Tag Archive: University

Jul 14

A Lot on the Plate

Wow. It’s been more than a month since my last posting—I’ve got a lot to catch up on.


A lot on my plate.

The main thing that was taking up my concentration was a book chapter that I was asked to write by ASIOS about the coverage of the 3/11 quake and the Fukushima nuclear crisis by the international media. Feeling confident in myself, I said “sure”.


Truth be told, I’m not much of a writer. I can bang a few words out here and there, but I have a very idiosyncratic style and I doubt I’d be able to make a living as a freelance writer for that reason. You’re reading my blog; you know what I’m talking about. What’s up with all the semi-colons and bracketed stuff I can’t jam in where it belongs?


Something else I’ve rediscovered (forgotten since my University days—damn! brackets!) is that I am weak at structure. One of my biggest struggles was figuring out how to structure my chapter and tie it all together. I guess a normal person would have put a structure together, done the research, and cobbled together an outline before sitting down to write the meat. But me? Hell no. I sit down and start typing, flying by the seat of my pants, researching as I go, having to change direction as I discover new information. I get bogged down in detail while researching, as I find stuff that I can’t put into the piece because, while fascinating, it’s incomplete.


I don’t like to admit this, but my brain hurts when I try to write like that. I got great grades on my essays in University, but I swear it wasn’t because they were good; I think it’s just because everyone else was worse.

In a Shakespeare class I was taking, a girl was complaining about the grade she got from our T.A.  I asked to look at her essay, and the very first sentence had so many grammatical and spelling errors in it, I wasn’t actually sure what it meant. Her first paragraph was incomprehensible. I am not exaggerating for effect. She was complaining about getting a ‘C-’.  I told her: “A ‘C-’ is a pass. Take it.”


“What?” she said, ripping it back out of my hands.


I tried to be gentle: “Look, you should have proofread it more carefully. You’ve got a lot of spelling and grammar—“


“He can only take 5% off for spelling and grammar,” she said, citing a very famous rule that students made up.


She didn’t listen to my advice and submitted it to the professor for re-grading, and ended up with a ‘B-‘.


That should tell you something about standards and how my decent grades on essays did not mean I could write. It meant I could put a sentence together without drooling all over myself.


That why I mostly write plays.  Plays and poetry.  Much less of the latter since moving to Japan, though.


Plays are great. My tactic is to write scenes as the ideas come. After a while I sit back and look at what I’ve got. At this point, a story has formed and I’ve got some kind of narrative. I know what happens to the characters. I then print out all the scenes I’ve got and spread them out on the living room floor (I guess tatami room floor now), finding some kind of order. Gaps show up. Story bits are missing. Information is missing. I write those down on a piece of paper and stick the paper where the scene would go.


Once I’ve got the order figured out, I write the missing material. This is usually the hardest part (second only to writing a whole new draft), but I can discipline-write, as long as the structure is there.


But that structure, man, in a straight piece of writing? That’s a doozy. I’m not used to that. I never wrote essay outlines because I found it easier to just bang ‘em out. But an essay? 800, 1000, maybe 2000 words, tops. This chapter? 10,000 words. I’ve learned my lesson.


But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


In any case, I’m waiting to hear back from the translator. Since the book is being published in Japanese, I’m hoping that I can post some excerpts on here.