Three Ways to Make NaNoWriMo Work for You

NaNoWriMo. One of the most talked-about months of the year for authors and casual writers alike, but few actually take on the challenge. Fewer still finish it.

I’m one of those people. I have never used November to write 50,000 words in one go. Instead, I’ve used it to build my writing career up in a much more constructive way. Why? More importantly, how?

Call me crazy, but I don’t see many benefits in writing 50,000 words in one month. It burns people out, downplays the importance of planning and plotting, and gets people focused on word count instead of storytelling. That’s not to say that NaNoWriMo doesn’t have it’s upsides, because it certainly does, but I find larger benefits elsewhere.

There are three primary ways to make this challenging month work for your own goals.

Asking someone to write a novel in a month is a lot. Asking yourself to do that and then beating yourself up after the fact is even worse.

NaNo Hopefuls see these metrics and think they have to accomplish them, not realizing that, hey, guess what, you don’t need to write anything at all.

Do you have something that needs editing? A series you have to plan? Research you need to do? Do that instead. Set your goal to ‘storyboarding 20 pages’, or ‘take notes on the 13 untouched research books you have’. You’re not a failure just because you’re not actively drafting a novel.

NaNoWriMo Blog Banner #2: "Change the scope of your project"

50,000 words is a huge chunk, and that amount sets some people up for disappointment right out the gate. November is the holiday season, family obligations begin to pile up, and finding time to spend on writing is difficult. But remember this: 50,000 is an arbitrary number.

Yes, it’s the minimum necessary to be considered a novel, but aside from that, it doesn’t mean anything. Completing 20,000 words (or whatever your magic number is) is just as meaningful. Or a collection of poems. A series outline. Maybe even a perfected synopsis.

Stop expecting yourself to put down the same number of words as everyone else when your goals are inherently different.

 

NaNoWriMo Blog Banner #3: "Make your project suit your needs"

At this very moment, what do you need to do? What have you been putting off? What would benefit your work most at this very point in time, even if you’ve been avoiding it? There’s more to a successful writing career than just drafting a book. One of the ways I’ve made NaNoWriMo work for me is by aiming to knock out a big chunk of whatever it is I need to get done– even if I don’t want to.

For instance, I’ve been dragging my feet with making meaningful edits on my novel Death of an Immortal (formerly The Immortal). So for NaNoWriMo, I’ve set out to edit the remaining 49,000 words of it. I’m taking a chance to look at the huge missed opportunities that I would have otherwise decided not to deal with, and am instead tackling them. It’s a grueling process. But, it suits the needs of my book.

I would much rather make a leap forward in my writing career than have yet another 50,000+ story I need to edit.

 

Have you ever used NaNoWriMo outside of writing the traditional 50k? How did you change it up, and how did it benefit you? Comment below!

 

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my writings, sign up for my email list in the box below. 📚

 

Until next time!

 

 

 

Continue Reading

What Horror Movies Taught Me About Writing

What Horror Movies Taught Me About Writing

I’m a huge horror movie fan. That being said, there’s a lot of crappy movies in that genre, and I’ve learned as much from the bad ones as the good ones; the stereotypical horror movie is light on the substance that matters and over-wrought where there should be subtlety. Ever since becoming a fan of the genre, I’ve learned many lessons on what makes a story work– and what makes one fall flat.

Everything Rides on Your Characters

The biggest difference between good versus bad horror movies? The good ones spend 80% of the movie developing the characters and their relationships to one another. This should come as no surprise to any writer worth their salt, but it bears repeating. No matter how spooky or alluring or original your premise is, if your characters cannot relate to one another, if they have no depth or goals, I won’t enjoy it. Few will.

"Ed and Lorraine Warren's relationship from The Conjuring serves as a beautiful love story, B plot, and breathe of fresh air in an otherwise skin-crawling horror movie."
Ed and Lorraine Warren’s relationship from The Conjuring serves as a beautiful love story, B plot, and breathe of fresh air in an otherwise skin-crawling horror movie. It makes us care about them that much more and enhances the realism of the characters, too.

This is why most horror flicks rarely draw those outside of their typical fan-base; they serve no interests other than those in the horror genre. It’s weak. It’s not multilayered. Conversely, if you build solid characters with intricate relationships and motivations? Then you’ll have a richer story, and maybe even draw in those who might not’ve otherwise looked at your work.

 

Suspense, Not Jump Scares

Jump scares are cheap. They have their place, but they’re mostly cheap. This can be said for a lot of things in entertainment, when people go for the low-hanging fruit because they know it’ll get a reaction. Someone once said that jump-scares in a horror movie are akin to being tickled in a comedy movie. Yes, technically you’ve gotten me to laugh (or jump, in this case), but you didn’t really earn it.

James Wan, director of The Conjuring and Insidious movies, is someone I regard as a master of suspense. One of his smallest but most profound tactics is that he will go in for what seems like a textbook jump-scare– but then lets the audience dangle. He doesn’t follow through on it, doesn’t show you the scary thing you think is coming, and so draws out the suspense. What is the equivalent for your genre? That’s up to you. But when in doubt, take a trope, flip it on its head, and I think you’ve got a good start.

 

Less is More

Heavy-handedness is one of the primary reasons I find that people dislike horror. Its excessive gore and psychopathy is clunky, destroys the suspension of disbelief, and alienates viewers. That’s why for the first 18 years of my life, I didn’t dare to go near anything even mildly scary. I couldn’t even tolerate the commercials, covering my eyes every time they popped up.

Don’t have them monologuing about their depravity or fantasies for more than a second, because almost everyone has tuned out at that point. Don’t splatter gore across the walls, because (unless you want to be niche) almost everyone else has changed the channels. A lot of horror movies assume that, because it’s supposed to be a scary movie, they have to constantly scare the audience. But, it just numbs them with each passing moment.

The lesson here? What matters, the thing that you really love about the genre, risks getting lost in the clutter.

 

Never Reveal the Villain Too Soon

When filming Jaws, the mechanical shark constantly malfunctioned and was of no use. Initially, this was a massive set-back– but it prompted Steven Spielberg to reimagine how to deliver the horror of the creature in the first place. He found a way to allude to the shark without revealing it, how to drag out the suspense and the mystery. Because, as Spielberg said, “it’s what we don’t see which is truly frightening”.

Every story has an opposing force, whether it’s a person, social movement, natural disaster, etc. And sure, we do need to see them early on so that we know what’s propelling the main character onwards. But even if your villain’s there from scene one, you have to save what makes them truly horrifying for last. And use it sparingly at that.

I thoroughly enjoy Halloween and spooky things and scary movies. So if you’re like me and will watch a horror flick soon, look out for these tips and be ready to learn.

 

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my writings or be notified once my upcoming Mesopotamian fantasy novella comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. 📚

 

Comment below letting me know the most recent, scary thing you’re seen, and if you’ve learned anything from it. Until next time, and have a happy Halloween!
Continue Reading

What I Wish I’d Known About Writing as a Teenager

What I Wish I'd Known About Writing as a Teenager

I started writing around age 7 and haven’t stopped since. Despite all the amazing things that come from writing at such a young age, there are cons too, like the weird sort of complex young writers often develop around their work. Here are just a few of the things I wish I’d listen to and taken more seriously as a teenaged writer.

“You will have to edit more than you think.”

I remember when I was eleven years old and finished the first draft of my first book. Picturing all the high-points in my head, riding that wave of excitement, I thought it wouldn’t need any editing at all. In my head, my writing seemed absolutely amazing. Then I printed it all out and looked over everything–and cringed. Well, maybe one edit would take care of everything… right?

Fool of a Took gif

I ended up editing that book 13 times before I put it out into the world, and even then I still think about un-publishing it. Now an adult, I talk to other young writers who also believe they won’t have to edit. I can’t help but shake my head. I’ve learned the hard way that only after multiple edits will something truly begin to shine–and those who think otherwise are either kidding themselves or are too deep in the trees to see the forest.

“You will exclusively write garbage for the next few years. Write anyways.”

On the opposite side of the coin, there are times I’d looked at my writing and wanted to give up. I hated every word, every letter of what I’d written, and wanted to throw in the towel. Why keep trying when I was so clearly bad at it?

Because everyone who’s good at anything, they once sucked. You don’t see their first drafts, their worthless scribbles or junk-drawer ideas. It took my time to learn this, but once I did, everything changed. The only way you’ll improve is by constantly, consistently trying. And if you don’t? If you give up? Then you will have missed out on so, so many opportunities to improve. I wish I’d spent less time agonizing over my failures, and more time instead building my skill from my mistakes.

Jake from Adventure Time saying "Dude, sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something."

“You’re not the exception.”

I say this without any judgement, but teenaged writers seem to think they’re special. (Heck, I used to, too. We all probably did.) Now, I love writers. We’re a creative, thoughtful, and determined bunch. But that being said, artsy people often have a sense of superiority amplified by whatever it is they find unique about themselves. Teenaged writers doubly so.

"I'm kind of a big deal"

I can’t tell you how many times I read advice telling writers x, y, or z and thought “that doesn’t apply to me/my work doesn’t have that problem/I’ll never encounter this”. I thought that me and my experiences were somehow outside of others’ knowledge-sphere, as if there had never been someone in my shoes before. (See the ‘you’re not the exception’ paragraph above.) How shortsighted– and how dearly I wish that I’d listened. Who knows how much sooner my writing would have advanced?

“There’s a legal reason why no one works with young authors.”

Sure, publishing deals for young writers happen. There are those exceptionally, exceptionally rare cases in which an agent will sign a young writer–but they’re almost unheard of for a reason. (To be clear, I’m talking about full book deals here, not magazine or contest entries, which are far more attainable for teens.) Why is this?

Because before the age of 18 in the US, you are unable to sign a legally binding contract. No large publishing house, nonetheless agent, is going to risk taking on a client they can’t sign a contract with. It’s difficult enough for them to find writers they want to collaborate with, and when you throw in the age issue? It’s a no-go.

Gif of Ariel signing her contract with Ursula

*I know that someone is going to throw out the example of Christopher Paolini in the comments, so I’m going to go ahead and preemptively mention that he published under his parents’ own company. 

“Listen to the advice of other authors.”

When reading up on advice from older, distinguished authors, I came across a tweet from a favorite author of mine that said almost verbatim “young writers, you shouldn’t self-publish your book. You’re going to think it’s good, and it’s probably not”. After being mad about it for a hot minute, I scoffed and wrote it off. I listened to that ‘I’m the exception’ mindset. But she was 100% right.

A gif of Kim Kardashian saying "Thank you for your lovely advice, but I'm not going to take it."
My dumb, 13 year old ass.

These distinguished writers are distinguished for a reason. They’ve been in our shoes, have gone through our struggles, and have come out the other side. If they’re charitable enough to share their insight, we should listen. On an even larger scale, it took me years before I read books like On Writing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and whatnot. I didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t think that far ahead. But if the nuggets of wisdom are valuable, then so is the whole chicken.

 

The above only covers a portion of what I wish I’d known as a teenage writer, but what it all boils down to is that I needed to be more open to then advice of others, to be more realistic, and to know just how much more growing I had left to do. (Which I’m still nowhere near done with, mind you.)

What do you wish you knew as a teen?

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my writings or be notified once my upcoming Mesopotamian fantasy novella comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


Until next time!

Continue Reading

The Stolen Sun: Research Process

There’s a misconception that if you’re writing fantasy, you don’t need to do much research. I call bull.

Granted, a lot of the well-known fantasy stories are sourced from European culture, so people tend to copy what they’ve seen elsewhere and incorporate that into their own. Kingdoms, vaguely-British agricultural villages, dragons and elves and other fantastical races that look just like they do in all the other books, etc.

I wanted to do something different. I wanted to write a fantasy story unlike any I’d seen in the cultural zeitgeist. So I wrote a Mesopotamian fantasy story.

Mesopotamia, otherwise known as Sumer or ‘that strip of land between the Tigris and Euphrates‘ or where present-day Iraq is, has always been one of my favorite historical eras. It’s the birthplace of civilization, where so much knowledge and mysticism and science was born. Where the foundation the world we know today was lain.

Map of where Mesopotamia is.
In case you forgot your grade-school geography, this is where Mesopotamia is.

There was just one problem: I didn’t know enough about the area. Sure, I’ve been passionate about it since I was young; I’d read the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Descent of Inanna and the Enuma Elish, but there was so much more to learn and I wasn’t an expert by any means. (I’m still not.) I wanted to know about the day-to-day life, the architecture, the laws. So I dove right in.

Step 1: Go to the Local Library

I went to my local library and found a list of every book with the words “Mesopotamia” or “Sumer” in the title. After reading the descriptions and narrowing down my list, I left the library with eleven books of information to compile and take notes on. (Eleven books that took 3 people to carry out to the car, in case you were wondering how heavy some of these were.)

 

A stack of books from my local library.
Carrying these books out to the car was basically my gym session for the day.

Step 2: Take Notes and Compile Information

After that, I hit the most important books first. These were Architecture 101, Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, and The Art and Architecture of Mesopotamia. I scanned pages, I took pictures of diagrams, I read hundred upon hundreds of pages. I gathered information on the education system, what duties priests/priestesses oversaw, how crimes were punished, which regions produced which resources, etc. Then I took copious notes (maybe too much, even). After my many books worth of research, I ended up with 35 pages of single-spaced notes.

An image of the inside of an Assyriology book, depicting two lamassu.
A painting inside an Assyriology book, depicting two lamassu among the rocky landscape.

Step 3: Figure Out What’s Relevant

I had a blast poring over these books. I really did. But at the end of the day, is all of the information going to make it into my books? Do I really want to sift through notes on crop irrigation when I’m trying to find something more related to my novella’s content? No. Though I learned a lot, I’m not going to use all of it, and its best to separate the wheat from the chaff early on to avoid complications down the line. Out of those 35 pages, only about 3 pages were directly relevant to the plot of the book. The rest was merely for building a believable world, and so onto a separate note-taking document it went.

Image of me (Eli Hinze) reading a book at the library.
Me pretending not to pose.

Step 4: Incorporate Research into Your Work

This is usually the hardest step for writers, myself included. Research should inspire and inform your story, not show everyone how smart you are. So, I had to battle with myself to construct a world in line with what I’d learned about this region and period, as opposed to peppering the whole novella with factoids and trivia as if I was auditioning for Jeopardy. Readers don’t want a textbook, so instead I constructed the world in line with what I’d learned about the region.

"<yoastmark

Bonus: Highlighted Facts from my Research

There’re so many things I learned that absolutely fascinated me. In order to share them as efficiently as possible, I’m going to simply list them in bullet-point format below. Comment below which of these you’re most fascinated by!

  • There was no concept of prisons or police in the region. 
  • Temples weren’t places of worship, but rather seen as the home of the deity. Public worship took place outside of the temple in a larger courtyard.
  • Priestesses were expected to remain celibate. However, they could marry and share their husbands estate, additionally acting as stepmother to any other children he’d fathered. 
  • Slaves were commonly used in temples and wealthy households. Some masters apprenticed their slaves to learn a trade or taught them in business. Some slaves could even save money, rent property, and have slaves of their own.
  • Men were often captured or killed in war. Thus, if a man left no provisions for his family or they ran out, his wife was free to live with another man for the sake of her and her children’s welfare. But if her husband returned, she had to return to him. 

There are a lot of other interesting facts I’ve collected– but those I’m saving for The Stolen Sun and future stories. ?

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


I hope you enjoyed this peek into my research process, and I can’t wait to share the resulting story with you. Until next time!

 

Continue Reading

Personal Goals for 2018

Personal Goals for 2018

I’m a firm believer in New Years Resolutions. I make a list of goals every year, and typically accomplish at least 80% of those I’ve set. But as I’ve discussed previously, this year has not at all gone as planned. Between being stalked, experiencing a downturn in my health, and so on, things have been all over the place, causing me to take a look at my goals and my life. There are some I’ve taken off the list. There are others I’ve added. It’s been difficult for me in that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and want to hold myself accountable to my goals– but I’m also learning that it’s okay to adapt to new circumstances, even if they’re not the ones you thought you’d ever find yourself in.

Here are my new personal goals for the rest of 2018:
Read 10 More Books

I’ve already read 10 books this year, and am in the process of reading my 11th as I write this. With those plus the other 10, that should bring my target this year to 20 books read. This is much less than in other years, but what with a full-time job and everything else going on, I figured I’d cut myself some slack. Whatever that is.

Travel to One More Country

One of my goals for 2018 was to travel to at least 3 new countries. I’d figured it would be a breeze. I had plans to go to Bhutan, Vietnam, Mongolia, etc. before that was all dashed by my crappy health. But, I did get to go to Hong Kong* and Macau*, so . . . that counts for something, right? That plus my plans to visit Mexico for the first time will let me reach my goal!

* While these are both SARs of the People’s Republic of China, they are still defined as separate travel destinations by the Traveler’s Century Club by nature of their cultures, histories, and identities.

Finish first round of edits on The Immortal

I completed drafting THE IMMORTAL last summer. At the time, I’d tried to force myself to put it out of mind and not edit it for a while. (This was in my ‘I don’t want to be a writer’ phase. An awful time, really.) While deep down I wanted to complete my first round of edits on THE IMMORTAL before the year was out, I didn’t put it on the list. Which is akin to sacrilege for me.

Now I’ve made it one of my primary goals. And I’m well on course to complete that goal by the end of July!

Stay consistent with my online presence

This seems like a silly goal, I know. On the surface, it is.

But it’s not about getting likes or comments or anything like that. As I’ve made clear in my other posts, it’s been a rough year for me. Certainly not the worst, and I’m grateful for many of the things I’ve experienced, but it hasn’t been a cake-walk. Being able to connect with like-minded individuals online has been a godsend, and it’s really helped me reconnect with my passions and motivators.

Thus, managing my online profiles is my way of checking in, of holding myself accountable and staying connected to my online communities.

complete my first novella

Never did I think I would write a novella. I didn’t know just how awesome they could be until recently, and it certainly wasn’t on my initial resolutions list for 2018.

Some of you may recall a short story I wrote almost 3 and a half years ago now, titled The Stolen Sun. It was about a young boy and his ailing mother who are called upon by a deposed sun goddess to restore her to the heavens. I loved it, but I always felt like there was something fundamentally off about the last half’s execution. No matter how I tweaked it, no matter how I rewrote chunks here and there, the problem persisted. All the places I had submitted to felt the same.

But underneath it all was still a great story. So, I’m casting out to old work entirely. No more reworking, tweaking, or moving around. We’re starting from the ground up, and I’m now attempting to make a novella out of it!

 

While I have a few other, more personal goals, these are the major ones I have for the rest of 2018. How have you done with your yearly goals? Do you set any to begin with? Whether or not you do, comment below with one tangible thing you’ve done this year!

Continue Reading

Why I Tried to Stop Writing

It’s true. I tried to stop writing.

This might come as a shock to some, as it well should. I’ve been writing consistently for over a decade and a half, so why would I try to sabotage myself? Why would I derail myself from something I’ve so long considered a dream? Simple. I was tired of trying to find balance.

When I initially graduated from college, I decided I was going to stop writing.

Not forever, but the plan was to stop writing for one year as I pursued different passions, traveled, and ‘discovered’ myself (whatever that means). Because writing hurt. Writing was difficult. It required getting up early or staying up late, it meant forgoing social events and spending whatever free-time I found outside of work/school to research and outline, it meant tearing your work apart for the thousandth time in pursuit of something better. It’s hard work, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it anymore. At first I was in high school, then college, then in the working world, always caught up as I tried to balance my academic/work life and my literary aspirations.

So I swore off the balancing act. It required too much time, too large a part of myself, and, to be entirely honest, it stung to be confronted with the very realistic thought that this would likely never be my career.

So I tried to give up. With the amount of time I invested into writing, surely I could invest that time into something else I’d more realistically attain, right?

At the time, I was set to move to China, where I’d no doubt be as busy as ever working and studying and exploring, so it would be a good time to leave my writing days behind. Or so I thought.

I’ve already talked on this some, but my time in China was not what I thought it’d be. When I felt isolated and insignificant, I gave in and let myself write a bit. When I had a toiling day at work or an encounter with yet another harassing or ogling person, I set aside some time to write. And when I was laid up in bed, unable to go much of anywhere or do much of anything, you know what I could do? I could still write.

I had tried to be done with writing, but clearly it wasn’t done with me. Even when my health left me, even when my wanderlust and verve left me, my stories were still by my side.

And so I fell back into my love of all things literary. Even on the days that I was feeling fine and could walk about and explore, I still set aside time in the wee hours of the night to write and edit and outline. It started with those small bits at first, until I was writing and editing more per week than I had been the whole month before that, on and on. Sometimes writers joke that they didn’t chose to write, but rather that they simply can’t stop. I understand that on a whole new level now.

Over this past year, my attitude around writing has experienced a dramatic shift. At the beginning of it, I’d actively stopped myself from writing. I didn’t post about it much, if at all. I tried to put my current projects on the back-burner. Jump forward to now, and I’m editing nearly 900 words a day, reading daily, and so forth. I’m on track to be well into my fourth book’s, THE IMMORTAL, second round of edits by the end of this year, and have outlined about 2 and a half books this year thus far.

Yes, finding balance and sacrificing time outside of work to write is hard. But as I’ve found, it is so, so worth it. And I’ll never make the mistake of thinking it isn’t ever again.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand." -- George Orwell

Continue Reading

Why I Had to Leave China

Image of a small American flag. In the background is the ocean.

So, I had to leave China.

I’m back in the United States, and for good now.

This is much earlier than I’d originally planned–the plan had been to stay for a year then reevaluate whether I wanted to stay on for another year–, but I had to come back for health reasons that just couldn’t wait any longer.

Simply put, I became very, very ill over in China, and due to my rapidly degrading condition, my doctors all recommended that I come back to the States for treatment ASAP. It was a slow decline that gradually snowballed out of control. First it was difficult for me to eat certain foods, then I would need to rest more than other people or take the odd painkiller here and there, until suddenly I couldn’t eat at all, I couldn’t walk around for more than five minutes at a time, and was in such pain I couldn’t sleep for stretches of days. The only way I was able to endure teaching during those last few days was by using my breaks to cry in a secluded corner and/or discreetly find a place to vomit.

I resisted and persisted until my body quite literally couldn’t function any more. My work wanted me to tough it out, and I felt intense loyalty to my students and coworkers. My doctors however informed me that, if I didn’t leave now, things could get worse, to where my life may be in real jeopardy. At the time they even felt one of my organs might need to come out, (which it still might; they’re keeping an eye on it if/until things worsen again), which, frankly, scared me straight. On top of my pre-existing health issues, there was a very real possibility that I was putting myself in harm’s way.

So, I caved. I gave in. I kissed my dreams of travel and completing my contract and collecting that sweet, sweet end-of-contract bonus goodbye, and left China. And I’m glad I did.

Yes, I only lived in China for about 6 months, half of what I originally intended. But I’m alive, and I’m recovering, and I’m beginning to find normalcy in my life once again.

Some people have asked me if I’ll return to finish my contract in China, but I won’t be. I simply can’t go back for so long again without putting my health at serious risk. The combination of environmental factors have too great an effect on my health, and to do so would be risky at best. That, plus I was largely treated like absolute garbage by at least 80% of the people I encountered there, from stalking to slurs  (“foreign devil” was my favorite) to people literally trying to steal pieces of my hair and/or grope me.

So I think it’s easy to understand why I’m not abundantly eager to return anytime soon.

I’m still upset that I was unable to leave on my own terms and my own timetable. But, all considered, I’m lucky I had a safety net I could fall into, and lucky I left in time. This entire ordeal has made me reconsider my goals in life, but right now my top priority is getting better. And I’ve been recovering slowly but surely.

If you’d like to be notified once I get everything back up and rolling, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


I’ll keep everyone updated, but please be patient with me as I begin getting back into the swing of things. I’m happy to be back at it!
Continue Reading

Christmas While Abroad

Christmas is my hands-down, no-contest, favorite time of the year. This also means it’s a sentimental season for me, as it is for many people around the globe. But, being in China for it has definitely thrown my holiday spirits for a loop.

Did I at least get peppermint treats, you may ask? Christmas movies? Time with loved ones? Curling up with hot cocoa to partake in holiday traditions? Nope. Sadly, it was a regular day, wherein I tried not to focus on what I was missing back home.

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba

But that’s how you make it through these periods. I knew what I signed up for when I came here–and I gained more perspective through it, too. What must it be like for Chinese people living in Kansas during the Lunar New Year? What must it be like for Indian people in Texas during Diwali?

Before I could only imagine their pain. Now, I’ve experienced it myself.

Regardless, I will move forward. I’m blessed to be living abroad, even if it is sometime difficult, and still am excited to experience all the wonderful things it has to offer.

Watch the full video above to hear more of my thoughts on the topic. What’s the most difficult holiday experience you’ve ever had? What made it so, and what did you learn from it? Comment below!

Continue Reading

Moving to China! | TRAVEL VIDEO

So, I’ve officially jumped. I’ve taken the plunge head-first into moving abroad, officially moving to China for a one-year contract as a teacher. I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to my family and pets, then got on the plane to China. And, honestly?

I was confident and excited–up until the moment I zipped my bags closed. Then, I was scared shitless.

“Who Does This?!”

Every way this scenario could go wrong played out in my head. Every fear I had about China plagued my dreams, both when my mind wandered and in my sleep. Who does this? I’d wonder, and it was a fair point. Who leaves everything and everyone they’ve ever known to go live overseas, in a place where they don’t fluently speak the language, they don’t know a single person, and they don’t know what’s waiting for them?

But, apparently, I do. After a lot of mental wrestling matches and talking myself out of buying a ticket home, I decided to stop. Self-doubt certainly wouldn’t make this any easier.

What Moving Abroad Has Taught Me

Moving abroad was a risk, but, these many months later, it’s one I’m glad I took. China hasn’t been perfect. No place is. But, it has thoroughly changed me for the better. It has taught me what I’m capable of withstanding and doing (like enduring the Christmas season utterly alone), as well as exposed me to new experiences and tested my spirit. Ultimately, I could make an entire separate post about all of this. (Keep your eyes open for it!)

For now, I’ll continue to persevere, foster self-confidence, and carry on.

—————————-

What’s one experience you’ve had where you experienced self-doubt, but finally overcame?

Continue Reading

My 2017 In Review

2017 has been a landmark year for me.

We’ve all seen the Best Nine posts on social media by now, those highlight reels for one’s digital world– but what about for our real lives? The things we’ve accomplished, seen, experienced? That’s what I want to share here, both to keep myself motivated and to share inspiration with others. Tell me in the comments below what you’ve accomplished this year!

First off, for the big achievements!

Graduated University

After countless 8 AMs, essay-writing frenzies, long hours both early and late, I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in International Security, and minors in Chinese Language and Asian Studies. I wasn’t much of a partier nor a sporting-event attendee, and to be honest, I don’t regret the way I spent my time. My college experience was a (sometimes brutally) tough one, but it made finally getting that diploma so much more worth it.

Landed My First Full-Time, Adult-World Job

Before I even walked the stage, I was fortunate enough to already have a job lined up! It helps to have known since age 11 what I wanted my first ‘adult’ job to be, and thus far I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, even the paperwork. (I love paperwork.)

Actual image of me at the office.

**(For the curious people out there, I’m currently an English teacher at a popular education chain throughout China, though I prefer not to disclose its name for privacy reasons.)

Moved to China

I can’t adequately describe what it’s like moving clear across the world. A place where you don’t fluently speak the language, where you know absolutely no one, where the food and the climate are the complete opposite of what you’ve grown up around, and so forth. Scary? Boy, scary doesn’t even begin to cover it.

But. It’s more than just scary.

It’s exciting, it’s validating, it grows your courage and your sense of self. It tests your limits. It brings out both the worst and the best in yourself–then lets you decide which to cultivate. Though I’ve had many a struggle since I’ve been here and essentially no one to lean on, I am thankful to be here, and can’t wait to see who I am at the end of my year abroad.

P.S. I do, however, sincerely miss salsa. And Cool Ranch Doritos.  

Finished the First Draft of my 4th Novel, The Immortal

With my No Angels trilogy wrapped up in 2016, 2017 was high time to begin another tale. I’ve had the idea for The Immortal for many years now, so to have the first draft officially penned is a big milestone. I know it’ll take a while to polish, but I’m enjoying the slower-pace of editing right now, savoring the process, watching the prose develop, and so on. Currently it’s at about 65,000 words, one of my shorter works, but trust me when I say it’s my favorite by far!

 

With the bigger achievements of 2017 out of the way, here are my smaller (though still meaningful) accomplishments:

Made 12 YouTube Videos

I know what you’re thinking. “Okay, and that’s exciting why?” But here’s the thing: I’ve tried for years to gather the courage to post YouTube videos. I’ve probably made over 30 videos that I either never posted or posted-then-deleted, all because I was afraid. Afraid of getting embarrassed, of the quality not being good enough, and of 500 other things. But 2017 was the year I decided to say goodbye to those thoughts, because fear like that brings no value to our lives. You can check out my channel here, if you’re interested.

Improved My Photography and Video-Editing Skills

On some level, I feel like wanting to take beautiful pictures and videos goes hand-in-hand with travel. When’s the last time you saw something beautiful and didn’t want to share it with the world? However, it wasn’t until recently that I purchased a decent camera, and even then I was a complete beginner at how to use it. After enrolling in an online class on the lighting, composition, angles, etc. of photography, I’ve started to see steady improvement. I hope you have too!

Traveled to New Places

Traveling is something I hope to do every year, but that doesn’t mean I should take any of it for granted! I rang in 2017 with the love of my life in Denver, Colorado, and later we endured the heat of Las Vegas for a couple days of buffets, magic shows, and some good ol’ fashioned people-watching. A week and a half before I went to China, we went on one last trip together to our favorite US city, Seattle, Washington.

—————————-

From academics to adventure, 2017 has been a success, and I’m excited to see what 2018 has in store–both for me and for you.

Speaking of which, what did you do in 2017? Sit and really think about the lessons you learned, the people you met, and the things you saw, then comment them below.  ♥

 

 

 

Continue Reading