Anonymous of Holland            -A Dutchman in Korea-

    Helo welcom 2 my websight

My Writing Process – A Road Map to my Thoughts

INTRODUCTION

When I was very young, all I wanted was to draw. I wanted to draw well, and I wanted to draw a lot. In elementary school, I’d draw mock battles between Russians and Americans in my notepad, in art class I’d draw a ninja teddy bear when we were supposed to draw a still life and in my free time I’d draw simple comics that didn’t make sense to anyone but me. My mother always told me that half the story was in my head and I would forget to put it to paper. As I got older though, I started realizing more and more that my skills in art could not keep up with what was inside my mind, and so I turned to other means at my disposal, most notably prose. I didn’t really come to love writing until I was about halfway through high school, but at that point it had already become a part of my life that I couldn’t do without.

THE PROCESS OF WRITING

Although I go through a different ‘process’ depending on the type of writing I’m doing, there are some things that I absolutely need to do when I write – I can’t just sit down and get to it, no matter how much I wish I could.

First of all, I need to turn off the TV and close the windows so I don’t get distracted. When I’m sitting at my desk trying to do something, especially when that something is writing, it’s very easy for me to get distracted. If there’s a TV program on in the background, no matter whether it is English or Korean, I can’t focus my thoughts inward to find out what I want to write. The same goes for outside sounds. While I do love bird sounds and such, if there’s people outside talking or cars driving by, I get more caught up in trying to catch glimpses of conversations than in what I’m supposed to be doing, so kind of forcing my mind to focus on the task at hand is an important part of my process.

Something that sometimes helps, but is sometimes detrimental to that, is music. I became used to using music to channel my attention while I was in university, and I generally listened to atmospheric, dark jazz or classical music when I wanted to just sit down and start writing. These days, I’ve found that acoustic Korean indie music also does wonders for me, especially since my Korean is not at the level where I can easily understand the lyrics if I don’t actively pay attention to them. When I listen to English language indie music, I end up paying too much attention to the lyrics to focus on the words in my own head, but in the case of Korean music I can comfortably listen to it without getting distracted.

Being comfortable is another factor that is absolutely needed: I cannot write well if I’m not feeling comfortable. I can force myself to write, if I need to, but the result will be nowhere near as good as when I just sit down in my comfortable desk chair, have some tea, put on some calm music and start writing. This is where Korean cafés have absolutely changed my life for the better. Although my room can be quite comfy, spending every day in the same environment kind of makes you get used to it so much that it becomes just another place to you, and cafés really feel like warm, comfortable and safe places that I just love being in. I don’t visit cafés all that often, but whenever I need to write something important or need to focus my mind to study, it’s safe to assume I’ll be visiting one of them soon enough.

Finally, I really need to be in the ‘mood’ to write. Whether it’s personal, creative or academic, I can’t just flip a switch in my mind and start writing. If we’re to believe Elbow, there is no such thing as ‘inspiration’, but I feel like that feeling has a fairly large influence on my writing process. Some days I sit down and I just know that day isn’t going to be the day, and in the case of academic texts that have a deadline, those days usually result in the kind of messy papers that I’d rather never be brought up again. But some days, even though I’d been worrying about having to write something for a while, it just flows out of my fingertips as if it had been waiting there all along. Those days, 10 or 15 page assignments get done in a matter of hours, or I end up writing blog posts to which people e-mail me to ask how I manage to write that engagingly even though I had no idea I was doing anything special. I have always chalked this up to inspiration, because I do believe that no matter what the subject, you always need to have this idea of what you want to write, and it needs to want to be written by you at that specific moment as well. If your mind is elsewhere and you’re merely forcing yourself to squeeze words out unto the paper, people reading it will know. But if your mind is right where it needs to be, writing will feel almost automatic and people reading it will enjoy themselves much more than they would if you had just forced yourself to write.

CREATIVE WRITING

 As a child, I was never that much into reading. I did it well enough at school, at a higher level than most of my classmates, but it just didn’t interest me all that much. I still remember my teacher’s disappointment and surprise when we were allowed to pick our own books for our book report for the first time and I picked a picture book that barely had any text in it. Although I got much more interested in visiting other worlds through the medium of text as I grew up, I never really managed to get into reading as much as I would have liked. Movies and video games always seemed like quicker, easier options, I suppose. The first time I really fell in love with a piece of writing was when I ran into one of H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories on the internet. I think it must have been ‘The rats in the walls’, a story about a man driven mad by the dark and unfathomably cruel history of his family estate. I had never read a story written in such extravagant yet absolutely perfectly descriptive prose. In spite of his insistent use of timeworn words previously unknown to me, such as ‘cyclopean’ ‘eldritch’ or ‘amorphous’, Lovecraft managed to paint the most vivid pictures in my mind and managed to instill a fear that is impossible to feel while watching a movie or playing a game, because the human imagination can conjure up much more horrible things when left to its own devices. This, more than anything, inspired me to take my writing serious as well.

I’ve found that in the case of creative writing, I don’t need a road map or an outline to start writing. I usually start with a premise, a general idea, a setting and a character, and from that point the story basically writes itself. I create a character with a backstory, a personality that I understand, and I put him or her in a situation. I’m not even really in control of the story anymore at that point. I know how that character would act in that specific setting, so all I need to do is find the right words to describe what he or she is thinking, feeling and seeing. I strongly believe that is how good writers write, as well. That might also be why I end up being unable to write a very wide breadth of characters. There are some archetypes that I manage to write well, but finding a voice for characters that do not fit those archetypes can be difficult.

My process for creative writing largely depends on tapping into my mood. When it comes to this kind of writing, the old cliché of the depressed drunk writer seems to ring true to me in many ways. When I first started writing, I would write the easiest, with the least resistance, when I was feeling bad. I would sit alone in my room, with no internet, in the dark, with the yellow light of the lampposts outside flooding in through the windows. It’s easy to think of horrible things to write when your mind is coming up with them hundreds at a time, and it’s easy to find the words you’re looking for when you are in this kind of ‘poetic’ state of mind.

My creative writing process these days is still fairly similar to how it used to be, I think. Usually, when I see a sad movie, or some sad music gets me into this kind of nostalgic or feeling-sorry-for-myself mood, that is when I can turn off all the lights, listen to the rain outside, take a short walk in the abandoned neighborhood streets and think about my life. In those moments, words come easily and naturally. In those moments, I feel this kind of unstoppable urge to create something, anything, to put those feelings somewhere and give them a place to be. Those moments are ideal for writing stories, or heartfelt blog posts.

PERSONAL WRITING

 Because another kind of writing that I have been doing for a very long time now (since 2006, actually) is writing my blog. When I first started, it was mostly used as a diary and a place for me to dump my (looking back, very embarrassing) opinions. As I grew into the period described above, it also became a place for me to unleash page-long ramblings about why the world and everyone in it sucked, but thankfully I did grow up eventually and at that point it mostly turned into a place where I’d share my thoughts on video games, review concerts I’d attended or talk about movies. Although I never had many readers, I feel like I mostly just used blogging as a way to vent my thoughts somewhere because I knew most people wouldn’t care about them anyway. So I put them on the internet for anyone to read instead. I still enjoy going back and reading through my older posts, seeing how much I’ve changed in the past decade.

I still blog now, mostly writing about my life in Korea, letting my family and friends back home know I’m still alive and what I’m up to, trying to help people interested in coming to Korea with tips or sharing some of Korea’s culture and peculiarities with those interested in such things. Even now I think I mostly blog for myself though, as a way to remember the things that matter to me in this moment.

My blogging process is rather similar to my creative writing process, I think, and it also tends to include copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. In the case of blogging though, I tend to really dread starting the longer posts. There are so many things I want to share with the people reading my blog and so many things I want to save for posterity, but the mere thought of writing it all down tends to overwhelm me more often than not. That’s why I don’t write on my blog nearly as often as I’d wish.

Either way, when I’m writing for my blog I tend to lay out the story in images first, before I start writing. I open and edit the pictures that I’m planning to include, upload them to the website, and sometimes use them to remember the time that I’m trying to write about. What did I feel like back then? What was I thinking? What exactly did I do before and after this picture was taken? Sometimes, words come out just as I imagined them and I manage to show what was in my heart like a 1:1 copy. At other times, I struggle to find the words and my writing feels stilted and insincere. In those moments, I need to make a decision to stop writing or keep going and hope I can get into the flow of things. If I stop, I always worry about whether I’ll be able to pick it up again later, so these days I’ve mostly been pushing through and just hoping I will break through the awkwardness of my words eventually.

I always feel very conscious of my tone and content when I write for my blog, more so than when I write prose. When I write stories, generally my tone and content will follow from the setting and characters, but when I write a blog post, that tone and content is me. To other people, that is who I am. So I feel like I need to write in a way that not only allows me to convey what I want, but also do it in a way that is enjoyable for the people sacrificing their time to read my post. Honestly, it’s kind of hard to imagine why anyone would want to read my ramblings as they are more often than not only interesting to myself, but if someone is going to take some time out of their day to read something I’ve written, I want them to read it comfortably and enjoyably. So I try to write in a fun, accessible way that is easy to read, as if I’m talking to someone enthusiastically. That is the goal when I write for my blog. To share the things I care about with people who might also care about them.

ACADEMIC WRITING

 My academic writing process is very different from the other methods of writing. When I’m expected to write a paper, I need to know exactly what I’m doing before I can comfortably start. I can’t just start writing about a subject and kind of fold all the information I have found into a coherent whole. Before I start writing, I try to make an outline, usually not on paper but in my head, or, more importantly, in my browser. I open up tabs with the information I want to use; articles, books, websites, and I arrange them in order. ‘These are the sources I need for the introduction’, ‘these are for the first argument’, ‘these are for the classroom implications’. I group all the tabs of sources in the order in which I will use them and attempt to create a narrative in my mind before I start writing. I try to think of what I want to say in the introduction, in what way it will connect to the sources I’ve found for the body of the text, and if I need anything else to fill up ‘holes’ that might come up.

When I start writing, I very much follow the ‘traditional method’ of writing; I don’t start writing arguments before I finish my introduction, and I don’t write a conclusion before I’ve gone through all the other paragraphs, even though my conclusion is already set before I even start writing. I tend to analyze things so much that in my mind actually writing the piece is only a matter of getting what’s in my head on paper so that everyone can see what I see. This doesn’t always go easily. In fact, it very often goes disastrously, especially when I am forced to write about something I am not too familiar with or am not interested in in the first place. Out of all the pieces I was expected to write while in Korea, I expect there’s only about 10% that I’m actually satisfied with. Usually, those tend to be the end-of-term papers that go through multiple revisions.

I used to have a lot of trouble with the revision process. My biggest problem used to be that I was just unable to cut content. I’d end up writing 10 pages for a 5-page assignment, but I’d look at what I had created and think: “But everything in here is absolutely essential!” I might have spent an hour looking for a quote on something that ended up being not all that related to the topic at hand in hindsight, or I’d spent a significant amount of time trying to come up with a way to explain something that resulted in a sentence that was 5 lines long, much like the direction that this sentence is currently heading in. These days, I have less trouble filtering out unnecessary paragraphs, although I must admit I do still have a tendency to use (perhaps overly) long sentences. I don’t know if this is due to the stylistic choices expected of academic writing in my country, the way I was expected to write as a law student, or because it’s just what I feel comfortable with, but I tend to write long sentences with lots of commas and sub sentences. When I read sentences like that, I don’t see any problems with them. They are just how I want them to be.

This is also what makes editing very challenging. When I put something on paper, it is very difficult for me to think of it as anything other than ‘final’. It happens very often that I write something down even though I’m not exactly happy with it, think by myself “Well, I will just go back to it later to rephrase it to be more appropriate”, and end up not being able to make a single correction. Somehow, when I read those sentences, even though I’m anything but happy with them, they just start to seem like the only way to convey that particular thought. There must be a hundred ways to type it differently, but my brain just won’t accept anything but this ugly, malformed manner in which I had jotted it down.

Although none of these forms of writing come as easily as I wish they would, I couldn’t be happier about finding joy in the act of writing itself. As a teacher, one of my main goals is show my students how they can use English to express themselves and help them realize, in the same way I did, that writing can be a positive thing in their lives.

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