Browse Category by Writing

The Curse Is Broken


A post shared by Van Hoang (@iamvanhoang) on

Just broke through one of the most painful writer’s blocks I’ve experienced, this one spanning a total of eleven weeks. Eleven! Yikes.

The true meaning of 11 weeks: two and a half months kind of.

What I could have done within those 11 weeks:

  1. Finish a crappy draft of a full-length novel
  2. Write 11 short stories
  3. Edit another draft of an existing novel
  4. Come up with a million ideas
  5. Write a masterpiece

What I did instead:

  1. Wrote crappy drafts of two short stories that will probably never see the light of day
  2. Stared at my blinking cursor a lot
  3. Opened a lot of new documents and then closed them without saving

What I’m doing now:

  1. Working on a hopefully not-crappy first draft of my new novel, a young adulty fairy tale about a witch, a warlock, two princes, a princess, and a dragon. You’ve been warned.

Where is the Love?

A professor in a biography-writing class once told us to choose the people we want to write about carefully.

“You’ll pretty much be living with them for the entire semester,” he said. “You’re going to learn everything there is to possibly know about them. You’re going to hear about their childhood, what they like to eat, what they like to read, if they chew with their mouths open, and if they leave the seat down on the toilet. You better like them. Or you’re going to go crazy.”

This was true. But it’s not just true for biographies, it’s also true about novel-writing. When you start out writing your book, you better make sure you love your characters enough to spend the next two, three, four, fifteen years with them.

I learned this the hard way. I’m always brimming with ideas, mindlessly daydreaming, thinking up new characters and storylines and worlds, traveling from one thing to the next in my crazy brain-train. The problem for me has never been what to write, it’s what to choose. Narrowing it down to one idea and a cast of characters has never been easy.

I just finished up a draft of a novel that I was struggling with, but had no idea why at the time. I loved all the characters, especially the protagonist. But something wasn’t working. I’m only beginning to realize now that maybe I don’t love him enough. At least, not in the way I feel about Toph in CHRONICLES OF MEDES.

It’s weird talking about my affection for someone who doesn’t technically exist, but my feelings are there, and they’re real. When I compare how I feel toward Toph against how I feel about other characters in novels I haven’t completed, I can see the vast difference. I poured heart and soul, flaws and imperfections, pain and suffering, challenge and growth into Toph. I needed to do that to all the characters I write.

When I start on my next novel, I’m going to remember this, to give it my all, to be all in. I’m going to give each character a chance, a real chance, to fail, to grow, to suffer and move on, and to really live.


This is the Start of Something New


But let me backtrack.

I usually don’t talk about works-in-progress because I have this superstition that any mention of the story will jinx it. This isn’t a completely irrational fear. There have been many times where a story is not finished, the characters not real enough, and the concept not fully developed. I make the mistake of talking about the project. And then my excitement over it sizzles.

The other day, I had just turned in a draft (TO MY AGENT. I still can’t believe I can write words like that, and they’re actually true and not just made up in my head like most of my writing usually is) and felt a bit down. The usual project hangover you get when something is finished and you’re lost in limbo not knowing what to work on next.

Then I started reading AUTHOR IN PROGRESS by the makers of Writers Unboxed. The book is great so far (I’m only 25% in) but the editors encourage aspiring writers to announce to the world that they’re working on a novel, even if their first instinct is to keep it a secret. My reasoning for keeping it to myself is that I have this vision that when the novel enters the world, it will be with as much elegance and grace as a debutante being presented to the ton for the Season. All dressed up and pretty and ripe for the plucking.

And then I remembered what happened the last time I did that. I kept CHRONICLES OF MEDES a secret, working on it behind the scenes for more than 3 years. When I finally told my friends and family that I’d received representation for it, they were like, “You were working on a novel?” I mean, they were happy for me, but it didn’t have quite the congratulatory awesomeness that I’d expected. It wasn’t their fault. It was my own. I felt like I’d short-changed my characters by not announcing them to the world when they were first born.

So I’m scrapping my usual protocol, and proclaiming that I AM WORKING ON A (NEW) NOVEL!

But that’s all I’m going to say about it. And now the world knows and I can’t take it back.


Only Words Bleed

Or: My first sucky experience at an IRL writing workshop.

Writers have a reputation for being socially awkward, and at least in my case, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I’ve spent most of my life trying to limit my human interactions, but sometimes the little extrovert-troll claws its way out. I’ve been feeling strangely more validated as a writer lately (which turned out to be a false alarm) so I signed up for this writing group in the hopes of making new friends. And that didn’t happen. But I won’t name any names.

I’ve joined critique groups and partnered up with other writers online before, all with wonderful experiences and some amazing constructive feedback that’s helped me grow as a writer and as an internet troll. But this year, as part of my own goal to meet more people, I finally decided to attend a workshop in real life.

We all exchanged our full-length manuscripts two months in advance, and split into groups of 3. The other 2 novels I read were great, though not in the genre I normally read or write. However, I’m a prolific binge reader and can delve into any subject. The other two writers, on the other hand, were not fantasy readers, and admitted to not really getting the genre or my book in general. I get that. Fantasy writers are a different breed of humans. We exist in different universes where magic and dragons and aliens reign, and weird stuff happens. Lots of weird stuff.

One feedback I received was that the novel was perfect, and not to change a thing. I LOVE HEARING THINGS LIKE THIS. Except, not really? Because it’s not exactly constructive.

And the other feedback was just all over the place. The critiquer admitted to not being able to read parts of the novel for “personal reasons.” Which I kind of understand? But then why did you join a writing workshop when you knew you’d have to read a full manuscript in this type of genre? It just seemed a bit unfair–especially when we agreed to actually read each other’s manuscripts in exchange for in-depth critiques.

I’ll chalk my experience to a one-time deal, but probably won’t go back. Mostly because I don’t have anything ready to submit to a workshop yet.

But here are some things I learned.

I am meant to be forever alone.

Just kidding. But really, writing is a lonely, painful, high-impact sport.

And sometimes you gotta take the punches by yourself.

I still have so much more to learn.

Writing a novel is hard. Finishing a novel is near-impossible. Even things that are published never really seem complete. Just because I wrote this novel doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing or how to write the next one, or even how I wrote this one. There will always be more revisions, more rewrites, more improvements.

I need to stop taking myself so seriously.

Writing is fun. My novel is fun. Reading it should be fun. So I’m going to enjoy the process.