My Struggle with Perfectionism


Do you know your biggest obstacle against creativity? As a writer, perfectionism has kept me from making a good deal of progress. Much is said about Writer’s Block or the phobia of cliches being reasons why we don’t make progress. We rarely address a hidden problem. It’s the idea of striving to write a scene identical to what we see in our heads.

It’s easier to daydream than to write. It takes no effort to hold an image or play out a scene in your mind. Depending on how long it’s been marinating there, we struggle to get it on paper. Nothing on the page can do justice to what we imagine during long nights of insomnia, and this frustrating truth can keep us in a loop—write, rewrite, repeat.

Rewriting is necessary, but how do we know when it’s time to stop? It’s tempting to believe that if we rewrite a scene enough, it will become identical to what we see in our heads. With this myth deceiving us, we don’t notice when it is time to move on to other scenes. At what point do we wind up rewriting so much that we undo the story instead of making progress?

Since the beginning of April, I’ve been working to ensure my series will be finished. A day does not pass when I don’t write a page of backstory. In this ritual I expand on world building, delve into characters, and elaborate on their motives; I work out things readers might never find out, things I as an author must know.

I’ve been using basic legal pads. This makes a difference, because when I use pretty journals I’m afraid to ruin them. Every night I fill a page and store it in a binder. Disciplining myself this way, I have begun to sort through the jungle of my fictional world. A few years ago I confused myself by seeing one book instead of the world, and it was a disaster when the time came for revisions.

These pages of backstory won’t make a novel, but I’ll have a map to follow. Seeing my progress as I gather pages into the binder has made the end more achievable. With the big picture in mind, I don’t focus too much on one chapter; until the series is published, nothing’s set in stone.

There were scenes pining to be written which I ignored by rewriting chapter five over and over again. Perfectionism blinded me to reveals that deserved attention, if only so they would be well-done in the future. First drafts aren’t perfect and we’re not meant to spend all our time on them.

Perfectionism is our friend when it reminds us not to settle for sloppy writing. It becomes the enemy when it stops progress. If years have passed and you can’t move forward but universes continue to expand in your mind, it’s time to reel in that perfectionism.

I’m allowing myself to outline scenes for the second and third novels. They’re not the final breaths on which I’ll tell the story; they’re not perfect. My goal is to have material for editing; these scenes will also help me have an idea of where I’m going. In addition, when I get bold scenes out of my mind, it’s easier to focus on edits.

Every creative medium has its challenges. Have you worked out how to beat yours? Does perfectionism loom over you like it does me? If you have overcome that habit, I hope you can give some advice! Let’s help fill the world with stories by removing blocks from each others’ paths.

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On Robert Frost and the Rise of Poetry


We are fortunate to be living in a time when poetry is once again becoming popular. Instagram poetry is on the rise; it’s easy to post our work for thousands to see. If we learn the use of hashtags and posting times, we can build an impressive following. It is a breath of relief, since there had been a time when many claimed poetry to be dead.

As time changes, so do the poems that define a generation. What we share on social media has a different feel from the poetry of old. It’s designed to grab attention, to stop someone mindlessly scrolling to read a snatch of art. Much of modern poetry bears a minimalist quality. Literature evolves with the people who write it, changing with society.

Sometimes I am nostalgic for classic poetry. I’ve been reading Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe. Last week I focused on Robert Frost, who was considered the first American poet. His most famous piece, The Road Not Taken, is still taught in school. I wanted to go beyond that and learn about the author himself. I wanted to read the lesser-known pieces.

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Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. His father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist; his mother, Isabelle Moodie, a Scottish immigrant. The family hoped his father become a lawyer, but William Prescott Frost had a rebellious spirit. It led him instead to become a teacher, an editor, a politician. After his death in 1885, the family moved to New England, an area that would inspire much of Robert’s poetry.

He discovered poetry at the age of fourteen, and a year later published his first poem in his school newspaper. Though his mother was proud, his grandfather warned him that “no one can make a living at poetry.” Two years after his marriage at the age of twenty-two, Robert tried to please his family by seeking an education in Harvard. He was drawn to philosophy and the classics, but claimed “It wasn’t what I wanted.”

Disappointed in Robert’s artistic ambitions, his grandfather gave him a farm in New Hampshire on such terms that he was committed to it for ten years. Once that time was up, Frost sold the farm and moved to England with his wife, Eleanor. They found a home in Beaconsfield, a little town near rural Buckinghamshire, and lived a comfortable life. During this time, his first two books were published.

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A Boy’s Will and North of Boston were received by the English with great enthusiasm. Of North of Boston, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson wrote, “Mr. Frost has turned the living speech of men and women into poetry…Tales that might be mere anecdotes in the hands of another poet take on universal significance because of their native veracity and truth to local character.”

What makes his work so special? An essay by Mark Van Doren titled The Permanence of Robert Frost explains: “Whether in dialogue or in lyric, his poems are people talking…The man who talks under the name of Robert Frost knows how to say a great deal in a short space, just as the many men and women whom he has listened to in New England and elsewhere have known how to express in the few words they use more truth than volumes of ordinary rhetoric can express.”

Frost returned to America in 1915 to find himself suddenly famous. His books were on sale everywhere, and he was hailed a leader of “the new era in American poetry.” He bought a farm in New Hampshire and lived there for five years. In 1938 he moved to Boston, and later to Cambridge; wherever he went, he took a bit of the land which had captured his heart.

Frost’s poetry crosses many styles and subjects. His focus on farming and field work makes him very much a poet of the people. He has written sonnets and works of lyrical beauty. He has written epics which were adapted into screenplays. I prefer his shorter pieces because they can be memorized; we can take beautiful verses into our own souls to fill idle moments. One such example is the poem Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost’s twenty year wait for publication serves to remind us that not even those whose work became classic achieved fame overnight. Some didn’t get published until they were old; others weren’t discovered until after death. An author should never write for the sole purpose of publication. If we do this, we risk writing stories that lack soul. I write more about this in my review of Anne Lamott’s memoir, Bird by Bird.

Literature gives voices to things which normally wouldn’t speak, such as stars or houses. Robert Frost spoke even for ghosts and the forest. In The Sound of the Trees, he gives us a glimpse of their minds—

They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.

Skilled poets raise the voice of each gust of wind. They also open our ears so that we, the readers, can understand what the breezes whisper. Poetry is on the rise, and we can expect a new era of poetry worldwide. I am eager to find out which of these new voices will live to be classics.

In the midst of this, let us not forget the poets on whose shoulders we stand. As we breathe life once more into poetry, let us follow them down roads less traveled; only after we learn their ways can we go down paths of our own.

Bird by Bird: On Writing & Honesty


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What does it mean to be a writer? Ask anyone who practices the craft. You might hear several answers, because people have different reasons.

Anne Lamott’s memoir Bird by Bird offers a response I believe few would disagree with:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.

Lamott offers advice on matters such as outlining, but she makes sure we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture while fussing over technicalities. Our obligation is to tell the truth, the truths of our readers and of the human race.

But I write fiction, you might say. Everything is made up. So do I. I’ve yet to try heavy worldbuilding; however, soon I will. Even then, my story won’t be an untruth. It’s set in a realm that’s very real to me.

I have yet to meet a devoted author who hasn’t felt their dream world as if they lived in it. When a writer puts soul into their story, they’re telling the truth about themselves, using words to help it be seen by an audience.

It would be nice to have thousands of readers, but it’s still a story, even if no one has read it. It would be convenient to make a living off of it, but I can’t bet on that. Lamott believes, and I do as well, that any writer who wants to write well should desire nothing more than to tell their truth.

Formerly a creative writing teacher, Lamott offers advice to improve our craft. By means of parables and flashbacks, she instructs without sounding like an instruction manual. I highlighted sentences so I can go over them again, but three tips stood out to me most.

First, she instructed her students to write 300 words daily. I found a notebook and resolved to fill a page every day, no matter how tired I am. One page seems a small goal when you start, but it’s comforting to see progress as the days pass.

Secondly, Lamott’s resolve about honest writing is powerful:

Write down all the stuff you swore you’d never tell another soul.

She tells us to take the truths that frighten us, spinning them into tales that make an impact. Even if we change names, truth remains the core of it. Readers feel it between the lines. A writer’s job is to tell the truth.

Finally, her most unpopular advice is that publishing can be overrated. Lamott made sure to warn her students that contracts don’t take away Writer’s Block. We will never be happy if we write for publication. We should write because we love it.

Writing can be bittersweet. On days when it’s hard to put words on paper, we are tempted to quit and find an easier hobby. I don’t think true writers can quit for long. Even when we aren’t writing, the worlds we write are a part of us.

Tell the truth and write about freedom and fight for it, however you can, and you will be richly rewarded.

Bird by Bird reminds us that writing can drive us mad, but it’s worth embracing this madness. It reminds us that fiction is never a lie, encourages us to soldier through rewrites and bad reviews because we’re storytellers.

I believe any writer should read it at least once. Let us never lose sight of the honesty that characterizes our work; we owe the world our truths.

A Place of Light


This is another excerpt from my journal that I would like to share. It needs editing, but I liked it, and hope you will too!


There’s a lot of light in this place.

It’s a haven of pure air and high spirits. It makes me feel like there’s no darkness left in my reality; by this I know it can’t be reality.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Perhaps I’m on a different plane.

It has to be a dream.

I sit on the ground and let it soak in – energy, inspiration, peace. Could this be the place ideas come from?

Could this weightlessness be the root of my inspiration?

Closing my eyes, I search my mind, seeking ideas for my next poem…here in this place of light.

On Storytelling


What does it mean to be a storyteller?

Stories are places of refuge for people frightened by the realities of this world. They provide rest when we are too weak to dwell on reality.

Story is salve for the wounds inflicted by life.

A well-told story comforts us. We seek depth and meaning. We find both in a book.

We are cheered by the thought that the human mind, while capable of terrible things, also brings forth great beauty.

Fiction is a playground for the human imagination, which needs exercise like any other muscle. The storyteller cares for the playground.

We are gardeners charged with planting wonder and safety; these might come in the form of a novel or a poem. This skill is learned through observation and practice.

It is difficult: many of us curse the craft as much as we love it.

Storytelling is not easy, but human beings need story more than they care to admit.

Any garden has to be tended.

David Copperfield: Escapism and Books


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Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is, in many respects, autobiographical. Readers see the protagonist in bleak situations, many of which take root in things the author himself experienced–child abuse, poverty, instances when it was difficult to count one’s blessings.

As a reader and writer, the following paragraph stood out to me. It describes Copperfield as a child, seeking refuge from his ill fortune by vanishing into books.

It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read these books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favorite characters in them–as I did–and by putting Mr and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones–which I did too.

I’ve written books where my characters were similar to me in some ways, sharing habits or speech nuances. This has always happened by accident. I never sat and told myself this character will like the same music or we will enjoy the same foods. No, these things crept onto the page; later, I found them and smiled.

In the above paragraph, David Copperfield describes escaping dark times by reading books. He became the hero and identified the villains in his life. I wondered if Charles Dickens did this knowingly, to increase the book’s autobiographical nature. Was it strategic, or an accident? Did he later reflect on his character and realize he and Copperfield shared this trait?

Once writers master the art of escapism, we know the skill for life. It becomes a part of us, so when we spin stories of our own, we write ourselves in without meaning to. We don’t notice until later that bits of us have slipped in between the lines.

Excerpts like this show why it’s interesting to learn about the author as well as the book. When you know the circumstances in which they lived, it enhances the experience. It’s why I always read introductions when they are available. Often, when I finish reading, I do research on the setting (time period, customs, etc.)

When you read a good book, there’s more going on than your brain registering words. You’re immersing yourself in a journey through time. You become one with the characters. You might even find that you and the author have things in common–habits, opinions, hurts. Any well-written novel has this power. All you need is a bit of patience to get through longer works.

Find a sliver of spare time, and you will travel far.

With people seeking entertainment elsewhere, I fear the beautiful art of reading might one day be forgotten–the kind of reading that immerses us, escapism. Each form of entertainment has its benefits; however, let’s not overlook the joy that can be found in a book.

Reading is a superpower, and we can all learn to use it. If you haven’t been reading much, find a book and start now. There’s a book for everyone, and best of all, there’s always time.

New Plans for The Autumn Prince


This year has not been my greatest writing-wise.

I finished one draft of a novel I’m happy with; everything else turned out to be a mess. Perhaps 2017 has been too emotionally loaded for me to connect with characters. Maybe it’s more optimistic: it could be that I’ve improved so much, I can’t be happy with anything I wrote two years ago.

Edits for The Autumn Prince have become rewrites. There was no other option, as my writing style became too advanced to blend with older chapters. I could have forced myself to keep going; however, I asked friends for advice and did some contemplation. I realized I would be wasting my time sticking with a draft I couldn’t feel.

Someone told me that if I don’t want to write a story, readers won’t want to read it. Because of this, I decided to start over with a new plot. This time I created an outline, so I’ll have a map when I begin in January. The original Autumn Prince will soon be on Wattpad. I spent a lot of time on that story and don’t want to toss it out.

Reading is a wonderful way to improve your writing skills. I had always known that, but never experienced it so clearly until now. Though I am still fond of the original Autumn Prince, I’m relieved to not be forcing a storyline that doesn’t feel natural. With this outline, a new book will be finished in 2018.

I’m entering 2018 with greater drive and focus. My birthday wish was to write The Novel, and though I’m not sure what I meant by that, I’ll never find out if I don’t work hard.

What are your writing plans for the new year? Have your novels ever changed radically as mine did?

Adventures in French


They say to pay attention to what interests you most, because it is part of you. In the past, if asked what my passion was in life, I would likely have responded, “Writing.” I would have said without hesitation that I lived for story, nothing more and nothing less, but as we grow, we learn.

My recent interest in French seems to have come from a mix of things–the convenience of Duolingo, the lovely sound of the language, and my own stubbornness. I didn’t go into it thinking it was a passion, though: usually it doesn’t take long for me to quit a new hobby. This time, things were different.

For almost a month now I’ve been obsessively learning words and phrases in French, using not only Duolingo but Memrise and even Tumblr. (Of the three, Tumblr makes learning more enjoyable; it helps to see regular people blog in their native language.)

Though I cannot speak it aloud with ease yet, I’m getting the hang of reading it, and if I keep going at this rate–well, I can feel very optimistic. I already know Spanish because my mother is Peruvian, and she taught me. It will be nice to speak a third language now. This makes the world so much bigger for me, and also makes me wonder if my passion really was story all along.

chris-coudron-133542.jpgCould it be that my passion is really language–that I am in love with the art of words, and not the stories they tell? Do I have the heart of a writer or a linguist? Am I a storyteller, or do I collect vocabulary used in lovely poems?

I have no plan on what I’m going to do with my French. I hope to learn well enough to write short pieces in the language; I most certainly hope to read French classics in their native languages. I enjoy meeting people who speak it–I’ve made many good friends since my journey began.

In the end, do we really need a reason to learn new things–to explore and see the world differently, even if it’s through the way things are said? I have no reason not to learn a new language, and as I slowly piece words together in the form of sentences, I feel myself changing as a soul.

I am growing, and the French might not be the only reason, but it certainly shows how I as a person have become stronger. I’ve lost 13lbs since August and I wrote a new book; I’m learning a new language and enjoying the process. For the first time in a while, I am comfortable with myself.

C’est la vie. I will keep you updated–and maybe one day I’ll have a blog in French!

In the Pages of a Dream Journal


Where do you go when you fall asleep? Have you ever wanted to know more about your dream land?

We writers encounter plot bunnies in bizarre things while awake. We find something that catches our interest and store it away for later, usually forgetting it–there’s no way for us to write all of our ideas.

Most of the time we overlook adventures we have while sleeping. Anyone who remembers their dreams will be baffled by the odd things that happen. Are your actions things you secretly hope for, or mere dust as your mind clean itself?

photo-1489703197108-878f05f4b31bWhatever the case, dreams deserve attention: they’re unpredictable. Dreams are special adventures that reveal colors we never encounter while awake.

Most of the time I remember dreams, but only recently have I taken up the challenge of recording them. My dream journal is unique because they’re stories I came up with–me but not me, uncharted territory of my brain.

It can be hard to hold details of a dream while I scramble for my journal, so I don’t record them chronologically. This journal isn’t organized like a novel; events and details are tangled. What matters is having as much as possible on the page for reflection.

This will become a collection of journeys that will one day puzzle me. I wrote this–yet I didn’t–it’s me but is not me. These are people I know doing things they probably wouldn’t in real life.

Maybe some of these entries will become proper tales.

I’ve only been keeping this journal for a few days, but it’s already worth the effort. Should you decide to take up the challenge, keep your journal somewhere you can reach it upon waking.

Be patient if events slip through your fingers, because there are no rules in dream land. The point isn’t to write an award-winning story, but to know yourself and have fun.

It is therapeutic to keep a journal, digging into the corners of your own inner wonderland. Have you kept a dream journal? What has it taught you about yourself?