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Jealousy scares me. It scares me in relationships, and it certainly scares me when it’s connected to my career. It’s a sneaky emotion; silently climbing into my chest and then sticking it’s claws in when I least expect it. I’ll be walking along, enjoying my goodness and my dedicated moral compass, when all of sudden I’ll read about someone else’s success and feel my knees buckle under the weight of envy.
I was born with a nice, thick jealous streak. But you know what? Jealousy can be undone. It can’t be un-felt, but it can be lessened. Because after all, isn’t jealousy just a quick way of saying insecure?
As artists, we’re freely entering into a world full of people who can do it better. They can schmooze better, they can land deals better, they can just plain write better and will most assuredly become successful before us. Now that we know the slight craptasticness of this world, let’s allow a thought to seep into our brains: just because someone else achieves their dream, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for us. Read more »
I don’t know if this is a universal experience, but back when I was in the early years of high school I remember having to dismantle various fragments of literature and scrounge in their remnants for “literary elements.” This term was a loose euphemism for things like metaphors, similes, etc. – basically any concept that could be easily defined and tested on the state Regent exam. As ‘teach explained it, if the selected passage we were given employed enough of these syntactical devices, it must be considered advanced literature. I mean, come on, just look at that enjambment!
I don’t know though. I mean, what if you brought this exercise to bear on something other than fragments of Macbeth? How about, oh, Nas’s seminal rap album Illmatic (1994). Would it past the test? Is it “literature”?
Let’s be real, here: grief sucks. It sucks so, so bad. On the list of Emotions That Are Hard To Deal With, grief is at the top, florescent and harsh and without a hint of remorse.
When you’re drowning in grief, it’s like the world stops, the air goes out, and all you can see and hear is the echoing of your own pain. Running from it is impossible, and it clings to you for much, much longer than it should. It grabs your neck and punches your heart and laughs while you shrink down onto the floor or collapse onto the bed; grief doesn’t give a shit.
Which is why it’s so hard to write when you’re not directly feeling it. Read more »
I just taught creative writing for a summer session to a group of very bright and talented 11th and 12th graders. It was a very intensive program, a five-day-a-week gig for three weeks, in which the students studied and wrote poetry, short fiction, dramatic scenes, and long prose (both fiction and nonfiction).
It was very rewarding but also absolutely exhausting.
I got to teach the students a variety of forms, which reminded me that I need not pigeonhole myself only as a nonfiction writer (I started a short story yesterday!). I also got young writers excited by new genres and authors (they loved the idea of prose poetry!). That was totally gratifying.
I would love to teach creative writing at the high school or university level as a career in the future. However, this teaching position took up all my time even though I was only teaching for about an hour a day. My personal projects got pushed to the backburner. I was tired after leading class and trying to remain energetic all the time and then prepping for the next session each afternoon.
This got me thinking about the future again. Since I’m going to need a day job after I finish graduate school (no $200,000 book deals in my future), why not teach creative writing and do journalism to keep my mind involved in writing-related tasks and exercise my writing muscle? Read more »
Cursing, slang and other blends of the english language are just as legitimate as "standard" writing.
I recently passed around a draft of a short story I’d been working on for the last month. It concerns a kid named Javier from the Bronx, who is in search of love on Facebook. The story’s purpose, among other things, is to paint a picture of life for an inner-city teen and the role Facebook plays in youth culture. I wanted my story to be genuine, so I wrote in language commonly used in my neighborhood. This language includes cursing, slang, Spanglish and references some may find vulgar. Gauging the feedback I received, most enjoyed the story, but the language put some off. Some felt I overdid it and others couldn’t get through it because they felt there wasn’t a place for cursing and slang at all. At first I thought I was wrong, maybe my language was too vulgar, should’ve toned down the fuck’s and shit’s. And maybe that was true; I might’ve been too authentic. But the larger issue I realized was that some people weren’t appreciating the language. Some still held the belief that slang and cursing is vernacular of the uneducated and had no place in literature –– and that’s wrong. Read more »
In between barely making enough money and working on my art (and occasionally watching True Blood), I force myself to meditate, breathe with intention and stay mindful. I’ve bought into all that stuff, because I want a balanced, fulfilled life.
But then something happens — something that knocks me over and causes my heart to drop or break or just generally stop — and I doubt all of the work I’ve ever done.
You’re just not built for peace.
At least that’s what I think when I’m crumpled in a heap on the floor, feeling sadness and pain in places like my knee caps and right shoulder. …Because that isn’t how normal people act. Normal people aren’t wrecked for years after a break-up, writing songs and plays and short stories while filling journals to the brink with stuff that would make even Sylvia Plath blush. Normal people don’t stay in on a Saturday night so they can exorcise demons with a keyboard. I have normal friends. They agree with me on this one.
And so that’s why I wonder: can true artists ever live a “balanced” life? Read more »
At seven am every morning, I pop out of bed and drink a freshly squeezed orange juice and eat a zucchini frittata. Before I do any errands or school work, I spend three hours working on the latest chapter of my book. I eat lunch outside while reading volume two of Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago.” In the afternoons, I revise what I wrote the week prior. I have a light dinner and then get back to reading Solzhenitsyn. Before bed, I write in my journal for an hour and keep the pen and notebook on my bedside table in case I have interesting dreams or book ideas in the middle of the night.
I’m a graduate student. I have two jobs. I have a forty-five minute commute through New York City almost every morning. I’m usually rushing. I’m not really a morning person. Sometimes I get headaches from staring at my computer all day and I would rather cook a fun dinner when I get home than write anything. I do a lot of writing for school and for my jobs, but I’m not always good at prioritizing my own writing projects.
Scottish comedian and writer Al Kennedy had a piece up at The Guardian earlier this month about a day in the life of a writer:
…I usually compare my life to those of so many other novelists who are (perhaps inaccurately) quoted as saying they “always complete the final draft in my suite at the Carlyle” or “my writing room faces the smaller of our lakes and has a delightfully inspiring view across the Chilterns/Dartmoor/the Swiss Alps/Dollis Hill” or “I always get up at 4am, sip my organic mint tea – dew-kissed leaves fresh from the sunken garden – and then five or six thousand words tumble forth before Freddie and Timmy and the dogs wake up and I have to oversee Marta while she makes them breakfast – she’s from the Philippines and simply doesn’t understand toast” and so forth.
It’s mostly a spoof piece but she manages to be refreshingly realistic. We’re not all going to be able to wake up to the sunrise at our lakeside writers retreat. We’re going to have gigs and side jobs. We’re going to be grumpy in the mornings. We’re going to not want to write all the time, but we’ll force ourselves to because that’s our calling.
What would my own ideal daily schedule look like? Here’s a non-ironic fantasy: Read more »
I clearly remember the time I read through my first literary sex scene.
I was probably around 10, or 11 years old, and I was probably reading some adult book I had pilfered from my mom’s bedside table or that someone else had pilfered from their own mom’s bedside table. Where the book came from, or even it’s title, isn’t important, what is important is that Anne Rice was behind it — and spared no details.
Obviously, I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on in the pages I skimmed through during one long summer afternoon, but even as a very young writer, one who had just barely begun to record life with big, loopy letters, I was concerned with how Rice actually got the courage to write such lurid details. And they were lurid. At least to a 10-year-old.
These days, I have that same concern.
Yes, I’m older. Yes, I understand sex and see it as a natural part of life (I somehow missed the whole Shame and Guilt dance Roman Catholicism can often force its young followers to do…and left the church before they could tell me it was even worse to do It before marriage), but I’m still much preoccupied with putting it into my own writing.
I mean, we all like to watch sex scenes. And we all like to read them, too. They’re fun. They break up the monotony. They give us ideas. Etc. But. How does one create a sex scene that doesn’t (ahem…) suck? Read more »
What happened to patient 67? An abstract plot twist, that's what.
I don’t know if anyone really noticed, but the advertising campaign for Scorsese’s latest joint, the misty Shutter Island, was built around the film’s “shocking twist ending.” This was interesting to me — instead of advertising the cast or the director, or flashing a bunch of positive reviews, most of the ads for this flick I saw seemed to hint at some genius plot twist, something so mind-bending that I had to go experience it for my self. So I did. And although I thought the ending was actually kind of obvious, it did get me thinking about other famous plot twists that screenwriters have employed over the years.
First though, what separates a good twist ending from a gimmicky or contrived deus ex machina? Not much really. I think a good twist ending should illuminate everything that we’ve seen so far not only in a new way, but also in a way that resonates with the theme of what we’re watching. We should want to mentally race through what we’ve just seen, ascribing new significance to everything. We should be Totally. Freaked. Out. But the ending should also never, ever feel forced or non-sensical; then, the emotion the viewer is left with is not surprise or amazement but anger, anger that they’ve just wasted two hours of their life. (The Wikipedia entry on plot twists is actually really interesting, in that it classifies the different official names for each iteration.) Anyways, here are some of my favorite plot twists: Read more »
Learning how to edit your own work is crucial for a writer.
When it comes to my own writing, I crush easy. I fall in love with sentences, placing them on pedestals like God himself penned them rather than little ol’ me. I feel like they’re etched in stone, like I can’t hit backspace a few times and make them disappear. It’s a problem a lot of beginning writers have. In a perfect world, we’d have editors to send our stuff to and kick back while they go nuts with red ink and spit it back spick and span. But this ain’t a perfect world, and we’re not nearly successful enough to afford those dudes, so the next best option is ourselves. Being a good self-editor is important for a young writer. It allows us to screen our writing and weed out a good chunk of the faultiness in it. I’m no expert, but in the last year I’ve improved my editing abilities a lot with a few steps I’ve learned through experimentation and experience. Read more »