The Importance of Writing for Yourself

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I don’t think I realized until recently how important it is to write for yourself. Let’s face it—writing and publishing can feel like work. You close your day job laptop and open your personal laptop to reply to an editor’s email and post to your author social media accounts. Then there’s writing a new manuscript or editing an existing draft. It’s all part of a dream coming true, but it’s still work.

What doesn’t feel so much like work? Giving yourself a place to play. To be cheesy, even cringey. To ramble to an extent that would bore anyone but yourself. The kind of writing for yourself that I’m talking about here is like singing in the shower. No one’s listening, and that is a beautiful thing.

When I write with the intention to publish, I want to write a story that I’d like to read, but publishing means keeping my audience in mind. And when I write for an external audience, voices of doubt can so easily creep in. “What if a publisher doesn’t want this? What if people don’t like it? What if this is just a waste of time?”

Writing for myself takes off the pressure of approval from others. When I write for myself, I don’t need to concern myself with submission guidelines, market trends, or reader reviews. The plot doesn’t even have to make sense.

Maybe some just-for-fun projects will be polished and see publication, but publication need not be their highest goal. To everyone who has such a project, whether penned in a fancy journal or sitting in an obscure computer file, maybe these stories won’t change the world, but maybe they’ll help us come to terms with it, and that’s important, too.

What to read next?

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“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12 (KJV)

You’ve probably heard it before: To be a good writer, you should read a lot. However, reading can become a distraction. You can’t read everything. Your “to read” pile might never go down to zero. That’s OK—it’s a sign that you’re curious and interested and alive. But how do we discern what to read given our limited resources?

  • Read what interests you. It sounds obvious, but how many times have I read books based on others’ recommendations and what’s available for free? Even if you’re not sure how your interests might apply to daily life or your current work-in-progress novel, remember that virtually everything is story fuel.
  • Read according to publisher. If you aspire to be published by a certain publishing house, read books from that publishing house. You’ll get a sense for what they want, or you might discover that they’re not as good a fit for your work as you first thought.
  • Read your genre. You don’t need to be up to date on all the new releases in your chosen genre, but genres have tropes and traits that readers come to expect. If you’re writing in a certain genre, get a sense of what its defining qualities are. But don’t let tropes and genres limit what you write—perhaps your book better matches a different genre, or perhaps you can twist a trope in a fun way.
  • Read to connect. If I had to choose between a book I found on my own or a book that my friends are talking about, and I’m equally interested in both, I think I’d choose the one my friends are talking about. I want to understand their references to it and talk to them about it. We are connected by stories.

Here’s to hoping we find good books to read in 2021! How do you choose what to pick up? Please let me know in the comments!

Works in Progress for 2021

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What is Ishida working on? Here’s a list of writing projects on my radar for 2021!

  • Birds of the Air: If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you might have seen me post about a book contract with B&H that I signed in 2020. I’ve worked on edits for this picture book and have already seen some artwork, which looks amazing. Birds of the Air is scheduled to release later this year!
  • Nick Newton: Is “Nick Newton” still a work in progress? An early draft of Book 3 is sitting in my computer, not yet ready for sharing. I even started a Book 4. Thus, I still care about Nick and Plink and want to continue their adventures, but to be honest, it wasn’t easy for me to develop a cheerful middle grade book in the midst of the tragedy, unrest, and loss that came in 2020. I am OK, but being OK sometimes means acknowledging sadness and taking a step back instead of forcing oneself to power through the pain.
  • 2084: Despite my general love for happy endings in stories, my favorite novel is George Orwell’s 19842084 is a placeholder title for my sci-fi dystopia. The protagonist is currently a disgruntled salaryman who is more concerned with surviving until his next paycheck than leading a revolution to overthrow Big Brother. Unlike the other items on this page, I’m not currently planning to publish this one. It’s for myself.
  • The Tale of Taihei: This high fantasy story includes mythical creatures from both East and West plus a protagonist with teleportation magic. Taihei is named after my great-grandfather, and although I started drafting this story recently, in late 2020, even earlier than this I’ve wanted to write a fictional story that takes inspiration from my family history and my experiences as an Asian American.

While I don’t know what’s in store for 2021, here’s to hoping for writing progress! Anyone else excited about writing projects for the new year?

Making the Most of Video Calls

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When work events and a local conference moved online, I had the opportunity to speak in the comfort of my own home. However, communicating through a video call isn’t necessarily easier than speaking in person. Here are some tips for successful video calls and presentations:

  • Take advantage of new opportunities. With events moving online, we’re no longer bound by physical location. At work, I’ve spoken at an event in a different state that I might not have presented at if the event took place in person. Even if you’re stuck at home, see if you can expand your network. Of course, although location might not matter, time zones still do, so remember to double check the clocks before you accept an invitation to meet or present in another time zone.
  • Find a friendly face. If you give a presentation through a video call, you might find it’s more difficult to read your audience. You might see them only from the shoulders up, you might only see a few members at a time, or you might not see some of them at all. As you start to speak, try to catch a friendly face in one of those little camera displays. If you’re an audience member, consider offering a smile as a presenter begins to share. You might be the boost of encouragement who helps them get off to a good start. 🙂
  • Recruit a monitor for incoming comments. When presenting in person, audience members generally don’t shout out in the middle of your talk. However, your online meeting software might have a chat area where people can comment and ask questions throughout your presentation. Recruit a helper to moderate these incoming comments so you can focus on your talk.
  • Be yourself. I enjoy seeing quirky video call backgrounds, whether home décor or a cartoony virtual background. Fun elements like these can start conversations and help folks get to know each other better. Of course, if your situation requires you to be more formal, use good judgment in this area and save the fun stuff for time with friends.

Even though video calls and presentations might take some getting used to, I’m thankful that I can connect with others through technology. How have you been handling video calls? Please feel free to share other tips and tricks in the comments!

Ereader Appreciation

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During these unusual times, I find myself turning to my ereader more often than normal. Although I tend to choose paper books over digital, more digital reading has made me appreciate the ereader for its own advantages.

  • The ereader can fit bookcases of books into a space smaller than a tablet. The ereader is a good option for those short on space.
  • The ereader is compatible with my online library catalog. When my library building is closed, it’s nice to have the online catalog and check out books on the ereader. Even though my selection seems smaller, and interlibrary loan isn’t available, checking out ebooks is simple and easy.
  • The ereader is easy to hold. After a book reaches a certain size, it might become unwieldy, but when read on an ereader, giant novels and short chapter books feel the same in my hands.
  • Ebooks are easier to search. I like searching in an ebook by typing a word into a search bar instead of flipping through pages trying to remember where I saw something.
  • The ereader doesn’t get warped by sweaty hands. My hands sweat. A lot. So much so that paperback covers and printed pages are in danger of getting damaged. Thankfully, the ereader’s plastic casing has proven resistant to sweaty hands so far.
  • Ereaders help facilitate the distribution of free books since ebooks don’t have to be shipped. Whether free books are given as prizes during a Facebook party or from a publisher’s giveaway, ebooks are convenient for giver and receiver alike.

I miss checking out physical books from my library, but especially now, I’m thankful that I have the ereader to keep me company.

Writing through Grief

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2019 hasn’t been an easy year. Then again, is there really such a thing as an “easy year,” anyway? Life is an ebb and flow of opportunities and challenges, trials and joys. This year my grandmother passed away. Despite her age, she was healthy, and her loss was unexpected. It became difficult for me to write, especially because the humorous middle grade fantasy I was working on featured a grandmother as one of the main characters.

A one-size-fits-all grieving process doesn’t exist, but here are some things (not including faith-related things) that I’m trying to remind myself of as a writer as I wade through loss.

  • It’s OK to take a break. Time stops for no man, and along with it, neither does the internet, the business world, or the publishing industry. But life goes beyond deadlines and word counts, and I try to tell myself it’s OK to take a break. Admittedly, taking a break can be difficult to do without feeling guilty. That said, though, I tend to know when I hit a wall with a story and where I’m at a point in which I’m no longer having fun and just doing it to do it. Yes, writing involves discipline, but I’ve also heard that readers won’t have as much fun with a story if the writer didn’t also have fun with it.
  • Spend time with loved ones. I might not feel like being around others when I’m sad, but I know that leaving myself to my own thoughts isn’t always the best idea. Talking to others has helped me divert attention off of myself as well as gain a broader perspective.
  • Read something different. Reading is an essential activity for any writer, but I found my desire for fiction lacking. I took an interest in nonfiction books instead and found them a nice change of pace. I’ve also enjoyed graphic novels because they can be faster to read.
  • Play games. Although books are perhaps my primary source of inspiration as a writer, games also have an impact on my storytelling. I enjoy the immersive experience of a video game with an engrossing story, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of laughs with my Dungeons & Dragons group.
  • Write stuff down for fun even if you think it’s not high quality content. Because I wasn’t going anywhere with my humorous middle grade book, I penned stuff that came to mind even though I knew it wasn’t going to be fit to publish. Somehow these words spawned an idea for a sci-fi novel for adults. I don’t know what will eventually become of this story idea, but even if it never gets published, maybe it’s just what I needed for this moment, and that’s good enough.

As I mentioned, a one-size-fits-all grieving process doesn’t exist. What are some things that you’ve done as a writer through loss? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Back up your writing when preparing for a storm

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Photo of Plink the mechanical bird, external hard drive, and writing supplies

External hard drive, notebook, fountain pen–looks like Plink is getting prepared!

With Hurricane Florence looming in the distance, I’m seeing a lot of talk about preparations for weathering the storm. Protecting material objects should never be first priority, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared if you can. If you’re concerned about what might happen to your writing if your house or property become damaged, here are some thoughts on how to back up and protect your written words–after you take the steps you need to protect yourself and your loved ones.

  1. Store your files online. Upload your documents to Google Docs, Box Note, or email them to yourself. You can keep your writing private but still reap the benefits of accessing it on the internet.
  2. Back up your computer on a portable external hard drive. I own two of these drives. I keep one at work and one at home. I sometimes bring one with me when I travel. An external hard drive allows you to recover your files if your computer crashes or is destoyed.
  3. If you write with pen and paper like me, you might have a few notebooks with partially drafted manuscripts. If your household waterproof and fireproof safe still has room in it after you’ve stowed your essential documents like social security cards, consider adding the notebooks in.
  4. Keep your writing materials in the safe room in your house. If the storm comes, and I have to retreat to a central room with no windows, I’m going to bring the essentials like food, water, and flashlights. I’m also going to bring my laptop, external hard drive, the most important notebooks, and some of the fountain pens.

I’m not sure what I’ll experience with the storm later this week. Prayer will be another part of my preparations. If you’re also in the path of the hurricane, please take the precautions you can to stay safe. Words can be written again, but you can’t be replaced!

Packing for my first writers’ conference

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Essential supplies include business cards and an orc.

This week I head out to Realm Makers, my first ever writers’ conference. While not comprehensive for everyone, here’s a list of some things I’m planning to pack. I figured I’d post it here in case it helps someone else, too. 🙂

  • Writing supplies
    • Pencil case
    • Pen
    • Backup pens
    • Notebook
  • Drawing supplies
    • Sketchbook
    • Pencil with pencil cap
    • Backup pencil with pencil cap
    • Art pens for inking sketches
    • Eraser
    • 6-inch ruler
  • Author supplies
    • Copies of my book to sell
    • Business cards
    • Bookmarks
    • One-sheet (if you’re pitching a story)
  •  Wallet
    • Cash
    • Credit card
    • ID
  • Personal hygiene and health
    • Shampoo/Conditioner
    • Toothbrush
    • Toothpaste
    • Floss
    • Comb/Hairbrush
    • Deodorant
    • Prescription medicines
    • Vitamins/Supplements
    • Glasses cleaner
  • Clothes
    • Glasses
    • Backup glasses
    • A set of clothes for each day (I like to pack outfits together so I know I’ve brought enough and that the clothes coordinate.)
    • An extra set of clothes
    • Pajamas
    • Jacket
    • Costume for the awards banquet
  • Food and beverage
    • Something sweet
    • Something salty
    • Something reasonably filling/healthy
    • Water bottle for water
  • Misc.
    • Suit case (Of course!)
    • Bag to carry around at the conference
    • Cell phone
    • Umbrella
    • Small plush or figure to take photos of. (I’m not camera shy, but I think it’s fun to take photos of toys.)
    • A book to read during the flight
  • Things I’m not bringing
    • Items related to my “day job”
    • My personal laptop computer
    • Fountain pen and ink (I normally prefer a fountain pen over a ballpoint, but I don’t want to risk losing a nice fountain pen, nor do I want to bother with transporting ink in a suitcase or carry-on.)
    • Handheld game console (I enjoy video games, but I’ll only pack them if I think I’ll have enough down time to play them.)

Making your story stand out

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Do you ever feel like all the stories have already been told? Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “There is no new thing under the sun.” Thankfully, when writing a story, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just need to make the reader care about it or see it in a different way.

Whether you want to write romance, epic fantasy, or anything else that’s been done time and time again, here are three factors to think about to help make your story stand out:

  • Writing style
    • Sunsets happen all the time, but we still read Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose.” If you can help me see something in a new way or make me pause and give it a second look, you can hold onto my attention.
    • You don’t need to be a poet, either, although reading and writing poetry can certainly help. Skillful wordcrafting and insights into life are an asset to any genre, from cozy mysteries to grimdark military sci-fi.
  • Quirky characters
    • When I read, I appreciate action and a plot that moves at a good clip. But it’s the characters I care about. I might gloss over a cool fight scene if I’m not concerned about the characters in it and what happens to them. I don’t need every detail about the characters, but I like enough information for my imagination to get a sense of who they are as people.
    • Setting can be a character in its own right and can be used to shape the rest of your cast. A familiar plotline can feel fresh and new if placed in a vibrant setting.
  • Twist of trope
    • Take a common scenario or a character stereotype and turn it upside down. My book, Nick Newton Is Not a Genius, is a twist on the “child genius” trope. Instead of being a genius in a “normal” family, my protagonist is a “normal” child in a family of geniuses.
    • Of course, sometimes tropes get twisted so often that the twists themselves become tropes. It’s a good idea to check out other books in your genre to see what’s already out there.

How do you make the stories that you write stand out? What draws you into stories that you read? Please post your answers in the comments!

My writing process

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Tools of the trade include pens, ink, and notebooks.

Some writers outline. Some writers fly by the seat of their pants. The key is finding what works for you. Here’s a general idea of my writing process. Feel free to use it, modify it, or just think it’s weird and stick to a process that you’re more comfortable with instead. 😉

  • The idea
    • Ideas can come from pretty much anywhere: real life, history, fictional stories, experiences.
    • They can come at inopportune times, such as during work or when trying to fall asleep at night.
    • My Dad would tell me, “Strike while the iron is hot.” Catch the idea as it comes by and jot it down somewhere so you won’t forget it.
    • Don’t worry about being neat or even making sense at this stage. Just get the idea out of your head and into words.
  • The raw draft
    • After working the idea out to a point where you have a general idea of where you’re going, such as a basic outline, it’s time to create the raw draft.
    • Draft the story from start to finish.
    • As with the idea stage, don’t worry about being neat or even consistent. If your character’s name changes in the middle of the manuscript, fix the beginning later.
    • To discourage backtracking and to encourage pressing forward, I like to use a pen and paper at this stage, but a computer is also beneficial because you’re going to have to type the story up eventually.
  • The rough draft
    • If you wrote longhand for the raw draft, now’s a good time to bring your manuscript into a digital format.
    • Fix the story’s problems. Now’s a good time to patch plot holes and make the story consistent, such as fixing your character’s name if you changed it midway through the raw draft.
    • You’re not ready for sentence-level edits just yet, though, so while you can fix comma or spelling errors if you notice them, don’t make a fuss over the grammar or focus on editing your story on the sentence level.
  • Edits
    • Continue to polish your story by making multiple passes through it and correcting problems.
    • Different stories may require different amounts of editing.
    • Know when you’ve hit a wall and need to start collecting feedback. If you notice yourself getting stuck on a lot of trivial matters and come to a point of diminishing return, that could be a sign that you’ve gone as far as you can go on your own and that it’s time to start getting fresh eyes on your manuscript.
    • Even if you know that the story will change after you get feedback, I still feel that it’s polite to try to omit as many grammar and spelling errors as you can before sending it off to first readers.
  • Feedback from critique group/first reader
    • Send your manuscript to your critique group/first reader.
    • Consider feedback and revise accordingly.
  • “Done”
    • Are you satisfied with your work?
    • Is a deadline looming?
    • It’s hard to define “done,” so set deadlines for yourself and stick to them.
  • Send to a publisher
    • Find a publisher that’s a good fit for your work. Sometimes finding the publisher might be your first step, and then you tailor your work to fit the publisher.
    • Be certain to review the publisher’s guidelines to format your manuscript correctly. Some publishers also specify that you shouldn’t send the same manuscript to another publisher until you receive a response from them.
    • Publishers may respond within a period of days or months. Depending on the publisher, you might not even receive a response at all unless they are interested in accepting your work.
    • I have a document to help me keep track of the manuscripts I’ve sent out. I record when I’ve sent them, where I’ve sent them, and the responses I’ve received.
  • Wait and write more
    • While you’re waiting to hear back from the publisher, start working on your next story. Because publication can take a long time, it’s good to have multiple manuscripts in progress at the same time and in various stages of the process.

Please feel free to share about your own writing process in the comments. Best wishes and happy writing!