The Agony and the Ecstasy of Writing

Back in middle school, I wrote a short story for my sixth grade English class. In high school, one of the books I read my freshman year made me think about expanding that short story into a novel. I wrote an outline, but then did nothing with it till after college, where I revisited it and began writing the novel itself. Then 9/11 happened. I finished the rough draft and started revising it. The revisions didn’t go well. So I put it aside and went to Japan.

A year-and-a-half into my Japanese journey, I decided to start reading a book my mom had given me. The book was On Writing. The part that stuck with me was when Stephen King wrote that most of his novels weren’t outlined before he wrote them. This reminded me of Mark Twain doing the same thing. Since I already had the novel in my head, maybe I needed to rewrite the whole thing (by hand) so as to avoid the pitfall of being locked into certain plot points happening at certain times.

I started my draft in Japan, an hour each day after work, completed it soon after I returned to the states, and then set about revising it. Then I moved to Seattle. I sandwiched writing in-between apartment and job hunting. The first few years found me jumping from job to job, then to unemployment and food stamps, then to a job where I had to fight for more hours. I still wrote, but not as often. And then I had to move again.

Now, finally, I’m feeling some stability with my job and my living arrangements, I’m in a great relationship, and the novel seems more and more like an albatross around my neck, while it becomes easier and easier to waste time clicking apps on my phone than it is to go on my computer, or pick up a pen, or bring out my typewriter, and revise my work currently in progress, or begin something new. Granted, the lack of sunlight sucks away at my happiness this time of year. But I think the big problem might be the lack of music.

When I was writing my novel at home (though not in Japan), I’d put on some Mahler, since what I was writing was as cataclysmic and angsty as that composer’s oeuvre. Plus, I always write better when I feel strong emotion, either negative or positive. Though I have an iPod (and access to Youtube), I don’t much like headphones, and hate earbuds even more, especially when the music has such a dynamic range that more time will be spent fiddling with the volume control than doing any typing. But now that my partner/girlfriend and I are taking care of a cockatiel for a family member, we’ve had music on for his enjoyment. Mostly it’s pop music (he’s a big fan of Michael Bublé, Ariana Grande, and Britney Spears), but last night we put on classical music, and that’s what’s playing as I write this.

The other major problem might be that I’m not the same person who started writing this tale, and so now the story must change to reflect the altered person that I am, a person who shares many similarities with the kid who based his first novel on a short story he wrote for his sixth grade English class, but whose knowledge of and outlook on the world has expanded considerably, and must revise accordingly.

Plus, there’s that damn narrator issue.

Advertisements

The Necessity of Quiet Time

When I was younger, I had so many ideas for novels and stories that I wrote them down and kept them in a folder. While more developed ideas post-date the early ones, the majority of story ideas in that folder still date from my sophomore year in high school. That was also the same time that I started writing poetry in earnest. And short stories. Then, after coming back from Japan, I launched this blog (originally on blogger).

Recently, two things have changed to curtail my output: increase of responsibilities and lack of quiet time. When I was a kid, I had lots of free time, but I never worried how to fill it. If I wanted to play video games, I played video games. If I felt like reading, I would read. If the weather was nice, I’d go outside. If friends were around, I’d play with them.

Even in Japan, where I had less free time (and where I took a year-long break from working on my novel), I made sure to record my experiences both with a camera and with a diary. Writing became a way of reflecting on and connecting my multiple experiences together. There, whenever I wasn’t working, I had quiet time, and I used it.

So what changed? Certainly increased responsibilities in Seattle hasn’t taken away that quiet time, since I had just as many responsibilities in Japan. There, however, I was limited in when I could use the Internet (either I had to pay to use a cyber cafe, or I had to share a computer with my housemates), and used it almost exclusively for email. Has social media and the rise of cell phones ruined my ability to create quiet spaces for my brain?  Or has technology ushered in too many distractions that can be witnessed from the comfort of my home?

Perhaps what has really changed is my perception of time. When younger, I didn’t worry about it running out, and so ironically used it more efficiently than I do now, living completely in the moment. Now, I realize how quickly time moves, and so I must plan if I want long-term projects to come to fruition, which means keeping an eye to the future as well as on the present.

This is why I’ve recently created a schedule for writing. It’s flexible, but not so flexible that I won’t write at all, and yet not so rigid that I can’t plan around it. I hope that, by creating a schedule for writing, it guarantees that, ten years from now, I won’t be concerned — as I am now — about how few poems/novels/ short stories I’ve written/published in the interim.


The Tree Outside the Window

It’s funny how memories work. My emotional state seems to have more to do with triggering a memory than circumstances, though similar circumstances trigger similar emotional reactions. Eating a madeleine might trigger an involuntary memory, but so might feeling a particular blend of happiness.

Recently, I’ve been comforted by memories from childhood. They are there, ready to be remembered, which makes me think that my new apartment is as comforting as the childhood home I left almost ten years ago. In large part, this has to do with the tree outside my balcony.

Growing up, I would wake from my bed (or, on a school day, be woken by my mother) and open the curtains (or, for most of my childhood, blinds) and see a beautiful tree outside my double windows. Past the tree would be the yard, then the woods, and — past that — the field, which I stopped playing in around the time that I left childhood behind.

I see this tree reflected in the tree outside the balcony. Like the one that grew past my bedroom window, one might see a bird land on this one, or a squirrel scurry through its branches — though I have yet to see the latter.

Sunlight brings more memories.  Perhaps it has to do with the direction and height of the windows in my new place, or the way the light filters through the leaves. Whatever the cause, I’m reminded of sun streaming through autumnal leaves from decades ago, and the memories I made under them. And if I open the slider during a storm, I can hear the rain, which must be one of the most soothing sounds in the universe.

The tree outside my childhood home no longer exists. It lost its life for the sin of growing too close to the house, after a surprise October ice storm made my parents extra-cautious about anything that could fall on their home. I only have the memory of it, and the emotions from long ago reflected in the emotions of today, and that is enough.