Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: May, 2011

Mad Scribbling Time

I don’t know how people do it.  You know, managing a day job and writing at the same time.  For the first part of the month, I’ve been kind of lax by not working on the Maynowrimo project.  I have been in lab, though, for 10-12 hour days. Including weekends.  And by the time I come home, I feel too brain dead to do anything else except eat dinner and sleep.

A professional writer, I suppose, wouldn’t have to worry about a pesky thing like other jobs.  The hard-core writer, however, would probably yell at me for being such a sissy and that I should make time to do any writing by just steamrolling it rather than letting it steamroll me.

The problem is, I feel a lot like Sisyphus.  I get a lot of work done, but I don’t feel like I’m making any progress.

Anyways, I have over 40,000 words to go in about 10 days.  I won’t be posting much here until next month, to say the least.

Breaking from the Hive

With all the stereotypes that people heap on Asians, it’s a wonder that they don’t use the metaphor of a swarm of bees rather than a tiger.  Then again, most metaphor makers don’t worry too much about biology.  Anyways, there is so much to say in response to Wesley Yang’s thoughtful essay, Paper Tigers, on the Bamboo Ceiling and the downsides to being the so-called model minority.  But this quote pretty much encapsulates my own frustrations about being caught between two cultures:

If we are a collective juggernaut that inspires such awe and fear, why does it seem that so many Asians are so readily perceived to be, as I myself have felt most of my life, the products of a timid culture, easily pushed around by more assertive people, and thus basically invisible?

My own response to that rhetorical question is mostly cranky: If I seem invisible to other people, it’s because they haven’t been effin’ paying attention.  It doesn’t matter how much I, or anyone else for that matter, jump and scream–if other people don’t put in the effort to listen rather than jabber on endlessly about themselves, we’re going to remain invisible.

For me this is complicated by something a lot of grad students and academics, regardless of race, suffer from: the imposter syndrome.  This makes me feel guilty and I end up putting in longer hours at work in an attempt to assuage that guilt.  I’ve been called “a robot” or “a machine” and while I pretty much blow off those problematic nicknames, it makes me wonder what I’m doing or not doing to enjoy life.  But if push comes to shove, I’m just going to keep doing whatever the hell I want whether people think I’m a maverick or a conformist.

Oh sure, there is a lot about my childhood that could be described as stereotypically Asian.  But then again, I didn’t live in places where there were tons of other Asians around.  (And when there were other Asians around, they were usually much, much smarter than me.)  I never studied for standardized tests (unless you count flipping through test prep books for about 20 minutes the day before as studying) and I wasn’t particularly diligent in practicing for my music lessons.  I sucked at memorization.  I didn’t do my homework until the last minute, to my parents’ consternation.  I managed to do okay in school despite not doing things that I should have done.

I finally met a substantial number of other Asians my age when I went to college.  And frankly, at first, it was kind of alienating.  There was the group, of course, who wanted to become doctors and engineers (and the ones who decided science wasn’t for them decided to become lawyers).  Virtually every Asian biology major I knew were pre-meds, making me feel like the ultimate rebel for wanting to go to grad school.  And then there was the other group who seemed to be suffering existential angst every other day–torn between what their parents wanted them to do and what they wanted to do.  And if they weren’t conforming to the stereotype of nose-to-the-grindstone Asian, they were conforming to the stereotype of moody and mentally unstable artist.

I’ve never really felt part of either group.  For someone who is supposedly from a collectivist culture, I really disdain the thought that fitting in should be the best policy.  If I seem like I’m fitting in, I assure you that I’m only doing it for me, not anyone else.  One could make the argument that I’ve been westernized–I’m no follower, but I don’t want to strive (deliberately) for that top dog position either.  Mostly, I’m in my own “screw it” camp–just do whatever I like and what I find interesting without too much concern about societal expectation and neurotic flakery.

My philosophy on surviving as a minority in a society with western mores mirrors Yang’s except with a heavy dose of practicality.  One would have to follow the rules to some extent if one wants a roof over one’s head and food on the dinner table.  But after that, one is free to do anything to alter and enhance that basic level of comfort, happiness, and fulfillment.  What I don’t agree with is the notion that success can only be achieved if you are willing to push yourself into the spotlight and make noise–particularly if all you’re doing is following someone else’s formula to do it.  Success can be measured in a variety of ways other than the size of your bank account, your status in the corporate hierarchy or whether your name is on everyone’s lips.

Progress and Programs

Last night, I wrote a chapter for my Maynowrimo project that was basically a conversation between the main character and her sister.  The writing itself, actually, came fairly easily.  Probably the easiest so far.  I think a bit of it has to do with that old adage, “write what you know.”  Although the topic of conversation between the two fictional sisters was completely different from what I had ever talked about with my own sister, the rhythm of how the two sisters interacted with each other was very familiar.  Oh, I know everyone’s relationships to their own sisters are all different, but they’re all similar in a way, too.  And it’s that similarity that I drew upon.

People who are not writers tend to think that writers incorporate people they know into their stories.  The only thing they change, supposedly, are the names.  That is both true and untrue.  I’m sure there are writers out there who put people they know (or even themselves!) wholesale into their writing without alteration.  I don’t do that. The wholesale thing, that is.  My technique for character building is more of a mix-and-match hodge-podge.  I still metaphorically write what I know–just not in the same order or pattern that I see in real life.

* * *

Other writers seem to like recommending writing programs.  The fancy ones with all the frills, the bells and whistles.  The ones where there are special tabs to make outlines or notecards to put your research in.  Special highlighting thingamabobs that help you edit chapters, paragraphs, sentences, so on and so forth.

People say it makes writing easier.  My question is: what do you mean by easier?  For me, easier means faster.  I can see where certain programs that make it quicker to put in references into your thesis or non-fiction work can be helpful.  But for these writing programs, all I see is extra stuff to help you procrastinate.

So for writing, especially fiction writing, why would it be worthwhile for me to download one of these programs?  In comparison to a basic word processor, does it really cut down on writing and editing time?  Or is this just something shiny for people who like to be obsessive compulsive organizers?

What Outline?

The idea for this year’s Maynowrimo project began as bits and pieces from other projects I was mulling over at the end of April.  It didn’t really become a coherent idea until I went to the library to check out a guidebook on Venice (published in 1993, so it is woefully out of date–but who really cares, since I’m setting the story in 1880).  Basically, the only research I’m using is that guidebook, Wikipedia, Google Maps, and a naming website called Behind the Names.  In other words, the locations are real, the people and situations are not.

I am also writing without an outline, so we’ll see how that goes (or not).  This is due in part to my last minute decision to write this.  It’s also a reaction against the hefty outlines I keep reading about from other writers.  Sure, every writer has their own method that works for them.  It’s one thing to have a two or three page outline.  But I’m beginning to think that 100,000 word outlines are counterproductive.  I mean, that’s as big as a book itself!  Wouldn’t it be more efficient and worthwhile to spend your time actually writing the story?

Anyways, the freedom of writing without the outline is that I get all sorts of ideas while I’m writing and I get to think–Hey, that’s pretty interesting.  Maybe I can incorporate it somehow.  At this point in the draft, it’s everything and the kitchen sink.  The cutting will be during editing when I’m not so worried about the word count.

The most difficult thing I find about beginning this project is in introducing the characters and setting.  Unlike some other writers who have characters dancing in their heads for years or have done extensive character backgrounds and pre-writing, I do very little delving into the psyche of my characters before I do the actual writing.  The best I can describe it is awkwardness, the same kind of awkwardness that you feel when you’re introduced to a new person in real life.  So in the first few chapters, I’m kind of like a reader looking from the outside in.  It probably won’t be until a few more chapters in when I become more comfortable with the characters and settings that the words will come a little easier.

Ending One, Beginning Another

Well, that’s it for Script Frenzy.  I’m not sure how I feel about the script I just wrote.  It definitely needs a lot of revision.  And I’m thinking I probably need to not see it for a while if I don’t want to get into a jag of moaning despair.  I ended up calling it a “fantasy mockumentary” that is “a philosophical exploration of a Bhutan that never was” – whatever that means.  For the nosy masochists, it’s posted here.

I wrote the script only during writing sprints which I held on Twitter and the Idaho Script Frenzy chatroom.  Since I have a record of all of those sprints, it comes out to a total of 1415 minutes or a little over 23.5 hours.  Of course, one has to put into account the fact that sometimes, in those writing sprints, I wasn’t writing but looking up random stuff on the internet.  But even with that stuff factored in, I pretty much wrote 100 pages in under 24 hours.  So if there was some contest about writing a script in a day, I suppose it would be possible.

Anyways, that’s it. No more thinking about scripts until next year.

As for May, I was momentarily crazy a couple days ago and signed up for MayNoWriMo.   I’ve only started planning for it this morning.  It currently looks like it’s going to be a fantasy steampunk story set in Venice, but one never knows for sure until the whole thing is written.