I recently heard that writing leads to more writing, which I’ve found that is true. While being immersed in my novel-in-progress, I’ve been called to contribute some unrelated essays, short stories as well as new installments to my serial, Silk, on Discover Nikkei. What I’ve found is that the words and ideas have come easier than usual. A relief, because as I age, I seem to be checking the thesaurus more for synonyms because a word seems out of reach.
This weekend I met a high school student who asked me what I do about writer’s block. “Are you a perfectionist?” I asked her. She reluctantly admitted that she was and I told her that perfectionism holds creativity back. How can you be creative if you are afraid to make mistakes? I told her about Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, which is my go-to resource for writing. As I’ve referred to here, she writes about shitty first drafts. Know that the first words you type in your computer may be terrible. Awful. But when you move from that and dig deeper, you may uncover the glimmer of a beautiful mineral hidden beneath the surface. Keep digging and keep polishing. If you don’t break ground, you won’t discover anything underneath. I told this young woman to just start typing, “I have writer’s block. I don’t know what to write. BLAH BLAH BLAH.” Inevitably when you start doing that, truth emerges. A story appears. A characters speaks.
I’m a strange one because some people have been very hard on me, but I give myself a lot of grace (maybe too much!). Grace perhaps comes from my faith or my late father. I love giving grace and mercy to people around me, so I figure I need to sprinkle some on myself. It’s not that I don’t have high expectations for myself, but I know that I will be missing the mark as I go through life as a writer and person. The worst is not to try when you’re capable.
People–well, to be specific, members of the CDC (Center for Disease Control)–have said that it’s only a matter of time before the COVID-19 novel coronavirus comes to the U.S. in full force.
I’m the type that doesn’t get overly fearful about such pronouncements, but I also have a neurotic side that Googles “how to prevent coronavirus infection.” Fear itself will not solve the problem; in fact, it may fan the flames of xenophobia, producing physical, emotional and financial harm. (Chinese restaurants throughout the nation are definitely adversely affected right now.) Your everyday mask will not protect you from contracting the virus but may mitigate others from getting your germs if you happen to have it or any kind of viral infection.
Full-time novelists who are mostly writing rather than promoting are in a more protected position. I fall into this category.
I’m mostly living in my head and doing research online or in libraries this year. My final Mas Arai mystery, HIROSHIMA BOY, will be coming out next year in 2021 and I’m saving my pennies to go out to Japan for the book launch that summer. As it stands now, the Tokyo Olympics is still on for this year, but that may change in a few months. (How horrible for the athletes and organizing committees–but shikataganai, it cannot be helped.)
There’s no sense in isolating ourselves from other people; that’s no way to live. But I think 2020, the year of our national elections, may call for me to work more on internal matters, such as these:
- As mentioned before, write like a madwoman!
- Make a real dent in the TBR (to be read) pile of books and catch up on books that I’ve wanted to read.
- Continue with the weight loss effort. Ten pounds lost so far, but I’ve plateaued for a month. I’ve downloaded the app, loseit, and I’m loving it so far. I’m not into tracking calories, but I think I have to do it to break through. Also, during this summer, start running at least three times a week. (Right now I’m just doing it once, in addition to strength training and zumba.)
- Become more political active, whether it be in donating to campaigns or doing local outreach.
- Clean the house. I’m not a Marie Kondo advocate, but I’ve needed to make things more orderly for years.
- Keep cooking. I’ve really embraced the joy of cooking these past few years. And with the weight loss program, it’s been nice to keep the frig stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Integrate prayer and meditation in my morning routine. I always feel more centered when I do that.
- And while I see the dangers and downsides of social media, keep looking for ways to connect with people through the Internet and digital newsletters.
This year is going to be a roller-coaster ride, no doubt about that. When I concentrate on what I can do rather than what is happening to us, I can have more agency. We certainly cannot control much in the world but we have a responsibility to ourselves and people around us to do as much as we can. I do have to do a shoutout to my old friend, Carolyn Iga, and her faith-based organization, Assignment International, which has been working in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first originated. Godspeed.
Tulo, thank goodness, has adjusted to his missing toe, and is back jumping up on curbs. He’s not 100 percent, but at least 88 percent.
When you become a published writer, the bookstore or event venue becomes your networking station. That’s where you meet other fellow writers, exchange gossip and sometimes share challenges in the publishing world. On occasion–and perhaps it should be every occasion, you learn craft.
I went to two book events last week, a lot for me these days. It was worth it because in both instances, authors were coming from out of town. I attended to celebrate their achievements and contributions, but as it turned out, I also was surprisingly inspired and educated. It was encouraging to hear their readings, how they craft and arrange their words in different ways. Each story was powerful and entertaining in its own way.
Lately, as I work on my novel-in-progress, I judge my pages very harshly. I wonder if I’m losing it as I age. I can’t remember words as easily as I used to. But listening to the prose of my colleagues, I was both inspired and strengthened. They reminded me that I don’t need to use verbal gymnastics–I can use simple words to evoke very complex emotions. When I got home and I read what I had written that day, I was pleasantly surprised. There was something meaningful on those pages. More work needs to be done, of course. But I know that I have what it takes to make it better.
However you may feel about Amazon and the Kindle, I have to say that it’s a good device. Jeff Bezos wanted an electronic reader that a grandmother could easily use and he achieved his goals. Now that more people are reading off of their phones and iPad, I wonder if sales of the Kindle are going down.
I mostly use my Kindle to read ebooks I’ve checked out at the library as well as to check on different drafts of my manuscript-in-progress. Some may not know that your Kindle has an assigned e-mail address. (Just go to your account on Amazon and click on the Device tab.) I e-mail documents, both Microsoft Word and even pdfs, to my Kindle all the time. I like the fact that I’m not using up printer toner and paper to produce the latest copies of my work. And with the highlighted and tab feature of the Kindle, I keep track of the changes that I need to make.
And since my Kindle is synched to my Kindle app on my phone, I can also read my manuscript when in line at the post office, etc. With this feature and my synched Evernote app, I’m never that far away from what I am writing.
Tulo got his bandage and cone off! My job is to get him to stop licking the wound, but if I lost a digit, I probably would be licking, too. In the meantime, plenty of rest–and on satin sheets, no less!
The current controversy over the Oprah Book Club pick, AMERICAN DIRT, has made me think about truth or fiction. Specifically, how do we as writers approach material that is either historical or societal based?
We need to do our due diligence and do research. Novelists dig into oral histories and non-fiction books, but do we need to do more? We will need to look at newspaper articles and government records in the archives? Do we need to do our own original interviews?
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I have read novels about the Japanese American World War II incarceration experience. Some, I feel, hold so close to nonfiction accounts that the narrative is stunted. I’m not saying that these writers should entirely fabricate watershed events, but the novelist’s work lies in the gaps between history and real accounts. We need to find the places and emotions not explored in nonfiction.
In my own practice, I try to do original research and interviews for nonfiction projects first. It’s important for me to have real people’s names and stories in print. It’s their stories, after all. After I do this work, I feel more freedom to fictionalize a certain community’s situation. I will know the holes, what hasn’t been explored and may not ever be unearthed in nonfiction.
Tulo is on the mend! He’ll get his e-collar and bandage off on Friday. In the meantime, he’s taking short walks with a Nike sock on his paw.
(This is a continuation of handouts that I recently distributed at a writing seminar.)
–a part of us is in every character
–who are we called to write about?
(Could be someone in our life, could be someone we see in a news report, someone in a dream/imagination)
QUESTIONS TO ASK
Who do you personally root for?
What kind of people do you root for?
How do you or people around you feel misunderstood?
Elements of Voice:
POV and tone
Co-workers, Team Members
Naming your character:
Something unique and personal
Something cultural appropriate
Something with a good rhythm
Google to check