Category Archives: Writing Process

Trite, Predictable, and yet trying to be Clever

“Trite, predictable, and yet trying to be clever.” My husband used much kinder words, of course. His reaction to the first few paragraphs of my book, however, distilled down to “TPC”.

He shared these thoughts two months ago. Until then I’d been writing nearly every morning, before the house awoke. My writing log reveals that, after hearing his feedback, writing ceased for a week. After that, output was fitful and sporadic.    My editor tried to console me by observing, “one man’s feast is another man’s poison.”  So I thought, “my writing is like poison?”  I grew more dejected.  These two months have been an extended trek through manic depression; before the feedback I was on a high high.  After, I crashed to a low low.

When I started writing my book, ALIGN, I set a goal: 500 words per day, 300 words minimum. An audiobook ‘Daily Rituals‘ inspired routine:

  • Wake up 5 am, put coffee on
  • drink lemon water, do 5 minutes yoga
  • sit down with cup of coffee
  • review the previous few days of writing, write

Morning after morning, I slipped into the zone. Fully focused, I tapped away on my laptop. By the time my son would climb into my lap, eyes heavy with sleep, I’d discover I’d written about 1000 words. On other mornings, when it was time to call into a meeting for work, I’d see I’d written at least 500.  Satisfied, I’d stop writing and move on to other responsibilities.  I enjoyed those days more fully than any that I’ve ever lived, for I’d created something that came from my heart and my brain.  I’d gotten my #1 task finished and was getting my story into words.

Writing everyday was a mantra and a priority. Writing everyday felt wonderful.  Of course, I wanted to write well.  Rather than hand-crafting every sentence to the standards of Hemingway, however, I simply got my thoughts down, no matter how they fell out.  I determined to worry about sentence structure and artistic flair later.

My motivation is to share the aligning skills I’ve learned over years directing the Altera Customer Advisory Board. I truly believe these skills are useful beyond planning products. These skills are about connecting with people, working together and prioritizing activities to get to a common goal. They are about recognizing the competition for what it is: a worthy opponent who challenges us to become our better selves. These skills are about being authentic. They are about striving to genuinely understand the customer perspective and then doubling-down to learn more still. They are about getting to a point where we can hear the right combination of customer voices in our heads as we make decisions both large and small. They are about being gentle yet strong, open yet steadfast, curious yet confident.  At least, that’s how I felt before my husband read my opening pages.

Post-TPC, the joy of writing has morphed into tepid torture. No longer able to grant myself the freedom to just go with my thoughts, my desire to write well squashes sentences before they form. My ego has risen, and it doesn’t tolerate TPC writing.

An aside: I’m a 41 year old woman. In my time on this earth so far, I’ve learned to cultivate an inner voice that is gentle and caring. As such, this ego of mine isn’t berating or belittling. It isn’t calling me a lousy writer or saying I’m stupid. But this ego is now ever-present and it is getting in my way.

On one hand, this opinionated ego pushes me to consider what I’m really trying to say. It challenges me to go deeper for meaning rather than write gimmicky prose.   But ultimately it is counterproductive because this ego has summoned fear.

The TV mini-series Serangoon Road takes place in 1960s Singapore. I watched it because my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Singapore, were cast as extras. As much as I wanted to see them on the small screen, I couldn’t bear to watch more than two episodes; the dialog and plot structure were trite and predictable.  I could imagine the screenwriter sitting at his desk trying to come up with something clever at every turn.  The thing is, this HBO/ABC mini series looked good. Some scenes were breathtaking and hit a powerfully nostalgic chord.  But the high quality veneer gave way to a bad story. The window dressing, though visually artistic, couldn’t make up for TPC dialog.

Now when I sit down to write, it hurts to think I’m pouring out pablum on par with Serangoon Road.

“Get over yourself!”  my inner voice gently and repeatedly urges.  So, lately, when work hasn’t gotten in the way, I’ve been back at writing.  During  the day I jot down ideas about character development, plot structure, and how to teach alignment skills.

The trick now is to return to that earlier mindset and accept that I’m writing at Serangoon Road caliber. Maybe my editor is right in saying, “one man’s food is another’s poison”.  After all, someone must like that mini-series.  It ran a full ten episodes and received a score of 7.2 on IMDB.  So I’m not Hemingway. So what?  I’ve something to say and I’m going to say it.  I just hope the end product is at least edible.   Yes, I want my book to be good. But I need to put my ego aside for now. It can sit on the bench until I get into the heavy editing phase. For now I just have to get the story written.

Mommy Blogging

The night before I left CA to move to Malaysia, I went to ‘The Bank’ with two girlfriends. I hadn’t been to a bar in forever, but DH was in Malaysia getting the living situation in order, and DS was visiting his grandparents in WA. What the hell!

The Bank is a hole-in-the-wall bar in Saratoga. It’s dark, narrow and worn down. One girlfriend happened to be kid free that night too, so she quickly replied ‘yes’ to my FB invitation. She’s mother to one of M9’s nursery school mates. We’ll call her, ‘Hempy’. She’s a big fan of ganja. I think she tokes daily. Bless her heart.

The other girlfriend is DH’s ex-wife’s sister. We’ll call her ‘Drinky’. She’s a big fan of alcohol. I think she drinks daily. Bless her heart.

I offered to drive. The last thing I needed was a hangover getting on the plane in the morning. One drink every 2 hours would be my limit. The rest of the time it’d be soda water.

At the bar, we ordered drinks and chatted. Hempy’s in her late thirties. I always thought she was cute, but OMG, didn’t realize how much attention she attracted from men. That night they followed her around like puppies. At one point, one guy offered to toke us out in the back. She accepted. After that he had the impression that she was his date. As a courtesy, I ran interference a few times to give her a break from him.

Outside, I sat with Drinky and she was pretty sauced. She explained how everything was bullshit. She doesn’t hold back her opinions. She’s witty and smart. Her two major failings are these: drinking, and forever assuming negative intent. Both get her into trouble and both lead her toward darkness. But I still adore her. I see her inner beauty and charm. Plus I can swear like a cobbler, drink like a sailor, and freely say what’s REALLY on my mind sharing a bottle of wine with her.

We sat near a couple of Jimmy Buffet looking dudes. Chatted a bit. A few young kids popped out from the bar for a smoke. They couldn’t have been older than 21. I wish I had gone home that night and recorded exactly what they said. They were so callow, so eager, so ignorant. One kid kept trying to argue some really bullshit and naive political point. The Jimmy Buffet dudes, Drinky and I toyed with them mercilessly. At one point a J.B. dude winked at me and I nodded knowingly. The kids had no idea. They kept trying to convince us of some very black and white political ideology. Maybe it was objectivism? Perhaps. In any case, when the kids finished their smokes (WTF are they smoking for? At 21 they should know better right?), we all laughed. Oh. We were ass holes I’m sure, but it was kind of fun to drop my ‘every one play nice’ disposition for one night at a bar with no kids around. Well, if you don’t count those 21 yr olds as kids.

Back inside the three of us regrouped at the bar. Drinky was incoherent and negative, so Hempy and I chatted and laughed. Two twenty something guys came up and started hitting on us, well, IRL hitting on Hempy. When they started to realize we were over a decade older than they were, and that Hempy wasn’t interested, one of them said this.

“So, what is it? Mommy’s night out? That’s really sweet.”

W… T… F…. I looked at him like he’d just shit in his hand and wiped it on his face. They backed away.

We spent a couple more hours there. I let the mommy comment go for the time being and we danced ourselves into exhaustion and just had fun.

At 1am the wait staff began shrieking at us. “TIME TO LEAVE. GET THE FCK OUT! YOU CAN’T STAY HERE!” They were downright abusive.

Within a minute we were in the back parking lot standing next to my Prius. Doobie brothers toked the group out again and we chatted for a few minutes, feeling somewhat obliged. We climbed into my car. They kept talking to us. We slowly closed the doors and I started the engine. At last they cleared the way and we pulled out of the parking lot.

Don’t worry, I stuck to my guns and had only two beers in six hours. Even if the wait staff was rude at the end, they were kind to tee-totallers; I was never charged for my approx ten soda waters with lime.

Driving home I bitched about the mommy comment. Hempy agreed, even as she giggled continuously. Here’s the thing. No one except my son gets to call me mommy. It’s dismissive and rude. I’ve seen other ‘mom bloggers’ note similar feelings. It’s as if once categorized as a ‘mommy _____’ , your opinions and insights somehow don’t matter.

When a man cooks he’s called a ‘chef’. His creations are admired. When a woman cooks she’s called a ‘cook’. Her food is just food.
When a man takes 100% custody of his kids (like DH did before we married), he’s ‘a saint.’ When a woman does, she’s pitied for being a single mom.

The only woman from my childhood who commanded, neigh, demanded respect, was Dorothea. I’ve mentioned her before. She was a lawyer who carpooled to Washington DC with my dad. She didn’t tolerate being treated as anything less than equal to men. I wanted to be like her, knew I could be like her, and I chose a path that would get me to a place like hers. I was NOT going to be ‘just a girl’. I fled from traditionally female pursuits. I studied engineering and finance. I played golf and volleyball and music. When I look back, the real reason was that, from my earliest memories, I saw most women in my life received little respect, despite working their asses off.

The other night these sharp feelings resurfaced as I read this article about Male Asian computer programmer privilege. I remembered those micro-discouragements. I’ll write about one later perhaps.

It would have been a less emotional journey had there been NO baggage around my gender. Perhaps if that had been the case – if women in my family had been as respected as the men – I may have pursued some other interest. Or not. I loved studying science and math. My teachers were mostly inspiring and encouraging.

Regardless of the path I might have chosen if things had been different, the fact is there’s this deep ingrained drive in me to do things that garner respect as a person regardless of gender… actually, despite gender. As I’ve gotten older I don’t care as much. I now enjoy cooking creatively and regularly join a local ladies group to walk up a local hill. The feelings have tempered. Whatever. But don’t even think of calling me ‘mommie.’

——–

But I needn’t write more on the subject. Plenty of ‘mom bloggers’ have covered this ground. Here are a couple:

Am I Just a Mommy Blogger?

and

Don’t Call Me a Mommy Blogger

tl;dr – writing about family seems like it’d be unrewarding due to cultural dismissiveness of women and their traditional roles.