No more excuses

October 16, 2013 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

no excuses

I was surprised to see that it’s been about a dozen days since I last posted. And is it really October already? Time flies when you have a full plate.

The last couple of weeks have indeed been hectic but have also allowed me to put things in perspective. My elder son contracted some crazy contagious virus again at daycare and I had to take a few days off work to look after him because we had to segregate him from my younger son to prevent contamination.

Spending so much time with him has been exhausting and great at the same time. He’s really become obsessed with basketball (“ba-ke-bo”, he calls it) and we went about four days straight to practice at nearby courts, sometimes for as long as two or three hours. We would then follow that up with a stroll to a mall in the afternoon and then games at home after a shower. My wife has her hands full with the three-month old so most of the time it’s just me and him.

Kids really are amazing creatures. Maybe it’s because I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck (which I am in the process of reviewing) which is all about living up to your potential by equipping yourself with the right frame of mind. My son has that eagerness and fearlessness right now; he’s curious about everything and once he becomes fascinated with something he can work at it for hours and hours without getting tired or losing interest. He just wants to learn and grow, whereas most of us grownups just want to get by, or worse, achieve something without genuinely putting in the time and effort.

Initially I thought taking a child who hasn’t even turned two to play basketball would be a waste of time because the ball was nearly as big as him and he couldn’t even hold onto it properly. Besides, I wanted to play myself and didn’t want to share the ball. But he chased me around and whined and he whined until I gave the ball to him, and then he began trying to imitate me bouncing the ball off the ground. He stumbled and fell at least a dozen times, scraping both knees until they bled, but he wouldn’t let me take the ball off him or show him how to do it. He wanted to learn for himself.

Amazingly, by the end of that session, he had learned how to bounce the ball with his hands a couple of times. It was only then that he would let me teach him to try and bounce the ball with his fingertips rather than slapping it with his palms. He continued practicing for the next couple of days and got better and better at it, and he even learned how to throw (toss is probably more accurate) the ball further than before. And he was so proud that he had improved.

Unfortunately, he hurt his finger a little bit practicing one day and got scared of bouncing the ball, so I went and bought him a smaller and softer ball to practice with. He’s also become obsessed with watching basketball highlights on TV and loves flipping through books or magazines with basketball pictures. It’s the kind of childlike wonder and passion I wish I had. Not knowing — not believing — that there is a limit on what you can achieve must be a marvelous feeling.

Speaking of passions…I recently celebrated my birthday, and the sinking feeling that I’m not moving forward with my writing is starting to scare me. I’m still writing every day, usually on things I don’t mind writing about, but not on the things I should be writing about. There’s still that fear of starting, that fear of failure, that fear of not being able to do something as well as you imagine you could.

So I’ve been coming up with a lot of excuses. I need to exercise (I do, but maybe not as much). I need to watch TV (which is only true in the case of Breaking Bad, and that’s over now, and the new seasons of The Mentalist and Homeland and Revenge haven’t been very good, though The Walking Dead seems promising…but I digress). I have too many blog posts to catch up on (that is true, but they can wait). I have too many freelance cases to do (I have some, not too many). I have to play Candy Crush, Scramble with Friends and Plants vs Zombies 2 (I don’t). Anything but writing the epic novel or screenplay I have been planning to write for years.

A few weeks ago the names of a couple of my old classmates from my 2010-2011 writing course popped up. I was ecstatic to see that they had each published their own novels, some of which were actually projects they were working on in the course we did together. But at the same time it made me sad and ashamed to realize that I’ve barely touched my own in-progress works. And even with two kids and a full-time job, I probably still had more free time than them.

It’s not just writers either. People all around me are going after what they want. I have friends — some of whom I would never have pictured doing anything — running or trying to run their own start-ups and businesses. Studying things they would like pursue a future career in. Taking risks, chasing dreams — or even just doing something they enjoy more.

I have the time to do it too because of flexibility at my workplace. About three weeks ago one morning I was really pysched for some reason and started writing a screenplay. I got a couple of pages done — it wasn’t particularly good either, but I loved the thrill it gave me. I thought the momentum would carry on naturally and I would keep working on it every day after that, but I haven’t touched it since. What it’s telling me is that if I really want to do something I need to keep at it and don’t think it will come easily. Persistence!

This is on the fringe of relevance, but I will mention it anyway. Last Sunday was one of the most exciting days of my life. I went to watch the Indiana Pacers take on the Houston Rockets in Taipei — courtside — and the experience blew me away. I’ll blog about this soon, but what I want to mention is a former Pacers player I saw sitting in the stands. I was surprised to see him there because this player has not played in the NBA since 2008. He was a promising talent who was selected in the first round of the draft, but his on and off court attitude and drug use pushed him out of the league in a hurry. After playing overseas for a few years he’s still looking for a chance to get back to the NBA, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and couldn’t even get an opportunity in the NBA Summer League this year. I looked him up on Twitter and it seems he is full of regret over blowing his past opportunities and taking the people who genuinely cared about him for granted. Now that he’s finally grown up and ready to play the opportunity is no longer there.

I guess this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t want to look back years from now and regret having squandered an opportunity to go after what I want when I have the time and energy to do it. So this is it. It doesn’t mean I can’t still do the other things. It just means I need to get down to doing what matters. No more excuses.

Writing fiction after all that non-fiction is really really hard

August 1, 2013 in Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

once upon a time

I have recently developed a very real fear that I may never be able to write fiction again.

They say writers need to write, and over the past year all I’ve been doing is reading and writing non-fiction, almost exclusively. At work every day I write news, and in my spare time I write on this blog, which essentially comprises film, restaurant and book reviews these days, or my sports blog, which is, well, all about sports.

My reading habits have also veered towards non-fiction. Browsing through my book reviews this year I see (chronologically from the start of the year):

- Fifty Shades Freed by EL James (fiction) — the final book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy and probably the worst book I have ever read, fiction or otherwise. I think it barely counts as a book, let alone fiction.

- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (non-fiction) — the legendary writing book, part memoir and part writers’ guide.

- Tokyo Sketches by Peter Hamill (fiction) — a collection of short stories about Japan.

- The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (non-fiction) — another seminal writers’ book about staying out of the rejection pile.

- Inferno by Dan Brown (fiction) — no introduction necessary, though again, some would argue whether Brown’s writing classifies as fiction given that it is dominated by Wikipedia-like entries about history, architecture and artworks. And the quality of the fiction writing is, let’s just say, somewhat lacking.

- Dream Team by Jack McCallum (non-fiction) — a riveting account of the one and only 1992 Dream Team.

- The War for Late Night by Bill Carter (non-fiction) — the fascinating account into the Conan O’Brien/Jay Leno late night television feud of 2010.

- Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty (non-fiction) — Phil Jackson’s account of how he won his 11 NBA championship rings as a coach and 2 as a player.

- The Elements of Style by Strunk & White (non-fiction) — the writing bible.

- The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith (non-fiction) — the controversial book about Michael Jordan and the tumultuous 1990-91 season of the NBA champions Chicago Bulls.

- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (fiction) — the classic novel about a man whose youth and beauty was preserved by a magical painting.

- Justice by Michael J Sandel (non-fiction) — an engrossing philosophy book about morality and the right thing to do.

By my count that’s 8 non-fiction books and 4 fiction books. But one of the fiction books is Fifty Shades and another is Dan Brown, so they don’t really count. And of the other two, one is a short story collection and the other is a classic novel written in the 19th century (which can be helpful but not that helpful).

It’s not that you can’t be creative with non-fiction writing, it’s just that the parameters are defined and confined by the facts you have to convey. With fiction writing it has to all come from your imagination, and that’s where I feel as though my brain has been reprogrammed and all that creativity I once had (however little it may have been) has been sucked out of me completely.

If I had to sit down and write a short story or screenplay right now I wouldn’t know where to start. In fact, just the thought of the possibility of getting back to working on my novels or screenplay makes me nervous, and scared — which probably explains why I have set myself the long-term target of completing all my backlogged blog posts before commencing any “proper” fiction writing. It’s pathetic, I know, but at least I am clearing out my backlog.

To lubricate my ride back into fiction, I am going to try and re-enter the land of fiction. Classics are good, but right now I’m thinking something less challenging, like commercial fiction. I’ve started reading Gillian Flynn’s acclaimed Gone Girl. I’m only about a fifth of the way through but it’s already shaping up to be one heck of a cracking read. It’s one of those books that grips onto you with characters that ring so true you feel like you know them. Apparently Ben Affleck has signed on for the film version, to be directed by David Fincher, so his head keeps popping up in my mind. (And Rosamund Pike has reportedly been cast as the other lead).

I still have some other non-fiction books I must get through, including parenting books on baby sleep (it’s gotta be done) and a couple of book reviews for publication. But my focus for the rest of the year will hopefully be on fiction. I have lined up The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed and Anna Funder’s All That I Am, and I intend to get through them all before December 31. I don’t know how, since having a job with two kids under two means I pretty much only have time to read while travelling to and from work and just before bed — but I’m still going to try to reach my New Year’s Resolution goal of 20 books for the year.

And before you start being a dick, give me a break; that’s very good for me already.

Recapping my epic 2012!

December 31, 2012 in Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

2012wall

Who would have thought I’d be counting down the hours to 2013 when it was all supposed to end for everyone 10 days ago?

But anyway, I’m here (at work, actually) and I’ve been contemplating what a colossal year 2012 has been. Of course, there’s the big one — learning how to be a father to the most adorable little baby boy in the history of the universe, who has taken up the majority of my time and effort and SLEEP. But it’s also him that has made 2012 the most remarkable and wonderful year of my life thus far.

On the work front, I started a new full-time job where I get to write and edit all day. For the first time ever, I actually don’t mind going to the office every day, and I love the fact that I get to go home at a reasonable hour every night so I can spend time with my son before he goes to bed. It’s also a stable job that potentially allows me to do a lot of extra-curricular stuff, whether it be freelance work or other personal writings, such as this blog. Unfortunately, my lack of experience and desire to “take it easy” means I have probably squandered many of those hours that could have been put to better use.

That said, I have done my fair share of freelance work this year too. I started off completing a mammoth editing job for a travel book that had been horrendously translated. It was definitely not worth it from a monetary perspective but at least I have now been officially named as the editor of a published book (which I am yet to see, by the way). Apart from that and my regular book reviews for a trade publication, I also did some work for a well-known international magazine, which eventually lead to my first cover feature article. I didn’t exactly love the way it turned out after the editor played with it, but it’s better than having no article published at all.

The highlight of my working life this year has to be my trip to Beijing to cover the Communist Party’s leadership transition, which was exhausting but rewarding. I’m glad I got to see and learn so much, but I’m also happy that it won’t happen again for another 10 years.

Health wise, it’s been a mixed bag. Physically, I managed to get fitter than I’ve ever been after commencing a daily exercise routine that began last October and lasted about 12 months. I’m still trying to get back into it, actually. However, the fatigue and poor quality sleep has also taken its toll, and I’ve been under the weather more times than I can remember. It’s frustrating because you feel like you’re rarely feeling 100%.

Despite the positives, it’s also been a year where a lot of my goals went unrealized. I basically did not touch either of my work-in-progress novels for the entire year, which is pathetic and not worthy of an excuse. I didn’t write that screenplay I had been itching to write either. And I also didn’t monetize my blog like I had promised myself I would.

On the reading front, I only read 14 books this year, dominated by the Hunger Games trilogy, Steve Jobs biography and the first two books of the 50 Shades trilogy (I’m still stuck on the third and final book). Actually, I blame it all on 50 Shades for turning me off reading this year because it’s been a huge struggle getting through them. Why do I torture myself?

These are the things I wish I had more time to complete, but my shifting priorities had placed them all on the back burner. In fact, I’m still putting them off until I can finish posting all of my backlogged movie and restaurant reviews, which means it might be a while before I can even get started.

So what’s in store for 2013? A lot. That’s my guess. I’m personally hoping that things will become more stable on a day-to-day basis and that I can be more motivated to work on my projects. My focus next year — my new year’s resolution, so to speak — will be on the things I failed to accomplish this year: the novels, the screenplay, and doing more reading. I tend to always oversimplify things and set myself targets that are impossible to reach, so this year I’ll just say that I’d like to at least do more on/of those things  in 2013 than I did in 2012.

So I guess if my 2012 was “epic” then I’d like my 2013 to be simply “productive.”

See you next year!

It’s just not happening right now

September 8, 2012 in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

So I’m taking some time off from my busy schedule to do something I do best: whine.

Things never seem to work out like I planned. Not big picture, but small, day-to-day things — and it drives me nuts. Something always inevitably pops up and destroys my plans. Maybe my son will suddenly get sick, putting an end to sleep and turning me into the walking dead for a few days. Perhaps something will happen at work, such as the most recent debacle where I am forced to become the company’s legal adviser for a while. I can’t even seem to plan something as simple as a blog post in advance these days.

Is this a matter of bad luck, naivete, stupidity or all of the above? It explains why I haven’t been able to write regular blog posts like I promised myself a couple of weeks ago. It probably also explains why I haven’t gotten close to getting back to my sleeping novels for more than a year. I suck.

To be fair, I don’t have a whole lot of spare time or a sizable margin of error. After dinner and putting my son to sleep I only have a couple of hours, one of which I would usually spend doing some form of exercise to prevent myself from turning into a fat turd. Weekends are usually also family time, and I’m usually too exhausted to do anything else anyway. So that leaves work, which is supposed to offer ample time for personal stuff (it really is) but things haven’t always turned out that way.

Like right now, I’m working on a feature article that’s due the end of the week. It’s for a pretty decent international publication and will be by far the most important article of my writing career. But man, it’s just not happening right now. I had planned to pump it out during work hours last week after transcribing the interviews, but that annoying legal issue (which had nothing to do with me) drained whatever free time and creativity I had out of my system. I spent most of today, my day off, working on it but I barely produced a few hundred words.

It was brutal. It was as though I had forgotten how to do anything. The sentences flowed so beautifully in my mind, but as soon as I sit in front of the computer with my hands on the keyboard…I get nothing. And what does end up getting typed is not pretty. What I need is a first draft mentality but what I have instead is a perfectionist’s attitude.

Hopefully I’m just having a rough day. I need to be on fire, and soon. It’s gotta be done.

PS: Perhaps this is what I need to do:

Recurring Nightmares

July 8, 2012 in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Paranormal, Study by pacejmiller

I’m not so sure about dream interpretation. It is possible that some dreams might have meanings, but most of mine (the ones I can remember, at least) are incoherent and senseless.

In recent times, however, I have been experiencing a couple of recurring dreams. Not the exact same dream, but dreams with the same theme. I wonder what they could mean.

In the first, which have been happening for quite some time now and come back every now and then, I would get the feeling that I have a loose tooth. It could be a wobbly front tooth that I can twist around, or it could be a dislodging molar with a gap I can play around with using my tongue. It’s a sensation I haven’t had since all my baby teeth fell out, and it absolutely freaks me out, every time.

The tooth could be looser in some dreams than others. Sometimes, it could be more than one tooth. Occasionally, I might even twist and pull the tooth enough that it comes off, and I would distinctively recall licking that empty space on my gums, horrified and panicking. I suppose with modern technology I could just get a fake tooth that probably looks better than the one it is replacing, but it’s never something I think of during the dream. I simply remember being saturated in fear.

In the second recurring dream, which only started in the last few months, I would find myself suddenly realizing that I have a major exam the next day, or the next couple of days, and it would be on a subject I know absolutely nothing about. It never occurs to me that I haven’t sat an examination for three years, or that I never studied the subject before. In that moment, I feel as though I had either never attended my classes or never paid attention, and certainly didn’t do any of the readings.

If the realization comes the night before or several nights before the exam, my initial reaction would usually be — you’ll be okay, you have essentially crammed entire subjects for exams the night before. It’ll just be another all-nighter, which is nothing new for you. But the fear of not being able to study everything in time is still there.

More recently, the timing of the exam has gotten closer and closer, and hence the fear has gotten greater and greater. A few weeks ago, I dreamed that I was on the way to the examination location and I still had no idea what I was doing. Last night, I actually dreamed that I had already missed an exam. I had three exams and I somehow “forgot” about the first one, and I still had two more in the next three days. Lucky I woke up from fright, or else there might have been a wet patch on the bed.

So what could these nightmares mean? Surely there has to be something in my subconscious stirring things up.

For the tooth dream, my guess is that I have a fear of losing my teeth. No offence to anyone out there, but I kind of do have an obsession with clean teeth. I brush religiously and can’t stand the sight of stains and discolourations. Could that be it?

As for the exam dream, it could be any number of things. It could be the deeply-seeded guilt I have accumulated over the years from doing relatively well in exams without genuinely understanding the subject. It could be from the fact that I tend to forget just about everything about a subject almost immediately after the exam finishes. But I have a feeling this is quite common.

It could be another thing. When I studying for my master’s finals  in Cambridge three years ago, it was the first time I ever felt I could not possibly complete by preparations in time, or at least not up to a level that was satisfactory to me. These final exams accounted for 100% of the grade and were all three-hour monsters. A big part of the lack of preparation was because I had spent the better part of the year working on this blog and my novels. A second reason was because I spent about half the pre-exam holiday period travelling around Europe. A third reason was probably laziness and not wanting to miss out on any sleep (I was getting soft).

I ended up doing pretty well in the end, but I do remember a pang of regret because I knew I probably could have and should have done better. So to cut a long story short, maybe it was the subconscious realization that I didn’t give it my all that continues to haunt me.

I’d like to think it’s something else: that I need to finish my novels so that the grades would not have been sacrificed in vain. Yes, and maybe do something about this blog too.

 

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