don’t live with my knowledgeable parents I was left to think the worst—especially after listening to his small voice explaining to me how his throat was all swollen and it pained him to swallow. I was afraid to leave his side, worrying that his throat would swell to the point of being unable to call for my name!

(Before I go on, maybe I should explain that his fever was due to his having caught the chickenpox and his trembling was due to to the fact that my hand was resting on the back of his shoulder, feeling the resounding thump of his steadily beating heart. I took him to the doctor yesterday morning–all is well).

Now, to the writing bit. The dread and concern I experienced offered me a glimpse of what my heroine must have felt: To watch her husband dying while realizing that she had loved, but had not loved well. And then to wonder why it is only when a dear one is in their most vulnerable state that we realize we had not loved them enough.

And so I’m coming to learn more and more that through the variety of hardship experienced—whether it be minor or major—it turns out that hardship allows a writer to deeper understand what they write about: Life, love and death.

Hardship, for me, is the period in which my sensitivity is at its peak. I feel great things because my heart is open and vulnerable. And much of what I write during these times is where my best writings come from.

Hardship, for me, is an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and grow.

Deeper insight into life is like breathing life into a once one-dimensional character.

Have you ever had a similar experience where you suddenly found yourself inside the shoe of a character you were writing about?

 Writing Udate: I’m sweating blood with Fall of the Sparrows. Revising this story was going well until I reached the point in the story where I was just overwhelmed. Though the first draft is complete, I need to rewrite a lot. So, why was I overwhelmed?

1) The story is dark–and not just dark, PITCH BLACK.

2) The story later revolves around a controversial issue that leaves me low spirited.

3) I realized that this story had overstepped and escaped from the genre I’ve always been writing in: Romance. FOTS is more of a general fiction, as the story’s focus is mainly on the broken father/son relationship.

And so I find myself glancing longingly back at The Runaway Courtesan. For this story, I know what needs to be improved, I love the characters, I know what genre it belongs to, and importantly, this story isn’t as dark and heavy. But then I’m worried that if I start working on TRC I’ll lose touch with all the surge of inspiration for FOTS.

Don’t get me wrong. I love, love FOTS. But I’m wondering if this project isn’t a bit too ambitious for me. And I’m also wondering whether I’m just being a moron by shrinking away from the challenge presented to me by FOTS.  

So, I’m totally divided here and would love some advice.

Writers, Embrace Your Humble Beginning

Ever since The Runaway Courtesan was well received on FictionPress, a seed of arrogance was planted in me. Ever since an agent took interest in my work, my arrogance puffed up. But now…the needle of reality has pierced my ballooning head.

I am now deflating.

I have a second revise & resubmit request from Agent#1 that I’ve put on hold, because my brain and heart is not prepared for the upheaval I plan on putting TRC through. I have a partial in the hands of a superbly busy agent. I have query letters in the inbox of four other agents, awaiting a response for weeks now. And I just received an “Unfortunately-after-careful-consideration-we-have-decided-to-pass-on-this-project” today.

Nothing is turning out as I imagined.

I dreamt of a quick progress from one point to the next. I imagined that one of the agents would contact me, offering representation because she was totally in love with my work. I fantasized that within this year we would be so fortunate as to land a publishing contract for my manuscript.

However, week by week, my assurance weakened, my fantasy crumbled under the weight of reality. As I watched my other writer friends begin querying, receiving partial and full requests, getting represented, getting published, my confidence began to shake.

Then, as I saw the others writers moving on ahead of me, as if we were in a race and I was falling behind, I began to examine myself. I asked myself: Why do I want to get published? I thought and thought about this and realized that I was envious because I wanted to take pride in something. This wasn’t why I started writing at all. I started because I wanted to reach out to other readers.

I’ve finally come to terms with this struggle of mine. It’s a change that has occurred slowly. If I am rejected, I will not be crushed. If I am falling back in the “race” to publication, I will try not to envy. This is why:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

And, if I might add:

a time to revise and a time to query,
a time to publish and a time to develop your craft

Each time I am rejected by an agent, I want to step back from my default mode (wallowing in self-pity) and tell myself that perhaps it isn’t my time to get published. I’ll use this time to develop my craft, because it is the story I want to tell, and if my story is not good enough…then why rush myself to share it?


My Facebook status: I’m going to stop querying for TRC now. Publishing is not a race. I’ll take my sweet time. Thank God I have another ms to work on

@ Mandy Kellett Goff: I read somewhere that on average, it takes 10 years to publish a first book. So if it is a race, it’s a very, very long one =).

@ June Hur: That actually makes me feel much better–the fact that it takes 10 yrs on average to publish. Being unable to find an agent, I was starting to feel like a “failure”. But I guess those folks who get agents and get published within a year or two are the lucky oddballs!