When I was in my twenties, I had stories in my head all the time. They were clamoring to be heard, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and write. I could write for hours with the words just pouring out of me, and my biggest problem was knowing when to stop. It’s the same when I started blogging. I had so much to say, and there seemed to be so little time to say it in. I was passionate about my opinions, and I wanted the world to know what I had to say. Even when I was depressed, I could write. It’s the one thing I didn’t have to force myself to do. I couldn’t make myself take a shower, but I sure as hell could type thousands of words.
When I first started writing at the tender age of seven, I wrote poems. They weren’t great poems, but they were heartfelt. I never much cared for rhyming or more traditional poetry, but I loved free-form, and I wrote what I considered prose-poetry before it became a thing. I found it limiting, however, especially as I did not enjoy reading poetry, and I eventually switched over to prose. Part of the reason is because I loved to read, but I never saw anyone who looked or acted like me. I’ve nattered on about representation in popular culture so I’ll skip that whole spiel right now, but I felt a longing in my heart any time I read to see someone, anyone, who looked like me and/or had a life experience that was at all similar. There’s a Toni Morrison quote that has stuck with me about this sentiment:
If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
She also has said unapologetically that she is a writer for black people, and she doesn’t have a problem with that. She said it was “in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old colored girl from Lorain, Ohio.” I felt the same about much of what I read. Even if something was exquisite literature and moved me, there was always something missing. There was an explosion of Asian immigration stories when I was in my mid-to-late twenties (I blame Amy Tan), but they didn’t feel that relatable, either, because they were about Chinese laundries, broken English, and three generations of suffering women. It became so prolific, I remember standing in the middle of Modern Times (used bookstore) in San Francisco, seeing another spate of books like this, and loudly declaring, “If I never see another book about three generations of suffering Asian women, it would be too soon!” My friend shushed me, but I was fed the fuck up.
My parents came here for grad school, and I’ve lived in the suburbs all my life. I’m solidly middle class, and English is my first and only language. I think the immigrant story is important, but as a second-generation Asian American, I wanted to see my story being written as well. I’ve also written reams about Asians being invisible and how our stories aren’t welcomed or wanted, so I won’t go into that either, but it made me more determined to write my stories in all their complications. When I was in grad school for writing, I had a protagonist (and I’m using the word loosely) who was an Asian American female serial killer, and it’s one of the most gruesome stories I’ve ever written. She only targeted other egregious criminals (rapists and murderers of women) who got away, and she disposed of them in increasingly grotesque ways. My adviser, a Latino man (important), told me I should make the woman white so people wouldn’t focus on her race. I demurred because I don’t want to only write paragon characters, especially as Asians are already considered the model minority. I want to show that we are complicated people, and, yes, we can be serial killers, too! Wait….
In short, most of my characters are Taiwanese American women and bisexual. I’ve never mentioned that part, have I? They are around my age and not interested in marriage and children. They have black cats. That’s when I think, “Am I making them too much like me?” The thing is, I feel as if I need to write this character until I get a book published with someone with whom I can relate at all. So I have to keep writing the character and perfecting her until I get a novel published. I change their personalities, which helps keep it fresh, but I’m losing hope that I can ever get anything published.
Now, I’m in my forties, and the words don’t come as easily. I’ve been talking about my fiction, so let’s turn to my blogging for a minute. I’ve been doing a series of posts I call my POOG posts because I’m cracking on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, goop, and her snake oil bullshit, which are fun and short (for me), and they flow easily from my fingertips. However, I’m committed to writing five posts a week, and the other four don’t always come as easily. It’s not that I don’t care passionately about the issues because I still do, but I’m just not sure I have anything to add to the discussions. Everything’s gotten so shouty and black-and-white (literally and figuratively), I don’t feel as if there’s any place for well-researched nuance. Also, the Asian thing. It’s discouraging to me that it’s 2017 and people still don’t give a shit about Asian Americans.
It’s weird. I’m less depressed these days than I was in my twenties, and it’s harder to write than it was then. I don’t know if correlation is causation in this case, but it’s interesting to think about. Creative types have long since believed that there’s a connection between mental illnesses and creativity, but I’m not sure that’s true, at least for me, personally. I think part of the problem is that I see the plethora of writing that is available these days–fiction and blogging–and I wonder why anyone would read what I have to say. I’m a weirdo with oddball viewpoints, and I’m garrulous to boot. All of this combines for being not palatable to the mainstream.
I can’t tell you how tempted I am to write an Iris Johansen type of series–in other words, to sell out. I can write about heaving bosoms with the best of them and–can I just say how ridiculous it is that in a book about sex, you can’t say vagina or penis, let alone pussy or cock? It’s quivering manhood this, girded loins that, and it’s all I can do not to roll my eyes as I read. I will grant that it’s not easy to write a good sex scene, but it seems like most novels aren’t even trying. “He put his mouth down there.” What are we, ten? We like to snigger at the Victorians for being repressed, but we’re not far from it in our popular literature.
When I write fiction, I no longer have the whole story in my head before I write. In the past, I always had an ending well before I reached the halfway point, and now, sometimes, my brain is stubbornly silent as my fingers pound away at the keyboard. I have more flat sections than I care to admit, and it’s only with judicious editing that I can make the stories come alive again. It’s because I’ve spent so much time with my characters, I’ve become inured to their charm. Familiarity breeds contempt, and I have to realize that they’re still fresh to other people, if not to me.
As a writer, one of the most revolutionary things I can do is create characters who are like me. Since many of my opinions are non-traditional, just presenting them will be troublesome to some people. I learned that in real life, and art is but a reflection of reality*. The problem is finding a home for my writing, and that’s not going to be an easy ask. I’m not very good at the business side of things, and I’m really not good at self-promotion. I know that I can self-publish a novel, but then I have to promote the shit out of it. I’m not comfortable with that because it feels so intrusive. I know I have to get over it, but I’m not sure how to do that. I see other authors endlessly promoting their own work on social media, and I’m in awe because it’s all I can do just to tweet a link once.
My low self-confidence is my worst enemy. I have a hard time believing anything I write is worth reading, even if I know intellectually that I have worthy things to say. When people do read my posts, they react favorably and want more. It’s really my own low self-esteem that is telling me differently. I know most authors have those moments when they think, “This is shit. Why would anyone read this crap?”, but that’s the way I think about my writing most of the time. I also feel as if my writing was better when I was in my twenties than it is now, so that’s always looming in the back of my mind. My low self-esteem is also what stops me from trying to publish my novels. I imagine all the terrible responses I will get, and I end up not even trying. What I have to do is take one of my several dozen novels (or finish the one I’m working on right now), make it as good as I can possibly make it, and then push like hell to publish it. Even writing that down makes the fear rise up in me. I’m not good on practicality, and it’s too easy for me to let myself slide on things that are distasteful or scary to me.
One of the reasons I decided to write a post every day, five days a week, is because I hadn’t written on a consistent basis for a very long time. Yes, writing is a talent, but if it’s not nurtured, it can atrophy like a muscle. I’ve been doing it for several months now, and I’m finally getting into the flow of things. Even though I struggle to find things to write about, and even though some of the posts aren’t as good as I’d like them to be, I’m committed to publishing five posts a week. I think it’s good to have a plan and to stick to it because discipline is not my strong point.
I want to have a novel published, preferably by the end of this year. I want to continue to publish five posts a week, which I’ve already shown I can do. I feel as if it’s do or die time when it comes to my writing. No more playing around. No more dabbling. It’s either shit or get off the pot.
*Grossly simplified, of course.