Tag Archives: writers

When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

This is a concept I personally struggle with. I’ve been writing poetry for years, had my first poem published in 2013, and have had multiple piecing of writing published since. I’ve been a writer on this blog, as well as the managing editor, since its inception in 2012. I’ve been published in The Socialist before being asked to join the editorial board and becoming the managing editor for my political party’s magazine as well.

But when people ask me what I do, these are projects of passion in my mind. I don’t call myself a writer. Instead, I say I work at Cal Poly or that I’m a student. I say that poetry, writing, and editing are all hobbies.

I do them, I’m good at them, but because I’m not paid to do them, I don’t see myself as a writer first. I think part of my reluctance to call myself a writer does have to do with capitalistic ideals—you are your job, not your hobbies. When people ask what you do, after all, they want to assess your income and living.

That’s how it was when I was growing up. That’s how it was in movies. But times have changed, and I think my idea of when to call myself a writer should change too.

Story Shots: Fall

The fall is a time of leaves changing colors, weather cooling down, harvest, pumpkin festivals, people going back to school, and so much more. Story Shots, our creative nonfiction series, has taken on this theme in our latest installment. Below we have four fall-themed pieces from different writers for your pleasure.


A List: We fall…

into bed.
and asleep.

in and out
of love.
into another’s arms.
in and out
of bad habits.
apart, and
together.

into debt.
onto hard times.
into a deep depression,
and on our knees.

down the rabbit hole,
like fall leaves;
ashes, ashes,
we all fall down.

– Nicole Embrey


As a child, I mainly remember triangle sandwiches at bible camp, but I also remember believing in the God of Israel as much as I believed the sun would come up each day. I was raised by a Christian, single mother and attended those camps at my grandma’s church every summer in an old logging town pared into mountains as green and buckled as elephant apples. The fundamentalist church preached a tough no-sin doctrine, and I pled for salvation at camp the summer before I turned fourteen, old enough to engage with an ancient text about God’s chosen people and a certain Israeli.

I entered the Bush administration wild with purpose. My love affair with Israel had begun.

Traveling This Summer? Keep a Journal!

In the summer of 2012 I traveled to China. It was a great experience, and I was super busy all the time. I never found time to write or keep a journal, but my roommate for the trip did. I’m fairly sad that I didn’t set aside the time to do the same thing.

What really impressed me about her journal was that it had writing prompts for her to respond to for each day she was gone. Her friends and family had gotten together and had come up with the writing prompts for her. They then wrote the prompts within a notebook and told her to not look ahead and to just fill in the page for the day’s writing prompt.

I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.
I did have fun taking photos, at least. My group was super annoyed that I took so long, but hell, they turned out awesome.

Besides being a totally awesome gift idea for friends or family that are traveling abroad, this is also a great tool for a writer. I have my memories (and a crap ton of pictures on my Facebook) of the trip, but I don’t have my emotional responses or thoughts documented from my time over there.

My Brain got Stuck in a Rhyming Loop

When it comes to creative projects at school, my go-to is poetry. I had a big creative project due in one of my classes this past week, and I decided, since it was for Arthurian Romance, to imitate the Medieval French style of poetry. For a week solid, I was spending my nights creating plot and writing in rhyming couplets.

Let me tell you about rhyming couplets.

Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.
Door-hinge? I guess that rhymes with orange. Try working that into a poem organically.

At first, it really isn’t that easy to do. I tend to use a rhyming dictionary when I start out, because my brain isn’t in rhyming mode yet. For the first few days working on an epic, 15 page poem written in eight syllable rhyming couplets, the rhyming dictionary is a godsend. I also use an on-line thesaurus to find words of varying syllables so I can force my thoughts into the eight syllable mold. A thesaurus is also useful in finding words that have the right concept behind them and easy rhymes – for example, the word orange is a jerk when it comes to rhyming, but using a thesaurus gives me all kinds of other options to that dreaded word – warm, flame, gold, etc., which are all much easier to rhyme with.

As time passes, however, these tools fade as the brain starts thinking in rhyme. I’m not kidding – on the third day of working with my project until the day it was due, my brain was rhyming. And so the downside of rhyming started to kick in.

Wasting Time & Not Giving a Damn: The Art of Being A Young Writer

Maybe we have to waste time to be writers.

A year ago, in the car on the way back from Seattle, I had the talk with a few friends. The I-can’t-finish-anything and I’m-not-sure-where-it’s-going talk that all writers seem to have with their reflection or a peer at some point in their career, particularly early on.

Really, what I meant was that I’m not sure if I’m good enough. And that’s tough to admit.

Maria Popova tackled this topic in her recent post “The Art of Motherfuckitude: Cheryl Strayed’s Advice to an Aspiring Writer on Faith and Humility” over at Brain Pickings. Before Wild, of course, Strayed wrote The Rumpus advice column “Sugar.”

It’s self doubt. According to Popova, “the same paralyzing self-doubt which Virginia Woolf so elegantly captured; which led Steinbeck to repeatedly berate, then galvanize himself in his diary; which sent Van Gogh into a spiral of floundering before he found his way as an artist.”

The same self doubt that caused one “Sugar” reader to write to Strayed. The reader was twenty-six—a classic writer who can’t write. She tells Strayed, “I am sick with panic that I cannot—will not—override my limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude, to write well, with intelligence and heart and lengthiness.”

Strayed’s response is beautiful and raw. You can and should read it.

Highlights for all my fellow twenty-somethings struggling with how exactly one perfects the art of being a motherfucker:

Dear Mark Grist, I’m (Still) Totally In Love with You

This morning I found this amazing video by Mark Grist and his preference on girls:

 

After seeing (and swooning at) this video, I started doing some research about the poet and, holy heck, I love this guy.

Mark Grist is a former English teacher who quit to become a performance poet, but his passion still lies within the classroom. Since leaving his teaching position, he has started to do workshops at schools to get kids interested in poetry again through the use of rap.

 

And that’s not all.

Shakespeare and The Spanish Tragedy

I think it’s safe to say that readers of this blog are familiar with Shakespeare, but has anyone heard of Thomas Kyd? Thomas Kyd was a popular dramatist during the late 1500s, but later fell into obscurity in the 1700s. He authored a play called The Spanish Tragedy which, besides being popular in its time, is considered the father of revenge tragedy–a genre which Shakespeare happened to dabble in as well.

For the past two hundred years, there has been speculation that The Spanish Tragedy wasn’t written by Thomas Kyd alone and that none other than William Shakespeare put pen to paper to write part of this significant play.

While this debate has been ongoing, new evidence has surfaced which people agree is as conclusive as we can get, without, of course, finding the Doctor and riding his T.A.R.D.I.S. back in space and time and asking Shakespeare ourselves.

Who could say no to that?

Motivational Movies for Writers, Part Three

This final installation of movies for writers is brought to you by Missy Lacock, Insecure Writer Extraordinaire (at least this week). And I needed these motivational films just as much as the next poor writing sap.

First: It’s easy to NOT write—even for writers. And observing and thinking creatively is still not writing, people. Tools like these movies remind us we can’t improve or have a product to publish if we don’t actually produce it. Only writers are dumb enough to forget that.

Second: Like the editor-in-chief of this blog pointed out, writing’s the only activity with a “block” (there’s no such thing as “athlete’s block“); we need inspiration anywhere we can get it. Our jobs are to express something new, contribute something significant, but we need material and the creative fortitude to say anything at all.

And lastly: The life of a writer is a constant fluctuation between thinking we’re the best damn writers on earth and realizing we can’t even spell “attached” correctly. And since the craft is entirely subjective and—let’s be honest—doesn’t have any rules we can’t break, there’s no measurable validation we’re good at what we do. Not only that, but to write is to be rejected and edited, which means our egos are always taking a hit. That, my friends, is the life of a writer.

That is also why we need tools to remind us we’re not alone, that even the greats suffered insecurity and failure and rejection and writer’s block and lethargy, that what we do takes commitment and self-belief.

Adaptation

Synopsis: This movie follows two stories. 1) A writer researches orchids and writes a book. 2) A neurotic screenwriter struggles with insecurity as he adapts the orchid book for the big screen. And, uh, things get a little crazy for a movie about flowers.

Live vicariously: Land a screenwriting job for a major motion picture; use a typewriter; explore even a boring topic in interesting and eloquent prose; have our books optioned.

Quotes:

  • “Screenwriting seminars are bullshit.”
  • “There are no rules, Donald. And anybody who says there are…those teachers are dangerous if your goal is to do something new.”
  • “The only idea more overused than serial killers is multiple personality [disorder].”
  • “Because I’m pathetic. Because I have no idea how to write. Because I can’t make flowers fascinating. Because I suck.”

Themes: writerly neurosis, movie options, project obsession, writer’s block, insecurity, low self-esteem, writer-agent relations, and deadlines.

Motivational Movies for Writers, Part Two

This second installment of movies for writers is as much of a mixed bag as Part One. Despite their different genres, however, the films all have common themes and tap into a basic truth about writers: We’re all weird as hell.

With deep condolences to Robin William’s family and all the children of the ’90s, I’m kicking off the list with one of the greatest motivational films for writers: Dead Poets Society, the movie in which I first learned about carpe diem, sucking the marrow out of life, nonconformity, and writers like Whitman, Thoreau, Tennyson, Shakespeare, and Frost. Here’s to you, Mr. Williams, “O Captain! My Captain.” You’re a striking example of how a body of work can inspire, entertain, and contribute cultural value—even after its artist goes gently into that good night: “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

Dead Poets Society

Synopsis: An English prep school instructor uses unconventional teaching methods and inspires his students to explore poetry and achieve their potential.

Live vicariously: Inspire others to love poetry; join a writing and reading group of freethinkers; write poetry; take risks; be fearless.

Quotes:

  • “You will learn to think for yourselves again. You will learn to savor words and language. No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
  • “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering—these are noble pursuits necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love—these are what we stay alive for.”
  • “Dead poets were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life.”

Themes: poetry, poets, carpe diem, fearlessness, independent thinking, and barbaric yawping.

Finding Neverland

Synopsis: Author J.K. Barry meets the family to inspire Peter Pan.

Live vicariously: Be famous; inspire creativity in others; be seized with inspiration; write.

Quotes:

  • “All great writers begin with a good leather binding and a respectable title.”
  • “Write about anything. Write about your family. Write about the talking whale.”
    “What whale?”
    “The one that’s trapped in your imagination and desperate to get out.”

Themes: critics, fame, imagination, creativity, and inspiration.

Writers Are Athletes, Using Different Muscles

My cousin is a swimmer. My proud aunt recently passed an article of him in the Winchester Herald around to her friends on Facebook, in which the writer admires his dedication and talent—the fact that at only sixteen he ranks twenty-seventh in the nation for the breaststroke, how in two years he will likely qualify for the Olympic trials.

The fact that my cousin is a swimmer probably seems completely irrelevant right now, but when I read the article in the Herald, all I could think about was that if more writers treated their work like athletes do, we’d probably get a whole lot farther. You see, my cousin used to play football and run track. For his first three years of high school, he was able to do all three throughout the school year, but this year—his senior year—he decided what most of us realize at some point in our lives: we can’t do it all and still give it our all. So he got rid of the distractions and focused all his efforts on swimming.

Athletes, like my cousin, practice their “craft,” if you will, roughly twenty-two hours per week (mind you, this kid is just in high school). They aren’t allowed to get “athlete’s block,” and they understand that whatever fears and anxieties they have—like not being the best or questioning whether your love of the game will take you anywhere—will only cease to exist with practice. By getting better and working harder. Twenty-two hours a week equals a little more than three hours per day, and I struggle to name one writer I know personally who gives their work that much dedication, including myself.

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Now, I understand there are differences between my cousin and you, reader, or even myself. We aren’t in high school anymore, and even if we were, we might have part-time jobs that distract us. We might have shitty family lives, bills to stress over, or, for those out of college, full-time careers that drain our energy before we even head home. But even with those completely valid excuses, they are just that—excuses.

If you truly believe that you are a writer, then you have to carve out time in your day for writing. Even on my worst and most unproductive days, I try to dedicate at least thirty minutes to writing. And if that time is spent staring at a blank page in my notebook, until, in the last five minutes, I press my blue pen against the smooth page and draw up an outline for my magnum opus in writing so messy I can hardly decipher it the next day, then, well, so be it. At least you did something. Use the stress and the heartbreak, but don’t let it stop you.