Tag Archives: the journey

Monday Inspiration!

Happy Monday! I want to spread some inspiration because Monday. 😩 .

I’m so grateful to have found this community not just for the fact we’re all readers, but also for how creative everyone is! From candles, bookmarks, to temporary bookish tattoos–I love how people express their enthusiasm for the books we enjoy.


If you don’t know this about me, I’m a notebook addict! Creamy, thick paper that stands up to fountain pens? Gorgeous graph lines? A5 size? You are speaking my language! And if the cover has some type of bookish and/or writing design on the cover? Dead. I can not even handle it!


Do you guys know Hafsah? @hafsahfaizal She’s got a gorgeous feed and is the owner of Icey Designs. She’s got some gorgeous bookish candles and also notebooks! I had my eye on this particular notebook because as a writer, the quote speaks to me! My very dear friend and #booktwin Amy @ladyofthelibrary got it for me as a gift and I nearly cried because it was a surprise and it arrived at one of those times I was frustrated with writing my book!


Where am I going with this? If you don’t follow Hafsah on Twitter, you should remedy that situation immediately! She announced after years of writing her Arabian Fantasy book, she found an agent! I’m so thrilled for her and excited for her book! If you visit her Twitter, you can see her book aesthetics and friends, it’s amazing! Also, check out her “The Obligatory ‘How I Got my Agent Post’ ” at her blog, iceybooks.com. It’s so inspiring and gives me hope.


Hafsah, I’m so excited for you and I can’t wait to add your book to my shelves! Congratulations! 🎉🎉🎉



Writing and Walking. 

Out for my morning walk. Lots of inspiration and ideas have come to me while walking and listening to Writing Excuses podcasts. Brought my research and school notebooks with me to write down my thoughts. Something about writing while surrounded by nature really inspires creativity. #amwriting #writer #writersgonnawrite #walk #creativity #inspiration #TWSO #mynovel  

World Building Part 2: Story Research

This post is part of a series. The first post World Building Part 1: Market Research is here. When typing up the first entry, I realized I had to break up the post into parts because the process has been quite lengthy.

My critique partners pointed out that my setting wasn’t clear and I realized it wasn’t clear to me either. I took their feedback to heart and looked for examples of how other authors handled non-European fantasy settings. (The novels I read as part of my research are mentioned in Part 1.) After reading a few novels, I started researching cultures and ancient history of Asian countries. I’ve learned so much which was exciting and provided me with lots of inspiration, but the problem was that I had lots of inspiration!

My goal for my research was to find the social hierarchy, religious/spiritual beliefs, customs, and ethinic origins for Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines. At this point I didn’t know which one I’d select or if I’d use parts from each to incorporate into my story.

To organize all the readings I found, I used the Binder feature in Scrivener to collect all my links. I really love this feature. Instead of bookmarking and creating a mess in my browser’s bookmarks, I saved them into folders in a Scrivener project for my book. I love that I can review the links in Scrivener while writing and I can also take notes in the Corkboard feature which is the index card format for looking at entries. If I had done this process the old way, it would’ve ended with stacks and stacks of print outs and index cards. Instead, it’s all kept in one place and it stays organized.

The picture below is my board of world building details. I used a tri-fold presentation board (28 in x 40 in). I also used color coded Post-its and washi tapes to separate the classes.

On the left fold flap, are details about my research. The yellow Post-its were the notes about the social heirarchy in Japan and the Philippines. The grey Post-its are historical facts during ancient history in Korea, China, and Japan. On the right fold flap, there are more grey Post-its about folktales/ folklore and beliefs from the Phlippines.

In the center of the presentation board are the hierarchy groups in ancient Filipino society, tiered from royalty/noble class to the lowest class/slaves. The yellow Post-its are the characters in each class. The green Post-its list who or what the people’s spiritual beliefs would be. The small blue Post-its are notes and examples of the people in each class. The small orange Post-its are how my main character relates to another character in each class. (This will be a point of character development that will come up in my story later.)

Making sense of my research for world building.

Making sense of my research for world building.

I’m a visual person and laying it out on this presentation board helped me to blend the details from my research into my story and also see how my main character fit into it all. Before I started, my setting was unclear. Now, I know my setting will be inspired by ancient Filipino culture and spritual beliefs. Some aspects of ancient Japanese and Korean culture will also be added too.

My husband snapped this picture for posterity.

My husband snapped this picture for posterity.

Once I had my notes up for my world building details, I realized that I also needed a map. One of my critique partners commented that there wasn’t any context to the action occuring in the first scene. It was an action sequence in a barn, but my partner didn’t get any sense of where the barn was or where the characters were.

I’m not good at drawing. Passable, if I really had to try. Then I found How to Draw a World Map. I loved this so much because I don’t have any experience in drawing maps, but this tutorial was easy to follow and had good explanations of basic geography and how nature is used as protection from other hostile groups.

I printed the tutorial for ease of use and less distractions.

I printed the tutorial for ease of use.

My attempt at a world map for my story.

My attempt at a world map for my story.

It’s a really rough sketch, but I’m pretty pleased with how it came out and when I go back and rewrite the beginning, my story will have more description about the setting. It’ll also be easier to describe my main character’s movements through the story because I’ll be able to visualize where she’s going.

Once I finished sketching my map, I decided to add cities. In the tutorial, the OP pointed out that cities were founded near a body of water and mountains provided a natural form of fortification against enemies. With this advice in mind, I was careful about where to place my cities. The story begins at the farm where my main character has hid for most of her life. I made sure I placed the farm in an area near a body of water and not too close to mountains or the coast.

On Post-it flags, I used the labels capital, major, minor, and port city. I also worte what type of trade each city was known for. Another layer added to my world!

I used Post-it flags to mark where cities might go on my map.

I used Post-it flags to mark where cities might go on my map.

The next step for me was to get more visual inspiration for my world. I had a good idea for its social hierarchy, beliefs system/customs, and geography. I went back to my critique partners’ comment about context. I had a vague idea of what the land looked like. The map help provided a physical representation of its context, but I wanted details. I had the forest, but I needed the trees!

I did image searches on Google and Pinterest. Both worked really well, but had different results. Google cast a really wide net of results. In most cases, it was nice to see the various images. But there was so much! There wasn’t as many results on Pinterest, but the quality was much better. I would not say one was better than the other, but it certainly is a matter of quality vs. quantity.

I used Pinterest for a lot of different things, but this was the first time I used it for my writing. In general, it’s such a fantastic tool for gathering ideas and visual inspiration, but for writing it’s a tremendous help in visualizing your setting and characters. It’s also neat to see how other writers use it for their stories as well. I created several boards listed as My Story each with a theme: culture, setting, characters, and weapons and fighting. I could also load these images into Scrivener too. I haven’t yet, but I think I might end up printing hard copies of key images instead to put up in my home office to help me remember details about my characters and setting. I might do a story collage like I used to have my students do. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. If I do it, I’ll share it. The biggest hinderance is that I don’t have a lot of room and I have lots of small children running under foot who don’t always look with just their eyes.

Researching visual inspiration for my characters and setting took a little over a week. It was a lot of fun looking at images for my story. It felt like the characters and setting were finally coming alive. I also can’t wait to write about them. When I felt that I had a good representation of my story’s setting and characters, I printed my Pinterest board for the setting. The page came out as thumbnails of all the images I collected. They were the perfect size for my next step.

I cut out some of the thumbnails of places that I felt were the major places of my setting and stuck them on my map. I used washi tape so that I could move the pictures if I needed to and also eventually label what the place was.

Pinterest board for Culture printed out and ready to cut out.

Pinterest board for Setting printed out and ready to cut out.

Cutting and washi taping the settings on my map. I used the washi tape as a label for the names of places.

Cutting and washi taping the settings on my map. I used the washi tape as a label for the names of places.

Another layer of my world added! It’s so exciting to see my story coming together. I also decided to print out bigger images of the key places that I need for the beginning of my story, so I could look at them. My map actually has a second sheet taped to the right side, so it extends out. I’ll put the enlarged images there. I also found some really neat layout images of rice farms that will work as inspiration for my main character’s home. In the picture below, I haven’t cut out the enlarged images yet.

The Pinterest board images were thumbnails--perfect size for my map. I also printed out larger sizes to put next to the map to see more detail.

The Pinterest board images were thumbnails–perfect size for my map. I also printed out larger sizes to put next to the map to see more detail.

Such an exciting development. I’m really pleased with my results and I also feel like I’m on the right path.

My next step after this will be to go back to my first outline and revise it to include details about the setting. Having all this research and visual inspiration will make going back and revising easier. I’m also going to have to revise my world’s history. Since my inspiration is primarily taken from ancient Filipino history, I will have to decide how parts of that history will work into my world’s history. I also will need to look at specific details. I still have to come up with a name for my world and the race(s) of the people!

World Building Part 1: Market Research

I have been quiet about my progress with my novel because I had to switch gears. My last update about writing was Plot Structure: The Writer’s Journey and Using a Plot Board. It was such a fantastic development with my novel. I’m a visual learner, so it helped tremendously to see my plot points organized and how they fit in the three-Act, eight sequence structure. The natural progression from there was to start writing. I reached 3,000 words and I finally had something to share in Novel Boot Camp for the critique session! It was a thrilling, nerve-wracking experience. I knew my story was intriguing and different which is what my critique partners noted. I felt validated that I have a story that others would be interested in reading.

The other part of the critique was how unclear the setting was. It was unclear to me and it was coming through in my writing too.

So, with this feedback, I decided to really dig in to my setting. This is what I know about my story and character so far:

• My main character is female and half Asian.

• There is a class system.

• My main character is also a warrior.

• The magical aspect of the story is rooted in nature.

• It’s a YA Fantasy.

• I didn’t want the typical Medieval European inspired fantasy setting.

There are other details about my story and character that I already know, but since this post is about world building, these are the details that I will be addressing in this post. (Can’t give the whole story away yet!)

World building is a daunting task especially if you’ve never done it before. My previous writing experience was in Contemporary Romance/New Adult Romance. Fantasy is a genre that I’ve recently started reading (by recently, I mean within the last three years). I also am aware that reading and writing fantasy are two different skills. I realized that I needed to do a little market research on successful YA Fantasy stories specifically stories with Asian settings or non-traditional Medieval European settings.

There were several titles that caught my attention because the settings were unusual (to me).

• Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: Here’s my review at WordPress and at Goodreads. What I liked about the world building in this book was how the author uses Russian culture as an inspiration for her setting and blends it together with her story.

• The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow. Volume 1 by Fuymi Ono: Here’s the book decription on Goodreads. I found this book on a list of Fantasy stories with an Asian setting. (Yes, there was a list like that on Goodreads!) I thought it was a manga, but was pleased to discover it’s prose. It reminds of my Inuyasha anime/manga phase. I loved how the author sent her character from modern Japan to a fantasy world–very much like Alice following the rabbit down the hole and ending up in Wonderland. This story is very reminiscent of that except the main character Yuko fights demons.

• Stormdancer: The Lotus War Book One by Jay Kristoff: Here’s the book description on Goodreads. I actually heard about this book on the podcast Writing Excuses episode 10:18: Build an Entire World? Are You Crazy? Japanese steampunk? Say no more! Actually, I’m also enjoying how the author treated the class system in his story. There are four clans and one guild. Each clan is represented by a spiritual animal. The main clan in this story is the Kitsune (fox) clan. The female main character Yukiko is from the Kitsune clan. The author has an incredible vision of an industrialized Japan where the environment is also failing which he captures so well through the perspective of Yukiko.

• The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: Description on Goodreads. I felt like my journey for creating my novel was putting me on a path to encounter N.K. Jemisin and her novels. Her name kept coming up in my research for days and I kept putting her books aside because they weren’t YA and as you can see from above, I already had quite a few titles to read (still reading). But then Rick Riordan did a review on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and he mentioned an interview the author did for The Guardian. It was a light bulb/Las Vegas bulb moment. I wasn’t alone in my vision and she articulated exactly how I was feeling:

“I don’t really understand why so many fantasy writers choose to focus on worlds that just seem strangely denuded. But to them I guess it doesn’t seem strange. And I guess that’s their privilege. It isn’t mine.”

I love the Fantasy genre. I enjoy being taken away to new worlds and encountering unique characters. After reading N.K. Jemisin’s interview, it really made me think about the kind of Fantasy stories I’m drawn too. The few titles I mentioned in this post are just a few, but some authors that stick out in my mind in YA Fantasy are Cinda Williams Chima, Rae Carson, Kristin Cashore, and Marissa Meyer. All of them have strong female heroines in their stories in settings that challenge the traditional fantasy setting of Medieval Europe. My first exposure to Adult Fantasy was Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. I still get flaily and teary eyed when I think about those stories. Mistborn was the perfect beginning for me to get into Fantasy because in an otherwise hero white-male dominated genre, it gave me a point of reference that not all Fantasy books were like that and to give the genre a chance.

Then I started reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Yeine Darr is a mixed race young woman of low social standing who has been named as one of the heirs to the kingdom. Her mother was of royal lineage, but abdicated her position because she loved her father. YES PLEASE. I swear this book is like the kindred spirt/soul mate of the story I want to write.

With examples of Fantasy books as part of my research for world building, I began the task of organizing the details for my story’s setting. This took a lot of time for me to figure out because I had never taken on such an endeavor before. It was frustrating, exhausting, and most of all incredible! When I thought I had hit a dead end or my vision for the story seemed ridiculous, I’d discover a detail that would reassure and even validate my intuition for my story’s setting. It’s such an amazing feeling to have that validation and realize you’re on the right path.

My next post will be on organizing my world building research. Have I mentioned how much I love learning? There will be a presentation board, sticky notes, and washi tape involved.

A sneak peek at my next post’s topic. I know you’re all anxious to see my attempts at world building and creating a map. Don’t worry, guys, my drawing skills are awful, so you will not enjoy my attempt at drawing a map.

Getting ready to draw a map

Here’s the next post World Building Part 2: Story Research.

Novel Boot Camp: Lecture 1 How to Be Creative

So, what does an aspiring writer do while waiting for the writing program to start in the fall?

I go to Novel Boot Camp!

Novel Boot Camp is a free summer workshop run by Ellen Brock. Last year was the first workshop and I’m excited to participate again this year. Novel Bootcamp includes lectures on various aspects of writing and also publishing. There’s also a workshop aspect where writers can share their work and receive feedback.

The first lecture is How to Be Creative.

I wasn’t sure what I would get out of this lecture because I felt I had no problems being creative. (Insert laugh here.) Then after finishing the lecture, I realized two things: I don’t know anything and I need to listen.

This part resonated with me:

You don’t need inspiration to be creative.

How you feel when on a creative high.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that the electric burst of excited inspiration we’ve all grown to love is often detrimental to the creative process. Instead of getting to work, we wait around for that “creative high” we love so much.

This myth of creative inspiration, of getting it right the first time, of putting pen to paper and developing a masterpiece without utilizing a plan, making a mistake, or hitting a roadblock is not just mythical, it’s damaging. It sends one of two messages to aspiring writers:

  1. I can’t do this because I don’t have creative inspiration.
  2. I can do this because I have creative inspiration.

Neither of these messages are true. Both messages limit writers by encouraging the belief that when you just get your magical amazing burst of inspiration, all the pieces will fall into place.

Well, they won’t.

For the rest of the lecture, go here.

I love writing, but I have a process. I’m creative, but I’m also grounded in rules and technique. I love exploring “what if” situations, but I have to map out where I’m going. Ellen’s lecture taught me that creativity can be cultivated into a skill. Her lecture also helped me accept that I’m not a pantser, but a plotter–and that’s okay! I’ve also learned that inspiration isn’t necessary to creativity.

Last summer, I had an idea for a novel, but when I tried plotting it out, it wasn’t right for me at the time. I had writer’s block for several months and I started doubting myself because I couldn’t find inspiration. When I started my copyediting certification program, I was hit with an idea and the character was so strong and vocal that I was dying to get her down on paper. Of course, I couldn’t because I had to focus on school, or at least that’s what I told myself at the time. Inspiration seems to strike me whenever it seems impossible for me to set aside time to do something with it.

Now that I’ve decided to be a writer, I have to build in time to be creative. It’s an ongoing process–allowing my creativity to flow. It sounds a little hokey, but it’s very fitting for where I am in my journey. For so long I’ve always downplayed my interest in writing as just a hobby. Now that I’ve acknowledged that I am a writer, I’m learning how to bring that part of me out more by giving it more time to create.

Ellen’s lecture really helped to validate that even if I don’t have inspiration, if I’m writing–writing anything–it’s still creating.

This journey.

I started this journey a year ago. My daugther was a few weeks old and while she napped, I researched how to become a published author. I already knew that it would not be an easy journey, but finding answers and coming up with a plan helped to ease my anxiety. In the last year, I finished a copyediting certificate and also completed some training in developmental editing. This month I will be participating in Novel Boot Camp hosted by Ellen Brock. In the fall, I will be starting a writing certification program at The Writer’s Studio Online through the Simon Fraser University continuing education school.

My copyediting certificate from UCSD.

My copyediting certificate from UCSD.

My acceptance to The Writer's Studio Online from Simon Fraser University.

My acceptance to The Writer’s Studio Online from Simon Fraser University.

My writing tools

My writing tools

It has been a year of learning and discovery. I’ve gained so much insight behind the scenes of publishing and I’m eager to learn more about the craft as well.