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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: A summer of unwinding, recharging & charging ahead

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young has been updating us on her quest to become a full-time writer since her first post in October 2014, nearly three years ago. As her summer 2017 update shows, she’s come a very long way!

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s a bright, sunny day in Hong Kong, and summer is in full swing. This is the time of year when even the tourists are hesitant to go out and brave the muggy weather here in the sub-tropics. I’m already back at work in my usual Starbucks after my own summer travels.

Since my last update in the spring, I’ve been busy finishing the fifth and final book in my young adult fantasy adventure series, Steel & Fire. Night of Flame launched on May 20th, wrapping up my second major series under my Jordan Rivet pen name. (The first is the Seabound trilogy.)

I think it’s safe to say that the Jordan Rivet name is here to stay.

The end of May also marked the first full year in which my writing income matched or exceeded what I earned in my previous day job.

It seemed like a good time to go on holiday!

JUNE: Something of a writing break

In June, I spent four weeks with my family in Arizona. My fellow members of the Displaced Nation know what this entails: catching up on a year’s worth of quality time, eating at all your favorite places, and noticing all your home country’s idiosyncrasies.

One thing that always surprises me when I go home is the sheer number of choices in the grocery stores. You can buy anything you want in Hong Kong, but in the United States there seem to be infinite variations of each thing. (For example: I counted eleven different types of M&Ms in a single convenience store.) I also notice how much strangers make small talk. There’s usually an adjustment period where I stare blankly at cashiers who ask about my day. I can no longer tell how much people actually want to know when they strike up a conversation.

Since I’d just wrapped up my fantasy series, I decided not to set any serious writing goals for this summer. I made a few final edits to the side project I wrote while working on Night of Flame. This book, a post-apocalyptic story in a different vein than my Seabound series, is my tenth Jordan Rivet novel, and I think it’s the best yet. I’m currently exploring the possibility of going hybrid with it (i.e., finding a traditional publisher for some books while continuing to self-publish others). I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, Diary.

Of course, I can’t stay away from writing completely. My mom and my 15-year-old sister both enjoy writing, and we had a few great work sessions at cafés around Arizona. I even got to read the first chapter of my sister’s novel-in-progress (it’s awesome). Being an expat means it’s especially noticeable when younger family members grow up in leaps and bounds while you’re away. I’m coming up on my seven-year anniversary in Hong Kong, and it’s nice that my youngest sister and I have started connecting over this shared passion.

During those sessions with my family, I worked on the worldbuilding and outlines for my shiny new fantasy series. This trilogy will be set in a different world than my Steel & Fire series, which means I get to invent a new magic system and figure out new hierarchies and political systems.

My goal for this series is to appeal to the same readers who enjoyed Steel & Fire while also being able to try all kinds of different things. The books will follow a single point-of-view character, and I’m going for a tight, tense plot rather than something sweeping and epic.

I ended up outlining all three books for the new trilogy while I was in Arizona, though I’m sure the details will change as I get into it.

JULY: Indie author reunion in London & a week in Iceland

From Arizona I flew to London to meet up with my husband, who was finishing up a business trip. While there, I met with a group of indie authors who have been a huge part of my writing life over the past two years. We are all members of the same Facebook group, and these writers have taught me many of the strategies that have contributed to my self-publishing success.

Though nervous about meeting Internet friends in real life, I found it even better than expected. The author life can be lonely, and it’s good to talk shop with people who are building their careers in the same way I am. All of us are trying to figure things out, often through trial and error. It’s been wonderful to share the journey.

From London, my husband and I flew to Iceland for a week-long trip we’d been talking about taking since we met, almost ten years ago. I know it’s a trendy place to visit right now—and it completely lives up to the hype!

Iceland also proved the perfect place to visit while the worldbuilding for my new series was kicking around in my head. Many of the places in that world aren’t set in stone yet, and I ended up adding a bit of Icelandic flavor to my mental images.

END-JULY TO AUGUST: Glad to be back in the writing saddle!

By the time I returned to Hong Kong, I was chomping at the bit to get started on the new series. After a day to recover from jet lag, I hit the ground running on the first book. After thinking about it all summer I had a pretty clear idea of how it was going to turn out. Of course, there are always surprises in the writing process, and this book was no exception.

Though the beginning went slower than anticipated as I got to know the new characters and started filling out their world, I finished the rough draft in just under three weeks. As always, I’m sure it’s going to need a lot more work. Coming in at less than 60,000 words, I think it’s missing a few chapters that will help bring the world to life.

I’ve printed out the draft, and it’s burning a hole in my bag right now, just waiting for me to open it up and start reading.

Even though summer is not yet officially over, I’m happy to be back to work. It’s always nice to get out of Hong Kong, but it’s good to be home, too.

I first started writing when I moved to Hong Kong, and this is still where I do it best. In a few weeks, I will be able to apply for permanent residency, another step along the road to establishing a lasting place for myself here.

I think I’ll always feel like an expat, a little displaced, a little homesick. But the baristas at my Starbucks seem happy to see me, and for now at least, this is home.

As always, Displaced Diary, thank you for listening.

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I can still remember clearly when you started this column. You weren’t at all sure you could make this full-time writing gig work. And now look at where you are. Amazing! And you’re even applying to become a permanent full-time resident of Hong Kong? Wow! The displaced writer’s life clearly suits you. Keep on keeping on, that’s all I can say! ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Author photo and book covers supplied.
Strawberry peanut butter M&Ms?! What?! by Heather via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Iceland photo via Pixabay.

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How to generate more writing ideas than you can handle (expats, you have an advantage!)

Diary of an Expat Writer
It’s been much too long since we’ve heard from Shannon Young, an American expat in Hong Kong who recently achieved her dream of becoming a full-time writerThose who have been following her diary from the beginning won’t be surprised to learn that she’s been extremely productive in the interim. About to finish her five-book fantasy adventure series and begin the next, she shares some proven methods of generating story ideas.

Dear Displaced Diary,

Forgive me for letting so much time pass since my last entry. As you can probably guess from my previous entries, I’ve been busy! Nearly a year ago—on April 1, 2016—I published the first book, Duel of Fire, in my second fantasy series, called Steel and Fire. It’s a five-book series, whereas my first series, Seabound. was a trilogy. As the title suggests, I’ve been writing an adventure series; the Seabound books are dystopian fantasy. Also, from the start, the Steel and Fire novels have done much better than my first set, which I hope can be taken as a measure of my success as a budding writer.

The last time I wrote you, I was about to finish Book Three in Steel and Fire. I’d also set myself the goal of launching Book Four by the end of 2016: achieved! Then in January I wrote the rough draft of the fifth and final Steel and Fire novel.

As I wrap up this series and gear up for the next, I thought it might be an opportune moment to tell you about how I get my writing ideas—something we haven’t really gone over before.

Here are my four main techniques for generating story lines:

1) Draw on life experience to build a new world.

As a science fiction and fantasy author, I am challenged over and over again to build a world that is different to everyday reality.

Expats like you and me have a serious advantage. We have literally transplanted ourselves into a new world already. Viewing people, customs, vocabulary, clothing, and architecture as a newcomer or outsider already puts us in the mindset for developing a compelling world for our stories.

The more you work with a world, the more you can push the boundaries beyond what you already know about it. It’s not so much creating a world as it is excavating one—an idea I lifted directly from Stephen King’s On Writing. As King says, it’s easier to expand upon and discover ideas than to think them up cold. Build outward from an initial concept, and the ideas almost write themselves.

In my dystopian Seabound series, for example, I chose a post-apocalyptic ocean setting and developed my ideas from there. I gave the characters entire vocabularies that revolve around nautical terms. All of my similes had to be relatable for people who have lived on the ocean for sixteen years. “Salt” and “rust” became swear words. I created an oil rig that is a central meeting place, versus a market.

2) Don’t forget about the story—and the power of contrast in telling it.

As anyone who’s written fantasy will know, it’s easy to get so bogged down in the details of a world that you forget about the actual story. Travel writers know this, too: it’s not enough to describe a cool place. You have to take your readers on a journey through it.

One way to come up with a story idea is to set up an inherent contrast. Two characters from different social classes fall in love. A by-the-book detective has to work with a rogue. A normal girl teams up with a paranormal being/secret agent/feisty old woman to defeat a bad guy. Use the built-in tension of contrasting characters to help figure out what your conflict should be. Again, starting with the seed of an idea and building outward is easier than thinking up a whole story from scratch.

3) Read other books for inspiration.

Another way to think up story ideas is to seek inspiration in other books. You shouldn’t copy another author’s ideas, but reading an engaging story can be a great way to get the juices flowing in your own mind. For example, you might be sitting by the fire enjoying the school antics of Harry Potter when—BAM!—you think to yourself: what would it be like if the whole thing took place at a boarding school in space? There’s your idea. Bonus points if you can bring an old idea into a new setting— think Firefly’s country western in space or iZombie’s murder mystery series with a zombie sleuth.

You can also get fiction ideas from reading non-fiction. You might be enjoying the latest expat memoir about your soon-to-be adopted home when it occurs to you things could get really interesting if someone got murdered or an EMP destroyed the electrical grid in the middle of the expat author’s adventures. Don’t be afraid to take someone else’s plot and add a new twist. Just run with it!

4) Live with a cold idea for a while, until it heats up.

I come up with my very best ideas while I’m working on other projects; but what happens when you have a general idea of what you want to write about, and you’re not sure how to move forward? How do you get more specific ideas on which to build a story? My favorite method is to walk around with the idea for a while. It helps if you can give yourself some parameters, such as “I want to write about a murder in the city where I live.” Don’t think too hard about it; just go about your daily life occasionally remembering that you’re looking for a particular story line. You may find that you see or overhear something that connects with the question in your head and hits you straight between the eyes with a great story idea!

This method works for problems within stories as well. Often the necessary solutions will come to you when you least expect them, but only after you give yourself an initial question to mull over. (This is why getting ideas in the shower is common among writers.) Don’t forget to keep a notebook handy so you can capture those ideas the moment they arrive.

Okay, your turn!

In closing, I’d like to pose a question to the readers of this diary entry. What are your tried-and-true methods of coming up with story ideas? Do you usually start out knowing what you’re going to write or discover it along the way?

Happy writing in either case!

And thank you, Displaced Diary, for your continuing encouragement!

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, it’s great to have you back at the Displaced Nation, and once again, I’m impressed by your ability to convey so many helpful ideas for the rest of us would-be book writers. You are what the Japanese side of myself would call a sensei, a compliment rarely bestowed on one so young! ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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A valentine to kindred creative spirits encountered in far-away lands

Expat life has a transient quality that is not always conducive to making close friends. Thus when two people reach out and find a connection, it feels very special, as we learn from this guest post by Philippa Ramsden, a Scottish writer who until recently was living in Burma/Myanmar. Philippa has been on our site before. Her story about discovering she had breast cancer shortly after her arrival in Rangoon/Yangon was one of the dragonfruit “morsels” that Shannon Young, who contributes our Diary of an Expat Writer column, chose to share with the release of an anthology she edited in 2014, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. I must say, it is a pleasure to have Philippa back in our midst. Not only is she doing much better health-wise, but her story of friendship makes a perfect read for Valentine’s Day! —ML Awanohara

As I was eating my breakfast quietly this morning, in this peaceful retreat, I was joined at the table by another couple. We started chatting a little, enthusiastic about the day ahead and our various plans for exploring, relaxing and creating.

That’s when I saw the plate of dragonfruit in front of them! I hadn’t seen dragonfruit since leaving Asia, I did not even know it grew in South America*.

It was a striking coincidence given the special place dragonfruit holds in my creative heart. The first time I had my writing published in a proper book was when it appeared in the How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? anthology, which came out in 2014. What’s more, something unexpected emerged from the process of refining the writing in preparation for publication, which ultimately led to my present surroundings.

* * *

We were a team of 27 women, including and guided by our editor, Shannon Young, towards producing a collection of stories from our lives as women in Asia. Stories of our lives in countries where we were essentially guests, for a shorter or longer term. From a dozen different countries, we varied enormously in our situations but were tied together by the fact that we were all, or had been, women living in Asia as expatriates.

It was fascinating to get to know each other through our stories and through email connection as we were kept up to date on the decision of the title, the reveal of the cover art and the lead-up to publication.

Just after my writer’s copy of the anthology arrived, I received an email from one of the other writers, Sharon Brown. She had read my account of moving to Myanmar and being diagnosed with cancer. I, meanwhile, had read her story, “Our Little Piece of Vietnam,” in which she recounted hurtling through the streets of Hanoi on the back of a motorbike while being in the throes of labor, reaching the hospital just in time for the (safe) arrival of her daughter.

Sharon had reached out to me because she and her family were moving to Yangon!

“Once we’re settled in, if you have time, I would love to meet with you for tea one day,” her email said.

And indeed we did. Just think, had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, it is highly unlikely that our paths would have crossed in Myanmar over the two years of their stay. We would not have enjoyed those cuppas and chats, writing together or being part of the same book club.

A wonderful connection, thanks to the Dragonfruit anthology.

cuppas-and-chats

Fast forward two years, to May 2016. As it turned out, Sharon and I were both preparing to leave Myanmar. I was packing to leave Asia for Africa, and I learned that she was leaving Asia for South America: Ecuador. Along with her husband, she was embracing the opportunity to take on a new challenge. They would be running an eco-lodge in Ecuador, something close to their hearts, values and beliefs. They were filled with enthusiasm and zest for their new adventure.

Sharon said:

“You should come to the lodge. It would be the perfect place for a writing retreat. Do come.”

What a fascinating thought—but hardly a likely venture. Ecuador is further west than I have ever travelled. It is more than a day’s travel from Africa. Would it be rash to travel such a distance when the year has already seen such intensity, change and indeed long-distance travel? Would it not be wasteful given that there is so much to explore on my new African doorstep?

These are sensible questions, but my mind is not so wise. The thought kept returning that this is an opportunity which might not arise again. That it is probably better to travel when health is reasonable as nothing can be taken for granted. And the sneaking reminder, that if I did visit Ecuador, then incredibly, this would be a year which would see me on no less than five continents. (I do believe that I have not travelled to more than two continents in any year in the past.) How many grandmothers are able to do that?

* * *

So here I am, in the beautiful La Casa Verde Eco Guest House, nestling in the hills of Ecuador. I am sitting on the balcony of what is now being called “The Writing Room”, tapping away at the keyboard with the steep green hills right in front of me, the sound of a donkey braying in the distance, the trees swaying in the breeze and in the company of blue grey tanagers. The creative silence of the past months is being lifted gently in these inspiring hills.

I could not resist the temptation of visiting such a new part of the world to me, and of bringing the year to a close in a peaceful and inspiring place.

Had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, I might never have made it to this fascinating new land. Serendipity and the friendship of a kindred spirit have enabled this retreat to happen.

Like so many journeys, the one to get here was not an easy one, but I am powerfully reminded of the importance of making that effort and seizing the day. These opportunities are to be embraced and treasured. And will surely be long remembered.

Thank you, Dragonfruit!

Editor’s note: In fact, dragonfruit, or pitaya, is native to the Americas.

serendipity-and-friendship

* * *

And thank YOU, Philippa, for such an uplifting story! Displaced Nationers, do you have any stories of friendships that blossomed because of creative pursuits, and if so, did they lead you to new parts of the world? Do tell in the comments.

And if this excerpt has made you curious to about Philippa Ramsden, her blog is Feisty Blue Gecko, where a version of this post first appeared. You can also find her on Facebook and twitter. She has written several meditations on the challenges and joys of life in a foreign environment—and they are all fascinating. She is currently working on a memoir.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Opening visual: (clockwise, from top left) Dragonfruit anthology cover art; the photos of schoolgirls in Baños, Ecuador (where the eco-lodge is), of the two young women in a field in Myanmar, and the two kinds of dragonfruit are all from Pixabay.
Second visual: The photos of the cups of tea and of the two women making a heart with their hands are both from Pixabay. Image on the left: Inside The Strand Hotel & some of their gift shops – Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma), by Kathy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); image on right: downtown Rangoon with Sule Pagoda in distance, supplied by Philippa Ramsden.
Last visual: The photos of the green hills of Ecuador and the eco-lodge balcony view were supplied by Philippa; the photo of the blue grey tanagers is from Pixabay; and the rainbow image should be attributed as: Ecuador, over the rainbow, Baños, by Rinaldo Wurglitsch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Taking time off to look backwards on how far I’ve come…and forwards to the next goals

Diary of an Expat Writer
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young. She actually gave herself a break this summer—and as soon as she came back at it, pieces started falling into place…

Dear Displaced Diary,

Did you have a nice summer? Mine was a great mix of family time and travel. Highlights included hanging out with my adorable nephew in Arizona, visiting my grandparents in Oregon, catching up with old friends in New York City, and riding a moped around Bermuda with my husband.

After the intensive work of the previous six months, it was a much-needed chance to clear my head and remember how to be a human being again.

As I shared at the start of the year, I needed to kick into high gear in the first part of 2016 or else start searching for a new day job.

As a consequence, I barely looked up from my computer for six months, during which I wrote and launched the first two books in my new YA Steel of Fire fantasy series, within six weeks of each other.

After the intensity of the winter and spring, the summer break gave me a chance to step back and take stock of how far I’ve come along the journey into a writing career.

From travel writer…to fantasy author

I started my career writing about Hong Kong. I envisioned myself as a travel writer because that seemed like the natural path for an American girl abroad. But the more I’ve written, the more it has become clear that my interests and skills are better suited for fantasy and science fiction. Those early projects were important practice for the kind of work I’m doing now.

It’s common for writers to draw inspiration from the world around them even if they’re not travel writers. I’m sure you expats know what I’m talking about. You encounter a natural wonder or a style of clothing or a cadence of speech. It works its way into your brain, whether you write it down in that moment or not. Eventually it comes back. It may not be in the same form. You change it to align with the needs of your story world, or you remember it a bit differently than it was in reality. In fiction, you get to write from the inspiration rather than describing exactly what you saw—and that’s what makes it so much fun.

Living abroad has helped me to write fantasy because I get to see so many different places and meet people from all over the world, even if none of them wield magic or ride dragons (so far). It has also helped me look at the place I came from with fresh eyes.

MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for fantasy writing?

MAGICAL HONG KONG: Inspiration for Shannon’s swashbuckling fantasies?

From teacher in Arizona…to writer in Hong Kong

While I was in the States, I took a few days to finish the second draft of Dance of Steel, which will be the third book in my five-book Steel and Fire series. I completed the draft on my 28th birthday in my favorite coffee shop in my hometown, Gilbert, Arizona. I used to spend hours grading essays at that very coffee shop during my first year as a teacher.

At the time I was applying for jobs in Hong Kong, both at schools and with publishers, and it hadn’t even occurred to me to try writing books.

It was fun to mark my progress in a place where I could see how far I’d traveled, both physically and in my career as a writer.

MARK OF PROGRESS: From the coffee shops of Arizona to the Starbucks of Hong Kong

MARK OF PROGRESS: No longer grading papers in an Arizona coffee shop, Shannon is drafting fantasy novels in a Starbucks in Hong Kong.

From vacation mode…back to the grind

I’m writing a five-book series, so I’m always thinking about where my story is going. A long project requires stamina and a steady course, but sometimes moving out of your usual routine can help to get the creative juices flowing again. Having already planned to finish the final draft of Dance of Steel upon my return to Hong Kong after a month off, I was already thinking about what would happen in the next book.

My husband and I took a meandering road trip through Oregon and California before catching our flight to New York. Whenever it was my turn to drive, I’d pass the time on the road thinking through what would happen in the fourth book. I’d write notes in the evenings, but it was helpful to let the story unfold like a movie as I drove. It made me appreciate how much writing you can do when you’re not actually writing. You have to let those ideas develop and see if they really have legs. (Not to worry, I didn’t crash into anything!)

Once we were back in Hong Kong, I hit the ground running to make my editor deadline for the final draft of Dance of Steel. After a month away from the computer, I spent about 100 hours at Starbucks over the course of 12 days.

Hong Kong cooperated by being furiously rainy and dreary for all 12 days.

At 136,145 words, Dance of Steel has ended up being my longest book by 40,000 words.

It was a great way to get back into my routine—and it warned me to budget more time for each draft now that my books are getting longer. Finishing a book is a always a marathon, but I need to continue to work on my pacing.

From aspiring…to official full-time author!

The good news is, six years after I left Arizona, I’m officially making a living as a writer(!!). The month of May was the tipping point, when I published the second book in my Steel and Fire series, Duel of Fire, and my sales began to take off. This series has done exponentially better than my previous (Seabound) fantasy series.

Dance of Steel is the sixth novel I have published under my Jordan Rivet pen name. In the four months since, I’ve met or exceeded my previous day-job income.

And one more exciting piece of news: I signed with a literary agent to represent the auxiliary rights to the series and have now secured a three-book audio deal!

I will have to keep working hard and publishing often to maintain this momentum, but for now, it’s an exciting milestone to celebrate.

steel-and-fire-series_sept-2016

Onwards and upwards…

It’s good to be back at work after the time off. I’m now 80,000 words into the fourth book in the series (not counting thousands of words of notes).

My goal is to finish in time for a Christmas or New Year launch. I’m also working on getting out to writing and social events more often and establishing a sustainable working pace that allows me to put out a book every three or four months.

I’m in this for the long haul now. I want to keep learning, stay excited about the process, and make each book better than the last one:

Thank you, my dear Displaced Diary, for all your help and encouragement along the way!

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I was watching an interview with the playwright Edward Albee, aired to commemorate his death earlier in the month, and he said that whenever he was writing a play, he would “see and hear” the characters in his mind and wait for them to tell him where his story was going. Your road-trip method sounds a little like his! Thanks once again for sharing your latest news. It’s uplifting! ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How to swashbuckle your way into productivity (whether you’re a writer or not)

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young officially met her monthly income target in April, and in May had already achieved that target in 20 days. How did she get so productive?

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s hard to believe it has already been two months since my last entry. The past five months have been exceptionally productive. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I wanted to get my new fantasy series off the ground by publishing the first two books within two months of each other. At that time, the first book, Duel of Fire, had just come out.

Well, I’m happy to report that Book 2, King of Mist, launched this past week!

First two steel and fire books

For this entry I thought I’d take a step back to tell you about how I stay focused now that I am self-employed and my deadlines are generally self-imposed. (Even if you’re not a writer but are one of those expats with a side-gig or remote career—I suspect many trailing partners fall into this category—my strategies may be useful to you as well.)

The other reason I want to talk about this is that I’ve had a rather unproductive week—at least from a writing standpoint. The weeks when I release a book, it’s way too tempting to spend all my time refreshing my sales graph. So I also want to remind myself what I do to stay productive in hopes that it will get me back in the groove.

So here it is: Shannon’s Productivity Plan or, given that I’m now writing swashbuckling fantasy: How to Swashbuckle Your Way into Productivity.

Keep regular hours.

I go to Starbucks every day at 11:00 a.m. and stay until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. My mood and feelings on any given morning do not dictate whether or not I show up for work. I’ve tried going in earlier, but I find that I don’t usually get in the zone until 11:00 anyway, so I don’t force it. (Between you and me, not having to get up early is the best part of being a writer!) I catch up on news and social media, read emails, and check sales stats over breakfast before I leave the apartment, so I won’t be distracted by those things when it’s time to get to work.

Don’t take weekdays off.

It’s all too easy to reward yourself with days off when you work for yourself. I honestly think the biggest key to my productivity is that I don’t take days off except on extremely rare occasions. If I finish a book or draft on Wednesday, I start the next one on Thursday. Starting a new project is hard. If you simply roll right into it, you get to keep your momentum, and don’t have time to feel daunted by the challenges a new project presents.

Do take weekends off.

Burnout is real. I want to sustain this career for the long haul, so I don’t work weekends unless I’m on a serious roll or approaching a big deadline. I’ll sometimes go to a café for a few hours on a weekend afternoon—but I treat that as a bonus (as I quite enjoy writing), rather than a necessity.

Use the chunky method.

I block out my to-do lists by week rather than by day. I find it’s a lot more effective to set a word-count goal of, say, 15,000 in a week versus 3,000 per day. That way if you have a rough day, you’ll have a chance to make it up. Feeling like you’ve failed or haven’t lived up to your expectations for yourself can kill your productivity.

This method is especially helpful for edits, which are much harder to divide up by word count. One day you might edit 20,000 words and the next you might only get through 10,000 with the same amount of time and effort. If you plan to finish a draft within a given two-week period, you have some leeway on your day-to-day progress.

This method also makes it easier to figure out when a book will be finished so I can reserve my editor and cover designer at the right time. I also often group related tasks and tackle them all at once. Don’t feel bad if you miss a task on any given day. And if you finish your tasks early in the week, you can get more writing done!

Use breaks strategically

I’m now at the point where I can write for 6–8 hours in a single day, but I do usually hit a wall around the 4- or 5-hour mark. This is when I eat a late lunch and sometimes switch to another task (like email) for a little while before jumping back into the book. I don’t need to tell you how important it is to control your Internet and phone usage. Keep it confined to your lunch breaks! I’ve written before about the importance of sustaining writing focus: it’s a muscle you have to exercise.

What if you get stuck?

I’m definitely in the “writer’s block is a myth” camp. I believe if you show up and keep working, you will eventually break through the wall. No existential angst required! However, sometimes you have days where it’s harder to get in the zone. When this happens I have three tactics that usually work:

1 – Stay in the chair.
Keep your usual working hours, even if you’re not getting much done. Chances are you will find your groove a lot sooner than if you give up and go home.

2 – Work on something else.
You’re writing more than one book, right? Switch to a different one. Work on your outline by hand. Do a different essential task. Make sure you’re still in your chair. Checking something else off your to-do list is a great way to get back the motivation you need to keep writing. This is the strategy I’ve been using this week. I prepared an audition script for the forthcoming Seabound audio book and listened to samples from dozens of narrators. It was really exciting to wake up to a handful of completed auditions this morning!

3 – Read something good.
This is the method for when all else fails. Nothing helps to get the juices flowing in your head like reading a good, fast-paced novel. Make sure you choose a story you can get lost in without your writer or editor brain getting in the way. I have a few trusted authors who I know will give me a satisfying reading experience, including Lindsay Buroker and Sarah J. Maas. This isn’t a time to try a new writer. Stick to your favorites when you’re stuck.

Set big goals.

I’ve written before about what keeps me motivated. I want to build a career that I can sustain indefinitely without having to get piecemeal teaching work. The thought of that keeps the fire alive, even when work becomes a slog. I’ve barely looked up from my computer for the past five months. But I’ve also finished and published three novels in that time, one of which I hadn’t even started before the beginning of 2016.

In April of this year, I officially met the monthly income target I established as a signifier of whether I was going to make it or not. In May I passed that milestone in 20 days. So I guess this is my job!

Thanks for staying with me, diary. Reaching this target has taken longer than I expected at first, but it has been a great journey. I still feel like I’m just getting started!

Readers, I hope some of these tips will be useful in your own writing or self-employment journey. Do you have any other productivity strategies you’d like to share?

Now it’s time to jump back in to Steel and Fire Book 3!

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I am definitely one of those people who needs to swashbuckle my way into  self-discipline, particularly when it comes to writing. I can always think of an excuse to procrastinate! I really value your advice, and am sure other readers will as well. Thank you, as always! ~ML

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Photo credit: The swashbuckler was downloaded from Pixabay.

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: A tale of two names, Shannon Young (expat writer) and Jordan Rivet (hipster expat writer)

Diary of an Expat Writer
The last time we heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young, she was hatching some big plans for 2016. So, how many books has she managed to crank out since? Prepare to be amazed…!

Dear Displaced Diary,

As you may recall, two months ago I laid out my goals for the beginning of 2016:

  1. Finish and publish Ferry Tale, a love story set in Hong Kong, under the name Shannon Young.
  2. Compile and publish a box set of the Seabound trilogy.
  3. Finish and publish Duel of Fire, the first book in my new fantasy series, under the name Jordan Rivet.

I’m happy to report I’m right on track:

#1 Ferry Tale launched in ebook and paperback just in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s a classic romantic comedy with a modern twist, featuring an American woman and a Chinese Canadian man. Here’s the cover, designed by James at GoOnWrite.com:

Ferry Tale_cover

#2 The Complete Seabound Trilogy Box Set launched in March, along with one of my most successful promotions to date. This is a compilation of the post-apocalyptic adventure set at sea that I released over the course of 13 months, starting in November 2014. (I’ve reported about my progress on this in previous diary entries.)

#3 Duel of Fire is finished, edited, polished, and formatted. It went on sale last Friday, April 1st, right on schedule (no fooling!). Here is the cover from Deranged Doctor Design. PLEASE NOTE: It costs $0.99 for the first week, so definitely pick up a copy SOON if you like sword fights, magic, adventure, and a hint of romance!
Duel Of Fire - Jordan Rivet_cover

I’m currently hard at work on the sequel, King of Mist, which will come out in May.

What’s in a (pen) name, really?

You might notice that these books are published under two different names. Shannon Young is the name given to me at birth, and I picked my pseudonym, Jordan Rivet, myself.

Have you ever wondered about that, Dear Diary? Were you thinking I might have a dual personality?

The simple answer as to why I write under two names is branding. Looking at those two book covers, which hopefully communicate their genres at a glance, you’d never know the same person wrote the books. They are not similar in any way, so you would never scan past Duel of Fire in a listing of books on Amazon and think: “It’s another Shannon Young book! I have to stop and click!”

Ferry and Fire covers

You probably wouldn’t even be looking at the same lists. Although some readers enjoy both epic fantasies and romantic comedies (I like to read both, after all), for the most part these books are targeted to distinct groups.

To some, I am known as Shannon Young

The Shannon Young “brand” is already quite eclectic. It includes a bit of travel, a bit of romance, some stuff about being an expat, and some stuff about being a millennial. These bits and pieces are a reflection of my writing journey—and myself as a person. However, they haven’t established me as a type of author in the way that, say Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, or Malcolm Gladwell are understood to represent a particular type of book.

Indeed, although my Shannon Young work represents me as a growing and changing person, my first love as a reader has always been fantasy and science fiction.

Diary, I seem to be evolving in the direction of a Nora Roberts. Roberts is of course known for one type of fiction (romance), whereas her pseudonym, JD Robb, is famous for another type (futuristic scifi police procedurals). Except that I’m approaching it the other way around: building a brand around my pseudonym first, as my Jordan Rivet books outsell my Shannon Young books by a significant margin. Launching the Jordan Rivet name meant launching an income-generating career.

Enter: Jordan Rivet

When I started the Seabound Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic adventure set at sea, I already knew it wouldn’t match my existing books. My readers wouldn’t necessarily follow me quite that far across a genre divide. I also knew I’d likely write some high fantasy when I became a good enough writer to try my hand at my very favorite genre of all. Since I’d be starting from scratch with my readership, I figured I’d go the whole way and create a new Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF) brand.

The Jordan Rivet name has never been a secret identity (unlike JK Rowling’s Robert Galbraith), but I had fun choosing the name and thinking about how to present the brand. It was a creative exercise just like developing a character for a novel. I wanted a name that was:

  • gender ambiguous (hello, scifi readers!)
  • uncommon enough that I’d no longer be confused with all the other Youngs out there (they are legion).

And the name I settled on even pays homage to one of my favorite fantasy writers (RIP Robert Jordan).

I like to think of Jordan Rivet as the cooler, sexier version of myself. She works harder, writes faster, is better at writing dialogue, and takes more risks than the more introspective Shannon Young.

Shannon meet Jordan

You expats will likely recognize this split-personality complex. You probably feel like a different version of yourself depending on which country you are in at any given time. And you know what it’s like to resume an old role when you return to your home country for a visit and pick up right where you left off as soon as the holiday ends.

Surprisingly, it’s possible to do this as a writer as well.

Two publishing paths diverged in a narrow . . . hipster neighborhood?

Diary, as you may have gleaned from my previous entries, there’s a further way Shannon Young and Jordan Rivet differ: in their publishing paths. I’ve only ever queried agents and publishers and signed traditional book deals as Shannon Young. It’s very much a hybrid name and includes some small press titles, an audiobook deal, a Kindle Single, and some self-published work. As Shannon Young, I’ve been able to speak at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and present the traditionally published “stamp of legitimacy” that some outlets still require.

But Jordan Rivet is an indie name all the way. I’ve never submitted a Jordan Rivet story to an agent. I publish the books when they are edited and ready, not when someone tells me I can. It has been incredibly empowering to take this path, and it has prompted me to improve my writing and to pay more attention to the market.

And you know something, Diary, I have a good feeling about Duel of Fire, a book that wouldn’t exist yet if I were still waiting for the Seabound series to make its way through the traditional pipeline.

Obviously, different methods are right for different books and different types of writers. But indie publishing has allowed me to take my work to the next level, and I can’t wait to see the outcome of the launch that began this past weekend. Don’t forget to pick up your discounted copy pronto!
Duel April 1

So, Diary, that is the story of why I write under two different names. When people ask me what I write in real life, small talk gets a bit complicated—a bit like when a Third Culture Kid being asked where they’re from! (My author pages on Amazon make a lot more sense!)

Until next time,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

p.s. to Diary Readers: Do you have experiences you can share where you’ve adopted different personas in different situations? Do these personas come with different names too?

* * *

To answer your question, Shannon, I definitely think we expats and former expats are candidates for multiple names. We’re after all the kind of people who like to live out our fantasies, and some of us even write about them. Thanks for being one of them, Jordan! 🙂 ~ML

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Photo credits: Photos of Shannon and her books were supplied.

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Back in full-time writing mode and full of resolution(s) for 2016!

Diary of an Expat Writer
We haven’t heard from American expat in Hong Kong and aspiring writer Shannon Young for a while. Does that mean she’s thrown in the towel on the full-time writing gig? Read on to find out…

Dear Displaced Diary,

It has been a few months since my last entry. When we left off, I had just completed the final book in my post-apocalyptic Seabound Chronicles, and I was working a part-time job that had me trekking to a different corner of Hong Kong each week to teach a reading program in local schools.

Well, it’s a new year, Dear Diary, and I’m starting fresh in a big way. The four titles in the Seabound Chronicles are now out in ebook and paperback, and they are being read by an ever-growing number of people. I’m back to full-time writing, with an even greater appreciation for the beauty of uninterrupted time. My sales ranks and income are trending in a decidedly positive direction.

My New Year’s resolution is to continue writing in a full-time capacity without needing to take piecemeal teaching work. If my calculations are correct, another two strategically positioned novels and a box set of the Seabound Chronicles will put me firmly into “don’t need to get a new job” territory.

Seabound Chronicles Collage

It’s more than a resolution: it’s my mission.

I’ve planned ahead a bit, so I already had rough drafts of the two novels in question when the year started.

Here’s the game plan for 2016:

  1. Finish and publish Ferry Tale, a love story set in Hong Kong, under the name Shannon Young.
  2. Compile and publish a box set of the Seabound trilogy.
  3. Finish and publish Duel of Fire, the first book in my new fantasy series, under the name Jordan Rivet.

There’s just one catch: I need to do all of these things by April!

I have three months before I may need to start looking at job openings again, and I don’t intend to waste them. Having limited time throughout the fall has given me new motivation to make the most of every hour.

So the challenge is there, and the stakes are set.

Here’s how it’s going to happen:

January is a serious writing and revision month. That means 7-8 hours a day at Starbucks for the writing, and more time at home for research and publishing miscellany. That means eating, sleeping, and breathing my stories. That means working some weekends. That means staying focused.

It has been awesome so far. I finished up the second draft and polished off the third draft of Duel of Fire and sent it my first round of readers in the first week of January. I did the same with the first and second drafts of Ferry Tale in the second week (it’s much shorter, in all fairness).

While my diligent and self-sacrificing beta readers are going through Duel of Fire and Ferry Tale, I started the sequel to Duel of Fire, which is tentatively titled King of Mist.

In Week 3, I wrote 50,000 words. That is one full NaNoWriMo.

I know the characters, used an outline, and spent a minimum of eight hours writing each day, which is the only way I could manage to reach that word count. I expect to complete the rough draft in the first half of the fourth week in January, around the time you are reading this.

One thing I learned from the Seabound Chronicles is that sales increase exponentially with multiple books out in a series and quick releases, so I’m aiming to have the sequel ready for publication by May.

But back to my game plan:

February, the month for love, is the month for Ferry Tale. The plan is to finish the final draft and publish in time for Valentine’s Day.

The Seabound box set will launch in March, three months after the publication of the final book in the series. Hopefully this will give it a nice boost while I prepare for the launch of the new Jordan Rivet series.

Meanwhile, work on Duel of Fire and its sequel will continue throughout February and March. I’ve booked an editor for March 9th, leaving no room to mess around. (The cover should be coming back from the designer around then as well, and it’s going to be wicked cool!) Pub Day should happen around April 1st—no fooling! I’m hoping that by the time the sequel launches I’ll have earned another few months in No-Day-Job Land.

Shannons Game Plan 2016

Doing whatever it takes.

It may sound like I’m rushing these books. But the honest truth is I’m still going to end up doing four to five drafts of each one, just like for the Seabound series. I’m simply spending more hours in the chair. It’s a far sight better than writing on a minibus as it swerves all over the New Territories, which is what I did during my teaching contract!

I’ve also found that—shockingly—I’m getting better at this. The more I write the easier it is. I’m creating increasingly detailed outlines for my books in advance, which makes the writing itself faster and the books better. My prose needs less polishing because it’s getting down on the page in better shape. And the knowledge that I am capable of completing books makes completing books less daunting.

So the plan for 2016 is to work harder, work smarter, work for more hours each day, and get these stories out into the world. I’m excited about the possibilities.

2015 was the warm-up. 2016 is going to be big.

By the way, Diary, if you see me at Starbucks too long after dark, you should probably tell me to go home.

Shannon go home

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

* * *

Wow, Shannon, I’m inspired! In fact, though I know your game plan reflects how indie book sales work, it makes me think of Victorian times, when novels appeared not all at once but in parts or installments, over a space of time. All of Charles Dickens’s novels were published that way, most of them in stand-alone monthly parts. Are we going back to the era of serial fiction? In which case, may you keep up your Dickensian pace. That said, when you’re burning too much of the midnight oil, please remember Dickens slept from midnight until seven in the morning every day. Readers, any more advice or words of encouragement for Shannon in achieving her ambitious goals of 2016? ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Still reeling from reaching the end of my 4-book series in 3 years!

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

Yesterday I finished writing the Seabound Chronicles. It’s hard to wrap my head around that sentence:

I…AM…FINISHED…WRITING…THE…SEABOUND…CHRONICLES.

I first got the idea for this series, set on a post-apocalyptic cruise ship called the Catalina, three years ago. I wrote the first words on November 1st, 2012. The series has been my primary writing project ever since, influencing what I read, research, and think about on a daily basis. And now it is complete.

The total word count for the series is 322,000. That works out to 80,000 for Seabound, 73,000 for Seaswept, 73,000 for Burnt Sea, and a whopping 96,000 for Seafled.

Photo credit: Chart via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Chart via Pixabay.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in this world…

The characters have become increasingly real to me as I’ve figured out how they think, what happens to them, how they react. I’ve lost count of how many dreams I’ve had set on cruise ships. They never take place on the actual Catalina or include characters from the books, but they are often incredibly vivid.

I’ve been walking around for the past day trying to figure out how I feel about this ending. To be honest, I feel hazy, almost hung-over. My reactions are a little slower, lights are a little too bright, and I’m not sure what to do with myself.

Part of this is likely because my week writing the final draft was very intense. I taught five days at two schools far out by the Chinese border. In order to meet my deadline, I stayed at Starbucks until closing several nights that week, and spent eight straight hours writing on both Wednesday (a public holiday) and Sunday.

Except when teaching, I was totally disengaged from the real world. I’m sure I still owe some people some emails.

Trying to get my head around how this feels…

I’m reminded of when I graduated from college. I honestly feel like the three years I spent writing this series was akin to getting a degree. I now have a Masters in Writing Seabound. And like many degrees (my double major in Classical Studies, for example), it’s something I’ll never use again. At least, not directly.

Photo credit: Graduation—my masters degree, by Sarah Stierch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Photo credit: Graduation—my masters degree, by Sarah Stierch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Soon, I’ll be able to look at the lessons I learned from this series and apply them to the next one, which is already in progress.

Soon, I’ll be able to step back and remember that the series isn’t really finished because I still have to format and upload the final book.

Soon, I’ll be able to appreciate that my readers are still deeply engaged in this world and there are more of them out there who haven’t discovered it yet.

Soon, I’ll be able to break this down into a nice takeaway message or two.

But today, I am just absorbing the feelings…

There’s some joy, some sadness, some melancholy, some triumph. Right now all I can do is feel and process. And maybe even write down those feelings. Isn’t that what diaries are for?

Thanks for listening.

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
JordanRivet.com

The Seabound Chronicles is a post-apocalyptic adventure series set on a souped-up cruise ship. It features a prickly female mechanic named Esther. The first three books are out now under the pen name Jordan Rivet. The final book, Seafled, launches on November 30th.

Photo credit: Cruise ship via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Cruise ship via Pixabay.

* * *

Wow, that’s quite a milestone, Shannon—congratulations! It makes sense to me that you feel both happy and relieved as well as numb and somewhat bereft. It’s been an intense three years! Readers who are also writers, can you relate to Shannon’s mixed emotions? Please share your own experiences in the comments. ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: The highs, but also the lows, of the writing life

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

As you’ve no doubt noticed over these many months, most of my entries have focused on the good things happening in my life as a writer. I prefer to take an optimistic view of my progress. But there are hard days, too—when I don’t see the results I’d like or accomplish as much as I want. On such days, uncertainty and frustration overwhelm the logic telling me I’m on the right track. Yesterday was an especially low day, so this month I want to share with you a sense of the ups and downs of the expat writer’s day-to-day existence—take you on a kind of roller coaster ride.

One of the worst lows: Comparisonitis

I try not to obsess over how other people’s books are selling (except for research purposes), but the desire to look at a comparable book’s sales rank and wonder why mine isn’t doing as well can creep in like an evil sprite. That can lead to insecurity and jealousy over things that are 100% out of my control.

That way lies madness!

The flip side of comparisonitis is reading a great book and feeling like I’ll never be able to write something as good. I’ll say to myself: “Of course they’re selling better than I am! Their book is gripping and sexy and funny and I can’t put it down! Why can’t I do that!”

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: The old adage about the overnight success that takes ten years is absolutely true. Behind every book that takes off like a shot there’s a writer who has put in the time, sweat, and tears to get to that tipping point. I have to remind myself, sometimes on a daily basis, that I’m putting in the work now that will hopefully pay off in a big way later (both from a sales perspective and a skill perspective). This is a craft, and I am still an apprentice in many ways. I also need to remind myself to focus exclusively on the things I can control, such as writing the best books I possibly can—and occasionally stepping away from the Internet.

One of the best highs: Fans!

Yes, I officially have fans. This month I received my first fan letter for the Jordan Rivet books from someone who is in no way connected with me or anyone I know. She wrote me again this week to tell me that she finished Burnt Sea and loved it!

While I was in Arizona, I also got to meet up with two different readers who are friends with my mom (one read Seabound before I ever met her, the second I’ve known for many years). One told me she felt star struck to be having coffee with me. The other had highlighted her favorite passages from Burnt Sea and shared them over Chipotle. To hear that she enjoyed these sentences I’d been poring over for months was incredibly gratifying. Both women made me feel great about my work—and that kind of encouragement can’t be understated, especially on the low days.

Jodan Rivet fans

Stateside Jordan Rivet fans Trine and Julie (photos supplied).

Another low: Rejection

I’ve chosen the indie-publishing road for my Jordan Rivet books, and it comes with its own share of rejection. There are a few promotion sites that are real heavy hitters. I’ve been accepted by some of the big ones, but rejected by the biggest of all (Bookbub). Sometimes this is just a matter of scheduling, but it still stings.

Much of my work as Shannon Young is not self-published, though. I’ve been waiting for a response on a particular piece for six months. This week I finally got an answer: no. It’s time to reassess and decide whether I want to release this particular work as is or develop it into a longer project.

Rejection Mug

Photo credit: “Journal of Universal Rejection” coffee mug, by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: Even though six months have elapsed since I submitted the piece, I’m realizing I may need to step away from it a bit longer before I can make a clear-eyed decision. There are a lot of emotions tied up in rejection, and I need to make an intelligent decision about whether to move on, keep trying, or do something differently. That takes time and perspective.

A kind of high: Not reading reviews!

This high isn’t what you might guess. The reviews for my work have generally been positive, but for me the real triumph is that I’ve finally gotten to a place where I no longer read my reviews. I’ve come to realize that, at the end of the day, reviews exist for readers, not for writers. They are there to help other people decide whether or not they’ll like a book and to give the reviewers a chance to express their thoughts about it. None of that has anything to do with the author.

If I do read my reviews—including positive ones—here’s what happens: I fixate on the critiques. I can’t help it. I’m an optimistic person, possibly confident to a fault, yet it’s always the critiques I remember. And you know what, diary? There’s absolutely nothing I can do to fix things at that point. The book is done and dusted. I can’t change it. So why obsess over the one thing that didn’t work for a reader who enjoyed the book as a whole?

(Note: I follow my writers’ groups’ critiques like gospel. I’m always trying to improve my work, but when a book is finished and published that no longer applies.)

Thus reading reviews is a recipe for utterly futile stress. So while I am incredibly thankful for people who take the time to write reviews (and they’re essential for the success of a book), I won’t read them. Instead, I’ll focus on making every book better than the last.

Yet another low: Missed deadlines

I’ve mentioned before that I like to make checklists and to-do lists for myself. Crossing off items on time or early never fails to make me happy. On the other hand, if I miss my deadlines it can be equally frustrating.

Case in point: my new part-time teaching job starts on October 5th. The timing of the classes means I’ll have to rework my writing schedule to stay productive. I wanted to finish the final book in the Seabound Chronicles before then. My goal was to finish the current draft on Friday. Well, on Monday the book was 80,000 words. By Friday, it had grown to 86,000 words, but I had only reached the 51,000-word mark in my edit. Adding all those scenes took a lot more time and thought than anticipated, so now I probably won’t finish the draft until Thursday at the earliest. This leaves me with less buffer time than I had hoped before the Great Schedule Shuffle begins.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

How I deal with it: Like always, I need to glue myself to my chair and just get on with it! The book will be finished when it’s finished, and I’m not going to put out a half-baked project (or even 80% baked). The worst thing I could do would be to let frustration or impatience paralyze me.

The knack of staying on an even keel

This emotional rollercoaster is normal for a full-time writer. It’s important not to let either extreme get in the way of my work. The key is to accept the reality of the lows and to figure out ways to deal with them so as not to become derailed.

Thank you, Displaced Diary, for giving me a chance to process. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the day turned around and become productive.

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
JordanRivet.com

* * *

Shannon, thank you for giving us such a clear window onto the highs and lows you’ve experienced as a full-time writer. TBH, it brings me back to the days when I was a graduate student in the UK and how frustrated I felt on the days when my thesis-writing wasn’t going well (or at all). When you have to keep producing page after page, you can become very isolated, and you’re already feeling somewhat isolated to begin with as an expat. It’s great you have found such a supportive writers’ community in Hong Kong. You also seem to have a much better ability than I did at the same age, to trust in the process! Readers who are also writers, can you relate to Shannon’s vacillating emotions? Please share your own experiences in the comments. ~ML

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How I spent my summer vacation

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s still blazing hot here in Hong Kong, but the kids are heading back to school and expats are returning from home leave visits to their families across the globe.

Speaking of school kids: In the tradition of every good elementary school student, I thought I would report to you on how I spent my summer vacation.

Every July since moving to Asia in 2010, I’ve boarded a plane for the US and headed to Arizona, where my parents and siblings live, or to Oregon, where my grandparents live. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I would enter a whirlwind of visits, barbecues, catch-ups, family dinners, appointments, Five Guys runs, overdue conversations, and late-night chocolate-chip-cookie-baking hangouts.

This year, however, I stayed put in Hong Kong. A friend was visiting during the two weeks when my whole family is normally in Oregon, and I knew I needed to focus on my writing in order to hold to my publication schedule. I was a full-time teacher for five years, but I gave that up a year ago, remember? As a writer, I get to keep working right through the summer!

All work…

I mentioned in my last diary that I’m taking a part-time teaching contract this fall. I don’t yet know exactly how the part-time hours will affect my writing schedule, so I’m buckling down to finish the remaining books in The Seabound Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic adventure series set at sea, as soon as possible, which as you know I write under the name Jordan Rivet. My goal is to have all four books out in time for Christmas. Over the course of the summer I finished, edited, proofread, formatted, and uploaded the full-length prequel Burnt Sea. It officially went live on August 30th!

Burnt Sea_live on Aug 30

I found that despite the stifling conditions of summer in Hong Kong, I wanted to work more and more, including on weekends. I typically write for five hours a day, five days a week, but adding in three hours or so on some Saturdays and Sundays helped to up my game. When it is hot and rainy by turns, installing myself in an air-conditioned coffee shop feels like the sensible thing to do!

Hong Kong summer collage

Photo credits (top to bottom): it’s been a long rainy life, by Jaume Escofet; Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery on Lantau, Hong Kong, by Robin Zebrowski, and Cafe, SOHO, Hong Kong, by Stephen Kelly; Rainy day in Hong Kong, by Jeremy Thompson. All via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This summer I also completed two substantial revisions of the final book in the Seabound Chronicles, one in July and one this past week. This included writing the actual ending scenes to the series, which was pretty cool. A few people are reading the draft right now, and I’ll be ready to dive into another round of revisions when I get their feedback in mid-September. The full series is weighing in at 306,000 words!

…and some play

Writing is a lot of fun, but sometimes it’s good to step away from the work to have other kinds of fun. I took a break to show our friend around (although she did some solo sightseeing as well). We got to revisit some of the great Hong Kong sites, fitting in jaunts to Lamma Island, Stanley, the Big Buddha, and other famous Hong Kong attractions–and eateries. I love any excuse to go to Din Tai Fung (a chain that originated in Taiwan, it specializes in soup dumplings).

Through the prompting of some very active friends, we also went hiking (taking one of the toughest walks in Hong Kong on what turned out to be the hottest day in 130 years!) and spent a weekend on Lantau, one of the large outlying islands. We stayed in an old village, very atmospheric, where we trekked through a river to get to a kite-surfing lesson and spent a day enjoying the waves at an out-of-the-way beach.

It was a nice reminder that Hong Kong is home to wonderful natural beauty, and it doesn’t actually take that long to escape the concrete jungle.

Hong Kong Natural Beauty

Photo credits: Kite-surfing beach on Lantau Island and view of the greenery (supplied).

…and some play/work

Another bit of fun was when Kevin Kwon, the author of bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians, now being made into a film, came to Hong Kong for a Q&A session at the KEE Club. The event was the first weekend in August, and any other summer I would have missed it. Instead, I got my book signed and listened to the charming and unassuming author talk about his work. (The visit was part of his tour for the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which, incidentally, was announced in the Displaced Dispatch.) He told us he is working on the next installment in the series.

Kevin Kwan Talk HK

Photo credits: Kevin Kwan book cover art; Kwan at the KEE Club in Hong Kong (supplied).

Which reminds me that in addition to lots of writing, I crammed in time for plenty of reading this summer. Highlights included:

I’ve always read a lot, but I’m finding that it’s more important to carve out time than it was in the days when I had a long commute every day. I believe my upcoming part-time job will involve a fair bit of commuting, so I’m looking forward to having built-in reading time again. I read to learn and I read for enjoyment, and there are never enough hours in the day…

All in all, it has been a successful summer full of literary pursuits and unexpected adventures…

…with a plot twist!

It turns out I’m going back to the US after all! My husband noticed an eye-wateringly affordable Cathay FanFare, so just last week I booked a ticket home. I left on August 30th, so I was actually in the sky when the people who pre-ordered Burnt Sea saw the book pop up on their Kindles.

I’m looking forward to a quick visit that will mostly involve monopolizing the attention of my eight-month-old nephew. I’ll hang out with my siblings, eat a whole bunch of American food, and be ready to dive into the fourth draft of the Seabound finale when I return! I enjoy pushing through the work, but sometimes it’s important to step away and enjoy a bit of downtime, too.

But enough about me! What did you get up to this summer, Displaced Diary? What was your favorite summer read? Do you have any amazing adventures to report?

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
JordanRivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I must confess that I never made it all the way through a Tokyo summer, it was just too hot and humid! I’m impressed that you made it until August 30th. Readers, do you have any summer achievements worth sharing on your creative pursuits? Please leave in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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