How to Stop Your Passion From Becoming Soul Sucking

I used to think I had this curse: every hobby I have, I turn it into work. I want to monetize it. I want to make a living doing it. I want to be revered and celebrated. But what I actually want is to be able to do it every day and get progressively better. Understanding the distinction between wanting to make something a job so you can make money is very different than wanting to have time to practice every day. 

It may seem that the best way to do something consistently is to make it an obligation or a responsibility, as we would with work. Because we need money, a job forces us to punch in and out even when we don’t want to. Additionally, there’s no better achievement than to make a living — maybe even a fortune — doing what we love. Even if we just make enough to get by there is something to be said about becoming a professional. 

The thing is, turning your passion into work is a dangerous transition. Yes, there is this quote, often attributed to Confucious, that goes: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” What tends to happen is that choosing a job you love will make what you love a soul-sucking endeavor, especially when your passion is art and creativity. 

If you want to monetize your passion, you risk “selling out” and “chasing the market.” You probably heard these two phrases before. Selling out refers to compromising your integrity or principles in order to make more money. While chasing the market means following trends and copying others’ successes in hopes of reaching a bigger audience yourself. 

While both can offer a nice payday and some level of fulfillment, you may potentially lose sight of why you’re pursuing your passion in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about making money. Money is essential to survival, and while you might not be able to buy happiness, you can buy convenience and comfort. Still selling out or chasing the market is an apt way to turn your passion into a soul-sucking venture. 

In a biography about the director, Martin Scorsese, he says, “Do one for them; do one for you. If you can still do projects for yourself, you can keep your soul.”

What Scorsese means is that when you pick your projects you should choose one for money and one for art. That way, you don’t lose sight of what you love and why you’ve gotten into this craft. 

As a writer, making a full-time living off of your creative work is challenging. Many writers supplement their earnings by taking on copywriting gigs, teaching jobs, or writing articles on topics they aren’t interested in. But they need to remember not to solely pursue these commercial projects but also to find time to work on their art. 

You see this occasionally with actors who sign on to one movie to leverage or finance another. One example is Bill Murray. It was said that Murray only did Ghostbusters so that he could play the lead in the adaptation of The Razor’s Edge, a 1944 novel by W. Somerset Maugham about a WWI pilot. That’s not a movie that crosses your mind when you think of Bill Murray. But it was an amazing performance.

I need money, but I also need to prevent my passion from becoming a soul-sucking endeavor. That’s why I hold this tightly as I move forward. One for them and one for me. This approach is essential in helping me distribute my resources, energy, and time

Photo by DENYS AMARO on Unsplash

When I see a piece take off and become successful, I ask myself if that is something that gave me pleasure. If not, I will only do it once in a while to appease the market and reach new audiences. I acknowledge and appreciate the success, but I don’t sell out to it, and I don’t continue chasing it, because it’s not what I’m only here for. 

Take this YouTube channel, for example. My top-performing videos are notebook reviews. I understand their popularity. They serve a purpose. This could easily become a notebook review channel, but that’s not what I want to do all day. I want to write in those notebooks, not just review them. Will my channel be more successful if all I did was review notebooks? Maybe? Maybe I’d be as famous as Ryan Gosling. But that would become a soul-sucking job. Not Ryan Gosling, notebook reviewing. With all that being said, if you want a new notebook, check out my reviews (lol). 

There is time to make money, and there is time to make what you want. You must strike the perfect balance to live a fulfilling life and prevent your passion from becoming soul-sucking. When you pursue money, look at the numbers. When you pursue art, numbers don’t matter. Turn your head away and look inwards because it’s not about selling out or what the market wants. It’s about what you want. 

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What It’s Like to Be a Writer

Whether you do it for fun or as a job, writing can be lonely. When I’m writing, I sometimes feels like I’m emotionally trapped on a deserted island. I don’t mind that. I’ve found comfort in being alone. It is only when I look up from my work that I realize I’m not alone at all. Not even close. The world is full of writers… musicians, filmmakers, video game makers, ANIMATORS, and a million other people trying to get the attention of an audience.

It is a dark and beautiful time to be a writer… and that’s why sometimes it’s nice to take a break and let my animation tell the story.

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Finding Time to Write When You Can’t Have Deep Work

I used to wait for the perfect time to write, those precious days when nothing was scheduled. Nowhere to go. Nobody to bother me. No obligation or responsibility. I imagine being alone in a cabin, free from all the world’s distractions. These precious days are the best days to write. Deep Work [Amazon], as author Cal Newport calls it. However, these precious days are fantasy. They’re imaginary and not real. 

Even if I had such a precious day, alone in a cabin, would I really spend the whole day writing? Would I really want to sit at the table for hours, or would I end up walking to the lake or relaxing by the fire? 

These precious days aren’t as productive as we think they are. If we await these days to start our project, we’ll be sorely disappointed when we finally get one, because these days aren’t as long as we think. Even if we write all day, it’s not enough to accomplish any big project.

If you only write on these precious days, it’ll take you much longer to complete your work than if you were to do a little bit each and every day, regardless of how precious they are.

Writing a little every day, regardless of the schedule, is the best way to stay consistent, keep the momentum going, and chip away at a writing project. Writing takes time, regardless of what subject, story, or genre you are exploring. If you spend one Saturday — a precious Saturday — each month working on the project, you will only have 12 days to work on it in a year. Let’s say you spend 8 hours that day working on it as if it is a full-days job, that means in a year, you’ll only have spent 96 hours. 

Alternatively, if you spend 1 hour every day working on your writing, whether first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or right before you go to sleep, you will end up with 365 hours a year working on it. Over three times more! 

If you want to write, write as much as you can as often as you can. Don’t wait for those precious days, days when you have nothing to do. Don’t quit your job and expect that there will be full days of writing. There won’t. You’d do other things, like worrying about your next paycheque. 

Don’t save your creative projects for precious days, because those precious days should be spent with loved ones, relaxing, exploring something new, and creating new memories. As a writer, creating new memories and experiences is as important as writing itself. New memories and experiences are new colors, shapes, textures, and patterns you can add to your writing. Once you reach my age, new memories take effort. It requires you to go out of your comfort zone, and that requires your energy. 

I love precious writing days. I love spending a whole day working on my projects. At least, I love the idea of it. But once I get started, after a few hours — 2 or 3 — I’ll get tired and need to rest so I don’t burn out for the rest of the week. I’d like to spend time with my wife and my dog, and maybe even spend some time reading outside. 

It’s been ages since I’ve gone to school, and I often romanticize all-nighters. I definitely view my past cramming sessions and work-athons through rose-colored glasses. Only until I sit down and start writing do I realize that I don’t have that stamina anymore, and nostalgia quickly fades. Saving up my productivity for a precious day is an overestimation of my abilities. It’s showing up to a game but never going to practice. It’ll take me an hour to warm up, it’ll take me another hour to get the words flowing, and then by the time I get into the zone, I am ready for a break. 

We are humans, and we are creatures of routines. We cannot conserve our energy and release it in one long burst. Like sleeping, we cannot lose sleep for a month and expect to get it all back after one night. 

You don’t need to change your life for writing. Don’t quit your job. Don’t buy a cabin by the lake. Don’t cancel all your plans. You can fit your project into your current schedule. A little every day, every once in a while, whenever you can. Just do it as much as possible, and don’t wait for a precious day. 

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Write Short Stories After Novel Draft

Writing a novel is a long process. Writing a trilogy is even longer. Recently I finished the first draft of my second book. While I wrote that draft, I had all these other ideas bubbling. I’m no stranger to the shiny object syndrome. If you’ve been following this channel, you know I like to try different things. While I’m aware that focus is important, momentum is also important. I must keep writing, keep editing, keep publishing, and keep putting my work out into the world for approval or rejection. If I only work on my novel, the journey from beginning to end will take years. In order to get a sense of completion, I take breaks to write short stories. 

I get new ideas all the time, I record them, and then I put them aside. While working on my novel, I can feel these ideas stirring in the back of my brain. I consider these ideas as treats, and I save them for after dinner. Working on these ideas are rewards, and I can only start them when I finish my novel’s draft. 

It’s hard going from a drafting phase into an editing phase. It’s such a shift in mindset. Reading your draft is a painful experience because there is often a lot to fix. But by writing on the side, I can still indulge in the pleasure of creating without being completely bogged down and overwhelmed by the editing phase. 

While writing a novel, I spend a long time living in a specific world with specific characters. That tone stays with me like an aftertaste when I start working on something else. Writing a short story — or a bunch of short stories — after finishing a draft of a novel is like cleansing the pallet. You clear out all the derivative ideas that you have lingering by bringing them to life in some form. 

Writing a short story is also about experimenting. You can try something new that you might not be able to do in the novel that you have carefully outlined and structured. A short story is a practice where you can work out something you want to improve on without compromising a larger piece of work. For example, if I want to write an emotional dialogue scene, I can do that in a short story. Or if I want to tell a tale that jumps between characters and time, I can do that in a short story. 

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

There is no better feeling than finishing something. But when you are working on a big project, the satisfaction of crossing something off the list doesn’t come often. By working on a short story, you put yourself in a position where you can complete something in a shorter timeframe and pat yourself on the back. I allow myself to feel the reward of finishing a task regularly, especially when I’m also working on something long. 

A short story is also a great way to get feedback. When working on a novel, in order for someone to get the full experience, they have to read the whole thing. But in a short story, someone can digest it in a few minutes to an hour. It’s a much shorter commitment, and therefore, a much easier way to gauge whether your writing is effective or not. 

Before I completely wrap up my novel-sized project, I have a plan for my return when transitioning to a new smaller project. I don’t want to just write the first draft of my novel, put it aside, and then work on short stories forever. I need to come back and finish. It’s all a waste if I don’t. The short stories should only act as a break, not a permanent change.

The way I do this is by setting a limit to the number of short stories I can write before I must go back and commence editing my novel. Last year, I embarked on a month-long challenge where I tried to write and submit 1 short story every week for four weeks. If you’re interested, check out this video right here

During those four weeks, I used word association with the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire as my inspirations. This approach was something that the author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury did. I found this experience to be refreshing and productive. It forced me to pick up my pace and complete a piece while staying within a theme. 

This time, I thought I’d do seven short stories during my break, and what better inspiration than with the 7 sins. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to submit my work this time, but I do want to write. So the goal of this little break between drafting and editing my novel is that I’m going to write the first draft of 7 short stories. Once I write these 7 short stories, I will return to my novel and start editing that. 

The plan is not to strike it big with one project, that’s unlikely to happen. The plan is to be prolific and maintain momentum. The plan is to have a project to look forward to. The plan is to sustain enthusiasm without burning out. I find that this method has been really helpful with my writing process. And I recommend giving it a try yourself. 

If you want to follow along on my novel and short story writing journey, please hit subscribe so you don’t miss any videos. Once completed, I hope to share many of those stories, so stay tuned for that as well. For now, check out these videos here. 

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Build a Case for Your Creative Success as a Writer

When a lawyer is trying to convince a jury that the accused is a murderer what does she need to do? She needs to provide evidence. She needs to show that the accused is capable of doing such a heinous crime, that there was a weapon, and that there was a motive. The lawyer must gather proof to persuade the jury. 

In your head, you also have a jury. This jury will determine whether you can overcome your fears and procrastination and get started on the thing you want to do to succeed. If they don’t believe you can do it, they will turn off all your effort levels and offer no energy or resources to fuel your potential. 

You must convince this jury that you can reach your goal, that it won’t be a waste of time, and that, in the end, it’ll be a good investment. If this jury inside your head doesn’t believe you, nobody outside of your head will believe you. 

So how do you convince this jury that you’re able to achieve your goal? You must do it the same way a lawyer would, you need to provide evidence. 

However, this is not a murder trial and there are no crime scenes. There’s not going to be a bloody glove or fingerprints on a knife. Where do you find the evidence then? What should you even look for? 

Evidence of your success is all around you. It’s in your past, it’s in your day-to-day life, it’s in the relationships you make or the little moments where you pushed through and did something you didn’t want to do. Evidence that you can overcome hardship can be manifested as well. 

What you want to look for are moments when you accomplished something tough. This could be when you were a kid and you had to give a speech in front of your class or when you were a teenager and you asked a popular girl to dance. Record and file these moments away because you now need to build a case for that jury in your head. Every piece of evidence you have in your favor demonstrating your courage will come in handy later on. 

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Next, you want to look for moments when you were doing something grueling that you thought would never end, but you followed through anyway. This could be the summer when you woke up at five am every day to work a part-time job. Or this can be the long hike you took up a mountain without any directions and made it back alive. Anytime that you have persevered is proof that you’re someone who can commit to a difficult task without giving up half ways. 

Whatever qualities you need to be successful, find evidence in your life, no matter how small. If success requires consistency, look for evidence of yourself being consistent, whether it’s growing your mustache for Movember or working out every day for a month when you were twenty-three. 

If you want to read a long book, start by reading some short ones. If you want to run a marathon, start by running five miles. If you want to paint a public mural, start by painting your bedroom. Prove to the jury in your head that you’re able to take action and follow through. 

Without evidence of your past achievements and determination, the jury in your head is going to tell you to just relax, take it easy, and that your success is not worth pursuing, because you’re not going to make it. It’s like going to a bank and asking for a business loan, but you don’t even have a business plan. The bank is not going to give you the money. 

You must build a case for yourself. You must defend yourself. You must advocate for yourself, even to yourself. You must have evidence — a proven track record — that you’ve done hard things in the past and you can do it again in the future. 

Remember the jury isn’t stupid, you cannot compare waking up every morning to go to school to the mammoth task of starting a successful creative business. They still won’t be fully convinced. But you can collect evidence as you go. Don’t tell the jury that you’re going to win the Man Booker Prize, just tell them you are going to write for a month. Once you’ve proven that you can do that, you have evidence forever that you can write consistently for a month. Then you gather evidence that you can publish something. Once you do, that’s another notch on your belt. 

The more you do, the more evidence of your achievements you’ll have. The more you do, the better the case for your success becomes. So when you’re finally ready to approach your jury and tell them that you’re launching your business or project, they’ll see that you’ve honoured your words in the past and you followed through. There is evidence of that. Therefore, there’s confidence — at least with the jury — that you will eventually achieve this new mission as well. 

Do more. Collect evidence. And build a case for why and how you can achieve your goal. Be honest with yourself. The jury in your head is not against you. They are protectors of your time, energy, and willpower, all finite resources essential to your life. They are trying to save your life and keep you out of harm, but in doing so, away from growth. However, they can be swayed, but you’ll need to prove it to them first. 

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Transcribing a Novel: Why Transcribing is Time Travelling

After writing a little every day for 121 days, I’ve completed the first draft of a novel. What now? Since I wrote the novel long hand, the next phase is transcribing. It’s not a particularly creative step, but one I enjoy. 

Transcribing would be my first experience reading my story through, from beginning to end. While it’s advised to give your first draft some time to rest and create some distance before you edit, I don’t feel the cool-off period needs to be that long. Since I wrote the first word in the novel over 121 days ago, I don’t even remember what happened at the beginning. At least, not the words I chose to tell the story. 

Transcribing is time traveling. It’s bringing your past to the future. It’s like going back in time and stepping on some butterflies. What I do in this transcription doesn’t need to be a replica of the past. I’m free to modify words, add details, change character names, and relocate whole scenes. 

Transcribing is also like moving to a new house. I’m packing and deciding whether a long scene is worth keeping or not. I could cut it and save a lot of time bringing it over, typing it out, dusting it off, and polishing it. If I transcribe it, I’d read it over and over again during each revision. While transcribing is a good time to cut anything you aren’t at least 60% confident in. Cutting it at this phase will save you both time now transcribing and later while editing. If there is a section that doesn’t add to the story, don’t type it out. 

I love transcribing because as a hoarder, I feel safe. I’m not actually getting rid of anything. By writing longhand, a physical copy of the text will always exist. That is comforting to me. When I write the first draft on the computer, and later I was to cut something, I’d feel like I’m losing it permanently. Even though I save multiple files for each draft, transcribing the first draft reassures me that I’m not deleting anything good by accident. Every decision was made intentionally. To not transcribe a word, a sentence, or a paragraph feels better than cutting that same on the computer. I’m saving myself a lot of emotional energy later on. 

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Transcribing is so different from writing. While I’m transcribing, I’m more relaxed. Unlike writing, where I need to imagine something out of nothing or form a clear sentence using my pen and paper, transcribing is like singing along to a song. There is a rhythm to follow, and I’m not traveling alone. There is also a clear destination in sight. I know how many words, paragraphs, and pages are ahead. By being able to see the end coming, I know when I can stop and when I can push on. 

When I write, I don’t write a lot every day, anywhere between 300 to 1000 words. I would always start each day by dating the page, and when transcribing, I use these little markers as checkpoints. I recall how hard it was to sit down and write each and every day — and I could empathize with myself from the past. When I transcribe a page written on a certain day, I feel a connection with who I was. For example, on Feb 28, I wrote this. When I transcribe that today, Jun 24, I feel like I’m looking over the shoulder of myself from Feb. It’s kind of freaky, but that’s how it feels sometimes. 

I don’t know what my favorite part of the writing process is, but transcribing is in my top three. If you can get over the fact that you’re transcribing imperfect work, and that you’re still early in your process, I think you’ll enjoy it too. This is, of course, coming from the guy who typed all of The Great Gatsby. 

It took me 121 days to write the first draft of this story. My goal is to transcribe it faster than that. But we’ll see — no pressure. What motivates me is that I have so many more projects I want to work on. The reward is that I can move to the next phase of another one. 

Stay tuned for more updates on my writing projects. I now have both book 1 and 2 written in some form. And that is exciting. I can’t wait to finish Book one, I can’t wait to start editing Book two, and I can’t wait to start drafting Book three. Most importantly, I can’t wait until it’s all done. Until then, I’ll just enjoy this phase for a bit: transcribing. 

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How to Avoid Vague Writing and Add Details

Has this ever happened to you? You’re writing an exciting scene between two people, but when one of your characters stares at the other — you realize — you can’t picture that person at all. 

Or have you ever written a character in a room, and it’s just a generic room and none of the details are popping up, so you end up listing off furniture? 

Being vague in your writing is sometimes effective, it lets your reader fill in the gaps. However, there are other times when your lack of specifics can cause confusion or make the reading experience less visceral. If a reader is picking up your book to be transported to another world or to be immersed in a story, you can’t just describe a room as a room or a person with, you know, eyes, brown eyes. 

This is a problem I struggle with as a writer because I have two weaknesses that cause me to falter. 

The first weakness is that, often, I’m unable to picture the complete image in my head. A severe case of this is known as aphantasia. People with aphantasia aren’t able to create a mental picture. 

While you’re imagining your story, you might find your mind blind to certain visuals. This is a paralyzing feeling. A common symptom of aphantasia is not being able to recognize someone’s face, even though you recognize the person’s name. This sometimes happens while you’re writing. You have a character, but you’re unable to imagine a face for this fictional person. In summary, don’t ever ask me to describe someone for a police sketch.

The second weakness that causes my writing to suffer is that I lack the vocabulary to fully describe a person, place, or thing. What colour is to a painter, vocabulary is to a writer. The more words you know the more colours you can add to your story. 

For example, describing a flower as red is not as powerful or specific as describing the flower as vermillion. 

But it goes beyond colour. Describing someone as decrepit is more powerful than just calling someone old. 

Now that I understand my problems and weaknesses, how do I go about fixing these issues and improving? 

Well, when I’m writing the first draft, I don’t even worry about these details. I don’t let the eye color of the characters or the layout of a room or the details of a Chekov gun slow me down from getting the story on paper first. 

After I’ve completed my second or third draft and once I’m confident that the story structure is strong and there is a satisfying ending, that’s when I turn my attention to the details. Once I have the sketch figured out, that’s when I’ll apply the colour. 

But, as I mentioned, this is the part I have trouble with. I have not figured out a fool-proof solution, however, I have found a few techniques to help me battle through my lack of mental images and limited vocabulary. 

The first thing I do is what many artists do — I find references. 

If I’m writing a character, I pretend I’m a casting agent and find photographs of people, usually actors, models, or celebrities of some sort. If I need to describe the way the character looks, I’ll reference these photos to make sure that the image of this character is consistent the whole way through. 

If I’m creating a setting, I’d go to a location similar to the one in my story to get a sense of how it feels. If I can’t travel to such a location, because well, I write dystopian fantasy, I’d find pictures on Google to show me what that place looks like. It won’t be the full experience, but once I can see it in my mind, my imagination can take over from there.

I also find concept artists that are creating illustrations that match the mood, tone, and imagery I want to create with my words. I will then write descriptions about that piece. This method allows me to construct the details separately and then transfer them to the project I’m working on. 

Photo by Vikas Pawar on Unsplash

As for increasing your vocabulary, there’s no quick solution. Learning a new word is like turning on a dimmer switch, not flicking on a light. You need to encounter a word over and over again until it sticks in your head. The best way to increase your exposure is to write down any new words that you are unfamiliar with, read the definition, and begin incorporating them into your own writing. Don’t wait to see it out in the world again. If it’s a unique word it could take months and years before you encounter it again. Use it often so you become more and more familiar. 

Reading is the best way to find new words. But it is your job to admit that you don’t know them. Don’t just scan past them. Stop and mark them down. I like reading on a Kindle because I don’t even need to pull out the dictionary. All I need to do is hover over a word and I get a definition of it. Then the word is added to a dictionary for me to reference. 

As a challenge, for each writing session, incorporate one unfamiliar word, a word that you didn’t know before you started. It’ll go a long way to growing your vocabulary. But learning new words is not something you should rush, for the risk of using them incorrectly. 

A vague description of a character, an item, or a setting makes for a dull reading experience. It’s your job as a writer to immerse your readers in a story. When the moment calls for it, make sure you can give them the details they need to visualize the scene clearly in their heads. 

We all have strengths and weaknesses as creatives, and not being able to fully visualize a whole world in your head is something most of us normal people struggle with, not only people with aphantasia. So don’t be so hard on yourself. Identify your weaknesses and slowly strengthen them. 

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6 Tips and Examples For Writing Long Sentences Worth Reading

Long sentences may be confusing. Too many ideas, details, and modifiers can make it difficult for readers to follow your story. However, long sentences are necessary if you want your writing to have a desirable rhythm. You cannot fill your work with only short punchy sentences. If you’re going to be a well-balanced writer, you must learn how to master long sentences. 

Yes, there is a common criticism that nobody wants to read long sentences, but cutting things down is not always better. Great writing consists of sentences of all lengths. Today, I’ll share six pieces of advice and examples of how long sentences can be applied to your writing.  

1. Place the subject and verb of the main clause early in the sentence.

He looked at me and held out his hand, sending black ribbons of darkness climbing through the sphere, twisting and turning. I grew the light wider and brighter, feeling the pleasure of the power move through me, letting it play through my fingertips as he sent inky tendrils of darkness shooting through the light, making them dance. – Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (p 217)

Want to write better? Check out this video here: How to Write Clearly with Right Branching Sentences.

2. When describing something long and slow, use a long sentence. 

It rained all night. I had a horrible, sleepless time of it. It was noisy. On the rain catcher the rain made a drumming sound, and around me, coming from the darkness beyond, it made a hissing sound, as if I were at the centre of a great nest of angry snakes. 

Shifts in the wind changed the directions of the rain so that parts of me that were beginning to feel warm were soaked anew. I shifted the rain catcher, only to be unpleasantly surprised a few minutes later when the wind changed once more. 

I tried to keep a small part of me dry and warm, around my chest, where I had placed the survival manual, but the wetness spread with perverse determination. I spent the whole night shivering with cold. – Life of Pi by Yann Martel (p173)

Photo by Super Snapper on Unsplash

3. Write the long sentence in chronological order. 

It’s in the newspaper today how somebody broke into offices between the tenth and fifteenth floors of the Hein Tower, and climbed out the office windows, and painted the south side of the building with a grinning five-story mask, and set fires so the window at the center of each huge eye blazed huge and alive and inescapable over the city at dawn. – Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (p 118)

How did Fight Club go from book to movie? Check out this article here: The Adaptation of Fight Club

4. Accompany long sentences with medium and short ones.

My proximity to the Careers’ camp sharpens my senses, and the closer I get to them, the more guarded I am, pausing frequently to listen for unnatural sounds, an arrow already fitted into the string of my bow. I don’t see any other tributes, but I do notice some of the things Rue has mentioned. Patches of the sweet berries. A bush with leaves that healed my stings. Clusters of tracker jacker nest in the vicinity of the tree I was trapped in. And here and there, the black-and-white flash of a mockingjay wing in the branches high over my head. – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (p 214)

5. A long sentence can be used for listing products, names, and images. 

Chani stood over him now, looking down on the soft beard of youth that framed his face, tracing with her eyes the high browline, the strong nose, the shuttered eyes — the features so peaceful in this rigid repose. – Dune by Frank Herbert (p 716)

6. Editing matters more with long sentences. Make every word count. 

One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn’t be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (p85)

Which long-sentence tip will you practice writing first? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Why Read Speculative Fiction

The term speculative fiction (aka spec fiction) covers many genres, including fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, and horror. In a world that already feels so surreal — where we can’t distinguish truths from lies — we must ask, why read spec fiction? 

Fantasy and science fiction are two of my favorite genres. From ancient mythology that I grew up on as a kid like the Chinese epic Journey to the West (Amazon) to the modern-day high fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire (Amazon) to space operas such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Amazon). When seeking out a story, I usually gravitate to something that takes me to a place far away from the realms of reality. 

Yes, I love it for the escapism, but I also pick up spec fiction for the same reason I’d read a sad drama, I want to have a cathartic experience. There’s nothing like a post-apocalyptic or dystopian story to put things in perspective. These stories make me feel the numbing dread of existence and remind me that this little life I have is fragile, and therefore, should be handled as such. 

Speculative fiction is fake, but only in the way that looking in a convex mirror is fake — it distorts the image back at us. That’s not what we actually look like, but in the wide-angle reflection, we see more than our naked eyes could. We see the consequences of our actions and it broadens our view in a way that realism or biographies cannot. 

The following are four reasons why I think you should read spec fiction. 

An Intro to History

One way to learn about history is by reading textbooks. You can learn all about Ancient Rome or the Great Wars this way. You can learn about the dates and times, and other trivial details. Odds are, if you were introduced to a topic via a textbook, the likelihood of you getting super interested in it is low. After all, how many people claim that it was in school that they lost their passion for reading? 

Alternate history and fantasy can be a gateway to diving deeper into real-world events. 

The Leviathan Trilogy (Amazon) by Scott Westerfeld made me want to learn more about World War 1 through the lens of steampunk and biopunk. By creating a fictional depiction of the Allied forces versus the Central Power, where war machines battle genetically modified beasts on the European battlefield, I grow more curious about the actual events. 

Watchmen (Amazon) got me interested in the politics of Richard Nixon, A Song of Ice and Fire introduced me to the War of the Roses, and Slaughterhouse-Five taught me about the bombing of Dresden. Spec fiction sparks your curiosity as a well-marketed history lesson that hooks you and asks, “if you’re interested in this, guess what craziness really happened.” 

Prepare Us For The Future

Genres such as science fiction and dystopian give writers license to share their worldview in the most empathetic way they can, through the perspective of a protagonist. This allows us to see their version of the future, whether it be startling, hopeful, or pessimistic. In doing so, we’re forced to question our own values: how will we defend them and how will we react when our familiar world is put to the test. 

The Road (Amazon) by Cormac MacCarthy asks, “How will we survive at the end of it all?” The Stand (Amazon) by Steven King asks me which side I’d choose when I’m forced to pick. 1984 (Amazon) by George Orwell reminds me that we can be controlled by fear. A Brave New World (Amazon) by Aldous Huxley reminds me that we can be controlled by pleasure. 

Every modern-day question we have about our values could be put to the test when we read spec fiction. No, these books don’t contain the answers we need to fix our current realities, but they are apt warnings, a little fire drill within ourselves that prepares answers for: What will you do when the time comes? What will you do when you need to act? 

Confront Our Fears

From censorship to monsters to the afterlife, spec fiction creates an arena in our imagination where we can confront our fears like a gladiator against a spaceship of aliens. Like the boggart from Harry Potter in our brain, we conjure up what terrifies us, so that we and the protagonist can face them in a world where we won’t get hurt. Win or lose, when we read spec fiction, we do it bravely. And with that bravery, we can bring it to the real world where we have to face overcomeable fears such as taxes, stubborn bosses, and missile launches from North Korea. 

Whether you’re reading about the end of the world or a battle against a giant spider, spec fiction brings you to the shadow realms, so you can gain the confidence to stand strong in the face of real challenges. 

Exercise For The Mind

While a mystery novel can be a puzzle, spec fiction can also test the mind by forcing us to paint an image in our head that we reference from reality. This is especially true for spec fiction that has yet to be adapted to film or television. 

Reading a spec fiction book where you haven’t seen any concept art, and the only visual you have is the cover, you as the reader become as much the creator as the author.

As you read, your mind expands to a scale that cannot fit within any confines of the real world. You dive into the heads of characters and out into a fantastical land with mountains, rivers, and oceans, and then further out to galaxies far far away. 

You gain the empathetic skills to communicate better and you increase your curiosity to explore deeper and further in any direction. The more you read, the stronger your mind gets, and like going to the gym, you get what you put in. 

By reading speculative fiction, we learn about the environment, human nature, politics, technology, and the supernatural all through the protective filter of fiction. Sure, on the surface it might just seem like wizards, aliens, and battleships, but when you turn the pages, you realize that there is so much more. 

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3 Reasons to Be a Generalist

If you want to succeed, you have to be a specialist. That’s a common belief, isn’t it? 

After all, if you’re calling someone to fix your toilet, you’d want a professional plumber. You don’t want a plumber/novelist. You want to make sure this guy knows what he’s doing and not simply using your bathroom to research his next urban fantasy

Certain roles demand specialization – like surgeons, pilots, and plumbers. However, most people can benefit from having a breadth of knowledge, acquiring more skills, gaining more experiences, embracing detours, and experimenting with their craft. 

We used to believe that in order to succeed, you must get ahead and stay ahead. Commit and never waver. But I have three reasons why you should avoid the traditional trap and expand your range so that you can be a high-functioning generalist.

1. Skill Stacking: 80% is Already Really Good

If you were an ambitious Asian kid like I was, at some point in your life, someone would’ve pressured you to be the best. Number 1. The gold medalist. A+ student. The undisputed champion. 

The likelihood of me or anyone reaching that pinnacle is very slim. There are over 7 billion people in the world, so it’s going to be hard to reach the top and achieve a perfect 100%. However, we don’t need to be the best. We only need to be proficient. We can be 80% and still be better than the majority of people. Being 80% means that you’re capable of accomplishing your task and you are completing it way above average. To rise beyond 80%, other factors need to come into play such as genetics. That’s why even under the best conditions, specialization can only get you so far. 

I love the concept of skill stacking, which is the idea of combining all your skills together so that even if you’re not a 100% performer in any of them, collectively they still give you an advantage over a majority of the world. 

Let’s say you are 80% good at writing, 80% good at marketing, and 80% good at photography. You become so much more effective in starting your business – a process that requires many skills – than someone who is 100% good at writing and 0% good at the other skills. 

For more on skill stacking, check out How to Be Better at Almost Everything by Pat Flynn (Amazon)

2. Breadth of Knowledge: You Can Solve Bigger Problems

When we’re focused on our own work, in our own team, in our own department, we learn to solve one problem and one problem well. It’s when that problem changes that traditional methods and tools become ineffective. Failing to be agile results in wasted efforts. These siloed operations are flaws in the system, preventing innovation from taking place.

If you only consume information from a narrow field, you shrink your world. When you’re exposed to fewer experiences and ideas, you’re less likely to make new connections. These connections are potential solutions to new problems and creative ways to use old tools. 

It’s true that learning a breadth of knowledge can be inefficient. This is often the case in trades and science, where specialization is expected. However, by gaining a range of skills and broad knowledge, we can solve bigger problems and be nimble. In the modern world, a sudden disruption can make your specialized skill obsolete and leave you completely lost. It’s good to go deep into a subject, but be sure to go wide as well, just in case.  

To learn more about how being a generalist can help solve bigger problems, check out Range by David Epstein (Amazon)

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

3. Find Your Unique Style

Creativity is all about making connections, and connections come from experiences. The more people, environments, genres, and artforms you expose yourself to the more connections you’ll make. 

There’s too much out there these days and replicating a classic will only get you so far. However, it’s a good place to start. In order to stand out, you need to bring something new to the table. The best way to do that is to understand what has worked in the past and mix it up in a novel way. As you replicate these established styles, you’ll discover your own. 

Take the idea of “swimming upstream” and discovering a family tree of your influences. Try this exercise: Find one thinker — a creator, writer, artist, role model — you admire and whose works you want to emulate. Study that person. Become a specialist and go deep. Then find three people that that thinker admires and follow them as well. Learn everything you can. Go deeper still. Once you’re done with that tree, begin again with another thinker, and go through that same process of swimming upstream. See how each thinker is a culmination of many others. See how one influences another. 

I love the saying: if you steal from one artist you’re plagiarising, but if you steal from many, you’re developing your own style. 

For more on developing your own style and stealing like an artist, check out Steal Like An Artist by Austen Kleon (Amazon)

More than ever, being a generalist can be a key to your success. Organizations are depending on team members that can communicate between departments. Generalists are counted on to call out discrepancies and make connections that might not be visible to specialists who are too deep into their field to notice. 

So forget about the old misconceptions, traditions, and pressures of picking a lane and staying rigidly within it. It’s time to learn, it’s time to explore, and it’s time to do more. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

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