Broken Promises

Most artists leave unfinished work behind, and not just due to death. Sketches that never materialized into something important enough to paint, rough drafts that never coalesced into a comprehensible story, notes that never formed a memorable melody. Even this blog has promised posts on everything ranging from favorite authors to essays coinciding with the 10-year anniversary of my journey to Japan (and which now I think would’ve been simpler had I merely transcribed my diary entries, rather than trying to create something new out of them. Heck, I could’ve combined them with my emails home as an interesting compare/contrast, or used one to delve deeper into the other. So many options!). Though, in the case of my blog, many of those planned posts never even made it to the rough draft stage.

The thing about unfinished work is that, so long as I’m alive, the hope remains that they’ll become something finished. For example, on my Murmurs from the Balcony blog, I’m still working on Sakura-Con posts from two years ago. I may not finish all the ones I promised, but I still hope to post what I have, timeliness be damned. In this case, the posts are unfinished because I lacked time to put in the effort needed to write and release them in a timely manner. I also blame slow Internet, which I’ve since rectified.

One other reason for unfinished work is lack of practice. The first poems and short stories I wrote are awful because they are my first attempts. Even the good first attempts aren’t better than my later work, but since every story and poem and novel are their own unique creation, earlier work is not necessarily worse than later work, provided that I’ve practiced enough to where the form frees me, rather than confines me. And since I keep changing as a person, so does my writing style, which makes writings from different stages of my life not so much like comparing apples and oranges as comparing pineapples and guacamole.

A third reason for unfinished work is because it’s not worth finishing. When art ends in a dead end, you must abandon the effort. Other times it drains too much of your life force for you to be able to continue without harm to yourself. Sometimes these unfinished works are released as-is, or with someone else completing the idea. Better to feed it to the fire, or to researchers interested in the creative process: these efforts will only tarnish the reputation of the artist in the public’s eye, and is often used as a money grab. Does that mean the artist is always right about the quality of their work? No, which is why someone with taste in art should appraise unreleased work before letting it roam free among the populace. But in general, unfinished work — as opposed to finished work which is withheld — is meant to perish in anonymity.

And finally, some work isn’t finished because it requires an older, wiser, more skilled person to create it. Recognizing that quality is something that separates a true artist from a layman, the latter of whom will not recognize that art, and not the artist, dictates its creation. Many of da Vinci’s works were subject to this holding back. Even the Mona Lisa was technically “unfinished” at his death — not because the painting wasn’t done, but because it could never be done so long as da Vinci was living and learning new ways to paint.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid of incomplete work. Speaking to writers (and I speak from experience), don’t feel that everything you write needs to be published. Hang on to your unfinished work, for it may spark a better work in the future, but realize that, just as life ends with goals left unrealized and things left undone and knowledge left unknown, so art, too, is often left unfinished at the time of its completion.


A Look Ahead

Happy 2019, everyone! Sorry for the delay in posting this. The holidays tend to interfere mightily with my writing plans. And then I decided to clean my apartment.

On the book front, I started reading In Search of Lost Time last year (the original Moncrieff translation, without any additional editors, since it was cheap, it’s a classic translation, and if I like it, I can buy a more updated version, based on the corrected text, that’s annotated, provided the editor finishes editing all the volumes and doesn’t die before finishing the last book, like Proust and Moncrieff both did).

Professionally, I continue to work on my novel and also found some other writing projects to keep me busy, provided I actually sit down and work on them. It’s too easy to forego writing and start doing some other activity, only to find myself googling random-ass stuff on my phone, or reading someone else’s drama on reddit, instead of working. I also need to kick-start my voice acting career. I even purchases a shiny new domain name and website last year:

Socially, I need to hang out with my friends more and keep in contact with them better through long-form writing (or phone calling) for the ones who live far away. I would also like to take more vacations, even if it’s only a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Still, I’m excited by what the coming months will bring. Here’s to a great new year!

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 BublĂ©, 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.