When I was younger, I started journaling with the intention of ‘writing a book.’ The rationale being, if I keep on writing, I’ll finish a notebook. When I finish a notebook, then I’ve technically finished writing a book. Once I finish writing a ‘book’, I can continue to write more. However, since then, what started out as a hobby to record my everyday life quickly turned into a coping mechanism and perhaps . . . what was most important was giving myself an unfiltered safe space to be creative, especially during the times when I struggled to do so. Seven years later and I’m sitting with 27 finished journals hidden somewhere in the back of my wardrobe.
Oftentimes in fiction and perhaps when writing pop culture, The Writers, The Authors, The Novelists, we seem to be characterised by spontaneous bursts of energy. We have 2am writing sprints, pages fuelled by endless amounts of caffeine. We are in the worst place possible (physically, not mentally, although the latter does help for good inspiration) and we do not have the means to write any of the ideas that pop into our minds. My personal favourite, The Writers, The Authors, The Novelists, our hallmark seems to be thinking of all these beautiful, bizarre ideas that stay with us up until the very moment we need them, desperately so, and suddenly, all forms of creative thought ceases to exist.
Most of the time, I prefer to work in silence. There’s something about the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, the background noise of my brother on a Discord call, my parents laughing in the kitchen after a long day at work. All the extraordinary, mundane things that make the house a home are the perfect soundtrack to accompany my writing adventures. If I’m in public, the quiet corners are perfect. The UTS reading room, the abandoned tables outside bustling classrooms. The library, of course, is always perfect. Whispers floating in and out of study booths, the sound of someone surreptitiously sipping their iced-coffee, or the tap of pens on the page helped clear my mind and centre my focus into creating IHSTS.
However, there were times when this near silence was maddening. The clicking of keys and the background noise that makes life normal became my distractions. In these moments, the page was demanding me for something I couldn’t give. While I didn’t have a playlist or go-to song to blast while working on my book, I mostly leaned towards movie soundtracks and classical piano. Notable mentions include: Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, Your Name and Deemo. And one of my all-time favourite songs that keeps me going no matter what: ‘Love Lost’ by The Temper Trap.
And so, once I set myself up, I gave myself the scene . . . All that was left to do was write.
As mentioned here, I already had a stack of poems ready to go. After writing for so long, there were poems I couldn’t get out of my head, poems I loved so dearly and poems I’d forgotten about because they weren’t all that great. Realistically, the only thing I needed to do was compile all these works into one document. It wasn’t that difficult, creating copies of old files, keeping them in the same folder and copy-pasting them all into the same document. So long as they all remained in the one spot, it wasn’t a difficult process.
The only issue came when I had slabs of writing on physical paper. That was when it became a pain to transcribe. And of course, I’m only human. There are bound to be mistakes when transcribing from physical paper onto digital paper, but even then, it wasn’t that much of a hassle. A minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things when it came to creating that first draft because once I had every single poem . . . I was another step closer to that first manuscript.
In the past when I’d written novels, I always printed out a manuscript of my work. I always found it easier to reread my writing on physical paper, and it was easier for me to annotate and write notes about my own work if I was physically seeing it in front of me. Plus, there’s a strange satisfaction in gliding a pen across the page as I highlight, underline and write all over my words. Alas, I did not have a favourite or go-to pen when writing. It’s just whatever is available to me, and I stock up again when the cartridge runs empty. Though, I will admit, the Uniball Eye pens are a classic for me. They make me feel fancy.
Before IHSTS, all I wrote were novels. Ergo, editing novels is what I’m used to. I wasn’t piecing a novel together chapter by chapter, filling in the gaps and removing the filler. In a novel, literally everything is laid out before me from start to finish. While characters have a mind of their own, you get to know them, what they’ll do, what they won’t do. However, with IHSTS, I actually had to think about what it would mean to have the poems in a certain order. What was the start? What was the middle? What was the ending?
More often than not, poetry is a reflection of what happens in real life, and at least for me, my poetry is a reflection of what’s happening to me right now. I’m sure we all know that life, growth, decline, none of it is linear. Life is so far from it, but it didn’t exactly make sense to keep my poetry in chronological order. I was still telling a story, I still needed to have some sort of narrative progression for this to make sense.
Usually, a drink (a non-alcoholic one, of course) accompanies me when I’m writing. So, I sit down with my hot chocolate, my bubble tea, my iced-coffee, whatever my chosen drink of the day is and open my laptop. The document stares at me like it’s asking when I’m going to be published (20 June 2021), if I’m really going to do this (absolutely, yes), if people will even like this (goodness, I’d hope so). But then the world around me falls away and I get into it.
I move things around. I put it back how it used to be. I change it completely, but for the most part, it stays the same. It’s strange when you edit the same document repeatedly for a year or so. You remember the words, it stays in your mind, flows through your blood and eventually, they’re just that. Words. On a page. Then I shut my laptop, go to class, go to sleep, practice Japanese, see a friend and we do it all over again. Maybe, if I’m hungry while writing, I grab a snack (usually something from the Natural Confectionery Company) or I settle on water. Either option works. Stay hydrated and stay full.
So, I’ve moved everything around. It mostly makes sense. There’s a story there, and it’s written in prose, it’s written in verse, it’s written in poetry, and I can only hope my audience latches on and doesn’t let go.
Now that’s over with. I edit.
Like I explained earlier, I do not have experience writing poetry. Ergo, I do not have experience editing it, either. Writing novels is more up my alley. Therefore, so is editing them. It’s easier to see in my own writing when the tone shifts, when I should shorten a sentence or change its tense. I know when I should remove or add extra words, but with poetry, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going. It’s a bit cliche to say, but I just trusted that I knew what I was doing. All I understand is feeling. I’m staring at these words and there are some poems that work better than others. Some poems that don’t make sense and some poems that are perfect, they hit the spot and all I need to do is add a comma.
And, truth be told, I am lazy. I wanted to publish and I wanted to do it fast, so if the poem wasn’t good enough for me, or I didn’t know how to make it better, I got rid of it. If I thought it was perfect, I kept it. It seems simple, but I didn’t want to overthink it, I didn’t want to overdo it. The only way I knew my writing was finished was if I didn’t feel like I could change much else. It’s just sitting there waiting for the world to scrutinise it.
Point is, I didn’t have any ‘practical’ experience with poetry. High school Advanced English taught me there is a technicality to writing, poetry, words, there is meaning and it’s created through what the curriculum calls ‘poetic devices’. I’ve read a lot of books and I continue to do so, but even now, almost a year after publication, poetry remains my least-read genre. I didn’t even do Extension English in high school, and I wasn’t doing a creative writing degree at the time of publication. I was just writing for the hell of it. It made it difficult to edit because I didn’t know what the ‘rules’ for poetry were, but I trusted that I kind of knew what I was doing. But isn’t that the beauty of it? Trying it out and seeing what happens?
Don’t get me wrong. I find the creative process in these unexpected, spontaneous bursts of energy is what makes writing so fascinating. Creativity cannot always be controlled, but I think when creating IHSTS (or perhaps, creating something with clear intent and purpose), it was always going to be an exercise in learning how to actually make this happen. I had to learn how to properly set aside time to write, edit, proofread and write again. It wasn’t always methodical but instead an hour before class or an hour after work, and setting myself goals of what I wanted to achieve day by day helped.
I was doing this on my own. I didn’t have much help aside from friends and family – I bounced ideas off their heads but even then, only I could really decide what the best course of action was for me. It was my book, and there was virtually no one around me with writing or publishing experience I could learn from. I had to figure it out on my own.
What I found after setting myself up with a bunch of steps on how to publish was that the creative process was a lot more methodical than I originally thought it would be. However, that spontaneity still remained: just because I set aside that hour before class or after work, it didn’t necessarily mean that creativity was contained. All those months leading up to the publish date were filled with so many different ideas that felt like me. I just had to figure out the best way to be a little more disciplined with my writing.