Saturday, February 22, 2014

Staying True to Someone Else's Religion

I wish there was more religious diversity in the books I've read. Granted, they're only a fraction of the infinite-seeming books in the world, but when I read books that do feature religious characters, they're usually Christians (and usually white). There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I want more.
I want to read about Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs. I want to read about people who grew up in a culture fundamentally different than my own, which was molded by their religion. Faith is obviously a big factor in many people's lives, and I think we, as writers, should do a better job of honoring that. From what I can tell, books are getting slightly more religiously diverse, but not by much. If you're committed to this, it can greatly expand your worldview, and will give readers something new, that I believe publishing still needs today. How does one write about a religion whose beliefs s/he isn't familiar with, without appropriating the character's culture?

1. Do extensive research. Read their sacred scripture(s) if possible, and study the religion's history.

2. Figure out the culture around their religion. Do people dress modestly? What do they talk about? What are their values? What separates them from similar religions or people? What's their daily life like? How much is their faith ingrained in their life?

3. Find blogs written by people actively practicing their faith. See if there's a place of worship anywhere nearby that you could visit for a service, if they're open to guests.

4. Talk to at least one person who is a believer about their religion. Make sure that your biases don't distort the information you get. Also, remember that it's only one person's view, and so that varies highly.

5. If possible, find someone from that religion who would be willing to read the book once it's ready to make sure it's an accurate representation of their faith.

If you have any other tips or suggestions for books with non-Christian main (or even side) characters, I'd love to hear them in the comments. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

7 Tips for Dealing with Rejection

You open up your email to find a form rejection, in simple black font. They thank you for submitting and wish you the best of luck with your writing. You glance at the email, slightly dazed. You'd anticipated this, but you had hope that they might accept it. Your rejections add up, a small pile of electronic apathy and "better luck next time". You wish it didn't sting, but it does. Because art is so often an expression of who we are and how we see the world, these rejections hit harder than others. Especially when you dedicate so much to your art, you feel insecure and overall not good enough. So, what do you do?

1. Delete the email and pretend that you never read it. As they say, ignorance is bliss. Okay, so this isn't the best coping mechanism. It works for a minute, though, until you start crying. (Good thing writers are never dramatic, huh?)
2. Remember that this is just one person's opinion. (Or one group of people's opinion, as it may be.) Just because they rejected it doesn't mean that it's awful and that you will never be a good writer and you are doomed to writing mediocrity all of your days.
3. Eat chocolate. Green tea also works well, although you could eat whatever you want if it makes you feel better. Exercising increases dopamine, which makes you feel happier.
4. Remember that while writing may be a big part of your life, it's not the only part of your life. So, try something different. Paint, or cook, or sleep more. Spend time with friends, or reading.
5. Accept that rejections are a part of a writer's life and hey, you might as well get used to it. Besides, you're one rejection closer to acceptance. Yay!
6. Remember that you are not your writing. You are not your writing. It's awesome that writing plays a part in your life, but it shouldn't determine your self-worth. It's okay to take a break from writing if it doesn't make you happy. You can always come back to it.
7. Read over said rejected work and see if there are any ways you could improve it.

Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list, just tips I've gleaned from dealing with a glut of rejections in the past few weeks. If you have any other ideas, feel free to tell me in the comments!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five Tips For Overcoming Jealousy

Recently, I've joined several online writing communities, comprised of Teenagers Who Are Serious About Writing. It's been really cool to read their writing, see how other creative people approach their work, etc. Lately, though, it's been getting to me.

It's not that they're shallow or self-absorbed or vindictive, from what I can tell. It's that their writing is consistently better than mine, in a way that mine simply doesn't match up. I love seeing them be successful, because who doesn't love other young artists doing awesome things and changing the world? At the same time, I wish I was that successful. Frankly, as a competitive, Type-A person, this stings.

Granted, I'm comparing myself to the people who are National Poets, the people who are Finalists in YoungArts (which means that out of 10,000 applicants, they're the top 1.5%), the people who start really cool literary magazines. They've been published in real literary magazines, (probably) been writing since birth, and been accepted to top universities because of their writing prowess. Obviously, these peers are a select few, and I know that most writers aren't up to this skill level at this age. However, I'm still jealous about how they seem to be doing all of these really amazing things, and I'm not.

The Internet has exacerbated this so that if you choose to, you can surround yourself with the highest-achieving, most mind-blowingly awesome writers. This is fantastic, but it can feel alienating when it seems like everyone else is getting traditionally published at the age of sixteen or has a literary agent or has, at least, finished more than one draft of a novel. This has made me feel inadequate, although at least I've kept writing.

In case you couldn't tell, this has been a personal struggle for me lately, so here are five tips about overcoming writer-jealousy (at least temporarily):

Congratulate the people you're envying. I'm sure that they'd like to know that you appreciate their work, since everyone likes compliments. Plus, as a young artist, you know that it feels like your voice isn't heard.

2. Do something different. Maybe paint, or take a walk, or scuba dive (okay, maybe not that last one). Try to stop focusing on the negative aspects of your work and take a break for a bit. It'll help, I promise.

3. Remember that not everyone is The Most Amazing and Prolific Novelist and Poet Goddess Ever by the age of eighteen. It's awesome if you are, and you're going to keep working on your craft, but if you aren't, it really shouldn't be the end of the world.

4. Come back to your writing. Again, you could try something different. Perhaps rhyming if you're into free-verse, or nonfiction if you mainly write poetry. I've written before about how poetry has helped me, even though I hadn't really thought of it as something I'd like, or something that I'd be good at.

5. Write a letter to yourself reminding yourself that you're more than your writing and your insecurities. Last night, I was really feeling the toll of this deluge of teenage writers doing amazing things I haven't done, and so I wrote myself a letter, on paper. Old-school, I know. I basically reminded myself that I'm still a good person, no matter what my literary accolades are, and that I write because I love writing, not out of sheer competitiveness.

Any tips I missed? How do you deal with jealousy so it doesn't cripple your work?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

You Know What I Love? Waiting for Rejection

Every single person has a fear of rejection, including me. Despite this, in the last month, I've submitted to several journals and lit-mags, most of which are authored and edited by high-school or college-students. I've edited and fully overanalyzed my writing. I've perused the submission guidelines, even though they're all basically the same.  (Then to make sure, I perused them again.)

Last month, I entered the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and so I should hear back within the next month. Now, I get to wait. I'm going to focus on writing poetry, reading, maybe editing my novel, and writing some more creative nonfiction.

Deadlines are hard, but I'm fairly certain I submitted everything on time. Besides, the worst thing that can happen is that my writing isn't accepted into these certain publications at this exact point in my life.  Writing is incredibly subjective; one person's genius is another's stupidity. Even if it all goes terribly, I'll know that I tried, that I'm much better at writing than I was even two months ago, that there'll be some cookie-dough in the fridge if I need it.

Do you have any tips for not feeling bad about inevitable rejections?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The spaces between the words {poetry}

I've always found poetry to be bland. There, I said it. Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman: although these are all well-known, "good" poets, my exposure to poetry had always been in the form of memorizing poetry for school or from an anthology of "Great American Women Poets"; that is to say, unsettlingly bland. I'd never really understood their poetry, and so it felt impersonal, meaningless.

This past year, poetry changed for me. I read the daily poems on Poetry Daily, and browsed poets by subject on I listened to extremely awesome spoken-word artists. I tried to find a poem to recite for Speech (I'm in the Poetry category), something that I'd truly enjoy remembering. I read young poets' writing, like Peter LaBerge and Alicia Lai (seriously, go look them up, as they are epic). I began to love the poetry of poets such as Carmen Giménez Smith and Jorie Graham.

I internalized their poetry, read them over and over until they took on a meaning for me, until they embodied the listless minutes waiting for class to end, the ebb and flow of students rushing down the green-linoleum halls. Furthermore, as a Reader at Polyphony HS, I analyzed the poetry's inner workings, the tenuous -precarious- ligaments pulling together the poem, giving it structure and meaning.

  Poetry has such a capability to embody the human experience, even more so, than prose. As such, I decided that I'd write a poem every day, as a challenge. Only a few days in, I'm already scrambling for topics, ways to make the mundane interesting. This means yellow Post-Its littering my bookcase, handwritten fragments tossed in jumbled lines. This means a simmering realization that I'm writing in a style that's been used for thousands of years. This means I'm attempting an exercise in  understanding, to see just how well I know -and will know- myself and the world around me. A poem tries to define a moment, a life, a consciousness, which is exactly what makes it so powerful.                

Read a poem today; better yet, write one. You might like what you find.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


I made a goal for myself this Christmas: to edit all of The Tinkers by the time I go back to school on the sixth. So far, I've edited about fifteen pages. This includes slashing scenes with blue and black pens, rewriting scenes, and feeling quite writerly. I've been using the Holly Lisle revision method, and so far it's been all right.

My writing set-up: pages unread on the left, my notebook in the middle, current pages on top of my computer' s keyboard.

The struggle I've been having hasn't been with the directions; those were quite clear and helpful. However, the beginning of the Tinkers is an absolute mess. It's understandable, as I wrote it nine months ago when I had no idea about what I was doing or, really, what my characters are like. As a result, I've been leaving myself notes in the margins and busily rewriting. 

A sample of what my pages look like after editing.

A few nights ago, I printed out my manuscript, some 110 pages, single-spaced. It's been slow going, but it feels good. Despite my avowed fear of editing (mainly revision) I rather like it. Now, back to my goal!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Belgrave Daughter by Zara Hoffman

The Belgrave Daughter's about this sorceress, Fawn, who falls in love with a dark angel, Caleb when he's sent to attract her to the dark side.
This is the cover for TBG, surprisingly enough.

Although I don't like paranormal romances since what I know of that market's still swamped with Twilight knockoffs, I did enjoy this book. It was a light and easy read. All of the characters were well-developed, which I enjoyed. Caleb felt like a real guy, and Ivy, her best friend, seemed pretty realistic too. I also really liked how Fawn didn't act totally head-over-heels about Caleb, and focused on things other than her relationship during the story.

To me, the plot was bland, and I could basically predict the sequence of events. It seemed to me that Ms. Hoffman occasionally described the mundane parts of Fawn's life, especially in the exposition, but it picked up after that. However, TBG seemed like an original idea, which I liked. (I mean, who doesn't?) The writing was fast-paced, and it was a quick read. I'd recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind paranormal and who wants an engrossing, older-YA-geared fantasy story about a teenage girl turned sorceress and her relationship with a "dark angel."  

I got an e-ARC from Zara in exchange for an honest review and book buzz.

If you want to connect with Zara, her website is here. She's a seventeen-year-old writer who, obviously, likes writing. She also likes singing, reading, hanging out with her friends and family, and playing with her dog.