5 Korean American Writers Share Their Creative Processes


Where do you start when you write? A character? A theme? From there, what are the next steps?

I often find myself writing about anything I can’t help but think of, whether it’s something that has happened to me or something that I have seen or heard. I recently started a new project which really surprised me – I hadn’t researched it – but soon I was working on it when I probably should have done other things, and decided to lend pay attention to this instinct.

Sometimes I also stumble upon an idea during a conversation with someone I trust. (If there’s one thing in particular that you can’t stop talking about, it probably means something, you know?) Usually I start with a short scene; even though it doesn’t stay at the top of a room, it makes me think, right off the bat, of storytelling, rhythm and structure. When I write, before I ask you to do anything else, I want you to feel there with me, and a scene is often the best way to do it.

Describe your editing process. With each iteration, are you focusing on a different aspect of your job?

For the book, it was so important to get reads from people I trusted – first and foremost my amazing editor, Julie Buntin, but I also had friends reading it. Because it was a brief, I also asked various relatives to read it, and then I also incorporated their corrections and comments.

I’m an editor and I think that helps in the sense that I really trust the review process – but also sometimes I to hate this? It can be hard to remember that when I think or write my own stuff that I definitely shouldn’t be trying to edit myself at the same time. I realized about a third of the first draft of my manuscript that if I kept editing myself as I went along, I would never finish. I had to work to nail the scenes first, and I knew I could flesh out the story when revising.

In general, the first set of changes are mainly concerned with general elements, reading and scoring of urgent matters. (I truly believe that the most valuable tool in my editing toolkit is what boring questions to ask writers!) Once the initial questions have been answered, I’ll dig into a few line edits and leave my inner editor start to hack. And from there the changes get more and more picky, until someone (my editor) says it’s done, takes it out of my hands and saves me from myself.

Has your work changed your relationship to your cultural identity? If so, how?

It certainly helped me think about it and put words into what has seemed so mystifying to me for years. It also allowed me to reflect and say that it doesn’t matter that I don’t always know exactly who I am; I’m more comfortable in the gray areas now, sitting with no answers or some limited answers, accepting that I’ll never get the whole thing.

I think you have to think about identity to be able to write. If you do your job as a memorialist, you will get to know and understand each other better. Although I actually think nothing has changed my relationship with my identity as much as having the opportunity to read and edit other writers – knowing that I’m not the only one thinking about how our experiences shape us, what it means to try to connect with others through our work.

What was the most enjoyable part of writing a dissertation? Likewise, what was the most difficult and how did you overcome it?

In terms of the writing itself, there is nothing better than knowing that you wrote something real – and I don’t mean true a sin non-fiction, although this also applies in my case; I mean something that you thought about and struggled with and finally put on the page, and then could feel proud of. The writing will obviously never be perfect, but when it clicks, it’s the best feeling. And given how impossible it can seem to, well, all the other times, I think the satisfaction you get when you know it works is the only reason to keep doing it.

The hardest part of writing a memoir for me is just finding that balance between the personal and the universal, hopefully knowing when your vulnerability is needed and when it’s just too shared; justify the existence of your story in the hope that it may be of use to someone else. When you write a memoir, you are opening your life to terrifying criticism from everyone. You try not to think of any of this, of course, or your mother’s reaction, when you write. But at some point the book is there and it’s both wonderful and scary that it has a life of its own that you can’t control.

One of the hardest things about publishing was also one of the most exciting and thought-provoking – I got to go on tour and talk about the book with a lot of people. At the same time, each event also involved great emotional vulnerability, and I went through all of this crying for my father. True gratitude to everyone who thoughtfully engaged in my book is what helped me overcome the physical and emotional challenges that come with exposing myself. Hearing people tell me that my book has helped them feel a little more seen was by far the best part of the publication. Readers who understand what you’re trying to say are the people every writer writes for, or should want to write for.

Who is an Asian writer that you admire?

There are so many, so many that I’m happy to count as role models and friends – and I’ve talked a lot about how important Celeste Ng, Alexander Chee, and Min Jin Lee are to me. Right now I would like to shout out my friend RO Kwon who besides being a literary rock star is such a fierce and generous voice in our community and one of my absolute heroes. I’m so grateful for Reese’s voice, and as someone who grew up just wanting to see someone who looks like me do what I wanted to do, I’m happy that so many aspiring Korean American writers are now admiring her. .

Get Chung’s memoir on Amazon for $ 16.93.

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