Monday, January 14, 2013

One Year Later

As of last Friday, January 11, 2013, it has been one year since I left for China on my grueling street food expedition. It is hard to believe that a year has already passed since that gray January day when I packed my bag and walked to the Metro station, the first of countless trip segments. I was both excited and apprehensive about the daunting three months ahead of me. At that moment, my most pressing concerns were a) that I forgot something important when I packed, and b) that I already missed my wife. Three months later I came home exhausted and ready to write. It is now nine full months since then, and the question I get most often is "how is the book coming along." My standard answer to that question is "very slowly, but surely." That answer remains an accurate summation of where things stand.  Nonetheless, I thought I might use this one year anniversary to expand on that a little bit and update a wider audience on the book's progress.

The slightly longer answer to that recurring question is that the book is taking much longer than I expected to finish. Here are a few reasons for that:

  1. You may know that I've never written a book before. This is my first shot at it, and that means that I'm doing a lot of learning as I go and trial by error. Sometimes those errors result in delays, retracing my steps in order to rewrite things I've already written, and making things more complicated than they need to be.
  2. It turns out I am no good at estimating how long it will take to finish a specific section. Something that I think should take an hour or two ends up eating a whole day or two of work. For each individual entry I must decipher the handwritten Chinese characters in my book (sometimes this is easy, sometimes it takes over half an hour); look the characters up in an online dictionary; research the food to learn about its history, check on ingredients and cooking methods, and verify that it does indeed come from the city I was told; write a paragraph or two about it without sounding like all of the other paragraphs I've written (this is getting harder as time goes on...there are only so many ways to describe oily, spicy bowls of noodles with only minor regional variations). Multiply that a bunch of times for each section, and it ends up dragging the writing process out longer than I anticipated.
  3. I do have another job. It is not, thankfully, a full-time, 9-5 sort of job. The work comes in three-week blocks away from home, with a week or so at the end for wrap-up work.  I've done four of these since I returned from China, which adds up to three to four months of time during which it was difficult to get more than a trace of work done on the book.
  4. Believe it or not, when you work at home by yourself with no clear deadlines, it is incredibly easy to get distracted. Sometimes by reasonably important things (e.g. "Oh, the dishes need to be done," or "The car needs to get inspected today," or "Shoot, my quarterly self-employed taxes are due tomorrow!") and sometimes by completely inconsequential things (e.g. "I should learn how to tie a fancy tie knot," or "I haven't checked the news in the last twenty minutes...I wonder what's happening in the world," or "Hey, aren't there a couple of cookies in the kitchen that I haven't eaten yet?"). (Note: all six of those examples have happened to me.) I recently read that Don DeLillo once said "A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it." I can't speak for others, but that certainly seems to be the case with me. It has taken a long time to get into a good and consistent writing routine. I think I've got one now, which means more productive hours in a day, but it can still get thrown off fairly easily.

So there you go. Those are the things that have conspired to keep me depressingly far from the finish line. At this point I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to when I'll be finished. All I can say is that it is progressing steadily--just very slowly. Put enough of these slow yet steady days together, though, and the book will be done. In the meantime, I'll work on getting some good blog posts up and continue to update you all on the book's progress. As always, thanks for checking in!

6 comments:

Lady Aritê gunê Akasa said...

Thanks for the update and good luck!

Frank Kasell said...

You're welcome and thanks!

Lauren said...

Awesome update, thanks! Not to provide additional distraction from Internet-land, but you might enjoy this: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home

Fiona Reilly said...

Curses to Lauren for just making me spend half an hour on The Oatmeal when I was supposed to be writing.

And wait....you can tie a fancy tie knot?

Keep going Frank! 加油!!

Frank Kasell said...

Yes, The Oatmeal is a treasure trove of internet distractions.

In regards to the tie, Fiona, I still need some practice.

Anonymous said...

It's a perfect guide to travel to chinese food!!!
Well done
Frank
Greetings from Italy
Luca

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