Attention: First-time novel writers

Life, Self-Publishing (books), Uncategorized

10 handy things to keep in mind when writing

handwritten text
Yes, handwriting does still exist!

My first attempt at novel writing

For as long as I can remember (probably since high school), I wanted to write and publish a fiction novel. More than ten years ago, I started writing one. I never made it past page 35. Why not? Well, my storyline and characters were not developed enough and I couldn’t figure out how to go further. In my head it was a great suspenseful book!

Children’s Books

In 2017 (the year Canada celebrated its 150th), I was inspired to write and illustrate childrens’ books about Canada. In 2018 and 2019, I published three: My Great Canadian Adventures and my series – Winter Moose Visits Montreal and Winter Moose Visits Alberta. Check out: www.CanadianAdventureBooksbyMonica.com

I loved that experience and will continue to work on my Winter Moose series, but I still long to publish a novel.

Ding! An idea.

I knew I wanted to write a fiction book based on my parents’ lives, because their stories are so crazy and unreal. But again, the problem was, I didn’t have my “catchline” to get me going. Suddenly when I was driving one night in February 2019, I had my “Eureka” moment – the first sentence of my book. That first sentence was all it took to start the brain gears turning. I am more than half-way through my manuscript now.

While I knew my general story line, spinning a whole story out of it would be a challenge. I realized that I had to breakdown the task, by brainstorming and jotting down my preliminary ideas down on paper. The writing process can be overwhelming and daunting – but rewarding too. If you ever read, David Usher’s “Let the Elephants Run” (a great read by the way) – when faced with writer’s block, David recommends that you just start writing. In my interview with my friend, Tony Wong (writer for the Toronto Star), he suggests the same thing: “My advice is just to start writing. Get something down on paper. It might not be your best stuff, but good writing is really in the re-writing.”

Is reading the same as writing?

I don’t think so. Even though I have read so many books, I found that writing is something different altogether. When I was trying to organize my chapters, I realized that I had no idea how to do it effectively.

Online surfing

I am by no means an expert writer, but I did some research online about novel writing. Here are a few things that I found really useful to keep in mind when writing my own novel.

10 things that I keep in mind when writing

  1. Draft an outline for your book. Spend some time jotting down some rough notes about your storyline, story setting, mood and characters. When I read the first short chapter of my book to my 6 year-old, he asked me to stop because it was “too scary”. That means that I was successful in setting the “mood” through the choice of my words. You can update your outline when you feel you need to build your story more.
  2. Don’t be over-wordy. Unless you really need to be wordy, keep your sentences as concise as possible. Example: The spring flowers looked really lovely with the sun shining brightly on them. Try: The sun shone brightly on the lovely spring flowers.
  3. Keep sentences short. Run-on sentences like the example above are not only hard to read, but are hard to follow as well. When reading books with long and overly detailed sentences, I find myself needing to re-read. Often I set aside those books because I can’t get past the first chapter.
  4. Work on catchlines. English is a great language as each word means something and can convey a deep message. Here’s a line from one of my poems titled, A Whisper: “time is like the steam rushing to escape the kettle…only to be left with none.”
  5. Create cliff-hangers. Cliff-hangers are not only for the end of a book in a book series. Make your reader want to flip the pages quickly by creating suspense at the end of each chapter.
  6. Develop your characters. Write down as many characteristics for each person as possible. Think about their temperament, passions, weaknesses, etc. It could be helpful to write down a description of what your character looks like physically and to explore their nervous habits or movement (such as jerkiness).
  7. Chapter character revelations. Your protagonist can go through ups and downs every chapter. Maybe at the beginning of a chapter you think they are succeeding, then at the end, there could be a set-back – or vice versa. For example, a shy girl is overjoyed as she overcomes her stage-fright during the rehearsal, but then she finds out that she is cast out of the play.
  8. Create a suitable environment for writing. Find your own space. Pick a time of day that you can channel your creative juices.
  9. Copy edit. You can ask a trusted friend to read your finished manuscript. You may not want to do this too early in the process, as the expectations may be too high. There are professional copy editors as well, who for a fee, can provide you with a lot of excellent feedback. I found that copy edit was a very important part of my childrens’ book publication process. My grammar is not as good as I thought!
  10. Don’t beat yourself up. If you haven’t written as much as you hoped for, or get stuck – just give yourself some space. Find some inspiration. Then get back to work.

In this thing called life, an idea may strike – but it’s the hard work that produces your final written piece.

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This Thing Called Life

Life, Uncategorized

Well…hello 2020!

Wishing you all a successful and happy year! Don’t forget to pursue your dreams 🙂

Almost every year, I watch the countdown (except one where I fell asleep before midnight) to cheer in the new year.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3…2…1… Happy New Year!

Sure, it might be happy. A set date for a fresh start. New resolve to join the gym, start a new career..or simply to put the negative things from the past behind you. But you probably feel the same way as I do…another year and in this case, a year plus a decade gone by in the blink of an eye. That’s life. There is NO turning back the clock.

My blog

I have been writing entries for my blog for over a year now. It has been a great forum for me to communicate and express myself. For me, writing is therapeutic. Plus I enjoy sharing things that I learn from life. Thank you so much to those of you who took the time to read my musings. I appreciate the support.

Why I titled my blog “This Thing Called Life”

I titled my blog “This Thing Called Life“, because life is just there. Everything can happen in this thing called life. Life is constantly changing and throwing things at us. Parts of it we can control, while others we cannot. We just have to deal with life as it comes. I was so inspired by my tag-line that I tattooed it on my leg last year. No matter what crap happens in life, I can sum it up as something that happens in this thing called life. So, it’s ok. I can move on.

In this thing called life, perfection cannot always be achieved. It’s your determination and effort that count.

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It is almost 2020. Beat yourself up – NOT!

Life, Uncategorized

I am a lover of trees. No joke. I have a bigger collection of tree photos from my travels, but include a few here. Trees are life-giving (oxygen), stand the test of time, don’t talk back, are unique and majestic. Ever try placing your hand on the trunk, closing your eyes and feeling the power of the forest within the tree? If not, I highly recommend it. You will feel a vibration surge through your body – a recharge.

Year-end self reflection

I self-reflect daily, but thinking about year-end always seems to bring up a lot of events from the past. Now it’s DECADE end. That requires even more thought! My son always asks me why I post daily on Instagram/Facebook – and I tell him that it is therapeutic for me, and I like to share with others. Maybe someone out there just needs to hear that they ARE good enough.

Top 5 things to leave behind this decade:

  1. Mean and hurtful words. Mean and hurtful words cannot be taken back once said. Think before you speak. Don’t say them. In my teens my mom basically said I was stupid (because I was not as academic as my older sister who got awards for this and that). In grade 2, I struggled with English (so my teacher let me borrow a dictionary). In my weekly Chinese school, I truly hated and struggled every single year (my friend classmates were witness), but was relentless and made it to Grade 11 (with the help of my friend – “look at my paper”!). In high school my overall grades were passable, but got high 90s in English lol. Got a Bachelor of Arts in University (Major in Sociology). Graduated from a certificate program in Interior design. Got a Law Clerk Certificate. And now, work as a Law Clerk, speaking Cantonese almost every day. The point is, growing up is already so hard. We don’t need to carry a stigma our whole life.
  2. Bullying others. If you have no self-confidence or have personal issues you are dealing with, don’t take it out on others. Growing up people made fun of me for being Chinese and fat. I was a painfully shy kid with a heart, so I internalized everything and it really ate at me. Even relatives were abusive about me being fat. It took me decades to come out of my shell, as well as to not care what people thought of me.
  3. Negative words. If you have nothing good to say, don’t say it. This one is self-explanatory.
  4. Negative thoughts. A new decade is around the corner. Give yourself a break. It’s okay to make mistakes.
  5. Self-doubt. You are the only person who can doubt yourself. When in doubt, pretend you are confident and just do what you set out to do.

In this thing called life, a new year is a chance for a fresh start. Leave behind everything negative!

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How to break our emotional tie to food

Fitness and health, Life, Uncategorized
photo of freshii juice bottles
Freshii cold-pressed juices
Part of the 3/5-day cleanse
(you can buy at Freshii, but some Walmarts may carry them too)

Breaking an emotional tie to food, is NOT a ribbon-cutting event!

For anyone who is an ’emotional’ eater (or a closet eater) like myself – you will totally get this post. Think – munching down a whole bag of chips and/or box of cookies in just one sitting…all without much thought. For myself personally, I eat when I feel stressed or bored.

The guilt that follows is incredible. Yet, it’s a vicious cycle. You feel stressed, inhale the snacks, say you won’t do that again and guess what? YUP…it starts all over again. Not only is your mind affected – but your body as well. Most normal people gain weight when they eat over-processed junk food.

So, now the cycle becomes more complicated very quickly:

  • You eat junk.
  • You gain weight.
  • You feel like crap.
  • You eat some more because you feel like crap.

Well, breaking our emotional tie to food and re-programming our brain is REALLY hard. Probably one of the hardest things that we ever need to do. I know because I worked on it for almost two years. I was lucky that I managed to breakdown part of my insatiable need to stuff my face. Still working on it because it’s a life-long process for me.

How did the tie get so strong?

Long story short, if I psycho-analysis myself, it started when I was just a kid. I learned that if I wanted to eat something, I could eat unlimited quantities. My grandmother allowed me to eat steak after steak because I liked the taste. It didn’t help that we worked at my parents’ convenience store with tons of candy, chocolate, chips, popsicles, etc. at our fingertips. Anyway, needless to say, I had lots of cavities and gained too many pounds. As I was growing up, I was made fun of for being fat. The lack of confidence and stress continued the negative cycle of over-indulging.

Break it down!

My very first blog back in November 2018 was about my experience with the Freshii 3-day juice cleanse. I would say this was the ‘beginning’ test of my willpower. I chose the 3-day cleanse because I knew I could not survive for 5 days.

So, how?

I highly recommend trying a juice cleanse. One of the guys at Freshii said he managed to quit smoking after a 5 day cleanse. It really helps to reset your brain. Mind over matter.

It was really, really hard. But I did it. My mental willpower could barely stand up to the overwhelming want to grab and eat everything. It was so hard sitting with people who were eating food while I was cleansing.

I know we all have our stories why we are “psychologically” dependent on food. But I do believe that occasionally, we just need a re-set. Something to test our strength and ability to control what we eat – and indirectly, take control of our lives. I say this because I believe an underlying issue for a lot of things in life (for me weight gain) is about not feeling like we are in control of our lives. Working at getting to the root of the problem is also recommended.

That was then, this is now

Recently, I decided my body needed a boost of nutrients and a rest from eating solid foods. I have followed a vegan diet for over 8 months now, so the extra attention to my meal planning and preparation has helped to fight off my food’s mental grip on me.

I decided to do the 3-day cleanse again, but slightly modified. Basically, I drink 3 juices (breakfast, snack and lunch) and eat a generous salad for dinner.

I am on day 1. This time around, I have absolutely no issues with drinking my juice in lieu of eating solids. It’s a breeze taking a juice instead of a meal. I don’t even need to think about what to eat! I am also enjoying the feeling of not over-eating – especially at dinner.

Tomorrow is another day

I envision myself getting a badge or token for job well done. But the reality is, it’s another day of resisting the urge to conquer the bag of Lay’s Original chips (my fav BTW).

In this thing called life, you have to treat yourself as a pet-project. Try different things until you find something that works for you. Good luck on your own quest to cut the ties…

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The Roads Connect

Life, Uncategorized
jelly fish

It may sound weird – but it just dawned on me this morning when I was driving my son for his early a.m. workday, that “the roads connect”. I mean both literally and figuratively. I was picturing myself driving and everyone else on the road for that matter. And then I visualized a satellite view of us all from above, looking like frantic army ants. Anyway, long story short, there is an extensive network of roads all the way across our Earth; and where roads are not possible we can fly, take a boat, etc.

The thing is, we might just drive back and forth on the same roads our whole life. The paths are available to us, but we decide whether or not to take them. In life, this translates to a much deeper meaning…

So the question is – do we:

A) Maintain status quo?

B) Travel the path less traveled?

I encourage everyone to take a closer look at their lives. While we may feel we are part of the rat race, it’s good to remember that we can occasionally find a route of escape from the box.

In this thing called life, we can be the jellyfish swimming in the vast depth of the ocean (unfortunately the one pictured above was held in captivity and may never see the ocean again). So same thing goes for us – can we escape?

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A secret? How to conceive a baby.

Fitness and health, Life, Uncategorized

This post is for those of you out there who may be struggling to have a baby. P.S. I am so sorry it took me so long to share this.

a secret: how to conceive a baby

I have been thinking of how to spread the word, since I learned about it in university. I took a course about sexuality and sexual health (sociology as my major) and during one of the classes, my professor spoke about the biological process of conceiving a baby. It was so very logical to me after that. And my proof that the ‘secret’ works (maybe luck, maybe not?): 3 kids on first try lol. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor, so this blog is written in very easy to understand terms. 

Over the years, I heard about so many people trying to conceive but without luck. Yet, it’s not something people are open to talk about (understandably), and it definitely not exactly a conversation that I feel comfortable to talk about unless someone wants to listen…

Biological process in a nutshell

As you probably all know – to make a baby, you only need one sperm to fertilize one egg. The problem is that following ejaculation (by the male), there are millions of sperm fighting to swim to the female fallopian tube. Like survival of the fittest. The strongest sperm will likely experience victory. But how can you help the process?

The secret?

Ladies – have an orgasm during or immediately following ejaculation. The biological function of an orgasm aids to neutralize the acidity in the fluids.

 Very simply, the environment that the sperm swim in is acidic and neutralizing the fluids helps to increase their chances to survive the journey. Logic right? I thought so too!

But how do I do this?

Ladies – use your imagination. The means does not matter – just the ends!

No guarantee…

I cannot guarantee that this will work, as there could be other biological issues surrounding ones inability to conceive. Or could also be stress, lifestyle, etc. causing issues. But I do believe that it’s definitely worth a try before investing in expensive infertility treatment or giving up. And seriously ladies, if it doesn’t work – at least you had some fun!

P.S.

Once pregnant, here is my extended theory for a making a happy baby: have many orgasms. The body releases the ‘feel good’ endorphins during the process and thus in turn = happy baby!

Here’s a link to CBS News for some interesting info about sperm:

https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/sperm-15-crazy-things-you-should-know/

In this thing called life, learning new information could be the solution…

Oh, and I would love to hear from you if this works for you!

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I’m falling in love!

Events/Shows, Life
words love

I am not writing about the feeling of fluttering in your stomach, the uncontrollable giddiness, etc. that you experience when you fall in love with someone. I’m writing about my experience of ‘falling in love’ with a song. Has it ever happened to you? I didn’t think it was possible and never had this type of sensation before. But it happened. I heard Lewis Capaldi’s song “Someone you loved” on the radio the other day. I was just thinking last week that it would be great to have some new fresh songs on the radio – and suddenly he sang to me. I was in awe – what a powerful voice and composition.

I had no idea who the artist was at that time, but my daughter said that we could just Google the lyrics. Anyway, long story short…I am in love!

Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone you loved”:

I have listened to it at least 100 times since I first heard it. Lewis’ voice, song lyrics and composition bring out so many raw emotions. I can feel my heart drop and hairs stand up on my arms. Just want to close my eyes and feel the music.

“Hold me while you wait” is another of my favs:

Music generally

Music can be so powerful and heal the soul. The world is silent without it.

In this thing called life – feeling means that we are alive. If you have never fallen in love with a song – I sure hope it happens to you!

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One bed or two? One blanket or two?

Fitness and health, Life

This post is dedicated to the guy who needs to take control of his quality of sleep. No excuses!

MOST IMPORTANT: QUALITY ZZZs

Did you know that quality sleep is REALLY important for your overall health? If you feel sluggish all the time and complain of tiredness or inability to focus, you may want to take a look at your sleep patterns. I read somewhere that the body does its main ‘healing’ while you sleep, between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. So, if you are awake between those hours – guess what? Yeah, your body is not given time to heal itself. I have a friend that sleeps at about 3 a.m. every night and gets up around 7:30 a.m. every day. Of course, she complains of tiredness every day. I wonder why?

According to Statistics Canada, “Insufficient sleep (short duration and poor quality) is associated with a range of adverse health outcomes, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, injuries, all-cause mortality, depression, irritability, and reduced well-being. ” and “For adults aged 18 to 64 and seniors aged 65 or older, 7 to 9 hours and 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, respectively, are recommended.”

So, any time a couple complains about poor sleep, I ask:

1) do you sleep on the same bed?

2) do you cover the same blanket?

To date, I have had the same conversation with seven different ‘couples’ who complained of poor sleep and tiredness.

Guess what they all said: Yes, we sleep together and yes, we share the same blanket.

Come on guys! Break the social norms/ habits! It’s for you and your health (mental and physical).

Well, it may sound crazy – but I confess that I haven’t slept in the same bed as my hubby for the last 17 -18 years! It started this way while I was pregnant and had trouble to sleep; then after our first child was born, I started to sleep with the baby; then followed the second child about two years later – I started to sleep with her and our son slept with my hubby. The years in between are cloudy, but we realized that sleeping separately was better for us. Then ten years later, number three came along and I started to sleep with him. BTW – all three of my kids were crappy sleepers, so basically I didn’t sleep well for these past 17-18 years. I TOTALLY believe that you have to do whatever it takes to catch some quality ZZZs.

My hubby has sleep apnea, so does not sleep well. He often gets up multiple times a night and likes to turn on the lights and make instant noodles in the kitchen (think noise!). In addition, he has a ‘cold’ body, so needs two big blankets to sleep. Myself, I developed into a light sleeper over the years and have a ‘hot’ body, so just one blanket would suffice.

My parents had the same problem – same bed, same blanket. Finally, I convinced them to at least have two blankets – rather than always fighting for the blanket. They are loving it and get better sleep. To them, I am a genius!

Needless to say, it totally makes sense to sleep separately. It has absolutely nothing to do with separation from a relationship -so I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. The most recent person we talked to said that he understood why some ‘old people’ slept separately. That was such a funny comment, because you don’t have to be old to be practical and conscious of your need for sleep. [In my opinion -sleeping in one bed and sharing one blanket is way over-rated!] He said he had no trouble to fall asleep but woke frequently throughout the night and could not fall back asleep. I reminded him that his spouse might actually be knocking him without him knowing and thus wake him. Perhaps taking a video would be interesting…

Finally, so many studies have been done, linking better quality sleep with a completely dark room. If you have dinky blinds that let in light – just hang a set of black-out curtains in front of them. Something so simple can change the way you sleep. Get on it!

And if you do wake, try not to turn on the lights – or your body’s circadian rhythm will be interrupted.

In this thing called life – let’s all be practical and get some good quality sleep. Don’t feel that you are abandoning your spouse. Your body and brain will thank you and make you a happier person for your spouse. On that note, I ended this post by going to sleep. I love my sleep! But sadly had trouble to fall asleep. Could be because of the smell of the noodles and loud talking downstairs at 1:30 a.m.

I would love to hear from you: One bed or two? One blanket or two?

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Negativity and Happiness are contagious

Life
picture of my feet
Happy feet = happy person

Ask yourself – which would you rather? Be surrounded by negativity or happiness? Is happiness over-rated? No way! Happiness is the foundation of life. Gotta have it.

I am not a shrink, but I did study sociology in U. My advice is simple: surround yourself with happy and positive people where possible. There is no rocket science to this. It’s like when you are always around people who like to complain or contemplate life in a negative way…don’t you feel mentally and emotionally drained by the time you finish speaking to them? Well, move those feet of yours away and find some happier and more positive people. If you are having trouble meeting positive people, try finding an activity you like and join a group with people who enjoy the same thing as you.

In this thing called life – the world stops for no one. Make every moment count.

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The re-useable knife

Life

This post is dedicated to my husband – as this story would not be told if not for him.

When I tell people the story of the “reusable knife” – they first give me a confused look. Then by the time I finish explaining they tell me their own stories with great frustration.

Don’t be too shocked…but what you are about to read is real and hideous.

The Haunting of the Reusable Knife

Many believe that a reusable knife is just a knife made of heavy-duty plastic, stainless steel or some other material. But no, that’s not it at all.

Chapter 1

The sun had set and darkness was covering the land. Monica was busy cooking in the kitchen and when she turned around – there it was. The knife. It was propped up on a plate. The same plate where her oils were kept on the kitchen counter. There was an eerie streak of light shining off the knife from the under-cabinet lighting. Monica gasped. She was afraid to touch it. After all, there was no reason at all for a lone knife to be lying on the plate. She decided to leave it alone, but it called her name. She glanced over her shoulder. It was still there. At the end of the evening, before Monica went to bed – it was still there.

Chapter 2

The knife wasn’t quite so scary the next day when the sun was shining brightly, so Monica reluctantly put it in the sink to be washed. That night when it was dark again – there it was. The knife. This time there appeared to be peanut butter on the knife. Not only was the knife dirty, but buttery. Goo oozed from the knife and trickled onto the white plate.

Chapter 3

Another day went by. Another day. Another knife.

That evening, Monica was chopping up some carrots for her dinner soup. When she was about to chop the onions, she glanced sideways and there it was. This time, the knife’s edges were covered with bread crumbs. Before bed, the knife beckoned Monica, but she refused to pick it up. She would not give in to its calls.

Chapter 4

The next morning, the breaded knife was lying on the oil plate. Again, the sun seemed to soften the white glows. And again reluctantly, Monica put the knife in the sink. Dinner would be made early that evening because her family had to go out afterwards. Rushing to put together a meal, Monica ran around the kitchen gathering things. Suddenly, when she was putting things on the counter. There is was. Another knife. This time, it was covered in juice from an apple or some kind of fruit. It glistened with slime and tempted Monica to go closer. A very gutsy dare from a knife, she thought. Monica was strong and did not battle with the knife that night.

Chapter 5

To be continued…

Afterword

Yes, this is how this story ends lol. But trust me, the knives do not stop popping up every day. Such a seemingly small/trivial thing just drives me insane! My husband claims that he keeps the knives there “in case” he needs to use it again. But I have never seen one being “re-used”. I ask him every day when he plans to ‘re-use’ it, but he only laughs. One day, a second knife got propped on the first knife. Then for some reason, he cleared one away and left the other. I asked him why and he said he wasn’t sure if it was his! OMG!

In this thing called life – one can hint and keep hinting or say it outright, but the plight may remain unheard.

BTW – what’s your “STORY”? I would love to hear from you!

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