Posts tagged writing
Bittersweet Honey

Its been almost over a year since I wrote anything for my own personal blog, and while almost every minute of not working on it, ever glance at the page whose archives seemed to shrink with time, was filled with a kind of bittersweet guilt, it was good.

It was the advice from my professor that made me stop everything. I was stuck. I was stuck worse than I had ever been before, and for the first time in my life I had no doubt in my mind that writer’s block was a real thing. I couldn’t simply “just write” because I felt as if I had nothing to say.

Writing is painful. Its a nihilistic approach to making life more explicable. Feeling called to write, feeling burdened and then unburdened simply from and by the stroke of a pen, but not being able to make a stroke at all, that is a pain far worse than I could imagine.

My professor told me to take a break from the story I was writing, the story I had told myself I was writing, when it was really just a painful, tear-filled rereading of words that didn’t feel like mine anymore.

I did take a break, and I wish I could say I did more with my break from writing than consuming television, films, and throwing myself head first into my work. But, I didn’t. I really didn’t read much, not for pleasure, at least. I watched shows I had seen a million times, but I watched things I had never seen, things I had never heard of.

And, I spent a lot of time working. I spent more time working than I did sleeping, and that was a first for me. My job has not required creative writing lately. It does sometimes, but not often.

I began to feel accustomed to the absence of words.

I began to think that the new creative environment I had found myself a part of could fulfill that nihilistic urge in my life. I began to forget that I am, in fact, a writer.

Perhaps, it would make me a better writer, and even then, a better person, to say that it was of my own accord that I pushed myself out of this rut, that I fought my way back to not only claiming my identity as a writer, but to actually want to write. But, it wasn’t me.

It was the combination of three things:

1. John Green published his first book in 7 years, and I read it.

2. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came out, and I saw it on opening night.

3. I applied to MFA programs.

Turtles All The Way Down is John Green’s latest novel, which I feel safe to say has been anxiously awaited my people everywhere. While I, as many do, have opinions about it, I will not be sharing them in great details, as this is not a book review. I did, however, like it. It’s not my favorite John Green novel, but it changed my relationship with my own writing.

For the past 7 years I’ve been writing about mental illness, and I had never seen another YA book that was from the point of view of that person with mental illness. It made me feel less alone. It started to remind me what it’s all about. I started to remember why I started.

I feel confident saying that Star Wars was my first favorite story. I remember my dad showing me the original films when I was young. It was long for someone with such a short attention span, but the second it was over, I remember thinking that I had just experienced something phenomenal.

The latest resurgence of Star Wars and therefore the Star Wars craze, has awoken that love within me. I’ve always loved Star Wars, but in forgetting myself, I have forgotten things that defined who I was so long ago.

I went to go see the film on opening day, and went to Disneyland that same weekend. I kept bringing up the film to my roommate, who is virtually unaware of most things Star Wars. I was going into great detail about the hero’s journey and the power in a narrative of the hero being submerged under water and coming up newly baptized, in a way, as the hero. It was something I had used in one of my novels and was one of my favorite scenes to write.

Even with her limited knowledge of Star Wars, she said something to me which struck me in a way I didn’t expect. She said, “I know I don’t know much, but I honestly believe Star Wars is the most creative and original story I’ve ever heard of.”

She asked me my opinion, and my mind was reeling with all of the stories I had ever heard, and I wanted to disagree, because I was sure I had a better example. But, even though I tried to, I couldn’t.

Stories are built on stories. If you looked up the inspiration of any book you loved, it would send you down an endless rabbit hole of novels and film and poems and tales of years gone by. You would never stop, because storytellers create storytellers, and its one of the purest cycles I’ve ever experienced.

(I could say so much more about Star Wars, specifically about villainy, but that will be another post).

I decided a few months back that I would pursue storytelling as a career. I knew that I was still in my slump, but I would force myself out of it, because I knew I wanted to be a writer, a storyteller. My break had provided me with that insight, even if I hadn’t broken through the wall yet to sit down and write.

Deep in research for MFA programs and what to expect from them as well as researching how to write a Statement of Purpose, I read some advice from one graduate advisor who was detailing what candidates that school was looking for. “Write the story only you could write.” That was their sentence describing the kind of candidate they wanted.

Even though it was just meant to be a direction to how to apply, to aid you in your chances of getting in, to me it was deeply inspiring, empowering.

Each and every one of us, writer or not, have a unique story to tell, because we are all built off of our unique experiences. I’m not the only person in the world who grew up loving Star Wars, wielding a blue plastic light saber, but I am perhaps the only person who did that while also reading Captain Underpants and watching The Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup”.

We are each built up and around the stories that define us, whether they are the ones of the boy who lived, or the ones of our immigrant parents. There are thousands of stories within each and every one of us, and it is the desire to tell those combined stories in our own defined voice that makes some of us writers.

I realized that it is not the actual act of sitting down to write that makes me a writer, and therefore I didn’t give up what I felt defined me. I gave up the act to discover something deeper about myself that I didn’t realize, and maybe this will help you too.

Definitions are fluid. Rules are made to be broken. There is an exception to everything.

Writer, Actor, Artist, Doctor, Teacher. These are words we allow to define us. They are not solid, they are not the same from one to another. In a John Hughes, cheesy kind of way, we are all different within. It is these stories that help to define us. Not one word or one title, but hundreds of stories.

Plagiarism Fears & Genre

As a writer who is serious about her work, I find plagiarism to be a constant fear in my mind. From the songs that I listen to when I write, to the authors and books that I admire, they are all bits and pieces that become a part of who I am, and therefore become a part of my book.

But, I am absolutely petrified that they will become a part of my book that isn't fair to the original creator. What if my character says something that is exactly a lyric from a song? Or maybe I'll use a very specific word that in the same way that John Green or Tommy Wallach did. The problem isn't even if someone would notice, it's that it terrifies me to mimic someone else, because I would hate it if someone did it to me.

And let's move past the elementary school kid response of imitation is the highest form of flattery, because let's face it, it's not. When you're a kid and you copy the person next to you, it's because they're next to you. Not every person who will ever sit next to you is going to be the smartest bulb in the bunch.

But, as a writer, it is a form of flattery, but its unconscious. 

I am always afraid.

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I find that it is a lot harder for me to come even remotely close to plagiarism if I am reading a book that is a completely different genre than the one I am writing.

For example, currently I am writing a literary fiction YA book. So, I am reading Mindy Kaling's book "Why Not Me?" These book have virtually nothing in common with one another. 

However, this habit of mine gets in my own way sometimes.

The problem is that I can be writing a book that I like. That's great. It's hard to like your own work. It really is, so when I do like my own work, it's remarkable. But, I will always (okay maybe not always)

Sorry, Snape.

I will probably, most-likely, for the foreseeable future think that whatever book I am reading or whatever type of writing I am consuming (newspaper, articles, magazines, screenwriting) is significantly better than whatever I am writing.

Take last night for example, I get home from a long day of work. I like my book, I really do, but I was watching Scandal. Don't worry, as always if there are spoilers they will be marked.

Anyways, as anyone who knows anything about popular TV Shows will know, they are usually very high-stakes. And there's no way my book about four high schoolers dealing with suicide and depression are going to have the high-stakes situations of those in the White House. There just isn't a way.

Then, I think about one of the best books I've read in a while, An Ember in the Ashes. There are some serious high stakes in there. It's great.

I want my books to have that amazing fantastical appeal to it. I do, I want that more than anything. But, it's just the same thing when I'm writing a fantasy and I read Literary Fiction. Then, I want my book to be like Eleanor and Park. It's a viscious cycle.

Sometimes, I just want to yell at myself to stay out of my own business.

I don't really have a solution for this. Because it's something that I face every time. But, I do have a tip, and maybe I'll have more sometime, but today my tip is this: Stick to one project. Just finish one, and then do the other. You can have your high stakes and your perfectly ordinary romance, just take your time.

Believe me, its a tip I'm trying to take myself.

Inspiration at Home

What I find to be the common kryptonite of writers everywhere is the lack of inspiration. We watch movies and see the great actors that portray all the authors that we love so much. (Shout out to T Hiddy as my main man Fitzy D.) 

Anyways, inspiration is hard to come by. Sometimes we find ourselves in a bit of a rut and there isn't much that we can do to pull ourselves out of it. Often times a book can pull us out. I know Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden pulled me out several times, it's spine already so tattered that I don't know how much longer it will survive.

What pulled me out the most was actually Barbra Streisand's speech in The Mirror Has Two Faces. I saw the movie for the first time in high school, and it only made my love affair with Streisand that much stronger. (Not to mention she directed it, wrote it, and starred in it with the incomparable Lauren Bacall).

Even though her speech isn't particularly about writing, though I'm sure we can all see how easy it is to get from this speech to our own writing, it's just something that has always inspired me. 

We all need that.

All the ragtag creative ones out there: the painters, the singers, the gymnasts, the writers, the creators. We all need a tool kit, if you will, to help us through those ugly, muddy, desperate days of un-inspiration. We all need that one story that we love, that one character or that one line that puts it all into perspective. Because Hemingway was right. Writing is sitting down at a typewriter and bleeding.

And that's what I have above my writing desk.

And that's what this is about.

You shouldn't have to fall into these slumps. It's not fair. All we want to do is create and breath new life into something unique and wonderful that we love as if it were a child of our own. More often than not, writers tend to not like their own work.

We are idiots.

We don't find pride within ourselves, but instead in other people's work. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when you stop seeing the strength and the power within what YOU'VE created is when you fall into this pit of despair.

So, I'd like to take you through a tour of my inspiration spots of my home. 

The first thing that I see when I wake up (besides my phone obviously) is my writing corner. 

    

 

 

It has a lot of little bits, from the bumper sticker that used to be on my laptop before he died from too much writing. RIP Atticus. It's a bumper sticker that actually means a lot to me. You can't quite see in the photo, but it says, "Failure is not an option." That is a mantra I repeat to myself.

To the right I have a little bit of art from etsy.com that says Good Vibes Only. It's a little bit of art to remind myself that I shouldn't be to harsh on my writing. I have a photo of my dad, mom and me on my graduation day, as well as a group photo of the cast of A Very Potter Sequel, because that play means so much to me.

Then, there's the wall.

This is where I have some of my favorite books floating above my head, and I have John Green. I didn't intentionally buy this. It was through a charity that John and Hank Green host every year called Project for Awesome. I always donate and opt in for the random artwork. Two years ago, this is the piece that I got. Not only is it a beautiful piece of art that is my favorite author, but it is a medium that I can't do.

And that inspires me.

Then, there's the little post it to the bottom that says "Art Harder, Mother Fucker." I don't know why, but that has actually pushed me further and harder than a lot of so called motivational quotes.

But, I do have a favorite writing quote.

 

I love this.

This is so important to me. I think that it's something we can all take into our lives, whether its a bit of fiction or in our diaries or journals, we would all benefit just a bit from divulging a bit of what makes us hurt.

Then, I have the little area where I put the mail. It's the first thing I see as I begin my day outside of the apartment and the first thing I see when I return home.

I'm not good at writing poetry. I've never been good at writing poetry, but it has always something that I have wanted to be good at. It wasn't until I wrote a haiku about my dream: London. It was when I wrote this that a friend told me they loved it.

That's when I realized that I should try to love my own writing. It's difficult. There's that fine line of being conceded and being humble to a fault. But pride in the things that we have created.

This piece is important to me because not only is it a bit of poetry that I tried really hard on, but it's a photo that means a lot to me. London is my dream. Moving to a new country and working in publishing is my dream. I have this incredible feeling of belonging when I'm in London, and when I can't write, there is nothing more alienating.

So, having this little bit of a reminder that I have written something I like as well as a reminder to not feel lost when I have this goal that I am working towards.