As regular readers of the Displaced Nation will know, Shannon Young* recently took the decision to quit her day job to become a full-time writer in Hong Kong, where she lives with her half-Chinese husband. She joins us today to update the diary of this new phase of her life—and this time has brought along Jordan Rivet, her alter-ego. Hmmm…should be interesting!
Dear Displaced Diary,
I hope you don’t mind if I allow Jordan Rivet to contribute to this month’s entry. I created Jordan Rivet as the pen name for my post-apocalyptic adventure series, which I first started writing during National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo (often shortened even further, to NaNo), two years ago. For those who aren’t familiar, NaNo challenges people to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November.
Nowadays, writers across the world come out in force to meet this challenge. (Hmmm… Shouldn’t it be renamed INTERnational Novel Writing Month: IntNoWriMo?)
But enough from me: The next portion of this entry will be from Jordan.
* * *
Thank you, Shannon. Displaced Diary, I’ll start out by saying how grateful I am for NaNo: it’s what brought me, Jordan Rivet, into existence. By the end of the month of November two years ago, I had produced 57,002 words about a floating city one disaster away from extinction, and I now have a book out under my name! (I even have my own email and twitter accounts.)
Last time Shannon wrote to you, she talked about going through the final publication stages for her memoir, Year of Fire Dragons—with a lot of help from her friends.
This month, though, has been all about me. I am back and am writing away furiously, having joined NaNo again, here in Hong Kong.
There are writers in Hong Kong!
Hong Kong is sometimes accused of lacking a literary culture. The scene definitely exists, but it can be hard to find. There’s a lot of pressure in this city to focus on purely commercial pursuits—and people are busy.
Yet every November, lots of us creative types come out of the woodwork—pros, beginners, and hobbyists alike. We are a mix of locals, expats, and returners who were educated abroad. You’ll find students and teachers and lawyers and marketers and homemakers. Unlike me, they don’t necessarily have time to write every day, but they do love books. They carve out time for writing in the midst of busy schedules and obligations. They get excited about stories and about inventing new worlds. Their energy is infectious.
People come and go a lot here, but I make new writing friends for Shannon every November, particularly at the NaNo write-ins, where participants gather to chat, write, laugh, and drink coffee together.
Being an adventuresome sort, I particularly love it when we have visitors at our write-ins who are just traveling through the city or who’ve made special trips from Macau and Shenzhen to connect with their fellow NaNo participants.
“Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” —Kenneth Lamott
This is my third November working on a novel in Shannon’s post-apocalyptic adventure series set at sea, called The Seabound Chronicles.
As already mentioned, Shannon just now launched my first book in this series, which I’d drafted in November 2012. It’s called Seabound, but back then I’d titled it The Vertigo. Shannon loved it immediately: it was her first foray into fast-paced genre fiction. “Planning and writing a grand adventure is just as much fun as reading one,” she told me.
Now every November I hammer out a very rough draft of another installment in the series, and it always reminds Shannon how much fun writing actually is. (Actually, I wrote the first draft of the sequel the spring after that first NaNo. In November of 2013 I wrote the prequel.)
In Bird by Bird, her classic mediation on the writing life, Anne Lamott argues that writers should produce “shitty first drafts.” Her point is that by giving ourselves permission to write rough, messy, and even bad work, writers can avoid the kind of perfectionism and fear that stifles creativity.
That’s why I’m so glad Shannon invented me during NaNoWriMo. She was thinking that NaNo is a great time to produce what may well be a shitty first draft in the madcap rush to reach 50,000 words in thirty days, and that revisions can always come later.
I love that I get to do the first draft, which is all about discovery. As I’ve said, adventure is my thing!
I’m now working on what I believe will be the fourth and final book in the Seabound Chronicles (27,555 words and going strong). This is the part where I get to figure out what happens in the end.
Though I’m enjoying it to the hilt, I have to tell you that writing my final first draft is bittersweet. Of course Shannon will call me in again, as the series still needs a lot of work. But will I still have a life after it finishes? That is the question…
Since I don’t know the answer, I’ll give you back to Shannon.
* * *
Thanks, Jordan. Diary, I must confess that ever since I quit my job to write full time, I’m finding there are still a lot of things that pull me away. These are all writing-related tasks: answering emails, writing blog posts, updating my websites, requesting reviews, promoting my books, etc.
And, as Jordan reported, I’ve been working on formatting and uploading all the files for the e-book and paperback of Seabound, a task I kind of love but it’s time consuming.
As you know, I want to make the most of this time. I’m slowly developing strategies to keep me on task. Even if the miscellaneous stuff is writing-related, I still have to make sure the real writing comes first.
Thank goodness Jordan has reappeared to keep me on track this month.
It’s not New York City, but…
Once upon a time, I dreamed of living in New York City. I imagined renting a loft in Brooklyn, going to book launches every weekend, and having lunch with authors (ideally as an editor at a major publishing house). It was a very particular sort of dream.
Then this crazy, wonderful expat life happened.
Shannon Young at the Hong Kong Literary Festival earlier this month, reading from her memoir of her first year in Hong Kong, Year of Fire Dragons.
When I first moved to Hong Kong, I worried I’d have to give up my book publishing dreams. A little over four years later, it’s amazing how wrong I was. Hong Kong may not have a deeply entrenched literary and publishing scene like New York’s, but it has provided opportunities for me to chase a more evolved version of my dream. And Hong Kong writers have an energy and optimism that’s all their own.
Earlier this month, I attended the Hong Kong International Literary Festival as one of the featured writers. I got to be on the radio, visit a local secondary school, attend the opening and closing parties, and read from my book, Year of Fire Dragons, at an event.
This expat life isn’t what I planned. I meet people all the time who also didn’t mean to end up in Hong Kong. But through chance and circumstance, here we are. As it turns out, there are plenty of opportunities to follow our dreams, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thanks for continuing to follow my expat writing journey.
Shannon (& Jordan)
* * *
Readers, I hope you are finding writing buddies wherever you are, as well as alter egos who are as fun (and productive!) as Jordan is. And if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, get back to work!
*Shannon Young (not Jordan Rivet!) has edited an anthology, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia (2014), from which she is sharing some excerpts. We’re calling them “chunks” of dragonfruit—they taste delicious!
STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with snippets of worldly wisdom, exclusive book giveaways and our nominees for the monthly Alice Awards. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!