Eli K.P. William: Five Things I Learned Writing Cash Crash Jubilee
In a near-future Tokyo, every action—from blinking to sexual intercourse—is intellectual property owned by corporations, who take it upon themselves to charge licensing fees for your existence.
Amon Kenzaki is a Liquidator for the Global Action Transaction Authority. If you go bankrupt and can no longer pay to live, Amon is sent to hunt you down and rip the BodyBank from your flesh. So what if you’re sent to the BankDeath Camps after, forever isolated from a life of information and transaction? Amon is just happy to do his job as long as he’s climbing the corporate ladder.
But the higher you climb, the farther you fall. Amon is tasked with a simple mission, one he’s done hundreds of times. Except he awakes the next morning having no memory of the assignment, and finds his bank account nearly depleted, having been accused of an action known as “jubilee.”
To restore balance to his account, Amon must work to unravel the meaning behind jubilee. But as he digs himself deeper toward bankruptcy, Amon begins to ask questions of the ironclad system he’s served his whole life and finds it may cost him more than his job to get to the truth of things.
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Your writing is for other people, not just for you
I’m willing to accept that some people write certain things just for themselves and that’s awesome.
But if you have the faintest hope (or fear?) that someone else might read what you’ve written, (and 99.999% of the time you do), then you are not writing it just for yourself. Already you have an audience in mind. Once you recognize that, you can start forming a clear picture of who they are. Academics? Fantasy addicts? Inhabitants of a village in the Gobi Desert? Kurt Vonnegut claimed he wrote for his dead sister. It could be anyone!
Once you decide who you’re writing for, the number of forms your story can take is easier to choose. There’s nothing that lends itself to indecision, (or bad decisions), like too many options and no way to decide between them. But the audience in your head is like a narrative litmus test: when in doubt about your story, all you have to ask is “will my audience appreciate this?” If the answer is no, then you probably need to trash it, or rework it.
When I first came up with the idea for Cash Crash Jubilee about a decade ago, I had just graduated from high school and had these pretentious ideas about what it is to be a writer. I tried to turn my idea of a world where actions are intellectual properties into a novel, telling myself that my writing, my art, was for me and to hell with anyone that didn’t like it. I was an artiste, not some sell-out, dang it. But if I had been honest with myself, I would’ve sensed my deep need to share my creations and to know that others approved of them.
In part because of this attitude, my efforts to write the novel back then were a dismal failure. I floundered on the first few chapters. But about seven years later, I started to think more pragmatically about turning the idea into something that could be published and this forced me to consider who might read it, y’know, my audience; agents and editors of course, but, if I was lucky, many other readers as well. Once I had a clear goal and audience in mind, the unfolding of the idea into a story became an unstoppable process.
Listen Carefully To The Advice of Others
No two people see the world in the same way. There are things you can see that others can’t and things that others can see that you can’t. But since we’re unaware of what we can’t see, we often need someone else to point out our blind spots.
This applies to writing. Without the comments of friends, family, colleagues and others, you will often be unable to detect critical flaws or areas that need to be revised in your manuscript. Take Kazuo Ishiguro for example. In a recent interview, he said that his first reader is always his wife and that he radically revised his now critically acclaimed The Buried Giant based on her comments. So what I’m saying is, listening carefully to other people can save you from pumping out a clumsy story.
But taking criticism is painful. It hurts to be reminded that you’re not perfect. This is especially true when it comes to writing because of how much of yourself you pour into your story. In some ways your writing is more you than you are. It’s so full of concentrated doses of your identity that a mere suggestion can come across like an insult; well-intentioned remarks amplify into attacks in the echo chamber of pride. It’s also difficult to accept that you’ve made a mistake, because fixing it might require a lot of work. It could mean rewriting a whole paragraph or the whole damn book! But sending out an inadequate manuscript is only going to hurt more in the long run, so it’s best to listen up, accept the problem, and fix it early on.
Judge For Yourself Which Advice To Heed
If shutting your ears to criticism is writing’s Scylla, then accepting all of it is its Charybdis.
Here is a trap that some writers can fall into:
You write a draft and maybe you think it’s pretty solid or maybe you’re not sure what to make of it, but in any case you want some feedback, so you send it out to ten friends. One likes the break up scene. Another hates it. One thinks the ending is brilliant. Another thinks it runs astray after the middle. You want to make sure that all of their voices are heard, but everyone has a different opinion, so you start rewriting and rewriting. But no matter what form your story takes, someone’s comment is not being accounted for, and now your manuscript is in constant flux. It never gets done, and you realize that instead of pandering your creative talents to the taste of others, you might as well let them write the story for you or just have it crowdsourced.
If you want to write the best story you can, you need to learn how to listen carefully to others, But if you want to finish a story, you need to learn how not to listen to them.
Keep Going Until Everything Feels Right
If you write something and some part of it feels off, you probably need to rewrite it. In some cases, you may sense that a particular scene doesn’t sit right. This intuitive feeling of discomfort can be subtle and easy to miss in the rush of writing. The temptation here, if you even notice the feeling, is to ignore it, but from my experience this is always to your and your story’s detriment. This is the voice of your subconscious or daemon or god or whatever you want to call it warning you that you are in denial, that some section of your manuscript needs to be fixed. Fail to heed it, and you are likely to find yourself regretting it later.
This doesn’t mean you need to write a perfect story. It’s okay if it has flaws. In fact, writers like Haruki Murakami say that stories are better with a few rough patches. But if you discover a flaw, it needs to feel right. Then you will know that its being there is justified by how the whole fits together. Whether a detail is solid or faulty, if your gut tells you its wrong, you need to reflect on it carefully. It often takes a while to realize what you’re reacting to and how to resolve the issue, so give yourself time. Focus on other things, but keep it there in the back of your mind as a job still in progress. Eventually, given enough patience and unfocused attention, the problem will become clear and you will know what to do.
Writers Are Completely Alone: Only You Can Decide When The Manuscript is Ready
As Paul Valery writes, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” This of course applies to other kinds of writing (and arts). If you’re a perfectionist, you may want to keep on polishing your work forever. If you’re impatient, you may just break down at some point and begin submitting. But if you keep polishing the manuscript endlessly, you’ll never get it out there, and if you submit prematurely your work may never be taken seriously. You must learn when the right time is to abandon your story, whether that means stopping before it is too late (as with the perfectionist) or continuing on until the time is right (as with the impatient person).
In drafting your manuscript, advice from readers can be helpful, but you have to be able to distinguish what to accept and what to discard, charting a course between closing your ears to criticism and taking everything to heart. This is no easy task because it requires that you believe in yourself. This includes belief in your ability to write. You don’t need to think you’re the next Tolkien or Orwell or Dickens, but you need to at least believe that you’re good enough that your writing is worth all the sacrifices it requires. You also need to believe in your ability to make aesthetic judgments about writing in general, and more specifically about your own writing. There is no rule or formula that you can follow in evaluating what you have produced. Of course imagining your audience helps, but you’re still left with a wide range of possible versions that your audience might like. To decide amongst these, you need to know what you kind of story you’re going for and consider each bit of advice your readers give you and pay careful attention to their reactions (because people don’t always tell you exactly what they think) and decide what fits. All this requires a certain degree of self-confidence and instinct.
You can get help from readers in the form of feedback. You can read lots of books in your genre and advice from writers you respect. And all off this will help you. But at the end of the day, the final decision for everything lies with you. Only you can decide what works and what doesn’t. Only you can decide when the manuscript is ready.
In the final analysis, writing can be lonely, and if one is to survive it, they must believe in themselves.
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Eli K. P. William, a native of Toronto, currently works in Toyko as a Japanese-English translator. Commissioned by one of Japan’s largest publishers (Shueisha). William is currently translating a bestselling novel by Naoki Prize–winning author Ryo Asai. Cash Crash Jubilee is his first novel.
Eli K.P. William: Twitter