NaNoWriMo: Day 19-21 (Except Not Really)

SO BEHIND IN WORD COUNT.
10K BEHIND.

I am both figures pictured here.
Created by Lucile Patron.

One day there will be a blog post about how I am on word count and everything is wonderful, but that day is not today.

Instead I have been on a reading sprint this week to start queuing up for reviews over at OKPotato, Cya’s and my new blog about diversity in (YA) lit. Young Adult literature is far from my favorite genre these days, half due to the general writing technique and half to do with the lack of diversity (both representation and general story lines). HOWEVER, YA is such a portal into the wider world of fiction for so many teenagers who benefit from media representation in much different ways than younger children.

As a young, gay Asian teen, I scoured the library for all LGBT books and usually ended up more satisfied with gay and lesbian couples in manga than in any Western YA lit. I don’t know if what I read in high school has shaped what I read today, but Cya and I are looking back at YA particularly because of the lack of diversity in all of its subgenres (fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, modern/contemporary). There seem to be more titles available now than when I was in high school (and I’m not that old, guys; this was back in the early 2000s), but those numbers are relatives. There are still pretty slim mainstream pickings.

In any case, Cya and I went on a book spree this past weekend, journeying from a library book sale to Barnes & Noble.

FullSizeRender
We did our best to look for female protagonists and non-white main characters, although the book sale was basically a rummage sale. You can read my review of Benjamin Alire Sanez’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which features two queer Mexican cis male main characters, at OKPotato. (Although I think Ari can be read as transgender.)

I also had the opportunity to borrow Cya’s newly acquired used copy of Grace Lin’s Newberry award-winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. It’s an illustrated novel that repurposes traditional Chinese folktales into a young Chinese girl’s fantastical journey. I’ll probably be reviewing it at OKPotato some time soon, but thought I’d mention it here to justify my time away from NaNo.

There are less than ten days left in NaNoWriMo. It will be interesting to see if I can catch up to at least the 50K, if not Cya’s 75K challenge. Update you all on Monday. Have productive writing weekends!

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NaNoWriMo: Day 16-18

Laughably behind on NaNo but I’m convinced I can catch up by the end of the month. Foolhardy delusion though it may be, I’m still glad I took on this challenge because at least something is getting done, even if I don’t meet the full goal.

In the meantime, as I continue to procrastinate on today’s work, Cya sent me this lovely gif:

Bob Ross, patron saint of self-doubting artists.

Thus, I present to you a list of things that I have put (forced) into the world of my novel for my own happiness…in no particular order:

  • A large group of main characters
  • A flying vehicle that is more home than transportation
  • Discussion of mental illness through characters (panic disorder, PTSD)
  • Characters across the entire spectrum of LGBTQAI, who are not solely defined by their sexuality
  • An all-POC cast, with a focus on Asian Americans
  • Homages to my friends and loved ones: crocheted animals; all Spam meals, all the time (albeit under a different name); the shame and gratitude of everyone who has ever sat with me through a panic attack; dinosaurs and cephalopods and technology, oh my!
  • All the badass womens.

The rest of the stuff is the hard part, of course. I am continually reminded of how far out of my comfort zone I am whenever my characters and I are confronted with all the difficulties I throw at them which I know nothing about. All this science fiction stuff makes the problems about five thousand times harder to resolve and make logical and make feasible, all while keeping my crew in character and off-kilter enough to keep the story moving. There have been six different versions of what happens after their ship is hijacked by another rogue crew: Negotiation? Hostile kidnapping? Calm explanation and recruitment? Different permutations of characters have been taken and left behind and each time I think I’ve made a final decision, I think of new trajectories the overall story could go if I just change this combination of characters or this bit of dialogue.

How do you make peace with your choices? I’m starting to think that peace doesn’t come until the very end, if that. These drafts will forever be in limbo until the whole story is laid out and ultimate decisions can be made. If this ever gets published, I’m sure there will be regrets and secret stories testing out the possibilities left untouched (secret post-hijacking dance party~ Massive orgiastic rave to Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends”).

Another image that should have been forced into my story.
…There’s still time.

As I wade through all the possibilities for this next chapter, make sure to look for my post tomorrow on OK Potato. Check us out on Tumblr too. Annnnd I am on Twitter SO throw book recs at me!

NaNoWriMo: Day 14 & 15 (Diversity in Stories)

Today and tomorrow are more marathon writing days, but for now, let’s talk about diversity in stories!

Yes, good. Thank you, Mulder.

Granted, The X-Files is not exactly a shining example of diversity in media, but Agent Scully is a fairly fantastic example of women’s representation in media, which is part of what I want to talk about today. The irony that I used the picture of the white male character to lead into this post is not lost on me, but look at that tumblr text post caption. Let’s fix that:

Taken from here. Rad.

That’s better.

The novel I’m currently working on for NaNoWriMo has been a long time coming and centers on a group of entirely mixed races, particularly mixed Asian Americans. Five of the six characters are female and my male character, Gregor, is treated deliberately as a token male. Much of this was decided in reaction to the representation of diverse characters in the books, movies, and TV shows I consume.

I love stories in all incarnations and I things are generally starting to get better in terms of media representation — sort of. Different races are at least kind of present in most media, although very rarely as main characters, let alone speaking characters. (I am forever upset at how Glenn Rhee is being used in The Walking Dead. WE COULD HAVE HAD IT ALL. ROLLING IN THE DEEP.) Different sexualities are becoming more present, especially in TV, and I can sort of think of a few examples of disabilities and representation of various body types. Asexuality and intersex genders are still conspicuously absent but Laverne Cox’s new The T Word series, focusing on transgender youth, gives me hope that audiences are being primed for true diversity in media.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC's The Walking Dead.

Michonne and Glenn from AMC’s The Walking Dead.

However, you will note that all of my examples are based on visuals — television and film, even music videos. Literature is the trickier subject. Certainly you can easily find nonfiction books on people of color or different genders and sexualities. Rifling through fiction to find specific types of diversity can be frustrating and, often the ones you do find focus specifically on the Otherness of that character or use diversity in supporting characters, not main. I can easily find fiction with Chinese main characters set in China (especially historical fiction), but finding Chinese American characters in modern settings outside of Amy Tan books? Very hard. Especially if I want to read about steampunk Muslim girls battling mechanical cephalopods or 60s Japanese biker boys wooing the black girl in the poodle skirt at the local malt shop. Even just a book about the Okinawan girl battling depression and anxiety in high school in America — where does that exist? (Sorry for all the Asian examples, but I am Japanese-Okinawan and deeply, deeply deprived.)

These stories matter, too, and waiting around for someone to provide me with those books hasn’t done me much good in twenty-five years. I took on a science fiction novel as my first challenge in order to use a diverse cast, as science fiction generally seems more receptive to that kind of representation. My niche is modern, realistic fiction, so it is a bit of a stretch for now, but I want to eventually move into basic representation — the everyday lives of characters that aren’t white, able-bodied, middle-class people in dire love triangles, who consider themselves Special Snowflakes that have led them to be “outcasts” their entire lives. That is all well and good, and those stories can matter and make an impact, but we as readers need more than just the same stories that have taken up our bookshelves for years and years.

Cya and I are launching OK Potato: Diversity in Media Reviews on a quest to seek and promote media representation in books and to discuss these issues more in-depth than this single blog post. I will still be discussing NaNoWriMo and basic writing progress and tips here, but I hope you’ll join us on our journey to bring diversity in media into the mainstream!

More on NaNo next time, guys. Thanks for reading!

NaNoWriMo: Day 11, 12, & 13

Writing every day shouldn’t be this hard and yet here I am: at a wall. Right back where I started.

Back to 90s/00s X-Files computer scenes because I found this one waiting around to be used in my NaNo folder.

Back to 90s/00s X-Files computer scenes because I found this one waiting around to be used in my NaNo folder.

It is way too easy for me to get distracted when I am stuck for new ideas or a decent scene transition. About 90% of the time I know what I should do to get past the hard parts (100% of the time that answer is just write it and fix it later), but I usually like to pretend the other 10% actually exists and I am an insufficient writer and person.

Things I have done in the past few days to avoid writing:
-Watched “Galaxy Quest” for the first time with the justification that Netflix could take it off any day now, which is a clear and blatant lie. (Side note: It was great and I had all the feelings.)
-Attended a farewell party for a military friend who is just going to be back from Alaska in two months anyway. I usually avoid these social gatherings because my anxiety goes through the roof. Most of the people in attendance are classmates from high school who I haven’t kept in touch with since high school. I ate a copious amount and spent most of the evening talking to the few people there I happen to see on a weekly basis anyway.
-Accompanied my girlfriend to various errands to get out of the house.
-Marathoned previous “Top Chef” seasons to justify our lackluster feelings for the current season.
-Went to bed unreasonably early, telling myself it would only help me write better the next day.

Bad writer.

The realization of how much I’m going to have to edit is more than a little disheartening, especially because most of what I’m writing for NaNo is a reworking of what I had already written of Part Two and previously deemed garbage. Most of it is being rewritten from scratch, which helps things interesting, but I’m having trouble convincing myself that this is different and slightly better garbage than the original. It gets easier to just not write than to keep writing what doesn’t feel right.

Of course, all the writers say that’s how it is and just keep going. I’m sure one day in the future, assuming I ever finish this project, I will say the same and use this blog post as an example but — right now is still awful.

To make things more awful: To catch up with Cya’s 75K wordcount, I have to do 5K for the next three days. Which I want to accomplish. NaNo is great for me because I am secretly competitive and this public self-shaming of blogging and NaNo count puts the pressure on me. It’s like being back in school, the only time I was ever on-time with any writing.

You will note that there is no actual writing advice here, only shame and apathy. (Maybe tomorrow, friends. Maybe tomorrow.)

ON A BRIGHTER NOTE, Cya and I will be making a joint announcement this weekend, but before that — to keep up with my every other day blogging, which I missed yesterday — I will be doing a short blog on diversity in fiction, particularly science fiction since that’s my current novel genre. So, look for that tomorrow I guess.

NaNoWriMo: Day 9 & 10 (Mental Health and Writing)

Despite surviving my marathon writing this past weekend, it pains me to inform you, readers, that I am still actually behind on my word count.

As some of you may recall, Chebk, the platonic mistress of my heart, had challenged me to writing 75K this month, as opposed to 50K. She argues that she believes in me and my writing abilities and that 50K is cake for me — but the truth is simply that she revels in my tribulations and bathes in the tears brought on by lack of ideas and awkward sentence structures. She is the Lady Bathory of my writing life.

To catch up, I will be writing about 3500 words per day to make 37K by this weekend but, readers, I AM SO TIRED.

potato1

I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

And by tired I mean it is getting hard to write, for various reasons. Which brings me to the topic of this post: Mental Health and Writing.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression in the second half of my freshman year of high school. At this point, both were debilitating. I could not get past second period most days and was going home by 10 AM every day approximately 80% of the week. About eight different doctors declared me physically fine. My parents were upset, my teachers were upset, I was upset. At this point in my life, there was zero writing happening unless you count maybe Xanga or MySpace (yeah, yikes, went there). I lost about 15 lbs, which is significant for me as I stand at 4’6″ on a good day thanks to my Asian genes.

After about six months of crying every morning, knowing I would have to go to school and get through it, nauseous enough to be relatively useless, and angry that this was happening at all, I had a mental breakdown. I had newly discovered a fair coping mechanism in the weeks before this: screaming into a pillow. It was effective up to a point. Now picture the small Asian girl unable to stop screaming or crying until hyperventilation kicked in and parents had to knock down my bedroom door to get in.

Okay, what does this have to do with writing?

Okay, sure, writing is a good way to vent and all that, which, don’t get me wrong, it is. I will testify to this until my lungs fall out. Nothing feels better than a good midnight vent to Mic Word that I can save to a folder no one will ever see. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be on the screen and out of my veins. I get that. I advocate it.

Yes, although maybe less masculine tears than Hemingway’s need to be shed.

The reality as a writer is a little harder. I’m never going to publish those late night spiels, for instance. So when you have to put your nose to the grindstone and get down to your novel or what have you, how do you write while still depressed? Aye, there’s the rub.

It’s not like there is exactly an uplifting answer here. One version is that you sit down and get to it, come hell or high water, but I mean, those are pretty words in the face of depression. I dealt with the rest of my high school years by continuing to blog, turning real emotions and problems into convoluted imagery and run-on sentence ideals. If I could turn everything ugly into something I could feel relatively proud of, it was worth the continuing battle. Making my life into a story made it manageable, quantifiable. The story of my first girlfriend and our subsequent break-up(s) became a twisted story of our one date in Chinatown. The pig’s heads that hung in the butcher’s became the main image and my narrator walked through the filthy alleyways with a bloodied head in hand, a burden and companion. Similar to reading a narrative that plays with your emotions, writing out the situation detached me enough to find a way to at least a satisfying ending (even if at the moment it came out in vengeful, bitter words). I could put the emotion to rest for a least a moment and catch my breath in the real world. It helped me keep moving.

This continued well into college, going through different stages of evolution. Towards the end of my graduate courses, it had become somewhat an obsession. I was trying to examine my own mental illness in my writing like a constant tic, especially my anxiety as frequent panic attacks have plagued me for the past ten years (though gotten significantly better in the last five). Part of my justification for this intensely introspective, somewhat morbid prose was that readers deserved better media representation of mental illness in literature, ones that didn’t always end with a happy-ever-after cure but that focused on how the main character would be dealing with this daily, every day, maybe even forever. The harder part to justify was trying to figure out what exactly went wrong with me to make me this way.

How do you write when you’re depressed and want to do nothing, including not writing? If you’re me, you burrow into the depression itself to try to figure it out in words. Words are the only thing that have ever given me solace or made sense in the midst of madness. The stories of others that were easy to empathize with gave me hope — that’s generally what they’re there for, I assume. I suppose my advice would be to find something you can latch onto that lets you get catharsis from your writing. Throwing yourself or your problems into your characters may not give you real life solutions but it can give you reason to believe that by trying to make your characters better, you have a chance at building your own narrative for the better, too.

This is probably not very helpful, but it’s what I got.

Link to my Tumblr for a reference post for various mental illnesses and related resources. We’re all gonna get through this, friends.

NaNoWriMo: Day 7 & 8

IT IS DAY EIGHT AND I AM ALREADY 8K BEHIND HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? (Never mind; I know exactly how this happened.) No post today. Too busy playing catch-up. Check my Twitter for my descent into insanity. I will also be editing here in case this day gives anyone else hope, watching me claw my way out of self-imposed hell.

It was between this and a picture of Mulder with a single tear running down his cheek from my google search of "xfiles sad."

It was between this and a picture of Mulder with a single tear running down his cheek from my Google search of “xfiles sad.”

Edit: Hit 10K of 16K.  Send help.

Edit 2: Have a song for your writing pleasure. (Note: I don’t know what’s going on with this X-Files NaNo thing any more. My writing has nothing to do with aliens or the supernatural.)

Edit 3: What are words. What is the meaning of life.  12K of 16K.

Edit 4: Took a break by exercising but the excess stress turned everything into overexercising. Regret. So much regret.

Edit 5: 14K of 16K. Why is this my life. NEVER AGAIN, NANO. I HAVE LEARNED MY LESSON ABOUT FALLING BEHIND. I AM A CHANGED WOMAN.

Edit 6: That’s a lie. Five seconds after posting that edit I was filled with a surge of immense pride. Look at this! I can fall behind whenever I want and it will be fine! I’m great. This is great. This is the best NaNo day ever.

Edit 7: That was also a lie. Five minutes later and I am back to dying. My fingers hurt.

Edit 8: Showered to avoid writing. Came back to see some tweets from fellow people avoiding NaNo by checking twitter. My people.

Edit 9: Have an inspirational video: Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” commencement speech. Alright. 2K more. Let’s do this.

Edit 10: HRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH. 16K OUT OF 16K BITCHES, WITH A LITTLE EXTRA TO GET ME THROUGH TOMORROW. I AM SO TIRED. NEVER AGAIN.

Current word count: 16,492

NaNoWriMo: Day 5 & 6

Lately Chebk and I have been discussing the brainwashing involved in any writing, but especially for NaNoWriMo.

But, first, obligatory X-Files 90s Computer cap:

Sexy.

Sexy.

So: Brainwashing. Some of you may remember my tragic Mid-Novel Malaise (Pt.1, Pt. 2),  and my somewhat apathetic downfall involving a very simple solution: Not writing. Anything. At all. Ever. Obviously that was not the best long-term solution to finishing a novel, let alone a short story. Chebk convinced me to join NaNoWriMo with her so I would start writing again, just as she was jumping back into her novel-length project, which had also been put on hold. Birds of a feather and all that.

We’re still in the first week of the challenge and there is already despair (Chebk) and ruthless optimism disguising even deeper despair (me). We are both admittedly rusty about getting back into the swing of writing daily and I have decided to approach this by convincing myself, every day, that I am THRILLED to be writing. We’re going to finish the challenge! We will meet every daily word count! Look how fun this is! Aren’t we doing well?!

Hysterical and depressing though this may sound, ladies and gentlemen, this has so far proven useful. For one thing, it keeps me from thinking too hard about what I’m writing because the part of my brain in charge of persistent judgment is drowned by the other new part yelling IT IS OKAY EVERYTHING IS OKAY JUST KEEP WRITING WE ARE HAVING FUN LOOK AT ALL THESE WORDS KEEP GOING YAAAAY. To be honest, this usually comes out in a voice reminiscent of a person who knows their plane is going down and is trying to keep their three-year old child very calm. But still. It drowns the judgment. That’s the part that matters.

anxiety

This is the last vaguely depressing comic for this post. Promise.

Day Five involved about 500 words and a lot of TV due to some health problems.  (The GF and I marathoned How to Get Away With Murder which inspires me to write if only because of the inconsistencies and predictability that make me want to do better. It is a very pretty show though — and Viola Davis! This has been a tangent.)

Today is Day Six and the litany of hysterical optimism is back in full-force, especially since I am now officially behind in my word count. I’ll be back to update my word count unless it is too shameful to post. Hopefully this weekend will bring a boost in word count and self-esteem.

Thank you for reading the beginning of my spiraling descent into true NaNo madness.