from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

Posts Tagged ‘writing

Random #72: Back on the Bike

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I’ve started riding again. The first time I took the bike out after the accident was actually a couple of months ago, but I haven’t ridden much since then. The problem is that I have nerve damage in my left leg and I couldn’t raise my foot to change gears. I took the bike out to my mechanic and I was in first gear the entire time.

In the months since, I’ve regained very little strength but it’s enough now that I can change gears by tightening my ankle and lifting with my leg. It’s not ideal, but it’s manageable. I don’t know if I’ll ever regain enough function to change gears normally but I’m learning to deal with it. (The doctor who administered my nerve exam told me that the nerves might recover some day but he was very noncommittal.)

This bike isn’t the bike I was riding when I got into the accident. That bike was totaled, which saddens me because it was a beautiful bike. My current bike is the same make and model but it’s like buying the same breed of dog after your previous dog has died. It’s just not the same.

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The bike I was riding when I got in the accident/the aftermath (I don’t know where the red paint on the fender came from but all that damage on the gas tank and covers is where my leg was)

I bought this bike while I was still hospitalized. I still had a cast on my leg and had to use my crutches to make it to Suwon to take a look at it. It wasn’t smart—I normally would never buy a bike unless I could take it out on a test ride—but this strong desire to get back on a bike clouded my judgment. After the cast came off, I was going to jump on the bike and ride off into the sunset. Of course, that didn’t happen.

Some of my friends think I’m crazy to be riding again. They don’t understand because they don’t ride. There’s just something about being on a motorcycle. There is a freedom of movement, the visceral experience of the speed, the leaning into turns. Traffic is not an issue. You don’t have to worry about the asshole in the next lane letting you in. The road is yours for the taking and the cars are only obstacles to make the course more interesting.

If anything, the accident has made me even more determined to ride and to follow through with my plan to complete the cross-country trip I wasn’t able to finish in 2006. This bike was previously owned by a college kid with awful taste and a lack of concern for maintenance so I’ve been working on it over the past couple weeks, taking it apart, repairing or replacing worn or rusty parts, re-doing the wiring, and getting it painted. If I hadn’t been the same kid with awful taste and a lack of concern for maintenance back then, maybe I would’ve been able to make it all the way to Seattle.

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Before and after pictures of my new bike (It doesn’t look like I did much but he welded a lot of the stuff on and fucked with the wiring so he could put on these tacky LEDs)

Not that I’m completely unaffected by my accident, but I’ve never been one to let a bad experience control my life. If I did, I’d be a very bored and boring person. I have sensed that I tighten up slightly when I ride through the intersection where the accident happened, that intersection—it’s an intersection I pass through daily—but it only serves to make me more cautious of the ever-present assholes who run red lights with abandon.

Today, instead of taking the bike to Nakseongdae, where I usually write, I took it all the way to Gangnam. I’m now sitting in a coffee shop, on the second floor, next to the window with a full view of my bike. It’s sitting there pretty on the street, beckoning me to take her out again.

I’m at the coffee shop trying to get back on the bike again with my writing. It’s September, the summer has come and gone, and I’m still working on these first six chapters, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to turn that around soon.

Entry #60: What I’ve Learned about Inspiration

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I’ve taken a break from the manuscript for the past month. I haven’t been doing much writing at all. I’d like to blame the weather. It’s monsoon season.

Not that I haven’t been minimally productive. I’ve actually started work on my second book, the one that came to me in a revelation sitting in traffic on my way home from my part-time job.

I also have ideas lined up for my second and third novels and possibly a fourth, and I’m also sporadically working on a screenplay. The inspiration for the third and fourth came long, long ago and I can’t recall the particulars of how they were conceived but they are based on thoughts that I’ve carried around with me for a very long while. The ideas for the second novel and the screenplay are the most recent, seeds that I’ve just planted in the past couple months.

Inspiration is a strange and often frustrating thing. I can only compare it to women and I think it’s an apt comparison. There are some guys to whom it comes easily, who know how to create opportunities and capitalize on those opportunities. And then there are guys like me, for whom it is fickle and elusive because I don’t know how to approach it. I have, however, learned a few things even if I’m unable or unwilling to put them into practice.

1. Take what you can get. You can throw away what you don’t want later.

This is the point that I find unable to apply in my own life. Maybe I’m not as “hungry” as I thought I was. Even if you’re a one-project type of guy, you can always keep the other ideas on the backburner until you’re finished with the one you’re working on. And Krys told me that I should be working on one more than one project at once. It keeps the mind fresh.

Also, you can never tell how things will turn out. Some of the ideas that I fell in love with at first petered out fairly quickly and some of the ideas I wasn’t ecstatic about turned out to be the ones I’m most excited about now. I’ve never been interested in writing screenplays but when my actor friend Don approached me about working on an idea that came to him in a dream, I could see the potential in the idea. The situation is a devil’s threesome but I’m the Hank Moody is this one.

2. Always be prepared.

The right pocket of my jeans is stained with ink. (No, “ink” is not a metaphor for anything.) I try to always have a reliable pen on hand at all times. I’m still a product of a time when girls wrote down their numbers on little, torn-out shreds of paper or bar napkins. I think I still have the notes for my second novel written on bar napkins somewhere in the pig sty I call home. Sometimes I’ll make notes on the Memo function of my phone but I type too slowly to keep up with the ideas and it’s just not as meaningful as having it down on paper.

The pen in my pocket is the condom in your wallet. Because inspiration can be very fickle, it might not be in the mood or have sobered up in the time you spend running around trying to find a pen. The idea for the screenplay came to Don in a dream and the thing he did right was grab a pen and notebook and write down everything before it was gone. You can’t go about your morning routine expecting inspiration to be waiting around until you’re done.

3. A little help from my friends

I spend the majority of my time alone at the coffee shop. While there was an instance where I was approached by a cute little thing with a nasally voice who dropped a small folded note on my table before running off embarrassed, it was a one-time event in over five years. The coffee shop is like my workplace, where I go to put in the hours needed to pound out the details. It’s a place of inspiration only insofar as the writing goes, not a place of fresh ideas.

Every relationship I’ve had, however short-lived they’ve been, sprung out of a social situation, drinking with friends. I drink on my own more often than not, but nothing has ever happened when I’ve been on my own. In most of the cases, being out with my friends created opportunities that I don’t have in the hole that I live in, but there are at least two cases where I doubt anything would have materialized had it not been for my wingmen.

Krys also told me that a community is important for writers. I didn’t want to acknowledge her advice because I don’t think I’d get along with other writers, but now I realize that she was right. The idea for my second novel also came when I was having a drink with Don. He was telling me an anecdote from his rowdy childhood and I realized that it was something I could build a story around. My interactions with my editors, Dan and Diane, have proven invaluable for my growth as a writer. I used to assert that I was a man that was an island but I can say now that I’m more of a peninsula.

4. Alcohol is generally helpful

“Write drunk,” Ernest Hemingway said.

We are normally so full of inhibition that we trip our creative selves up all the time. We overthink and overthinking leads to inaction. Drunkenness lowers our inhibitions, allows us to get out of ourselves, gives us courage to say the things we want to say and do the things we want to do. I suppose many other mind-altering substances will work but alcohol is the most readily available.

Normally boring people suddenly become interesting and things happen. I can’t remember telling a story that didn’t start with—“So I was out drinking last weekend….” It’s not always a good time and is a significant drain on my meager earnings but a story is a story and I don’t know if I’d have anything to say if I decided to sober up.

Of course, everybody’s tolerance is different and finding that sweet spot is important. You want to drink to a point where you can still function at a reasonable level while gaining the courage and eloquence that only alcohol can give. You don’t want to be the sloppy drunk that’s passed out in his own vomit.

“Edit sober,” Ernest Hemingway added.

Make your decisions the day after. Alcohol unleashes the deep, dark innards of our souls and sometimes that’s the best part of our souls but sometimes that shit should not be put in the open. Take a good look in the morning after and see if what you have is something to work with more or something you’d gnaw your arm off to get away from.

5. There’s such a thing as trying too hard.

There’s nothing worse than a guy who reeks of desperation. Inspiration is repulsed by such guys. I’ve seen it too many times, especially in my own life. The harder I try, the worse things seem to turn out.

It’s important to stay loose and relaxed. Sitting in front of the computer isn’t going to change anything. Usually when I get to that point, I try and take a break to distract myself and gain perspective.

And what they say is true, sometimes it comes when you least expect it, when you’ve stopped trying. The inspiration for my next two books came when I wasn’t thinking about writing. The first was when I was driving home from work and the second was when I came out just to have a quiet beer with a friend.

This last point is the one that gives me the most hope. Being shy and lazy and anti-social and short and poor, I don’t have much game. But every once in a while, I somehow manage to get lucky.

I’m probably the last guy anyone would turn to for advice on writing or relationships, but the thing that allows me to dare to write is that I’m an observer. I pay attention to people and listen when people are talking. I can see my faults, I can decipher the psychology that makes me the way I am, but I can’t do anything to change them.

This list is not exhaustive, but I’m ending it here because it has been exhausting. If you have any other tips, feel free to leave a comment.

Random #58: No News Is Bad News, and 3,000 Won Treasure

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It’s been a month since my last post. I wish I could say that it was because I’ve been hard at work with the revision, but I’ve accomplished very little in the past four weeks. The loss of my coffee shop, more work at my part-time job, countless entreaties to drink, a change in my work schedule at my “full-time” job, and general laziness are all contributing factors. I’m still hoping to finish this first overhaul of the manuscript and begin the arduous search for agents anew by the summer, but I’ve proven that I’m no good with self-imposed deadlines.

On another note, I was in my beloved Nakseongdae yesterday to get a haircut and take a long, depressing look at the gutted remains of my coffee shop and as is my habit, I stopped by the used bookstore around the corner. I love used bookstores, the way the books spill out of the bookshelves in towering stacks and overrun the narrow pathways meant for humans, like it’s them that own the place and not the guy who pays the rent—he’s just there to stack the books. When people can’t find a book they’re looking for in a “regular” bookstore, they get angry or frustrated. In a used bookstore, it’s a treasure hunt and occasionally you walk away with a rare find.

I walked away from the bookstore yesterday with two new additions to my personal library.

The first:

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Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

The second:

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Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

I picked up both books for a measly 3,000 won. I’ve scoured used bookstores in Seattle and have never seen any Bukowski. I wonder about the identity of this person in Seoul who is reading Bukowski and then parting with the books. That person’s loss is my gain.

Reading is an important part of writing. I’ve been re-reading Catch-22 for inspiration in creating interesting characters and describing the absurd and plan to re-read Factotum for inspiration in expressing the tedium of working shit jobs, and now I have something on the line-up afterwards.

Written by Young

March 12, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Entry #52: The One Percent

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I’m in need of inspiration. Sweaty, furious, panting inspiration. A release for this building frustration inside of me. Revision and editing is the most important and thus most frustrating and maddening stages in the writing process. I know what I must do yet am reluctant to do it, not because I don’t think I can but because I know I must.

I’m in need of inspiration. Soft, fragrant, palpitating inspiration. A lightness of being that can lift me up out of this mire of complacency. When I look at my manuscript, all 450 pages of it, I want to think that it’s fine although I know that it’s far from what it could be.

I came close to re-discovering it about a month ago. It was an old source, almost as old as this blog, but the next day it was gone. It’s the sad truth about inspiration; it’s fleeting and fickle and if you don’t hold on tight enough, it may never come back.

I’ve decided not to make any predictions about my frequency on posting to this blog. I put in the time—even today, a day off because of Korean Thanksgiving, I’m in the coffee shop working—but effort only goes so far. Einstein said of genius that 99 percent is perspiration but that 99 percent is nothing without the last 1 percent.

Written by Young

October 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Entry #45: Direction

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I met with Dan, my editor/writing buddy/co-worker, a couple weekends ago to discuss the second section and, while the response wasn’t as uplifting as the response for the first section had been (with regard to structure, not content), it was vastly more helpful. I realize that it’ll need major edits, cutting a lot of stories that I spent countless hours working on. The good news is that many of those stories may eventually find their way onto this blog because it’s a waste to just throw them away. The bad news is that it’ll probably have to wait until I’ve reached the editing phase.

The reason for the major edits is that I’ve tried to paint a picture of the Army as I experienced it but life in the Korean Army is excruciatingly tedious and frustrating. I’m happy I was able to express that tedium and frustration but it just doesn’t work as a story. I’ll have to find a way to keep that expression in a minimalist fashion while expanding on the elements which drive the story, even if those elements were often minor events in the shitstorm that was being a private. Editing will perhaps take much longer than expected, but I’m looking forward to it.

Between not having a coffee shop nearby to work at and having night classes during my normal writing time, the third section is coming along and I’m hoping to have it finished by late-May/early-June. The third section is about my time on deployment in Afghanistan and is inherently much more interesting than my time in Daegu and is thus much more fun to recount and write. It was also in Afghanistan that I decided to write this book and I started taking detailed notes in my journal, which is a big help in the recounting and writing.

In the Army, we had this expression “ggeokgida,” which literally means “to be bent or folded,” but was used by fifth-month corporals to mean that they were “over the hill.” Everything before that is an uphill struggle, life as a private, private first class, and a corporal without seniority. Everything after that is coasting. You’re pretty much left alone and not much is expected of you. It’s a turning point in any Korean conscript’s military career.

I feel like I’m at that point in the writing of this first draft, a little past halfway in the third of four sections. Today, I’m figuratively folding a crease in my corporal’s insignias.

Written by Young

May 15, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Entry #44: Changes

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I’ve been thrown off the momentum I had been riding throughout my vacation. I’ve only managed to write two pages since last Friday. This idleness is primarily the result of moving. I’ve finally left my beloved Nakseongdae, a place that I’ve called home in one sense or another for the greater part of the past six years. I’ve developed a strong attachment to the neighborhood and while it was hard to leave, it was time.

Packing, moving, unpacking, and setting up my new accommodations have taken up a great part of my time but it’s more than that. It’s the change that has thrown me off track. I’m not good at handling change. I’ve never been. I don’t know where to go to eat or drink and, most importantly, I don’t know where to go to write. Even now, I’ve returned to my old coffee shop to write because I don’t know where else to go.

I’m a very particular person with particular needs. I can only write when certain conditions are met, conditions I cannot re-create at home and haven’t been able to find in my new neighborhood despite the abundance of coffee shops in the area. A decent-sized smoking section is a must because I chain smoke when I write, and there has to be plenty of electrical outlets so I don’t have to vie for a seat every time I come. I need to be surrounded by people but also to be left alone and so franchise coffee shops are preferable. Also, the price of a cup of Americano has to be reasonable because it’s essentially the price of rent I pay for writing space nearly every day.

I realize as I’m writing this that this coffee shop is not too far from my new place but coming all this way breaks one of my cardinal rules of not straying from the general vicinity of my home when it can be helped. I only have one class tomorrow morning so I’ll give my new neighborhood one more chance before I concede that the daily trek here can’t be helped.

* I know that I overuse the word ‘trek’ but, being hopelessly lazy, it’s how everything feels. Leaving the house is where my definition of the word begins and a fifteen minute walk is when I begin to feel psychologically distressed.

Written by Young

May 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Entry #43: Productivity

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My vacations are by far the most productive times for me. I’ve been averaging eight hours a day at the coffee shop for an average of eleven pages a day. Sadly, I have to show up for work bright and early on Monday.

I’ve harbored a bit of remorse for not writing anything remotely resembling “writing” on this blog recently and, unfortunately, this trend will continue, at least until I finish with this draft. Earlier today, I was thinking about the direction the blog was taking in the second half of last year and realized that I only wrote less run-of-the-mill blog entries back then because I wasn’t focused on producing but only on editing my last draft and later organizing this current draft.

If I can manage to keep up this year’s pace, I’ll be able to finish by the end of the summer. This is huge for me because I’ve been working on this manuscript for years and if I manage to finish, I’ll be able to escape the cliché of the guy who’s perpetually working on a book but never actually finishes. 30 pages into the second half of the manuscript, I’m feeling confident.

Word count will continue to be stressful for me until I finish and get down to the painful process of cutting sections I’ve spent days, weeks, even months writing. I’m nearing 80,000 words (I’ve been basing my calculations on a 250 word per page estimate which I realize might not be entirely applicable) and hope to keep it below 120,000 words (long, even by standards for novels). At my current pace, the finished product will at least be 140,000, which is painful to think of.

Regardless, the fact that I’ve reconciled myself with the thought of mediocre blog posts may mean that I will post more. Oddly, I’ve had several people subscribe to my blog in recent months, bringing my total number of subscribers closer to ten, and for those of you who this applies to, my first thought is Thanks for reading and my second is Why?

Written by Young

April 25, 2012 at 5:36 pm