December Writing

This is definitely an improvement on November! Here’s hoping I can keep up the momentum this year.

To tell you the truth, it might’ve been good if I’d skipped a couple of days, especially around the holidays. I realize I’ve paid a price over the years trying and failing to live up to “Write Every Day Or You’re Not a Writer(TM).” It was bad enough when one legit reason or another got in the way. Even not-legit reasons. Family matters, emotional exhaustion, abject laziness–it was all the same result to me: failure.

Writing to feel like you’re fighting failure wasn’t sustainable, and not just for the obvious reasons. My particular struggle was that any taste of momentum and success I had became like cocaine to Rick James. And like any drug, the more you get, the more you need.

I guess if the pandemic did one thing, it got me out of some old “writing habits” that were really just ways for me to keep chasing the momentum dragon. And it gave me the room to start building new habits and chase different dragons.

Goodbye 2020

No year in review because, I mean why? You can’t do any better that Netflix’s DEATH TO 2020.

But I won’t leave the year cynically. While I also had moments “when I couldn’t even see the point of steppin’ out the mother fuckin’ house,” I did make it to the new year and so did you, if you’re reading this.

We should celebrate!

#Weeknotes S02 E37

Last Weeknote of the year! I remember a year ago now I was dubious about getting 52 of these done in 2020–not to mention feeling unsure if I really even wanted to. Hey, 37 out of 52 is absolutely nothing to scoff at though, is it?

But since it is the holidays, let’s keep it short and sweet.

Longest Writing Chain This Week: 7 days for 25 days in December total!

I shifted things during the last few days due to the holiday, from the current WIP to developing an idea I’ve had on my mind for about a year now. Yes, it’s still outlining and brainstorming, but I’ve been a lot better lately about not dismissing that work as not being Real Writing(TM).

This week, I managed to find my way back to two old resources I keep coming back to. The first is THE SCENE BOOK by Sandra Scofield. It’s not just good for the subject matter, but also for the structure it offers for scene analysis in your own work.

The second, and more meaningful, is this question from Rod Serling. It’s something that stuck with me since the first time I ever heard it, maybe 10 or more years ago…

Suffice it to say that’s absolutely the question I’ll be focusing on in 2021.

I hope you enjoyed your holidays at least as much as our Asher Mir has!

And that’s all she wrote for 2020. Good riddance to another bad year. Say what you will about it, but this may be the first year in awhile (at least 4 years, if you’re USian) where there might be a glimmer of hope for the next. So, be like Asher, who almost always has that hopeful face.

Always be hopeful!

#Weeknotes S02 E36

I think it’s safe to say I’ve shaken the rust of my Weeknotes habit. It’s finally starting to come off of my writing as well!

Longest Writing Chain This Week: 7 days for 18 days for December total!

18 out of 19 days in a month! I could stop now, and still mark this as more progress as I’ve made in a couple of years. I won’t, though. But as I look ahead, maybe I can see my way to letting my self take some days off around the holidays. Maybe.

You know, now that I finally have something like a writing process again, maybe I can actually use weeknotes the way they’re supposed to be used, i.e. “to share one’s work processes, thoughts and reflections to everyone….” At least where writing is concerned. So, what happened this past week…?

  • My goal was to rebuild the streak I broke two Saturdays ago. I’m already halfway there!
  • There were a couple of days where I didn’t have a lot of energy after the dayjob. But at least I can say I legit used every ounce I had left doing the absolute bare minimum!
  • I had the joy of discovering a line that I wrote in the first draft working out better than I thought it would when I first wrote it.
  • But the weirdest experience this week…

Which is basically my way of noting how I’m writing enough to make it feel each session feel like an honest day’s work, where you’re in a groove regardless of whether things are going well or not. It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt that.

I stumbled across a Twitter thread from a writer with his nominations for what he considered the #BestClevelandWriting for 2020. I’ve had a couple of these books in my “currently reading” pile already (RUST BELT FEMME by Raechel Anne Jolie and RUST: A MEMOIR OF STEEL AND GRIT by Eliese Colette Goldbach).

I figured if the books being recommended were of that caliber, then it must be worth giving THE STORYTELLING CODE by Dana Norris a try. I know the last thing I need is “another craft book,” but it’s not as much about technique as it is the wide applicability of the art of storytelling. I’ll let you all know how it is.

It was weird how I almost immediately got hit with spoilers for the season 2 finale of THE MANDALORIAN (which I haven’t kept up with), while managing to dodge the spoiler for S02E10 of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. But it just leads me to conclude that the aging fan in me just doesn’t have the time and energy to spend fighting off the spoilers these days…?

When Mazikeen sings it, she sings, “Motherfucker, It’s Cold Outside.”

#Weeknotes S02 E35

Still shaking the rust off on these.

Longest Writing Chain This Week: 6 days for 11 days for December total!

Yes, I skipped yesterday. But I was exhausted and wanted to do other things. The last time I got remotely close to 16 consecutive days (counting November and December) was January 2017. I had more stretches of fewer days. Which wouldn’t be bad either, but I’m really looking to break the chain as little as possible. The real process breakthroughs though are the things I’m learning while I’m building that chain…

Finally getting around to Season 3 of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. I’m intrigued, even though it feels like I rode this ride before 20 years ago with GENE RODDENBERRY’S ANDROMEDA. (Wait… 20 years ago???) DISCO is a better show though (big surprise) but I really did like the first season of ANDROMEDA and the first season of Gene Roddenberry’s other show at that time from beyond the grave, EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT.

I’ve finally gotten to the David Cronenberg episodes. What, was CBS jealous that Disney has Werner Herzog on their franchise?

I’ve also been indulging the guilty pleasure of THE CURSE OF OAK ISLAND. And by indulging, I mean snarking on it on social media.

I can’t decide if this is Filipino surrealism or just some ad people who hit the shabu pipe a little too hard…

In which Asher Mir depicts how I was feeling yesterday…

#Weeknotes S02 E34

Aaaand, we’re back! It’s been awhile but I finally feel like I have the brainspace to bring this back now and in the fast approaching new year. I’m choosing not to be too hard on myself about taking a break and instead to (a) be happy with the 33 straight weeks of entries that I did manage and (b) to approach the prospect of 52 straight weeks in 2021 with curiosity — i.e. How will I pull this off? — rather than a goal that I’ll either meet or fail (usually fail) to meet.

So, what’s been going on the past seven days?

Longest Writing Chain This Week: 7 days for 10 days total!

So far, so good building off of my November writing progress! It’s strange having found my way back into this groove, but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. The key this week (actually, over the last month) has been trusting my instincts, and it’s allowed me to take a story I’ve worked on for a couple of years and (I believe) come up with all the elements it needs. Now, I just need to fill in the words…

I picked Kit Reed’s STORY FIRST: THE WRITER AS INSIDER back up. I’d started reading this in January, so I went back a few pages from where I left off and finished it off between writing sessions. It definitely helped me through a couple of tough spots.

I haven’t been able to get this out of my head for a week. Now, the more cynical of us might think, “Oh great, a Journey cover band made of of current and ex-Journey members… like how some ex-members of Chicago did?”

No, I’m here to celebrate Journey Through Time – two original members of Journey (Neal Schon and Greg Rolie), one not-original member who was with the band almost 20 years (drummer Deen Castronovo), and three other guys. Not to diss the three other guys, but they’re not the point of my obsession.

I saw Journey live around maybe 1999 or 2000ish after Steve Augeri replaced the apparently not irreplacable Steve Perry on lead vocals. Supposedly, Castronovo would do the occasional lead but I can’t remember if he sang anything when I saw them. Because you would think I would’ve remembered the drummer sounding at least as good as the Steves. Hey, don’t take my word for it…

I know, right??

Don’t worry, Arnel — you’re still my boy!

Really, there’s only been one barrier to my writing in the past few weeks. A lovely, sweet baby girl of a barrier but still…

November Writing

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I did the NaNoWriMo thing. It’d been long enough that I had to recreate my profile from scratch. No, I didn’t get 50,000 words but that’s okay, because that wasn’t the point for me this year. Instead, it was more about how to build a sustainable daily writing practice for 2021 by trying different things and seeing what worked.

To be honest, I didn’t get even remotely close to 50K, but I managed more days of writing than I have in any month in 2020, even taking the pandemic into account. And, if you’ve been following the state of America these days, you can probably glean the perfectly reasonable causes for some of the gaps.

So, what did I learn last month…?

  • I’ve always been a big believer in the Writing Chain as a productivity marker. And it sure paid off!
  • I think I’ve finally cracked for myself how to actually write what Anne Lamott famously calls the “shitty first draft.” As shitty as my shitty first drafts always were, I found ways to make them even shittier by setting my personal bar even lower in order to just get stuff on the page. Boy, was it freeing!
  • What bars did I lower? For one, deliberately ignoring continuity mistakes that I know I’m making at the time. So if I wrote that it was raining when the paragraph above talked about a sunny day… well, fuck it. I don’t even make a mental note to “fix it later” because I trust that when I do get around to revisions, I’ll catch and fix it then.
  • I’ve learned to be okay keeping my metrics for daily success a little variable. Because they’ve always been variable. Daily Word Count(TM) never satisfied me, especially in the revision stages of a project.
  • So, what are my daily metrics? Depends on what I decide they’re going to be the day before, as long as it’s something I know feels right. So, it could be “draft 3 pages.” It could also be “make a revision pass.” Or, “generate a beat list for the next scene.” Whatever works to move a project forward.
  • I’ve finally learned how to leverage the right dayjob habits into my writing process. I beat myself up about this for years, not feeling able to find whatever it was that led me to relative success and proficiency at my dayjob but not in writing.
  • I experienced the utility of stopping for the day even though I feel like I have more — because I finally got it through my thick head that trying to push through when I’m out of gas has almost never worked. And even when it did, it generally wasn’t worth it.

I think ultimately, I’m learning how to trust myself a little bit more, in terms of what sorts of artistic practices resonate with me. Wow, like like all the money I’ve spent on therapy is finally starting to pay off!

Quickie Review: AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART by Elaine Castillo

Of the novels I’ve read so far in 2020 for Filipino-American History Month, AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART was the one that resonated the most. The Filipino-America these characters inhabit differs from the one in which I came up. But it rings true for all the ways it overlaps with my and my family’s experiences.

The ways Filipinos get by in the aftermath of trauma, whether from the Japanese Occupation during WWII or Martial Law is familiar to me. The stuff they have to go through when the emigrate or help their family members emigrate is familiar. The many secrets, white lies, superstitions, large Filipino social gatherings and the cliques within, the ways class, gender, and education intersect and create tensions that are barely suppressed by utang na loob — maybe too familiar.

The ratio of Ilocano and Pangasinan phrases to Tagalog (the language of my folks) notwithstanding, almost all of us in the diaspora know a Lolo Boy, a Bebot, and a Ka Eddie. We know what gets said about the brothers of a certain family, the doctors tried to make it but couldn’t, the nurses who were the anchors of a family, and the Ate who had more going on under the surface than you might ever suspect if you didn’t know or intensely care enough about to ask.

Quickie Review: PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING by Randy Ribay

If Gina Apostol’s INSURRECTO gives an overview of 120 years of Philippine-American history, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING gives us history’s most contemporary slice.

With President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war (condemned the world over for its sanction of extrajudicial killing) as a backdrop, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING shows how a young Filipino-American man faces a choice just about all Filipinos in the diaspora face: How do you live your life in the face of the multiple horrors which have touched generations of Filipinos throughout the last century?

This can be a no-win situation. You can choose to leave the family, the barangay, the country and as a result, feel survivor’s guilt layered with whatever guilt trip others might put on you. You can stay, and escape in other ways like hiding parts of yourself, hiding your convictions, hiding your fears and concerns behind “bahala na” while trying — sometimes failing — to avoid being subsumed by the horror.

To read about a 17 year-old Filipino-American taking up this challenge in ways I never could makes him look like Harry Potter to me. Being 30 years older, let me tell you that it would’ve been easier at 17 if to imagine myself being a wizard than someone who goes “back home” and does what the protagonist here does. If “All of the adults are failing us,” as he declares in frustration, I can offer one possible explanation (though not an excuse, by any means). It could be because I didn’t have a book like PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING growing up.

Quickie Review: INSURRECTO by Gina Apostol

This has been sitting on my reading list for too long, so I figured October being Filipino American Heritage Month was as good an excuse as any to get started!

Apostol uses several layers of meta to give us an overview of the century plus of commingled history between the Philippines and the United States, from colonial times to Digong. If I’ve read correctly, I generally seem around the age of the protagonists, so a lot of the contemporary touchstones resonate with me — the Thrilla in Manila, the peccadilloes of older Titos, karaoke murders, Filipino Catholic priests, mah-jongg, San Miguel beer, aswang, shabu and extrajudicial killings. The historical touchstones I expected in a novel called INSURRECTO are all there as well: water cures, juramentados, “Damn Damn Damn the Filipinos,” Colt .45s, krags, arnis, and massacres.

But the best part is how Apostol’s centering of women throughout the narrative(s) sharply illustrate colonization’s effects on both colonizer and colonized as the two main characters try to take a good-faith look at a shared history in which they both have a personal stake. And INSURRECTO does it in a way that interrogates the ideas of “Whose story is this to tell?” and “What’s the ‘proper’ way to tell it?”

Structurally the book might confuse some. I’m not the world’s fastest novel-reader to begin with; it took me just over a week to get through this. Totally worth it, though. I don’t think I’ve ever described a piece of art as a “tour de force” before, but that’s exactly what INSURRECTO is.

It reminds me of the notes-like structure of a Mary Robison novel (expanded to full chapters, of course). I happened on a review somewhere (I lost the link) that speaks of a peculiar pattern with the chapter numbering. I’d missed it, but never went back to verify it. That’s okay. The thing that helped me stay centered despite the shifting casts of characters as remembering Armand Ianucci’s THE THICK OF IT and IN THE LOOP — a TV series and film where the same actors play different characters in a similar setting. I know, you’re probably thinking “WTF are you talking about?” Just read INSURRECTO.