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Pep Talk from Sue Lynn Tan

photo of Sue Lynn Tan

Dear Writer,

As I write this, I’m currently in the depths of my next novel, and by ‘depths’ I mean I’m at the stage where I’m not sure how or when I’ll make it to the end. I thought it would get easier the more I wrote, with the next book—but it did not seem to, at least for me. There are days my concentration is more fragile, breaking with ease. I get frustrated, mired in plot, and am at times so critical of my own work it can feel incapacitating. It helps to remember that a draft doesn’t have to be perfect, and a lot of the refining comes in editing. I’m finding that it’s not how long you spend writing but getting into those rare periods when the words just flow. With deadlines looming, I’ve had to find new ways to keep myself going and while no advice works for everyone, I wanted to share a few things that have helped me, both with Heart of the Sun Warrior and the book I’m working on now.

Eyes on your own keyboard. Some can write thousands of words in a day, others, a hundred. Even if you write just a dozen words, if you love them, it was time well spent. Being online can be a huge distraction not just in time, but your mind is invariably taken up by the latest news. I’ve found putting my phone somewhere less accessible or turning it off, can be a big help for my concentration. A writer friend bought a phone safe—a locked box with a timer—and I’m starting to think I need one, preferably with opaque walls.

Change things up. There are days I can’t focus at home and don’t feel like going out. I’ve taken to working in different places around my home—not just my desk, but the sofa, dining table or even my bed. Sometimes, taking a break helps to shift my mindset. As I spend most of my time indoors, I try to go outdoors whenever possible. Some of my favorite scenes have come to me when I’m running, alone with my thoughts, and not feeling the pressure to type them out.

Follow your mood, when you can. While I generally prefer to write following the sequence of events, sometimes, despite trying, I cannot get into the mindset to write a particular scene, whether an emotionally charged one or a battle. Rather than getting more frustrated, I’ve started to leave placeholder notes for the scenes I’m stumped on and writing something else instead—maybe one with a different character, or dialogue that might feel more accessible. It might seem like delaying it for a ‘future me’ problem, but I believe if you’re excited about what you write, it will show.

Celebrate the wins. There are few things I love better than the rare feeling of completing a manuscript, the satisfaction that the story—even in its raw, never to be shared draft form—is whole. It’s not just about typing ‘The End’, although it is a wonderful achievement, although we aspire to get there, and I hope many of us will. Celebrate the one good line you wrote that warms your heart or the hard paragraph you churned out of a scene you were dreading, the words written whether fifty or a hundred. They are all wins, all another reason to be proud of yourself, each one a step forward.

I know how hard writing can be, though one of the toughest parts is deciding to do this in the first place—to put yourself out there. Yet part of the reason we persevere is because we love writing, something I hope we’ll never forget. I’ll be writing along with you this month, thinking and cheering all of you on, and I believe we’ll get there in our own time and way.

I wish you all the very best this November, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself!

Sue Lynn Tan

(Need another boost? View our entire pep talk archive.)

Sue Lynn Tan writes fantasy inspired by the myths and legends she fell in love with as a child. Born in Malaysia, she studied in London and France, before settling in Hong Kong with her family. Her debut Daughter of the Moon Goddess was published by Harper Voyager, with the sequel Heart of the Sun Warrior to come in November 2022.

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