The Better Reader Pledge

“Quality over quantity” is such a common mantra, most of all in the business world. I just didn’t expect it to leap over the fence on becoming a better writer.

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To be a better writer one has to read…and read well.

Come to think of it, that mantra on quality over quantity is more of a way of living. Let me indulge you why I pointed this out.

I distinctly remember a time when stories were far more important to me than the author’s name. The worlds and characters introduced to me were far more compelling than the person who opened the door or drew the curtain away. Who can blame a young girl? Nobody has informed me early on who wrote many of the children’s tales that I grew up with. Moreover, I used to think that getting through as much books as I could cram in a year means I’m an excellent reader. Thanks to GoodReads I would challenge myself to go through an insane amount.

This all changed now that I want to write good stories and publish quality books. I imagined someday, once my published book sits on one of the shelves in the bookstore, that I would feel a huge sense of satisfaction–not only was a project complete but a world and its characters that I conjured are now open for others to enjoy.

Back to reading, everybody started with this basic step that would pave the way to writing. So when I am sorting the ideas in my head or struggling to convey the thoughts on paper, I would grab a book and read. Then it dawned on me that I should change my way of reading since I often breeze through books by speed reading (chunking and minimizing subvocalization). When I hold back, many of the style of writing becomes more visible.

So I am making a pledge to become a better reader because I want to become a better writer. Here are ways to honor this pledge:

1. Have a Book Journal. Name the book, recognize the author’s name, voice and writing style. Study the point-of-view (POV), the characters and their intentions. Jot it all down.

2. Be receptive to different books. It may be a different genre, unknown author or even the cover of the book that made me hesitate to pick it up but it’s time to keep an open mind. That doesn’t mean I won’t impose an exception to this rule.

3. Highlight what stood out for me. Whether its plot, content, the twists or any quotable phrases that caught my attention, I should take note of it.

4. Be honest in judging the book but not rude. I read to enjoy the book. When the book fails to make it enjoyable it is best to honestly inform others, however, do so with grace and humility. When someone else criticizes the book I publish I’d rather they do the same.

5. Share the book with others. A short review is enough to whet the appetite of a seasoned reader. There is no need to include a whole synopsis of the book or include spoilers. I read a comment recently on someone’s post on a list of good historical fictions where she stated the title of the book, the author and the reason why she is recommending it in just 25 words. It was enough to perk my interest and save it on “to-read” pile.

Contemplation for 2018

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Three weeks into the New Year and I’m contemplating on the previous year, the lessons learned and takeaways. I can describe the previous year as a slow and shaky walk up a hill. We bought our very own apartment. All the renovation projects and very strict schedule required us to work extra hard. We are at the last leg of the renovation and the results had us feeling satisfied. Yet as anyone with their own house or apartment would tell you, building a home takes time and money. Which is why a whole list of my ideas need to be put aside…for now. Back on point, I have several takeaways from the previous year for 2018.

  • The takeaway on Time. Time is irrepressible and constantly moving. Whatever I spent time on last year is over and done with. Having experienced what it’s like to have no goal, vision, or plan made me realize that it only made me lazy, unreliable and unproductive. I was often consumed with worries. After making a decision on what I truly want to do, it has been prompting me to move forward. It means not running around or trying to be someone I’m not.
  • The takeaway on Health and Strength. My body has not been at its peak last year. I find myself losing strength too fast because I haven’t been working out. I lost my rhythm since moving to Germany and have not been able to gain back the momentum in doing body strengthening. I don’t like focusing on body image. It is better to invest more on being fit and strong. The first method to do this is eat healthy and start adding good body strengthening routines.
  • The takeaway on Investments. Having mentioned where I will be investing part of my time this year, there are other areas that I also need investing in: character building, creativity, and productivity. Re-connecting with my dear cousin, who is like a very dear sister, reminded me that there’s always room in improving my character. We have been discussing a lot lately and it has been fruitful in seeing where I could change.

Honing my creativity is off to a good start. My dear mother-in-law gave me several yarns to turn into a summer pullover. Then my sister asked me to make a baby blanket. Of course, there’s still the book that I’m currently working on. The Writer’s Guild that I’m a part of has been good at challenging me to keep working on this project. This blog itself is also a good pilot on sharing my writing because not all my ideas turn out good.

There is nothing like being around productive people to know that I have yet to become one. My friend ACG is a good reminder. I still don’t know where she hides her extra energy but I will find her secret sooner or later. Her influence at the latter part of the previous year was momentous to my writing. One of the first books I publish will be dedicated to her.

  • The takeaway on Embracing change. The discomfort of moving just proved that being temporarily uncomfortable is not such a bad phase. We have several photos showing how humongous the renovation projects were and then of several friends helping us move. We recall the hassle, the discomfort and the sacrifices yet it doesn’t cause us grief remembering. There were many good memories attached to it, including Josef staying longer to have my Lasagna even though he mentioned having other plans. So I ask myself now if I’m too comfortable right now that I try avoiding being uncomfortable. I am encouraged allow the temporary setback in since it will steered us to a better situation.

With all these things said, I’m sure there are several of us who have made resolutions and goals this year. Aside from the resolutions, I hope you remember valuable lessons from the previous year like I did so that it gets easier moving forward.  Let’s strive to make a better year!

The heart of a love song

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Lately, I’ve  been humming a particular love song aside from the usual Christmas music. If you heard of Miley Cyrus’ Malibu you know what I mean by how it catches you with its lyrics and cords. It makes me want to learn to play a guitar and sing-along. The real catch for me is the heart of this love song. There is an untamed power in the candor of being in love. Just look at how the song began:

I never came to the beach, or stood by the ocean
I never sat by the shore, under the sun with my feet in the sand
But you brought me here
And I’m happy that you did
‘Cause now I’m as free
As birds catching the wind

This not what you might expect posted during Christmas. I prepared three or four drafts ranging from family, gifts, forgiveness, to being a recluse during Christmas for posting. They all fell on the wayside. But this topic woke me up at 4 am. Perhaps it is due to listening to the song so many times just trying to capture the music and hoping to personalize the lyrics later. Perhaps due to feeling the same way about my husband and showing how significant he is in my life.

Many of our family and friends didn’t make it to our very intimate wedding celebration to witness how much I love this man. I still remember gushing about our engagement to family, friends and co-workers. My heart flutters just thinking of him even when he is right beside me. I wanted to share the sacrifices he has done for me, the surprises he has sprung up on me, the places we discovered together, and the lessons we are both learning in the relationship.

I remember, when I was young, asking the grown-ups how they know their spouse is the one. Their answers varied but what struck me is how many said “I just knew”. I could tell you the same answer came to me. I just knew that he is the person I am willing to take on this life’s journey, to learn more from, to be open and honest with, and to be in this relationship course. I can’t help but sing the chorus of the song Malibu while writing this part of the post.

But here I am, next to you
The sky’s so blue in Malibu
Next to you in Malibu

My thoughts then wandered back to the theme of this celebration. Could we understand that Christmas is the heart of a love song God wants us to hear? He sacrificed so many things to draw us back to him. We have to see beyond the curtain of religion and overzealousness of others to fully comprehend what Christmas is all about–a gift for a real lasting relationship with him. There shouldn’t be any reasoning behind it, it’s all about God giving an ultimate sacrifice because he loves us. He really does. So amidst the busy-ness of the holiday, let us hear the strings of the love song’s melody.

We are just like the waves that flow back and forth
Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning
And you’re there to save me
And I wanna thank you with all of my heart
It’s a brand new start
A dream come true
In …

Disclaimer: Any mentioned lyrics of the song Malibu that are all in italics are written by Miley Cyrus and Oren Yoel. I claim no ownership.

Paradox of big dreams and small beginnings

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My dream needs to be colossal, rocket-shooting-myself-over-to-the-moon, and truly magnificent that it overwhelms me with excitement just thinking of it or seeing myself in the threshold of achieving it. Sometimes a venerable type of fear wakes me up from daydreaming because I realized how difficult the path really is and don’t even get me started on competition.

Start small and simple, begin things slow and grow gradually.

These were accumulated advice from friends and my writing mentor. When I consider what I need to achieve my dreams, I come up with many excuses like having no money, no talent and no opportunities that hinders me. Truthfully, what impedes me the most is fear that I will fail and it’ll all be downhill from there. It’s so much easier to just give up. … Now that I wrote it here, I gave myself the opportunity to see the very bottom. Honestly, I’ve been running away from opportunities to become a published author for several decades. So, either I stay here in the bottom or climb up. I should use whatever resources I currently have: life-given lessons, writing lessons from my mentor, and writing opportunity to readers like you. These are all resources to wake myself up, my talent and continue to expand my horizon. Every step I take, however minute and exiguous, leads me towards reaching my goal. 

This is what it is, life’s paradox of big dreams and simple beginnings. Just check out how life around us begins every single time. Back when we lived in Stuttgart, a couple of trees are growing along the side of the main street. Their branches are directly in front of the windows of our 2nd floor apartment. After the winter spell, every branch would start to manifest the small steps to greet the next season. A small, shy bud here, a very small leaf there, and a bird hopping from one branch to the next as if testing each one. Yet come summer time, the trees do not even permit us to see beyond their leafy branches. Each tree may have begun at a different point in time during spring but they are all flourishing equally by summer and displaying their array of abundant colors by fall.

The great thing about dreaming is that you should go big or go home and the odd thing about any beginning is that one has to start small.

The Writing discipline

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I want to write. I want to create the world and characters in my imagination and make them come alive in pages. Books don’t get produced on a whim; they were the results of ingenious ideas and edited pieces. Among the chief thrill of writing is the inspiration that surge in me. I have to give chase.

Dear Readers,

Do you know that walking many paths does not take you anywhere? It takes a sincere dedication on following one path that allows you to master it. Even though some may seem to have been walking several paths and succeeding in it, they couldn’t match the time and effort given by a real master.

I’m talking about discipline.

To be a writer, one must write. To be an author, one must produce his or her written works to the world. This is the path faced by writers and authors.  I have several friends who write well about tons of topics and I join them in their quest to share their knowledge and ideas even though there are so many books out there to read.  I do like novels and even though I don’t give raving reviews on all of them, I truly appreciate them for bringing me to different worlds and introducing me to such wonderful characters.

Perhaps that is why I’m forlornly looking at the NaNoWriMo website. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it started the first of November. You have 30 days to finish writing 50,000 words. Of course, the preparation starts in October or even earlier. Reading through the many testimonials and seeing the many participants all over the world made me wonder about the writing discipline. As of now, you dear readers are reading roughly over 200 words. Of course, 50,000 words would mean several chapters but to finish all that in 30 days requires one to be self-controlled, regulated and organized.

I heard that confessing is a good practice, well here is mine: I rarely finish work that I started at a short length of time. I drag things, I productinate (see its meaning at Urban Dictionary), and I have a tendency to neglect or pass it along. It is such a bad behavior that I get upset looking at the piled-up tasks on my Journal or my desk. If I really want to accomplish it, what is stopping me?

I want to be a disciplined author. During a live-chat with Jerry B. Jenkins, I asked what he would do when an idea hits him hard while currently working on a novel and his response was to simply jot it down and “focus” on the novel at hand. His answer hit me hard right where it should: my lack of discipline.

To truly change, one has to work with your whole being. Do you think it’s easy to immediately be disciplined? I recall my military training (yes, I did have that back in high school) and the first thing we got drilled on is physical training.

Did you just slack off there, soldier? Well, give me another 50 push-ups.

You can’t do that, soldier? Well, your buddy here won’t share your load and neither will I so move it!

It put tremendous stress physically and mentally but it did put you in a certain tune: Obedience. The body does just what you tell it to, pushing itself to the limit and with obedience your mind becomes more focused. Once you’re leading your own squad you know you have to pass on the same kind of discipline because you are teaching them to make their mind and body obey.

One of the very first things that I had to do when I moved here in Germany is to set a schedule or routine for myself because once I’ve uprooted myself from Chicago, everything was unfamiliar. In retrospect, I should have done many things in the beginning. I should have created a schedule, a routine and disciplined myself to do something productive right away. Instead I allowed my confidence and dream to deteriorate.

My French friend, AC, has been such a good influence on me lately and helped me think of my future. She even allowed me to assist her on the project she’s working on. This took me out of the rut I’m digging myself in. Previously, I would often speak with family members and friends on what I should do, what I can focus on, and my various (winning) skills. At the same time, I would often tell my husband how lost I felt because there are so many paths before me. In the end, when AC asked me what I really want to do it became crystal clear: I really want to write. That means I need to have a (published) writer’s discipline. So, I aim to do just that by continually blogging about my pursuit.  It is not going to be easy and there will be times I would fail but I hope to have the same discipline during my military training days.

If you’re still reading at this point, I am especially grateful because that means you allowed me to exhibit a glimpse of my life and almost at 900 words you’ve been patient with what I shared  Please look forward for more updates and I would enjoy hearing from you