Writer’s Block Need Not Be A ‘Vice’: A Brief Story About the Struggle to Create

Vice Front Cover 5.5x8.5Vice is finally published! Part two of my YA Sci-Fi series has made its way into the world, three years after the release of the first book, Tick. I did not plan a pre-release. I have not sought many ARC reviews. The birth of Vice was a challenge to say the least, and I wanted to share what I have learned about the process of writing this book, what I hope to gain from the experience, and some advice and wisdom to other struggling authors.

Let’s go back to the beginning. I wrote the first draft of Tick in three and a half weeks, a serious feat for any writer. The story poured out of me from beginning to end. I knew little about where the story was going beyond a handful of major plot points, and I didn’t have an ending. I got up every morning and hammered out 5-8 thousand words a day, seeing maybe only the next one or two chapters in my head. It was during the process of writing Tick that I discovered the ending, that I realized the purpose behind the story, that I was revealing a part of myself that needed to be healed in not only the process of writing Tick, but sharing it. I spent an additional seven months rewriting and editing Tick, but it was an almost magical experience writing experience.

If writing Tick was a light capturing lighting in a bottle, writing Vice was more akin to pulling teeth. The story of Tick is thematically personal: teenage Jo Bristol struggles with her desire to express herself artistically while battling some nasty demons in her mind, a theme that it is more common among artists that one might realize. Tick is the story of my past, and to continue the series, I knew Vice needed to be more present. I surprised myself with the parallels as Jo struggled to feed her creative muse and continue to prove herself as more than a one-hit-wonder all while suppressing the fear she would return to her former, chaotic self. I was, in effect, suffering through the same struggle. It was my fear that Vice would not match the magic of Tick, that maybe I didn’t really have what it takes to be a career novelist, that perhaps all I really had was that one halfway decent story to tell.

Insecurity and fear does all kinds of damage to a creative force. As I struggled to convince myself Vice could be a book to be proud of, I simultaneously struggled to align Jo’s story toward an ending I couldn’t yet see. I couldn’t see it, because I was currently living it.

As a writer, I am definitely a “pantser”—meaning I typically find my stories as I write them. For Vice, I tried to plot it out, as a series requires more forethought and planning for foreshadowing and a streamlined overall story arc. But as I began writing what I plotted for Vice, it never quite felt right. The story felt too forced, too separate from Jo’s true motivation and personality. So I replotted. Tried writing the new story. Still, it didn’t feel right. Scrapped it all again. I have deleted more words from the dozens of drafts than are in the final print of Vice… at 120k words. It wasn’t that I wasn’t writing the book, I was simply writing the wrong book.

I’d written Tick in less than a month, how could the follow-up be so much more difficult to get down onto the page? I knew the themes, I knew where I intended to land the story at the end, so why was the beginning so damn difficult? Turns out, I had a different kind of writer’s block not often talked about, but caused by that all too familiar emotion: fear. Most people talk about “writer’s block” as the frustrating phase where words don’t make it onto the page. There’s a lot of staring out windows, Twitter rummaging, perhaps the house ends up cleaner than it has in months. These phases happen to all writers (hell, I’m in the middle of one right now!), but that wasn’t the kind of writer’s block I suffered with Vice. I was writing. And deleting. And writing some more. And scrapping the whole manuscript to start over. Because the words were coming from my head, not my heart.

The saying goes that if you aren’t crying while writing the scene, no one will cry while reading the scene. The same can be said for any emotion: excitement, frustration, worry… While writing all those drafts of Vice from my plot notes, I wasn’t “in the story.” I could visualize what was happening, but there was no true feeling. It took me awhile to realize I hadn’t let myself back in Jo Bristol’s soul after completing Tick. It was as though the next phase of her journey was stalled because I hadn’t allowed myself to reconnect with her as a character. What did Jo really want? What were her motivations? Sure, I could plot myself from Point A to Point B in my story arc, but why? What exactly was I even trying to say in Vice?

After Tick was released, a lot of people asked when the next installment would be released (yay me for writing in a cliffhanger! Eesh). I told them a year. That seemed perfectly reasonable. Initially, that was my goal. But the deadline passed, life shifted and left less time to focus on the story. Then another year passed. And another. By the start of 2018 I almost surrendered to the notion that the book would never be where I wanted it to be and I should just release it as is. But i couldn’t do that. Tick was a magical writing experience for me, and people connected with my characters and the story, and I couldn’t let them down with a crappy follow-up. I couldn’t seem like a one-hit-wonder, like I wasn’t up to the task of completing a full series.

As the fear and insecurities built up, and the hole got deeper and deeper, I found myself writing other things, especially screenplays. There was that spark of madness again, the thrill of new stories that poured out of me uncensored, eager to be put on the page. Yet, day after day, I was reminded that I had a book to finish. I had a choice: either I could wait for the story of Vice to come to me, or I could buckle myself into my desk chair and figure out what the hell was untruthful about the story in the first place.

I will admit, I’m not as educated in writing as a lot of writers, but I learned early on that I had a knack for wordplay and the rare ability to evoke emotion with a well-crafted phrase. Writing and storytelling has always come easy to me, whether it be in the form of a screenplay, an op-ed for my high school newspaper or a blog post, or even a song (I do honestly believe that studying good lyricists can help build the ability to turn a phrase). I’ve known some people who spent all kinds of money to achieve their MFA from [insert well-known university here], and then expect that because they have the tools to write an amazing novel, it should be that simple to crank one out. But storytelling is so much more involved that that. Sure, you can have a theme in mind. Maybe a good hook. A character. A setting. Yet the process of combining all of those elements into a story that people will actually give a crap about requires something else entirely. It requires that the writer actually have something to say.

That was where I struggled with writing Vice. I didn’t know what I was trying to say. I already had the bones of the story (character, setting, locations, etc), but what was the point of it all? I had put my main character through the ringer and helped her find her way out, so why was this story still going? And, more importantly, why should my readers care to continue on this journey with Josephine Bristol?

While struggling to tell an honest story in Vice, it finally occurred to me that if Jo Bristol’s journey was still evolving, then so was mine. At the end of Tick, Jo paints a mural that is meant to symbolize her growth as a person and her internal discovery that she uses to fight the darkness that lives within her to feed her muse, and therefore bring light to the world around her. It is exactly how I feel about the story of Tick. I poured myself into that book in a way I had never done before, and those who read it found it inspiring and enlightening. Having Tick out in the world is something that continues to bring me joy and pride.

And yet… I needed to prove that I could do it again. I was unsure if I could recreate that kind truth in a story. And I realized… that was Jo’s fear as well. She had painted this mural, claimed she was healed and wiser than before for having gone through everything, and yet when people came asking for more she was unsure if she could deliver twice. Was she healed? Could she still create meaningful art if her life is roses and rainbows? What would that do to her identity as a person? And how much longer before she cracks and reverts back to her former self? Does the magic happen somewhere between those two extremes?

Finally, I had my ah-ha moment. That was the story Jo wanted me to tell. Not just the journey, but the questions. Problem was, I was right in the middle of asking myself those very questions. I didn’t have an answer for her. So instead of rolling full-steam ahead into my story, Jo Bristol and I danced in a do-si-do, caught in our never ending catch-22. It took three years to realize that no matter what, I would be in this predicament every time I would sit down to write another book, so I might as well buck up and just get ‘er done.

The funny/frustrating/enlightening truth about being a writer is that it is unfairly difficult. Putting into words a realistic story with characters and plot and setting with some words strung one after another seems impossible until it happens. We’ve all read books by authors who were clearly phoning it in, or were trying to mimic some other famous author, or they were simply trying to prove they learned how to write decent syntax in their MFA program. Some of the simplest stories are the ones that stay with us because they were created with the intent to evoke emotion. How many children’s books can you list that still warm your heart? What’s the one novel you turn to when you’re in the mood for a good cry? What about that suspense-fueled thriller that you pull out to quell boredom? The best storytellers have a story to tell, one they need to tell.

In the process of writing The Tick Series, I have learned that I have a responsibility as a storyteller not just to keep the fans happy, or to make money (although that’s always a goal, let’s be real). It’s not my intent as a storyteller to prove how “talented” I am, or how prolific I can be when I really put my mind to it. It is my responsibility to those who read my work to take them on a journey that is honest, introspective, and thought-provoking. Readers are smart. They know when the wool is being pulled over their eyes. Yes, the business of writing and selling books has the goal of entertainment on one end and financial gain and notoriety on the other, but if that is the sole motivation of the author, then what’s the point? I have things to say. I have a lot to say. It might not always bleed onto the page as easily as I would like, but I’m bleeding nonetheless. Vice pulled from me a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and three years in the making, I can finally call it complete. But the journey isn’t over. I still have another book to write because Jo’s journey isn’t over either. I have a feeling the process of writing Mark—part three—will be even more painful. I’m just happy to have so many people on my side as cheerleaders, encouraging me on. These people cheer because they read Tick and it meant something to them, which is why the fear of not getting it right the second and third time around is so strong. But if Josephine Bristol can pull through and do it, so can I.

Thanks for reading! And I hope you get a chance to check out Vice, available now in paperback and ebook on Amazon!

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Guest Post Update: Why It’s Time to Redefine the “Strong Female Character”

everybody loves crazy (image courtesy of Netflix)

everybody loves crazy (image courtesy of Netflix)

Emily over at Awesome Indies has granted me the fabulous opportunity to write a guest post for her blog. Originally intended as an exploration of Strong Female Characters in literature, the post took on a life of it’s own after I spent most of my birthday weekend binge-watching Orange is the New Black. Clearly, it was a great use of my time. It did, at least, provide some much-needed inspiration for the blog post. I have posted an excerpt below, but please read the rest at Awesome Indies:

The issue is not that we lack strong female characters—there are quite a lot of them cropping up in spandex jumpers and heeled boots—but that we lackstrong characters that are female. We are made to assume that the term is synonymous with “strong women”, meaning that at the end of the day these females are decidedly the heroes of their stories who fight against all odds (i.e., the patriarchy) and emerge with battle scars and a sense that they have got it all figured out. Simply putting a gun in a girl’s hand (or an arrow, or a tattoo gun) does not make her a strong character; it makes her a character with a prop.

What about those other women, the ones who are not fighting wars or preserving their innocence for the sake of personal sacrifice during the climactic moment of the plotline? A woman’s strength is not defined by her physical dominance or thirst for revenge. She does not need to be superior to the other female characters; she does not need to be equal to her male counterparts. She does not need to be a superhero or a badass warrior or a feminist advocate. More than anything, the female character must be human, a complex individual whose agency moves the plot forward separate from any other character in her story (man or woman), equally capable of failing and succeeding, equally capable of dishing love and pain, a woman who can both fight for herself (literally and metaphorically), but will also forfeit in a sob storm when she doesn’t feel strong enough … and sometimes in the same scene. That is what makes her a strong character. READ MORE

5 Things I Learned From My First Book Signing

just sitting here selling myself... err, my books

just sitting here selling myself … err, my books

Yesterday, I had the privilege of partaking in a Local Author Signing Day in South Pasadena. My fellow authors included Koji Steven Sakai and Dennis Sanchez (who is my dad, and also my writing inspiration). For my very first event, it went swimmingly. I sold a fair amount of books, got to hang out with some great people, and also received some valuable publishing advice.

But of course, there is always more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Every moment is a learning experience, is it not? Here are five things I learned from my first book signing, and I hope you can take something out of it too.

5. Selling yourself is as hard as it sounds

I had this plan to ride my bike to the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market and pass out fliers for the signing. I thought it would be easy, considering the city is populated by educated and eclectic residents, so of course they would want to support local authors. I thought it even might be fun because I would get to talk to people about my book. But when I pulled those fliers out of my bag … I froze. I am a social person for the most part, but not amongst hundreds of people I don’t know. My initial spiel included my introduction, who I was representing, and a run-down of the event. Most people sat politely while I interrupted their afternoon for that whopping 30 second lecture, but after the fifth group, I nearly gave up right there. Not only did I feel like an ass for jumping in the middle of their conversations, but I felt that I was wasting my time. After anxiously texting my husband that I was failing miserably, he suggested I shorten my spiel to “Support local authors!” and basically shove the fliers in unsuspecting hands. That was even less do-able. I am not one to take immediate rejection easily, and less people are willing to take anything from a peddler shoving things in their faces. Needless to say, I went home early.

As it turns out, I’m not as good at this self-promotion thing as I thought. I still have people telling me “I didn’t know you wrote a book!” because I’m just not that good at talking about myself. I am a writer and an artist, but I’m now also a salesman. It is a frightful combination. I’m still trying to figure that part out. Continue reading

Who Thought Writing Would Be The Easy Part?

They do exist!

They do exist!

My debut novel has been a year in the making, which I suppose isn’t too bad considering some writers have spent a decade writing one novel. If someone had warned me of the hours I’d spend preparing my book for self-publication that did not include writing, I’d have …

Who am I kidding, I’d do exactly what I’ve done, a hundred times over. I’ll be honest, I’ve always been a fan of tactile things (vinyl, Polaroid photos, and, of course, books), and there is something especially satisfying about holding a real, solid representation of the book you’ve spent so much time and effort writing. And on top of that, there’s even more to admire if that very book was designed and organized by you. That font, that position of design element, that color scheme … It all becomes more amazing when you are part of the process from start to finish. Continue reading

Reaching the Light at the End of the Tunnel

My book is finally here. Like, dTick - Allison Roseone. After so much time, and effort, and blood, and sweat, and tears, and long days and sleepless nights … it’s finally here. A journey to say the least. I’ll post my post-event thoughts when I’ve had the chance to actually think about my thoughts.

Until then, for those who have been waiting for it, here it is.

It’s Not Writer’s Block, It’s Fear

Fear is a four-letter word. I like four-letter words.

F*** is a four-letter word.

Writing a sequel is harder than it sounds. Or maybe it sounds as hard as it is. Yes, I know, “Silly newb, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. It was always this hard, you just drank the Kool-Aid too early.” But still. I know where the second book in my series is going. (Well, technically, there have been about three versions of where I thought the second book was going.) I’ve written two books now. The settings are already created. The characters already living entities. The conflicts are present and waiting. This book shouldn’t be this hard. And yet, it is.

Many people don’t believe in writer’s block. They know it for what it is: Fear. Fear of producing a lesser product. Fear of missing the magic of the first piece of work. Fear of going in the exact opposite direction from where everyone else was hoping you’d go. And then, *poof*. Curtain pulled back, magician exposed, the writer is seen for what she is: a one-hit wonder. This isn’t a mythical creation, this is some bimbo fumbling around in the dark trying to put one word after another to form a story that some people somewhere might actually want to read.

Continue reading

Not Quite An Update, More Like a Chronicle of Recent History

Ready, set, publish!

Ready, set, publish!

It has been, like, centuries since I’ve written a blog post. I’d thought about it. Many times. I even went so far as to come up with a witty title for a new post. And yet, I didn’t get far enough to reach the website.

It’s an odd sensation to be at a loss for words. As a teenager, putting all my thoughts into words was about all I concerned my day with. That incessant need to express myself with blog posts (back in their heyday, before everyone had a blog), or in my Notebook of Doomed Things. For a time, all I wanted to do was express my innermost thoughts and tribulations, regardless if anyone else would ever read them.

And then I became an adult. And I still wanted to express myself. So I became a writer.

Fast-forward to last year, and I can say without a pause in my breath that 2014 was one for the books (ba-dum ching). I spent most of my “free” time on my book, whether it be writing, or editing, or designing the cover, or thinking about writing or editing or design. All of my brain space has been consumed by my manuscript, for better or for worse (although, I’ve sadly neglected a few friends; thankfully Husband is in charge of the cats, because … um …). Needless to say, despite how my original intent was to document my Adventures in Book Making, I have failed that resolutionmiserably. Also, my resolution to get back to the gym — but, one thing at a time.

Biggest update? Well, I can say THE THING IS DONE! Now, what’s next?

Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

If my parents thought this was my life in a public high school, I'd have been home schooled.

If my parents thought this was my life in a public high school, I’d have been home schooled.

Remember when you first heard that song on the radio? I do. Very specifically. I was in my best friend’s bedroom, somewhere in the early hours of a summer sleep-over. Previously that night, there had been nail-polish, a pillowcase contest, and reruns of Step By Step.

Sex? On the radio? They’re talking about sex? No freaking way.

Oh, and I was nine years old.

What did I know about sex at nine? Well, not a whole lot, and that song and all it’s talking about it did nothing to provide me a glimpse as to what it was. I knew it existed. I knew adults loved it. I knew my schoolmates made jokes about it. Imagine the amount of information ABOUT SEX I learned in the following eight years until my high school graduation. No, that’s not a hint as to when I really learned about sex, that’s just about the point when the reality of sex really hit home. I mean, high school.

Who reads Young Adult fiction? High schoolers! *shudders* (Chuck Wendig wrote a fabulous article about how teenage characters should suffer teenage problems in novels.) I’m writing a Young Adult Fiction series. There will possibly be a point after my novel is published that those young adult readers will find my blog and read through these posts (and then find one with the word ‘sex’ in it and go all bat-shit because ohmygodshesaidsex shealsosaidbatshit adultsgonewild). And you know what? I want these young adults to read this post for some insight as to why I’m choosing to write sex into my novel.

Yes. You read that right. I am writing sex in a Young Adult novel.

Hang on, I’ll get the hand fans.

Continue reading

Stuck in the Middle Again

Spontaneous combustion is a real thing, folks. I saw it in a movie once.

Spontaneous combustion is a real thing. I saw it in a movie once.

There’s this weird thing going on with my manuscript. She’s defying my authority. (Is it weird to refer to my manuscript as a female? It’s totally not weird, just go with it). My MS has gone through this sneaky-like-a-rebellious-teenager defiance stage ever since I decided to expand the story into a trilogy. And by defy, I mean, create diversions and a false sense of cohesion and story truth and basically run off with the mistress and all of our money and assets. 

I take no responsibility for the actions of my manuscript. Okay, maybe I must take some responsibility because it was under my supervision during the time of the crime, and had I been paying attention maybe it wouldn’t have thought that sucking all of reality into the stargate portal, packing it onto the TARDIS and sending it through a wormhole to the end of the universe was the BEST IDEA EVER. (Hey, that’s actually a pretty cool story idea). Nevertheless, my MS decided one day it was going to up and leave the building like a queen at a drag show, finger-snap and all, and make itself comfortable in some alternate universe where everything is backwards, inside out and upside down. And I’ve been trying to wrestle it back ever since. Continue reading