This is my last Wednesday as a journalist. It's been a ride, although I haven't written much about it on my blog. But my day job has shaped my writing schedule and experiences of the last two years, so I suppose it's worth reflecting on.
My work has been a combination of translation, interviews, and tons and tons of reading. Also, a fair bit of writing. I am a glorified secretary, but I'm grateful to have had a job that has allowed me to pay the rent and have enough left over for everything else. I studied Japan in school, and when I finished my MA, I was unsure of what to do. This job came down to who I knew, and I was asked by a school colleague if I needed a job. The next thing I knew, I was interviewing for one of Japan's largest daily newspapers, and here I am two years later, covering the presidential election.
We've worked on all kinds of topics, from sports DNA (does it exist?), to politics, to controversial statues and bullet trains, the American diet, the Oscars... I got to interview George Takei and Steven Spielberg. Not bad for a girl who didn't even go to journalism school.
On an ideal day, I wake up and write fiction, then come to the office. I've already read through the main news items of the day, from the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, the New York Times and anything else that has surfaced. I arrive at the office and boot up the computer, turn on CNN. I handle any emails that have arrived in the night, and I prepare to brief my boss on the major stories of the day. Hopefully, I've found something newsworthy to work on that our Japanese readers will be interested in. Let's assume I have an interview scheduled. It might be on the phone or somewhere in Los Angeles, and I record the interview so afterwards I can transcribe it for my boss to use quotations in her articles. I might have another interview, maybe an expert or professor to complement a personal account of a story, or I might be sent off to hunt down relevant studies and statistics. Sometime in the late afternoon, I take lunch, and I'm pretty tired, so I don't get much writing done. When I return, I'm trying to finish up any research needed for my boss to finish writing by our evening deadline. If I've checked the boxes, I might translate articles.
I'm leaving my job for a few reasons. First of all, it's time. As some of you might know, I'm starting a PhD program in the fall at the University of Southern California, where I will be studying premodern Japanese history. I knew I wanted to have some time off before I started school, so I've saved enough to cover my vacation. This summer, I'll be writing and traveling and spending time with my family. It should be nice. The second reason is that journalism is clearly a profession for those passionate about it, and while I've had a wonderful experience working in the field, I think it's a passion that I just do not have to the degree needed to stay.
I've met young people interested in journalism--and there's a lot to be interested in--but I fear that they think because they liked English classes it will be a good fit. That's really not the case. Of course, a love of reading and writing is crucial, but I think the most important thing is a curious mind, a tenacious personality, and an ability to quickly move between many research projects. You also have to really want to be in this field. The pay is low. The paid opportunities are few. But I've come to value this work as a citizen, especially the crucial work that full time investigative journalists do, and I hope we as a society come to appreciate it more. And by appreciate, I mean pay for it. The industry will have to find an economic way, but the rest of us will have to realize journalism's value before it's too late and we have another Flint, Michigan on our hands.
On a lighter note, I had the opportunity to attend Free Comic Book Day this weekend! At the Comic Bug store in Manhattan Beach, people could line up and request free sketches from artists, in addition to the free comics. I requested an "Ironman Pikachu," as well as a Thor. I like to imagine Pikachu dreaming of having an Ironman suit that he can charge himself. Anyway. I also picked up the free Boom comic, a Korra comic, and a Sonic comic. I bought the new Black Panther as well. The art is wonderful, but I think I'll wait for the compilation issue because the story seems dense. But in a good way. It's hard to tell with opening volumes.
Progress continues on Food of Magicians (FOM).
I was thinking about sharing some writing blurbs on Twitter, but I decided to wait and do it here. As of this morning, I have introduced my five main characters. Or three main characters and two supporting characters. Or two main. It's really only two perspectives.
Anyway, I thought it might be fun to talk about planning a book. While I don't want to totally spoil FOM, sharing some of the planning process might be interesting for other writers.
In some ways, planning a novel depends on how well you know yourself as a writer. What are your habits? What are your strengths and weaknesses and how will you plan for them?
For me, I know that my writing game is best when I'm doing 600-1000 words a day. That's good words, words that I'm pleased with. I do not necessarily write scenes in order, but the more I write, the more "in order" things have become.
When I was younger, I would write a lot more when I sat down to write, not necessarily in order, and I was a chronic over-writer.
If I needed one word, I would use four words. I think that came from wanting control. I wanted to be positive that the reader pictured exactly what I wanted. As I've gotten older, I've become more and more at peace with the idea that readers will think what they think. They will picture what their imagination gives them, and ultimately, you only have so much control over that. And that's okay.
I have always imagined the Durnsley's house as my grandmother's house. My imagination stuck a mantelpiece and fireplace in my grandmother's house to make it the Durnsley's and I think my imagination supplied my grandmother's house as a "set" because it was a mostly unpleasant place in my childhood. I don't Rowling intended the Durnsley's house to look like my grandmother's but that's just how imagination is. That's books. That's part of the magic and power of them, the associations the imagination will supply when reading. When I was writing Serango in high school, a friend told me that a character was blond because he was attractive. I had definitely described him as having dark hair, but her imagination had run with "attractive" and attractive for her meant blond. Stuff happens. Readers imagine what they like, and I think that part of writing is accepting that.
Anyway, when I started to realize my controlling, and consequently, over-writing impulse, I worked harder to change that. That was a habit. I knew I wanted shorter chapters, to be more effective with my words, even if it meant working more slowly. I wanted to be the sort of person always working on something, not banging out thousands of words in a frenzy a few months a year. I did that throughout high school and the start of college, but my writing improved when I started treating novels more like carefully planned marathons and less like sprints.
At Yallwest the weekend before last, I heard a lot of writers talking about pantsing, which I enjoyed very much. But since I haven't done that in some time, and since I enjoy reading process details, I thought I would so a series of posts on planning FOM. So, next Wednesday, I will be posting about planning the opening act of FOM, as well as planning for a relatively large cast.
See you next week! I will no longer be a journalist. I will be full steam ahead on Food of Magicians. And I'll be eating food in New York City.