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.

Aspects of Writing a Novel

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma.  In the afternoon I put it back again. -Oscar Wilde

Writing a novel can be fun.  Revising a novel is a pain in the ass.  The above quote by Oscar Wilde is the most accurate one I have found dealing with the revision process.  So that non-writers have a sense of what it’s like for writers when revising our magnum opuses, I have broken down the revision process into its different stages:

1. ELATION

This stage occurs when one finally finishes a rough draft that one has been working on for ages.

2. PATIENCE

At first, the revisions go well, and one is willing to sacrifice much time in making them work.

3. IRRITATION

This happens when an author hits his or her bump.  Sometimes it takes a few hours, a walk around the block, or a good night’s sleep to see how to solve this problem when it occurs, which is then solved rather easily.

4. FRUSTRATION

Instead of hitting a small bump, the author deflates both tires on a spiky monstrosity, then a tree falls on the hood.  Major blockage occurs, one in which neither a walk around the block, nor several nights of sleep, will unblock.

5. RELIEF

One finds that the best way to revise this blockage is to remove the circumstances that led to it.  Simply get in the car, back up, and try another road.

6. DEJECTION

This is when the realization sets in that one’s characters, story, plot, pacing, and writing is worse than anything that one has ever read.

7. ACCEPTANCE

One accepts that one is not Leo Tolstoy, and that what is bad can be fixed, but doesn’t have to be perfect.  Revisions over the next few days aren’t drastic, but improve the story by degrees.

8. ELATION/FRUSTRATION

Revisions are done.  While I haven’t gotten to this stage yet, I imagine it involves a mixture of elation and frustration; the former for the fact that one is finished (enough to send out the manuscript to an agent, at least), the latter because a book is never as good as the author wants it to be, especially when first starting out as a novelist.

I should mention that these stages don’t necessarily occur in order, and often repeat themselves several times before the process is complete.  Right now, I am in the frustration/dejection mode, but often the way out of this is to find help through another author’s insights, which is why I have stopped reading The Mabinogion (I would stop reading Biographia Literaria, but I refuse to be beaten by an author who’s been dead for over 100 years) and have started reading Kokoro, since I need ideas from a novel right now, not a collection of ancient tales.  Doing fun, active activities also helps, which is why I swing dance on Monday nights.  Playing frustrating old-school video games probably does not, nor does seeing so many films.  Nature always helps, as does movement.  I wish I had a bicycle here, but they’re a bit too expensive for me to own one now, unless I can find a cheap used one that is in decent shape.

Other ways to help include cleaning the house, rearranging my room, listening to music (really listening, not just having it on in the background), and going on adventures.  Of course, that’s the irony about writing.  One can either live a full life and scramble for time to write, or have much time to write and nothing to write about.  In all cases, the former option is the better option to have, while I am currently stuck with the latter option.

Also, Seattle’s weather isn’t helping.  It’s becoming dark and rainy outside, and the air has turned cold.  Autumnal air, with its wet leaf smell, is wonderful, but the lack of sunlight is not.  Some people have summer homes; people in Seattle need winter homes.  I’ve thought about putting my computer desk closer to the window, but then my bed would have to go into my closet space, and it would be tough to get to my clothes.  If I get a laptop/notebook for Christmas, then I will have more mobility when it comes to where I write–something which should help improve my inspiration, as I will be able to write around more people when I need a jolt of energy, and fewer people when I need to concentrate.  A radio may help, as well.  It seemed to help in Japan, when I had to write in a notebook balanced on my lap.

Other writing can spur on writing, as well.  Writing in my diary helps not only to free my mind from the past, but also helps start the motors in my head for when I have to shift my attention to my novel.  Also, next week will be spent in West Seattle, so I will have some quiet time to write, away from the distractions of my home.

Let’s hope it helps.