Squib #4: How much do you invest in your work?

“Dedication”

Occasionally, one of my professors would point this out to me. I would invest far too much into the research project I was writing at the time and do too much research, find too much information, and then just write too much, covering too much ground or going too deep. This would sometimes lead to a paper or project being late, but it was still good, and I would still receive a good grade. A much simpler analogy is the “Wikipedia clicker,” someone who starts on a specific topic page and just keeps clicking out, out, out, absorbing more, more, more indirect information. A couple of my friends have that problem. [cackle] I would joke that they need a parental lock on Wikipedia, but that only leads to a pot-kettle comparison.

Still, I do have this tendency to not know where to draw the line on subjects that truly intrigue me. I guess I’m an information whore. If there’s one thing one can assume in the way I treat these works, it’s that I’m not half-assed about it. Trying to be “too thorough” may be a weakness in some contexts, but I think it’s fine in a pet project like this, my first fic (fanfic).

Excepting Livejournal fees and now a hosted domain, I have so far purchased two books and am now resisting a third. This isn’t including the peer-reviewed articles I had downloaded through the university library databases while a student, for which I paid through student fees. I won’t mention the sheer amount of time I’ve spend searching, reading, and archiving sites, both in English and Japanese.

Besides topical interest and time/monetary investment, however, this sort of thing is very much a personal investment. I don’t mean in the actual, topical sense, but that the entire composition is mine, even if the intellectual property of the series isn’t. Why go through all that trouble? I feel that a written work or any other personal project is only as good as what the creator invests in it.* For me to respect what I wrote, crep and all, I must know that I put into it as much as I could, within reason. If I say I’m after authenticity and character psychology, then I’d better give it my all; this, I believe, is especially true in a first-time experiment that’s both a personal test and individual creative expression.

I think the level of investment speaks equally for self-respect and respect-of-the-material. (There has to be some amount of pride here, but the trick is to not get carried away with it.) In my case, I’m aware that Japanese culture is very different from Western culture, and inserting brazenly Western things and assumptions** into a fanfic I’m trying to set in modern Japan just smacks of offensive ignorance. Online-based research definitely isn’t perfect, though–so many comparatively subtle things are never discussed online or translated, but I still have to try my best in major areas that are more obvious or important to how the story will develop. If you’re one of those creators who has a “baby” project into which you’re pouring as much effort as possible (within time and resource limits), then my hat is off to you.

As for the books, one is something that I think is quite on-topic: Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan by Mark Mclelland, 2005. Since it’s written by a Westerner, the language and content will certainly be accessible.

* This is also why I feel plagiarists should have their fingers smashed and eyes stabbed out, but that’s just me. ^_^

** Here’s a pet peeve: I found some forum threads where some kid asks how homosexuality is treated in Japan, for example, and some idiots say to the effect that “well, i read this manga and watched this anime and they had gay ppl so it must be okay!” Seriously, what the feck?

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2 thoughts on “Squib #4: How much do you invest in your work?”

  1. Have I mentioned how impressed I am with the effort and time you have obviously put into Syncope? I imagine you produced some excellent projects at university as well. And all that research you put into all ventures will stay with you- even if sometimes it’s just the sense of perspective you get from finding how far apart two ideas truly can be.

    My own work varies wildly in how much I invest in it. As far as my writing fiction goes, it’s something I started in order to learn how to express myself as and to other human beings. It’s a work in progress with several tiny chapters and tons of scrapped beginnings. Sometimes I’ve fallen short on the research but there’s quite a bit of investment there- of course, it gets dwarfed by what I have and will put into my music projects.

    Hmm, the average Western, internet savvy anime fan… yeah, I know how far that kind of research doesn’t lead. Ericka Friedman has written some interesting theories though. One of the better perks of checking the yuricon ML once in a while is hearing a few voices of attempted reason trying to even out the masses. Anyway, one of the later things she put forward was that the abundance of homosexual characters in anime could be attributed to a larger sense of distance between fiction and reality in Japan. Reading or watching a situation is a safe way to experience and consider all things taboo because it ‘doesn’t mean anything’ as it’s not ‘real life’. Either way, it’s an interesting take to consider.

    1. Thanks. ^^ And you’re right about the sense of perspective. Many of my old research papers and projects were so full of technical and theoretical minutiae that I couldn’t possibly remember most of them unless I went into that field for a postgrad, but the subject will still be “special” to me.

      You mentioned your music, which reminded me that I didn’t talk about “practice,” which is another element of a personal “investment.” This writing project of mine definitely is practice in the craft, and higher levels of this investment is with the motivation to improve or to evolve in expression.

      I remember a study cited in the news some years ago. People assume that a lot of professional experts in arts and athletics are naturally gifted–genetically. This is true only in a few cases, but this study discovered that the vast majority of these very skilled folks (professional instrument musicians in this case) simply practiced throughout their childhood into adulthood. They never stopped practicing. Hours and hours and hours of practice. THAT is investment.

      Maybe a better word is dedication…

      What’s so interesting about looking for social information on an “alien” culture is that (1) observers can easily misinterpret things without being immersed for a while themselves, and (2) the observed are usually so unconscious of their own behaviors and attitudes that they can’t clarify these nuances explicitly. One of my research topics for Syncope involves Japanese business culture; I think I mentioned that somewhere before. Boy, that’s *tough*.

      The comment about the Japanese sense of fiction vs. reality reminds me of something I found a while back concerning gays in Japanese mass media. In particular, the famous “Hard Gay” TV comedian, 住谷正樹… Thing is, for all that show’s popularity, the guy was heterosexual. It wasn’t something actual homosexual men watched, just like yaoi is neither written for nor by gay Japanese men (it’s mostly by/for heterosexual women). It’s all very fake and over the top–clearly, being “gay” in this representation is either a comedic trope or other social symbolism that has nothing to do with homosexuality, which is not something one commonly condones in actual life anyway.

      (…I could go on, but I’m afraid I’d start throwing paper and book citations left and right.) ^^;

      Thanks for the comment!

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