Igrew up with very little books in our house because, like other Filipino families then, we didn’t have the money to buy books. Our bedtime stories came from our mother. The stories she made up fueled my imagination as a child.
When I was finally introduced to the public library later on in grade school, I immediately got addicted to the Nancy Drew series. The public library was a magical place for me filled with books you can lose yourself into every single day.
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I remember when I was in grade school and my teacher told me to go outside during recess and lunch breaks. She meant I should go and play with the other kids, but instead I took my book with me and read outside.
After a brief fling with romance books and Sweet Valley High series in high school, I got into Stephen King and basically inhaled the horror genre for a long time. As I grew older, my reading palette broadened and if you look at my Good reads profile, you’ll see that my book taste is very diverse. I read everything I can get my hands on. No genre is safe with me. I think that’s how you grow as a writer. Plus, it is such a relaxing pastime. If you want to see my recommendations, just head on to my Good reads profile.
Fiction writing was not something I was aiming for when I began my career in journalism. Like other writers, I kept journals and dabbled in fiction writing but they were very amateur stories. I sent one of my short stories to a professor in creative writing while I was in university and he said it had potential. But I never really pursued it because I was focused on finishing my degree in journalism.
After I had my daughter, everything changed. I wanted to preserve the stories my mother used to tell us when we were kids and so I wrote a children’s picture book, The Dragon and The Lizard. I followed it with another children’s picture book about growing up in the Philippines without TV, computer games and gadgets. We Have It All was my second self-published book. After that, I couldn’t stop.
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The Girl between Two Worlds, my first attempt at novel writing, started out as a question. I wondered why Filipinos overseas never “see” these Philippine mythological creatures from our books. I grew up with stories of “sightings” of these creatures while living in the Philippines but that never happens anymore once you migrate. So I thought what if these monsters migrated too? The book takes these monsters to San Francisco to kill a 16 year-old girl whose powers had started manifesting. The aim was to introduce our culture to a wider audience.
I was quite excited about the book because I think the world is tired of the usual monsters we have in books and movies. Filipino mythology is so rich, it would be such a shame not to put it out there to share with the world.
Fiction writing was a new thing for me. I wasn’t used to being in my own head all the time and creating all these characters and places. I had to learn how to write fiction – a very different beast from my journalism writing. I joined conferences, took online courses, spoke with other writers — learning so much over the years. It was a big dream that I almost gave up on because it was so hard. But luckily, I have a great support system. They encouraged me to keep going. And so I did. I have learned a couple of things along the way and I hope to share it with others out there who have the same dream.
Writing is a marathon. Doing 20 minutes a day can create a whole novel without overwhelming you. If your life is very busy, give up 20 minutes to do writing. Maybe skip social media or cut back on TV watching. I worked on my novel while I was on a full freelance writing schedule and raising a toddler. It can be done.
Good editors and assessors are angels. I had my manuscript assessed and I also hired an editor. They didn’t just help with my manuscript, they also helped me grow as a writer. It may be expensive but you can put away some money to save up for it. Give something up – a handbag, a pair of shoes. Treat it like a project and eventually you’ll have the money to get your manuscript assessed.
Listen only to those who matter. I had some disheartening feedback about my manuscript and I was so down I didn’t want to do it anymore. But the professional advice I got was very encouraging and put me back on track. Open your ears to constructive criticisms and just ignore the rest of the noise. You can’t please everyone.
Keep learning. When I decided to work seriously on my fiction writing, I took courses, joined organisations, and went to events so I could learn as much as I could. Although I’ve been a writer/journalist for over 13 years, I still update my skills by taking courses and learning from other writers. Never stop educating yourself.
In the end, it is really about you and your personal goals. What are you willing to give up to achieve your dream? How much effort are you willing to put into a project you wanted to complete? No one else can do it for you. All you need to do is start.
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Kristyn M. Levis is a freelance writer, author and photographer based in Sydney. She is currently the managing editor of Her Collective and creative director of 3C Digital. Her first novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, was published in 2016. Book two, The Girl Between Light and Dark, is set for release this year.