What I’d Tell My Ghostwriter: Advice on Finishing My Novel

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If I were to hire a ghostwriter to write my novel, how might I instruct her?

Here is what I came up with:

  • Write a coming-of-age story that encapsulates a young Chinese American girl’s life growing up Jehovah Witness in the 80’s — her desires, her struggles — and how her life changes throughout the course of the book.
  • I’d ask this ghostwriter to remember the title and keep it in mind as she writes: THE FOREVER LIFE. (That’s a title I don’t want anyone to take, by the way, so I really need to light that fire under my ass to finish this thing, otherwise someone else will have that title. Fuck that!)
  • If I had a ghostwriter, I’d tell her to channel her memories of youth, that my character, Natalie, is only 14-years-old, struggling to belong, either in the life of forevers (the path of her mom), or a life of freedom and agency (her friend Rachel.)
  • I’d instruct my ghostwriter to come up with writing prompts before writing for each section/chapter/scene.  (E.g., What parts in the Taiwan trip can you pull out for the novel? Natalie is in the hospital post-car accident. What happens next? Knowing your outline for the closing of Act 1, how can you incorporate that into this hospital scene?)
  • I’d instruct my ghostwriter to read coming-of-age novels I love (like Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend) to get a sense of story, voice, structure, pace, tone, setting, and characterization.
  • I’d have her revisit writing-related notes on the manuscript in all its iterations, such as the ones in Carolina de Robertis’ class at Cristina Garcia’s Las Dos Brujas Writers’ Workshop. Pull out the stories she had showcased about narrative tension. How can you apply this to your own writing? I’d have her revisit April Bosshard’s Deep Story Design notes for coaching. Perhaps revisit the class notes from the past class on story structure and the technical aspects within a story (ex. midpoint, plot echo points). Revisit Elizabeth Tallent’s notes from Squaw Valley. Revisit Cristina Garcia’s feedback from that time we met up in San Francisco. Revisit Michelle Wallace‘s manuscript notes she helped me edit. Revisit third writing group’s (Brenda and Gina from Liminal) notes for novel. Revisit my second writing group (Small Vino) feedback with Mel, Sam, Kiala, Muthoni and Michelle. Revisit my notes from my first writing group with Tiff and Steve. Revisit notes from my first MFA fiction class with Gail Tsukiyama at Mills College. Revisit my notes from VONA, from ZZ Packer and Ashe Bandele. Classes I took at the Writing Salon and the SF Writing Grotto.
  • I’d create a solid writing practice for her to follow. A schedule. So she’d fall into the writing easily. I’d tell her not to be so hard on herself when the writing doesn’t flow. I’d ask her to use pomodoros and build in breaks to stretch, run to the bathroom — basically to not sit in a chair the entire time.
  • I’d ask her to build in time for research, study the craft (see above about revisiting class notes), reading both books about how-to write (e.g., Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext book I lent Lorelei when she was eager to learn about novel writing) and fiction. I’d have her build a solid literary life.
  • I’d also ask her to live her life — outside of writing — because all of life can be material in some way. (Not in a nasty capitalistic way of churning straw into gold, but in that stories can be found everywhere.)
  • I’d ask her to pair writing with music. To sometimes write with a song on repeat, a song that moves you, gives you life. Something like Max Richter. Or Helen Jane Long. And songs from the 80’s my characters — 14-year-old Natalie and Rachel  — would be listening to, like Depeche Mode, Ministry.
  • I’d ask my ghostwriter to follow the outline I’ve given her, but to feel free to deviate if it serves the story. To not be afraid to do so, but to check in with me, and we can adjust as necessary. I’d ask her to give herself permission to feel free. This is fun work. This is play. Write with lightness and spaciousness.
  • To write in this way, with ease, I’d instruct her to meditate before writing. To meditate when she gets stuck. Or to get up and move. Perhaps a walk outside in the fresh air, taking in the textures and colors of nature, marveling at the world larger than ourselves.
  • Reading is essential to writing well. I’d ask her to remember that when I read fiction or memoir, I read to find out how someone has lived, how they surmounted hardships, how I seek, often continuously, to know that I am not alone–in whatever struggles I’ve felt, or once felt, in life. I also read to be entertained. I like the excitement of cliffhangers, of what happens next. I like seeing characters in impossible or crazy situations, watching how they overcome the world they are boxed in.
  • I’d also ask her to pull up a blank page, especially in 750 words (because it’s on someone else’s server), to use as a canvas to draw on, so to speak. It’s okay to scribble, sketch. Then take that over to Scrivener to turn into a painting later.
  • I’d ask her to research Jehovah’s Witnesses. Go through my mom’s old books, the Watchtowers, the Awakes. And when writing, not to feel as if you have to explain everything to readers, in a didactic way, but to weave it into the actual story.

Yeah, if writing this novel were easy, I’d hire someone else to do it. But I’m sure I wouldn’t feel good afterwards, knowing I didn’t do it.

If writing it were easy, I’d just write. I’d look forward to writing it. I’d have a regular writing practice, sitting down each day to write. I’d tell myself to just keep going when I have doubts. I’d hire a coach/editor to keep me accountable (which I have). I’d make writing dates (which I’m doing regularly now with my friend Julie via Skype on weekday mornings).

I’d just keep showing up …

Each. Fucking. Day.

Yellowstone: #RVLife

Yellowstone Geyser

“Nuggets!” My kid cries, bent over his screen, as if he’s been shot, heading to the bathroom. Outside, I hear my husband cough amid abundant birdsong.

We have traded the mosquitos for birds.

The last campsite — Yellowstone/Lewis Lake — had bodies filled with our blood.

Today we awoke in Montana; yesterday in Wyoming, in Yellowstone.
The states are beginning to blur, as are the days.

We are nomads, travelers, drifters. We are adventurers, overlanders, full-time RV travelers, #digitalnomads

We live, love, and fight in a moving cube.

Yesterday morning, we erupted, like Old Faithful, before the drive toward Mammoth Hot Springs. It was the usual arguments and panic about where we’d land, could we find a spot in time, given all we wanted to do, given all the miles we had to drive.

The eruption was great — talk of airports and dissolving our plans, our trip.

We had learned of constriction as the mechanism beneath hydrothermal features such as geysers, and as we drove toward the hot springs, I felt constriction in my chest. The heat of our anger, our frustration, like magma; our words flowing like snowmelt or rain, words that pelted with hurt and misunderstanding.

As we drove, I pondered the anatomy of a fight.

Always the eruption, the constriction, tempered by silence, space, and time. Ours simmered down to a low boil, punctuated by sightings of wildlife — a grizzly bear ambling matter-of-factly on the side of a road, bear-faced cow-like bison, families of geese waddling into the moving Yellowstone River below. Followed by walks to the volcanic mud pots that boiled with sulfer and smelled of soft-boiled eggs atop steaming bowls of ramen. One was named Black Cauldron, a fitting name. Later the hot springs and travertine terraces, ending the night in Montana, sipping wine and reading aloud short stories to my family — the eruption now subsided.


A Mindset Shift: The Difference One Little Letter Can Make

A Mindset Shift: What a Difference One Letter Can Make

It’s amazing how easily you can make a mindset shift simply by changing the ‘o’ to an ‘e’ in the phrases: “I’ve GOT to” to “I GET to.”

As ‘a glass is half empty type of person’ my entire life, I find myself needing to remember this on a daily basis.

Lately, with our recent move from our house to an RV, I’ve been struggling with going into this default mode; namely, looking at life via a negative lens. But doing this exercise allows me to quickly shift from despair and overwhelm to a more grateful and positive existence, which is what I’m perpetually aiming for, not wanting to be overruled by stress.

So here’s an example of a simple mindset shift I’ve decided to make:

  • I’ve got to make this work!  becomes ==>  I GET to live this life!
  • I’ve got to eat better!  becomes ==>  I GET to eat delicious keto food that fuels my brain and body, especially because I love the mental clarity, increased energy, and improved moods when I eat this way.
  • I’ve got to exercise!  becomes ==> I GET to sweat and I know it feels damn good when I do, especially afterwards during cool down. And I get to listen to, and feel fired up by, my favorite podcasts and music. Not only that, I love knowing that exercise lowers my insulin resistance and fasting glucose, drives up my ketones which is good prevention for cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimers. And it increases my chances for longevity, so more time on this planet to spend with my loved ones.
  • I’ve got to write that novel!  becomes ==>  I GET to write a novel that I haven’t seen out there in the world before, creating a fictional coming-of-age story about a young Asian American girl growing up Jehovah’s Witness who is faced with an emergency blood transfusion, afraid she’ll lose her chance at eternal life, all the while grappling with religion, racism, mental health issues, and her undeniable feelings for her best friend Rachel.
  • I’ve got to work!  becomes ==> I GET to work with awesome clients aligned with my values to help them write and edit content, from web copy and newsletters to social media and blog posts.
  • I’ve got to be a better parent!  becomes ==> I GET to spend even more quality time with my middle-school-aged kid, learning as I go, striving to be better, to practice patience, grateful for this opportunity of a lifetime to travel in a RV with my kid and husband, both of us teaching him–as best we know–about the world around us so as to leave him a better person on this earth.

To be quite honest, since we said good-bye to our house of ten years in Berkeley, CA last Thursday (April 5, 2018) to drive to Denver, CO to begin our new #RVLife, I’ve been in a state of shock, battling mild depression. It’s easy for someone like me to fall into a state of despair, which is why I am a person who constantly needs to surround myself with positivity, with supports in the form of inspirational and motivational quotes, podcasts, books, friends, even the virtual community on Instagram which I love.

Today, while my husband and our kid went out to finalize RV preparations, I finally had some space (both mental and physical) to reflect, recharge, and reconnect with myself. I spent time writing, reconnected with my accountability buddy and good writing friend this morning (actually meditating again!), exercised by myself using the hotel gym, and spent some time reflecting in my bullet journal. I asked for time off from my clients to use this week to fully move into our new home (the RV). That’s something I haven’t done since last summer, so to have a week off just felt decadent!

I realized that my tendency to focus on the negative can easily be shifted with a change in mindset, which forces you to be grateful for what you GET to do, rather than what you HAVE (or GOT) to do.

Coupled with self-care — a focus on nutrition (currently a carnivore keto diet and intermittent fasting), exercise, meditation, and creativity — I’m back in that space of believing anything is possible.


Note: I can’t remember where I got this quote from. It might have come from that book I love: ESSENTIALISM. But I could be wrong…