This Pandemic I Learned

I’ve discovered that waking up early every day, writing in a gratitude journal and morning pages followed by my usual morning routine and then a few hours of working on a book is exhausting. How I expected to have the energy to do this while I was working full-time as a performer is beyond me.

It’ll be good to remind myself this when the world reopens.

Hindsight in 2020

So, as I mentioned the other day, I finally started working on the second draft of my book about my living and working in Japan. It’s been interesting revisiting a story that took place in the early 2000s. When I returned to America and first started writing about my experiences, it was a first-person narrative of a contemporary story. That was fine because, back then, it WAS contemporary.

However, the longer I worked on it — and, subsequently, didn’t work on it — the harder that was to pull off. That’s probably one of the reasons why all my attempts to revise the damn thing have failed. But, considering nearly 20 friggin’ years have passed since it originally took place, I’m now approaching it as a third-person period piece. The finished product will probably be back in the first person but, for now, it’s been really freeing. It’s so much easier to write about settings and events historically instead of constantly trying to justify things after the fact.

Grandpa Simpson.jpg

Even more freeing is that I’m no longer concerned with how my actions and motivations in the book make me look because it wasn’t ME doing those things, it was MATT. Sweet, simple, naive Matt.

One thing that really shocked me was my new perspective on the catalyst that set the whole story in motion: a bad break-up. I’d always remembered it and treated it as “I was in a picture-perfect relationship for 7 months and, out of the blue, the girl of my dreams dumped me. We’d never even argued once!” As time passed, I wrote it off as “she was young and didn’t realize what we had” and I’d felt that way since.

But revisiting the source material from the vantage point of a happily married adult and, as a result, having the confidence to dig a little bit deeper, I noticed a lot of things I hadn’t before. Subtexts and insecurities. Problems that arose from our age difference that I’d always overlooked in the past. Problems that arose from the engagement she’d ended to start dating me.

Plus, the other day, while trying to place when certain events had happened, I tracked down a copy of the school calendar from the college she was attending that year and noticed a pattern: I’d met her over Christmas break. She emailed me after the first day of class in the last semester of her Freshman year and we started dating that next week. Then she eventually broke up with me the week before exam week of the Summer A session. That’s when it hit me:

“Wait, was I… a rebound?

Was the whole relationship just a long-distance, 2-semester college romance that helped her transition from engaged-too-soon high schooler to a confident, single college student??

Was I… too old for her?

Was I… HOLDING HER BACK???”

As you can imagine, the realization threw me for quite a loop. So much so that it may have contributed to my failing to write anything yesterday. (Well, that… and our A/C choosing to crap out during a heat wave.) Thankfully, I hopped back on the horse this morning and made up for yesterday’s word goal.

It’s funny, I’ve always beat myself up for not finishing this book for so long but maybe, just maybe, I needed all that time to find the confidence and perspective to actually make the book into something good.

May the Fourth Be With You

Star Wars: A man in black and a young woman are fighting on an airplane. An electronic dictionary and toaster are ejected from the airplane and land somewhere in the Arizona desert. They end up in a thrift shop where they are found by a random teenager who notices that the toaster is engraved with the name a Mormon hobo… who just so happens to live right outside town! The teen returns the appliances to hobo who, that day, is wearing a tattered Rolling Stones T-shirt. He gives the teen his dad’s slingshot. NOBODY uses slingshots any more.

Empire Strikes Back: That guy in black on the airplane was actually the DAD of the random teen! And had been TRAINED to use a slingshot… by the hobo!

Return of the Jedi: The young girl on the plane was actually the SISTER of the random Arizona teen and the DAUGHTER of the guy in black she was fighting with on the plane! She had no idea!

The Prequels: We learned that ALL Mormons wear tattered Rolling Stones T-shirts. Tattered Rolling Stones T-shirts are THE uniform of the Mormon people. Also, everybody has slingshots. Some use multiple slingshots. Oh, and the guy in black from the plane actually built the electronic dictionary before he was slingshot-trained by the hobo.

The Sequels: A Nutra-bullet lands in the Sahara. It is found by the daughter of the boss of the guy in black who was in the airplane in the first movie.

The Early Bird Gets Confused

Strangest thing.

I woke up this morning around 6, got up by 6:30 and was out on the patio writing my journals before my alarm was even set to go off at 7. After that, I made breakfast, straightened the apartment, whipped up some butter coffee and started working on my book. By 11 o’clock, I’d reached my word count for the day, just in time to be available for the Whole Foods delivery I’d ordered the day before. Groceries were wiped and put away by the time my Night Owl wife woke up so, by noon, I’d pretty much accomplished everything I wanted to do for the day (except for this post).

After that, I didn’t know what to do. I sunbathed on the patio, tried to read for pleasure, took a nap but it all felt… off. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t doing all the above in lieu of writing, but because I had written.

That’s going to take some getting used to.

Book In a Month

I’m gonna book in a month.

Book in a Month

In the middle of April, as life felt like it was both spiraling out of control and grinding to a halt, I noticed the orange and yellow spine a particular book on the shelf in my office. Nestled among numerous writing books – bought and read in lieu of actual writing – and more books about Japan and Japanese than I’ll ever have time to read, sat a book I must’ve bought back when I was living in Seattle called Book in a Month. The first time I read it back in the 2010sies, it helped me outline a few things but I was already so overwhelmed with material for my book about Japan that it didn’t help me much at the time.

However, when I picked it up this time, it sparked something. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “I’ve got ALL of next month off! AND I’ve got a massive, unwieldy and unreadable first draft that I’ve been avoiding diving back into for nearly a decade!”

Let's Get ReadyrrrrrrllllLet’s get ready to self-flagellaaaaaate!

I reread the intro to BIAM and found myself thinking about revisions and daily word counts. It was like prepping for my first NaNoWriMo all over again! I figured I’d start on May 1st so, in the last week of April, I organized the office, set up my desk, gathered all the related boxes and files, installed Word Keeper on my phone, and had my wife shave my head. Like you do.

May 1st arrived. I opened my massive Scrivener file and found myself immediately overwhelmed, hitting all the usual stumbling blocks that always tripped me up in the past:

The story starts at the wrong time.
I’ve got way too much backstory.
So much of the book is pointless but what parts?
Oooh, something shiny!

As day 1 dwindled to a close with little work to show for it, I started to panic. I needed to change my approach. I needed a distraction-free writing space and a new perspective. Using a break, I did a little research and ended up downloading Q10, a full-screen program that I set up with green text to make my screen look like an old computer terminal.

All Work

I also decided to reduce my daily goals A LOT, much closer to the kind suggested in No Plot, No Problem.

Today, after several SUPER productive hours of doing anything but writing, I decided I would just write a synopsis of my story, chronologically, from start to finish. No revising or adjusting, just flat out writing the bare bones of what I want my story to be.

I slipped on my precious noise-cancelling headphones, cranked up some Smooth Sounds of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and got to work.

An hour or two later, I met my writing goal.

And, I actually kind of enjoyed it.