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 Bubl√©, 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.

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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 State of Things

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t write as much on here as I used to. I’ve heard that blogs have about a three-year life span, and that seems to be accurate when looking at Dreams of Literary Grandeur‘s most productive years.

Three things happened that cut into my productivity. The first was the launch of my other blog, Murmurs from the Balcony, in August of 2012 (earlier posts were originally written on this blog, either with Blogger or WordPress). If you check out that blog, you’ll see that I’m continuing to write over there on events like Sakura-Con and SIFF. The second was the death of Roger Ebert, in April 2013. He wasn’t my only reason for writing as much as I did (I started the blog before he started following me), but when someone that big leaves this earth, the void they leave behind takes on the properties of a black hole. And the third was focusing more of my writing time on my novel and short stories, only recently realizing that making time to write posts here would only help, not hinder, my literary efforts.

I could add a fourth thing, which is that life happened. More of my free time has been spent watching movies, or mindlessly reading tweets on my phone, or trying to secure more hours at work, or dealing with personal crises, or dealing with other people’s personal crises. And, considering the type of people who have ruled from on high in America this past year-and-a-half, more crises seem to appear every day.

Stability has also been lacking, which I used to think I needed to write. Now I see that writing creates its own stability. If anything, the inverse is true: the more chaotic my life feels, the more I feel I need to write.

The irony is that this blog was supposed to be the one I steadily wrote posts for, while my other blog was for the occasional special event and review. In truth, writing is writing, and while I could put it all on one blog (as I used to), it helps separates, for me, the public from the private sphere. If my posts on Murmurs from the Balcony are written for others, the posts on Dreams of Literary Grandeur are written for me.

So, with that distinction in mind, welcome to the rebirth of Dreams of Literary Grandeur.