Archive for March, 2011


How to Enjoy Writing?

Recently, I have been asking myself this question a lot. At first glance it seems pointless – if you want to write, odds are you enjoy it, no? Actually, it turns out to be more complicated than that, and even most successful authors seem to have little clue.

I get great pleasure from writing, but not always, or even usually. Writing a novel is largely an exercise in psychological discipline – trying to balance your project on your chin while negotiating a minefield of depression and freak-out. Beginning is daunting; being in the middle makes you feel like Sisyphus; ending sometimes comes with the disappointment that this finite collection of words is all that remains of your infinitely rich idea. Along the way, there are the pitfalls of self-disgust, boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as you fleetingly believe you’ve nailed that particular sentence and are surely destined to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be confronted the next morning with an appalling farrago of clichés that no sane human could read without vomiting. But when you’re in the zone, spinning words like plates, there’s a deep sense of satisfaction and, yes, enjoyment… – Hari Kunzru

How depressing does that sound!? It seems that the faster writers do a novel a year, and much longer than that is not uncommon either. Surely there must be much to be gained, like increased efficiency and, uhm well, actual enjoyment, by understanding yourself and what makes you be “in the zone.” I love writing, and greatly enjoyed writing even the most inane post on this blog. Heh, come to think of it, enjoyment might be correlated to inanity!

But it is another matter when it comes down to writing short stories or novels. Starting isn’t too difficult, when the muse graces you, the fingers naturally reach for the keyboard and start hitting the keys. What is more difficult is how to deal with getting stuck, originality, and the nagging self-doubt, i.e. the would-anyone-want-to-read-this-crap syndrome.

Now, I am certainly nothing of an authority on the matter, just a kid with a dream. Yet, putting my thoughts, research, and related personal experiences into words might help me, and perhaps others like me.

Why is writing something “serious” so difficult?

I think the most important point here is in the title: You have to enjoy the process of writing! Don’t trust me? Take it from someone who actually knows something on the matter:

… it seems to me that the very first requirement is that a person have a passion for the process of writing. – I. Asimov

Isaac Asimov was a hugely successful writer of science fiction, non-fiction, and history, having written or edited over five hundred books. He elaborates:

I have that passion. I would rather write than do anything else. In fact, some wise guy, knowing of my penchant for gallantry to young women, asked me during a question-and-answer session once, “If you had to choose between writing and women, Dr. Asimov, which would you choose?”

I answered instantly, “Well, I can type for twelve hours without getting tired.”

So, first of all, pick something you actually like to write about (duh!)

The next major hurdle is probably the self-doubt. Let me quote the second canto of The Divine Comedy which inspired me to write this post:

As one who unwills what he wills, will stay
strong purposes with feeble second thoughts
until he spells all his first zeal away-

I have yet to find an aspect of life where self-doubt has any use whatsoever. Learning Japanese, fearing that mistakes will cause misunderstandings, or the slow pace of conversation will make people bored leads only to a reluctance to talk. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is not going to help improve your oral production abilities. This realisation has killed my self-doubt in this regard for good, and my Japanese has improved tremendously as a result, even if it is still dotted with grievous (read: hilarious) errors.

In human relations, especially the dating game, everything falls apart if you lose confidence. There are few things more telling that someone isn’t worth your time if they don’t believe themselves that they are. Moreover, everybody feels some degree of self-doubt, and one of the major things you look for in a friend or partner is support. People who radiate strength are probably the ones able to catch you before falling into the abyss of despair, right? On a significantly more vulgar note, let me quote the arrogant, disgusting, but oh-so-funny Tucker Max:

Women want to fuck men whom other women want to fuck. – Tucker Max on Women

I’m certainly not going to argue for the generality of that – hell, I’d probably turn rather turn gay if it was universally applicable – but it does contain a kernel of truth. Many people do not judge others by their own standards, but on how they perceive themselves and are perceived by others. Frankly, I consider such people mindless sheep and generally avoid them. If you are a friend of mine, rest assured, you are not in this category!

Anyhow, back to writing. The good doctor orders:

A prolific writer, therefore, has to have self-assurance. He can’t sit around doubting the quality of his writings. Rather, he has to love his own writing. – Isaac Asimov

His words resonates with me and my own experiences, yet I am unsure of how to reach such a state. The realisation that it is useless has helped me little when it comes to writing, maybe because it is such an intensely personal process that criticism would hit a lot harder than in most other situations? For example, I couldn’t care less about what people outside my circle of close friends think about me as a person. There are billions of people in the world you know, expecting everybody to like you defies the laws of statistics! If you love yourself and don’t intentionally hurt others – who cares what people think?

I have taken that attitude to my blog now. Honestly, I don’t care if anyone reads this, because I enjoyed writing it for no one’s sake than my own. Yet, merely imagining someone calling my serious writing “pretentious garbage” (hah, probably no accident I imagine those words) pisses me off. Maybe it is because I build up too high expectations for the output? Probably everyone’s first novel is godawful, even Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t learn in a day for crying out loud. Like everything in life, writing undoubtedly has a learning curve – insisting on calling them “failures” is just skewing reality to fit preconceived notions of what is possible and what is not, no?

As always comments are welcome!

Grajuuashon?

After a giving a presentation about my research today, my professor asked a vicious question indeed. Now, having read pretty much everything there is to read in the field of indentation of glass I can squirm my way out of most things, nor am I particularly afraid of declaring ignorance for exactly the same reason – if I don’t have a plausible answer odds are that no one else does either. Yet, this one was totally unexpected… Ready? Here it comes!

Prof. Matsuoka: “Christian, what are your plans after graduation?”

If I were a Super Mutant, it would have looked something like this...

Of course I kept my calm and fought back with humour.

Christian: “Well, that is three months from now. I’ll consider it when it becomes a more pressing issue.”

I know, I know, but was flustered dammit! Besides, the joke is much better in Japan where university students start looking for jobs well over a year before graduation.

Anyway, what will I do after graduation? Here is a breakdown of the possibilities and my thoughts about them.

Find a job you damn hippie!

But I don’t waaaaant to Mommy! It’s not that I have become (too) acclimatised to the carefree student life, nor scared of the real world. No, it is just that the kind of jobs I can get don’t interest me whatsoever. Surely an engineering position pays well, and is probably comfy too, with decent hours and freedom to decide over your own time – but incredibly boring, no? Doing more or less the same thing day in and day out, being forced to focus on tiny aspect of whatever the company does… I have a friend part of a team working exclusively on the problem of bubbles in glass. Yes, bubbles in glass! That’s like:

My friend: “Hey, did you know there are bubbles in glass?”

Christian: “Yeah, that’s why we use fining agents.”

My friend: “Well, yeah, but I still have to analyse bubbles all day!”

He may have a nice house, but is it really worth it?

Life after graduation?

Then stay in school you bum…

Yeah, about that… Staying in school means a Ph.D., which usually entails three years of serious study. I got sick of my Master after a month, although my interest has been flared at times. People studying toward a doctorate degree usually have one of these aims:

  1. Work in academia
  2. Research position in a famous company
  3. Higher wages in non-research position

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about any of them. People in academia don’t actually get to research unless they sacrifice their free time, instead it is all paperwork and teaching (which I might actually enjoy.)

The second option certainly allows you to do research, but I find research frustrating. There are so many unknowns. You make a theory, test it, find out it is wrong, repeat a thousand times, and (if lucky) somehow manage to graduate. There are just so few successes and so many failures.

It's sad because it's true... Also hilarious! 😀

As for the third options, wages just don’t arouse my interest. Being born in Denmark, and soon being a full-fledged engineer (on paper anyway) there is just no way I’ll be lacking anything even close to essential in life. If Karma is reading this – I will totally pay it all back, cross the heart hope to die serious!

That being said, there are good arguments for studying for a Ph.D. You do have freedom to decide over your own time, something very important to people with problems with authority figures… Also, it is very much your own business how hard you work. Having no particular ambitions with the degree, probably I could get by with less than 35 hours a week. I could use the spare time to, say, work on writing – the one thing (needless to say; apart from a part-time job as Jessica Alba’s bra) I actually can imagine enjoy doing for a living.

It seems the obvious choice, especially considering the following conversation with the French Prof. Rouxel a few months back:

Prof. Rouxel: “Christian, you should study for a Ph.D. – how about Rennes?”

Christian: “But I’m a horrible researcher – I despise doing labwork.”

Prof. Rouxel: “Then do literature study?”

This guy is awesome. If a guy is married to a Japanese girl – you know you can relate! Uhm, well, if he isn’t Japanese that is, who knows what the hell goes on in their minds…

Christian: “… but I dislike studying too.”

Prof. Rouxel: “You’ll change your mind. Give me a call when you do.”

If I stop moaning, I could be studying here at the University of Rennes. Doesn't look too bad I guess. I mean, if you are going to get all the life force sucked out of you, might as well do so in beautiful surroundings, right?

Yet, I waver. Having read the second autobiography of Isaac Asimov recently. Surprisingly, the guy ended up studying chemistry for exactly the same reasons as I. Not only that, he disliked it too, again on the exact same grounds. Not being able to get a job on account of being of Jewish decent, he started post-graduate studies, and hated it intensely. The guy with one of the best natural memories in the world remembered next to nothing of his time as a Ph.D. student – it simply did not interest him in the least. Seeing the similarities of our characters, interests, and situations – seriously, I am not imagining things – I can’t help but feel that only pain and regret lies on this route…

Can’t decide? Then go travelling!

Something like a working holiday might not be a bad idea, it is a great experience and a plus on the résumé anyway. It would put perspective on matters and time to consider matters in depth.

There are quite a few places I would love to visit in China, might even learn me some Chinesez! There is always a need of English teachers, both in China and Japan, and although the pay is less than awesome, but you can get by. Not to mention that I would in all likelihood adore teaching English.

What do you guys think?

As for the university people; any thoughts about graduation? I sure hope most of you have more positive feelings about the life as a working adult! :p

This time around it has reaaally been a while, huh?

Truth be told, as much as I enjoy writing here, keeping a blog about my travels in Japan seems kinda pointless when you are frantically trying to finish a Master Thesis, and uhm, not actually doing much traveling! Nor are crazy weekends touring hostess clubs and the like exactly the norm. Make no mistake though, there are plenty of hostess clubs, the nearest one I know of some ten minutes by bike. Fortunately, my intense dislike for anything resembling prostitution keeps me far far away.

I seriously can’t write a single paragraph and not be sidetracked!? Well, thank your God that this is my blog, and we follow my rules! You will know what they are in due time, muhahaha *finger pyramid of evil contemplation*

Long story short – finally getting a freaking internet connection at home brought the matter to a point. I decided to stop thinking about it as a travelling blog, but more like a diary of sorts – a place for me to rant on and on about whatever I feel like. It will basically be like listening to a monologue of my thoughts! Yeah, probably that does sound pretty sucky, but you know; you can stop reading, I can’t stop thinking!

I’ll promise a few posts a week, and hope somehow a glimpse into my mind will give you some sort of (sadistic?) satisfaction. Throw a comment if it pleases – it might seem like a monologue, but your opinion will be gracefully acknowledge, considered, and discarded at whim. Life is tough – get over it. 🙂