My Art Progress & Some Observations

Millie Ho Noodles Cat Surreal Art Illustration

My current work-in-progress drawing, ft. cats and noodles and bloodshed.

I started sketching at least one idea since July, and I’m happy to report that I’ve made more progress. Here are some highlights from the past couple of weeks.

Millie Ho Cat Parallax Art Surreal Illustration

“Cat Parallax”, pen on paper.

As you can see, I’m adding in more colours and details now. All the recurring motifs (cats, junk food, unimpressed teens) are still there, but they are now less one-dimensional and stiff compared to my sketches from a few months ago.

Millie Ho Phobia Art Surreal Illustration

“Phobia”, pen on paper.

I’ve been filling up more white space. My lines are getting more fluid and automatic. I feel more confident when I pick up the pen now.

Millie Ho Cat Vomit Surreal Art

“Cat Vomit”, pen on paper.

Experimenting with different art styles has also helped me achieve a level of comfort with what I illustrate. When I first started drawing every day, everything came out Studio Ghibli-like, and the feedback I received was almost enough to keep me headed in that direction. Almost.

Millie Ho Oreo Ordeal Surreal Art Illustration

“Oreo Ordeal”, pen on paper.

Thankfully, I remembered how miserable I was when I listened to other people tell me what I should be doing creatively, so I said screw that, and went exploring. So now here we are.

Millie Ho Self-Sabotage Surreal Art Illustration with Copics

“Self-Sabotage”, pen on paper.

Is this surrealism? Pop surrealism? All I know is that it’s fun to draw, it makes me feel better after I’ve drawn it, and it gives me an excuse to draw more cats, and that’s all I’m really asking for.

Some Observations

It’s interesting how my efforts with making art daily is mirroring my efforts with writing daily, in that I’ve become more honest with myself about what I actually enjoy making, and have improved incrementally over the past several months.

It was a challenge for me to get started, to move from a full-time job mindset and into a freelancer mindset that allowed me to draw and write (and travel!) more, but after I started taking the necessary baby steps, and after I stuck with these new habits long enough, I did improve.

I’ve come to the conclusion that everything you do affects everything else. If you change one area of your life, it will spill over into another area. If it’s a positive change, then one good habit reinforces another, and soon you’ll be snowballing your way to a more enjoyable life.

My art style will continue to evolve. I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and finding out what else I can draw, and more ways to improve.

I will post some drawing process videos next!

Writing More Meaningful Symbolism

Netflix’s Luke Cage was an entertaining series, and it also helped me understand how to write better symbolism.

Here’s a summary of my talking points.

Avoid Using Superficial Symbolism  

In school, I was taught to reference existing works or mythologies if I was writing symbolism. For example, a guy who was strong would be given the name Hercule. Or I would use colours to represent different character attributes. Green was the colour of greed, so a character who was greedy would carry a green purse, which became a symbol.

These techniques made sense from a literary analysis standpoint, but they failed to enhance the reader’s connection to the characters, plot, or setting. These symbols also missed out on opportunities to accomplish more than one goal and were therefore one-dimensional.

After watching Luke Cage, I realized that I needed to use less superficial symbols that could be replicated for any story, and instead write more meaningful symbols.

3 Qualities of Meaningful Symbolism

In Luke Cage, the ring that Luke was tasked to find took on a deeper meaning as Episode 5 progressed:

  • The ring became a symbol for Harlem (its past, present, and future).
  • The ring represented different qualities of the characters.
  • The ring drove Episode 5’s plot.

I concluded that meaningful symbolism should consist of three main qualities:

1. The symbol must be significant to the characters. 

It doesn’t matter if critics or readers can dissect a symbol for hours on end. If the symbol is not significant to the characters and their lives, it will lack emotional and contextual depth.

2. The symbol should be unique to the story.

Blood is not a unique symbol. It can be used to represent guilt, life, and so forth, but to characters across different stories, it’s still just blood. But if the symbol is original to your story and can’t be replicated elsewhere, it will be more memorable and create more opportunities to take your story to new heights.

Examples: the Elder Wand in Harry Potter, the Death Star in Star Wars, and the One Ring in LOTR.

3. Symbolism should accomplish more than one thing.

You can use symbols to communicate character traits, drive the plot, or reveal the history of your setting. Symbolism can reveal how characters think and feel or were transformed.

Instead of creating different symbols and using them to fulfill a multitude of purposes, one multi-purpose symbol tightens up the narrative and creates a more concentrated impact.

In Conclusion

Symbolism should enhance the characters, plot, and essence of your story first.

Everything else is secondary.

What are your thoughts about writing symbolism?

I Now Have a Facebook Page

Millie Ho Cat Vomit Art Sketch Illustration

“Cat Vomit”, a pen sketch.

This is just a quick note about how I now have a Facebook page.

If you’re interested in getting updates about what I learned about writing, illustrating, or my novel-writing progress, you can follow me here:

https://www.facebook.com/millicent.ho/

I’m currently moving and travelling, but I’m nearly settled down and will be back to blogging soon!

Hope you’re well.

Siamese Dream

CN Tower Honest Eds Millie Ho "Siamese Dream" Flash Fiction Story

View of the CN Tower from Honest Ed’s.

Laura and I went to the freeway after school because we both didn’t like going home.

We sat on the cool sidewalk and swung our legs through the guard rails, sharing one iPod that blasted The Smashing Pumpkins on repeat.

Sometimes we’d make plans for an important event, like the egging of the house of Dwayne, this popular kid we both hated, or maybe secretly liked, because that was the only way we knew how to get his attention. Or we’d arch our backs, raise our straws, and shoot tapioca bullets into the cars below, into the blurs and the streaks, the things we couldn’t reach.

But mostly we just sat there and doodled things, trinkets and cartoon characters and the things we wanted, like a new skateboard or book or an apartment in the city.

“Someday we’ll move out of this town,” I said once, “and be extraordinary.”

Laura grinned, showing the hunger in her eyes that only I got to see.

Four years later, I would read about her on the news. I was a senior in college by then, buried in the back of the library, cramming for exams.

We hadn’t spoken in a while.

I reread the article to make sure it was her. When I was certain, my hands flew to my mouth.

Then I closed the article, turned up my iPod, and went back to work.

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Millie’s Note: I was obsessed with The Smashing Pumpkins during high school and spent the money I earned writing for a local newspaper (my first ever job!) acquiring the entire discography. I went to random used CD shops to find the compilation albums and box sets I couldn’t find in stores, and once sat on a waiting list for ~7 weeks to buy a used version of Pisces Iscariot. I wrote this flash fiction story when I found Siamese Dream while moving my stuff. Good times!

My Novel Revision Process & Lessons Learned

Writing Millie Ho Novel Revision Process & Lessons Learned

Revising in dank coffee shop basements near you.

This past weekend, I finished revising the novel I started this April. The New Story has been sent to beta readers, and I’ll do more revision once I get their feedback, but for now, the hardest part is over. Here’s a timeline of my writing progress:

  • April: Ditched the Long-Suffering Manuscript and plotted a new novel, the New Story.
  • May: Finished writing Draft One by turning off my brain. I printed it off and put it away to revise later.
  • May – June: Worked on short stories/poems/art to take my mind off the New Story.
  • July – September: Pulled out Draft One and started revising. I wrote Draft Two, then revised Draft Two, wrote Draft Three, then revised Draft Three…
  • Late September – early October: Followed an instinct and restructured the entire story. This became the final draft I sent to beta readers.

Overall, it took me six months to plot, write, and revise the New Story. Compared to the nearly five years I spent on the Long-Suffering Manuscript, this is a big improvement. Along with my output speed, I like to think that the quality of my writing also improved because I got a lot more practice done in a shorter period of time, which is aligned with my goal to finish more drafts this year.

Here are some challenges I ran into while revising, and how I would do things differently the next time around.

Lesson #1: Stop cramming in too many new ideas.

I took lots of notes while writing Draft One. These notes ranged from solutions to plot holes, to characters I wanted to add in or kill off, and other random details like which person had jowls and how I would describe a police station made of pink granite. I took these notes to stop myself from editing the story whenever I got a new idea and also to sustain my writing momentum.

Then I revised Draft One and tried to cram in all these new ideas, which was a mistake. Sure, some ideas were interesting to explore, but that didn’t mean I had to explore them in this one story. As a result, Draft Two was bloated with stuff that didn’t necessarily enhance the story. I spent a lot of time in later drafts pulling out the weeds. Next time, I will add only the most urgent and relevant ideas and save the rest for stories to write in the future.

Lesson #2: Plot loosely for each new draft.

Since Draft Two was so bloated, I needed to re-plot Draft Three to get the narrative back on track. Because I felt the story had gotten out of control, I reverted back to control freak mode and tried to plot every chapter of Draft Three down to the last detail. Looking back, this made the writing difficult in two ways:

  • My characters became more passive because the story was becoming more plot-driven.
  • I was living in my head (plotting, making notes, etc) more than I was writing.

I lost two weeks of writing productivity because I was painstakingly re-plotting everything, and in the end I scraped most of these plans anyway. When I’m writing, I’ll run into situations I can’t predict, so it’s better to place the narrative in the hands of the characters and let them run the show. I now know that it’s better to develop a loose plot for each new draft and to simply readjust the story when it needed readjusting.

Lesson #3: Do more exploratory writing instead of deleting things.

If a character wasn’t working out, I would simply cut them out. A few days later, I could be out walking and think, “Hey, why did I cut out Character X? They could’ve been useful in This New Situation.” But by that time, I would’ve gotten too far into the new draft without Character X to even bother with putting them back in again.

I learned that just because something wasn’t getting written smoothly didn’t mean it didn’t have a place in the story. What I should’ve done was open a new Word document and write a scene or two featuring the character that was giving me problems, and let them explain their story to me. This would’ve saved me a lot of headache and allowed the narrative to unfold more naturally.

Lesson #4: Get more comfortable with making big changes.

With each new round of revisions, major elements of the New Story changed. Draft One was set in a futuristic environment, but the story in the final draft took place in contemporary Toronto. I also removed four major characters between Draft One and Draft Three, and changed 90% of the story when I restructured everything in the final draft. The word count went from 98,298 (Draft One) to 121,731 words (Draft Three) to 62,635 (the final draft). These were some big changes, and I didn’t always handle it well.

There were days when I moped around, listening to 80s power ballads on repeat and reading John Ajvide Lindqvist under a blanket until my eyes fell out. What I should’ve done was just suck it up. Making big changes is just part of the writing process, dammit! Things got better once I learned to become more patient, so I’ll mope less the next time around (because I WILL MOPE) and get back to the blank screen quicker.

Next Steps

I’m switching gears and working on some stories and art to take my mind off the New Story until my beta readers get back to me with their comments. I’m also preparing to do some travelling this winter, so that should take up a good chunk of my time. All in all, I learned a lot about writing in the past six months, the most important lesson being that there’s always room for improvement.

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Millie’s Note: What’s your revision or editing process?