Sunday, January 23, 2011

I've Written a Book...Now What?


I finished my first novel two days ago, and I didn't think I would feel so sad about being done. I know this feeling - it's the way I feel at the end of anything that was really, really fun. When I'm in a show, I call it post-show depression.  But I wasn't expecting it this time.  I may have expected it a year ago when I first started, but recently I've just wanted to be done with this book.  Not that I haven't enjoyed the process, but I've been working on it for a year and a half, and that's a long time to be thinking about one thing.  It really was on my mind all the time.  Even when I was at school and wasn't devoting a lot of time to the writing, it was still the number one thing on my mind.  I'm used to having lots of different ideas in my head, so it felt pretty weird.

The hardest part of writing towards the end was maintaining an interest in the story.  About six months ago, I had an inspiration for my second book, but I wouldn't let myself start it until I had finished the first.  I often get my next idea before I'm finished what I'm currently working on, and if I always let myself run with every new idea, I would never finish anything.  So as much as I loved working on my first book, I thought I would feel relieved to be done because I could move on to other things.

The other thing that made it hard to keep going towards the end was knowing that I probably won't be able to get this book published.  At the beginning, I kind of assumed it would be brilliant.  When I finished the first draft, I figured it may still be worth sending to a publisher after editing.  But once I got about halfway through the second draft, I wasn't even sure I should send it to my friends to read.  At the beginning I was really psyched about writing a novel, but towards the end I didn't want to talk to people about it anymore because it felt like a disaster.  My mom even said that whenever the subject of my novel came up, I had the same expression that I used to have back in high school, when I didn't want to tell her how I did on a test.  And she had it right - that was exactly how I felt.  She suggested that I could put my novel aside and move on to my next project if I really thought there was no hope of fixing it; this was probably really good advice, but I didn't want to take it.  I had to finish my first novel so that it would be my first novel.  I have a few books that I started writing  in middle school and didn't get beyond the first 30 pages.  I have plays and screenplays that I outlined in high school but never even started typing.  Most of these outlines and drafts I had written for myself and didn't intend for anyone else to read.  This is the first time I've worked on a major personal project that I actually meant to share with the world.  I had worked too hard on it to add it to my heap of unfinished projects that no one else will ever see.

The other issue is that I fall in love with ideas.  I get infatuated and love everything about an idea and don't see the flaws until I've been with it for a long time.  The only reason that I would have been willing to stop before finishing would have been if I thought my second novel would be much better, and it would be a better use of my time to start that book.  And I did feel that way last summer, but I was (and am still) infatuated with my new idea, while I've been with my first novel long enough to know all the issues it has.  I won't be able to see clearly which idea is better until I finish the second book and set them both aside for a few months.  Since I couldn't trust my judgement to stop, I had to keep going.

My parents are going to read my book this week.  They've given me good feedback on my work in the past, and their reaction will determine whether or not I try to get it published.  I happened to finish during their busiest time of year, so now I'm just waiting to hear what they say.  I feel almost like I did before my first ever fiction writing workshop, except I'm a little less nervous this time because I've already prepared myself for the worst.  I've known for a while that my book might not be publishable, and I've accepted that already. And there is a bit of relief in acknowledging the worst case scenario and realizing that it's not the end of the world.    

I've never really liked the term "learning experience" because it usually means you've done something that you regret, and the only good that will come of it is that you know enough not to do it again.  But I don't regret writing my first novel at all.  No matter how it turns out, it was worth it.  I wish I could say that I've learned the process of writing a novel, but I still have a lot to figure out.  What I do believe is that writing a story is like building a castle out of Legos; if no one likes it enough to cement the blocks together, you can still show it to your friends, leave it up overnight, then the next morning, knock it down and use the pieces to build something new.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Non-Drinking Culture

Drinking Party
I don't like mayonnaise, mustard, or ketchup, and I think that really defines me as a person.  It's a rejection of our condiment-obsessed society.  My goal is to start an entire subculture for people who don't like condiments, a culture where people will have different tastes in music, clothes, and how to spend their weekends than people who do like condiments.  An entire culture held together by our common dislike of one particular thing - doesn't that sound like a brilliant idea?

What does it mean not to drink?  I would think that not drinking, or being chem-free, should just mean that you don't drink, and nothing more than that.  I would never have guessed that not drinking would have so many more implications about a person, or would push them into a culture that is completely different from the world of those who do drink.

When I applied to college five years ago, I was looking for a really fun school - the kind of school where students value having fun, where they put as much effort into having fun as they did into their schoolwork.  This is commonly referred to as "playing hard."  Not being part of the drinking culture at my high school, I had no idea that alcohol was such an integral part of this lifestyle.  Call me crazy, but when you don't go to a small school and live on campus, you don't know what everyone else does on the weekends.  I knew there was drinking in college, but I also believed that college kids just had young, wild spirits when they did a lot of the crazy things I'd heard about.  I had every intention of living the college dream.

When I signed up to live in a chem-free dorm, I had no idea of the culture that I was walking into.  The summer before college, my friends and I had spent a lot of time at the beach and really wanted to go nightclubbing, but not all of our friends were 18 yet.  No worries, we all figured.  We'd be doing stuff like that every weekend in college.  But after a few weeks of the subculture that I had unknowingly signed up for, I realized that it wasn't going to happen. Because it was weird that I love dances and wanted to go nightclubbing as badly as I did.  It was weird that I love mainstream pop music, chick-flicks, and wearing hot pink.  It was weird that I'm not outdoorsy.  These qualities that I thought made me typical and mainstream were really out of place in the chem-free world.  Most chem-free students I know are very nice, but I still felt left out because I didn't belong in that culture.  I couldn't join the mainstream culture because it was so focused on drinking; I had to choose between two worlds that I equally didn't fit into.

Monopoly while studying: chem-free "fun"
But beyond interests are values, particularly the idea of playing hard.  Because to me, playing hard was more of a general statement, not based on any one activity.  I was never into the academic part of school - I loved high school because of the activities and social events. I had heard that in college, students enjoy academics and like to have intellectual conversations outside of class, which I had zero interest in doing.  When I looked at schools, I tried to find a place that wouldn't be like that, where school was just in the classroom and outside the classroom everyone just had fun.  But in the chem-free culture, no one wanted to live like that.  Being chem-free, I was expected to value weekends less and be more willing to give up that time.  In the chem-free world, I was supposed to think it was sad that we didn't have more intellectual conversations outside of class.  But what I think is sad is that I chose my college based on the first impression it gave me, but because I didn't like to drink, I was expected to reject what I thought my school valued, to rise up against something that I actually wanted to be a part of.

Even now that I have graduated, the concept of being chem-free still weighs on my mind.  I never meant to be so defined by one thing that I don't like to do.  Before my friends started drinking in college, we did the same kinds of activities that people who drink do; there was no cultural disconnect.  We had so much fun together, so many magical times that we'll never be able to have again unless we're drinking. Now that I've tried drinking, I should be more confident in saying that it's not my thing, but instead I have an aversion to telling anyone the truth because I don't want to be pushed into a culture that I'm not a part of.  I don't want all the assumptions that come with being chem-free.  If the cultures at my school were any reflection of the US drinking and non-drinking cultures, then it would be less of a lie to say that I get wasted every weekend, because whatever else that implies about me is probably true.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Symbolic Rituals

Last year I told my friend that I wanted to get a symbolic exorcism once I left school, and that no seemed to understand. My friend said that not everyone is into symbolic rituals.  I told them that I'm not into rituals, and they said, "I think you do like symbolic rituals. Last week, when you said how happy you were about deleting the campus housing email, that was a symbolic ritual because the act of deleting the email didn't actually do anything."

I always thought I wasn't symbolic because holidays are all about fun for me, rather than meaning, and I've never been into school pride rituals, but I realized then that a person could be symbolic about things that mattered to them. When I received the campus housing email that I could delete (because I would not be returning to school the next year), I was ready to throw a party and didn't understand why my classmates who also hated the housing process didn't feel the same way. But now I understood - the fact that we didn't have to deal with the campus housing draw again  had been true for a long time - only someone who is symbolic, like I am, would really feel something about deleting that email.

Looking back, I realize that I have been symbolic all my life. A few years ago, my mom told me that she liked my shoulder-length haircut, that when I wore it long, it looked like something I hadn't let go of from my childhood.  And even though I liked it shoulder-length, I grew it out that year because I didn't want to be letting go of something from my childhood. I don't stop doing things that I like just because I'm older. Even though I liked it at shoulder-length, I grew it out because I thought my long hair represented the real me.

After I finished college, I did a long cleansing of my computer. I deleted everything I didn't want to keep, and went through my customized dictionary on Microsoft Word and deleted words that I only added for school. I know logically that documents don't take up much space and my computer wasn't running much faster because of it.  But it felt faster, and I felt cleansed.

When I told another friend about this discovery, she said that she had always thought of me as symbolic. She said, "Nothing you say scares me because I take it symbolically." I could not believe that two of my friends actually knew this about me before I did! Being symbolic or non-symbolic are just not qualities that I ever noticed in people.  Learning that being symbolic is a trait that varies among people has helped me understand so much, like why certain things make me feel really good when they don't have the same effect on other people. It reminds me of when I first learned about introverts and extroverts - everything is much clearer.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Note to Market Researchers

When you are trying to sell me a product that will make me feel better physically or emotionally, I would like to see someone using the product to feel good, and only to feel good.  I would like to see that feeling good is the end in itself, not the means to an end.  I understand that we all would like to be better able to do the things that make us happy, and that resolving physical or emotional distress will help us.  But with the vast range of things that people enjoy doing, only a select few are portrayed as the end result of fixing a physical or emotional problem.  When you tell me that using a product will make me better able to cook, do housework, host cocktail parties, or just live a busy, extroverted lifestyle, you've lost my interest.