Saturday, December 18, 2010

Writing in December

With December comes the close of the quarter, which means my short story workshop at UCLA Extension has come to an end. My second critique went much better than the first, partly because I knew what to expect. According to the class, my story was sound on a technical level, few line edits. However, several people felt the characters were flat and wanted to see the story expanded out. The instructor told me I had a publishable work as it was, but it was not publishable as literary fiction. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I am learning, and I consider it a sign of progress that I'm creating "publishable" works. 
The most valuable lesson I learned in this class was that you have to be careful with whom you share your work. Having readers you trust is extremely important. As my mentor said, "You wouldn't let just anyone babysit your children. You shouldn't let just anyone read your writing." However, the class was a strong group, and I've invited several people to apply to become members of my Los Angeles writers' group. I'm pleased that we've had interest, submissions, and that the group will grow. As for my Santa Barbara group, we welcomed a new member I brought in a couple weeks ago. His first meeting went well, and I believe he will learn a lot from us and become an important contributor of the group. 
I also completed my seminar at the beginning of the month, with 115 pages of my novel draft completed. I had hoped to finish the entire draft, between 250-300 pages, but I'm thrilled that I'm almost halfway there. I've gotten down most of the important plot points, so now seems like a good time to explore my characters: put them in interesting situations, fill in the blanks. I met with a former professor of mine, and he had some great feedback. One of the things he told me was that I may not end up getting this published. It might just be a learning process. Of course my intention is to publish, but having that in the back of my mind makes the process a lot easier, especially when writing while thinking about potential critiques kills my creativity.
With my sister's college graduation from Prescott College in Arizona, Christmas with family in Lake Arrowhead, and Tahoe with friends for New Year's, I am looking forward to vacationing, relieved to take a break, and simultaneously concerned about writing. It will be a challenge - how I will manage to write amidst the travel, events, and people. In January I begin a new class at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program: I've been accepted to the Advanced Short Fiction Workshop. I'm considering another contest with a January deadline - last week I submitted an entry to an environmental writing contest. While I don't feel my story was winning material, I was proud of writing over 3000 words in a single day and coming up with something cohesive, that I liked. (Creative writing is very different from the 10-15 page papers I used to punch out in college.) And later this month, I have an article appearing in Edible Santa Barbara.

Below: My workstation in my sister’s kitchen in Arizona. I’m blogging while my mom and sister bake mesquite gingerbread cookies.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving, and I have so much to be grateful for. I am so lucky to be spending the holiday at home in Santa Barbara with my family and my boyfriend, and to have my dreams present and real before me. I have written over 100 pages of the rough draft of my novel, and my writers’ group is thriving. After a critique in my intermediate short story class at the UCLA Writers’ Program last week that did not go as I’d thought it would, I felt shot down and uncreative. I didn’t even want to write. My group was an incredible source of support. In addition to working on the novel draft, I also completed a short story to submit to my class. And with holiday coupons, I’ve added a couple of books to my collection and gotten a jumpstart on holiday shopping for my cousins. I am surrounded by people I love, and I’m doing what I love. I couldn’t be more thankful.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

SBMag Oct/Nov

I have two bylines in the October/November issue of Santa Barbara Magazine. I was pleased to do the back page again, this time with a photograph of Einstein from when he visited in the 1930s. Researching those is always fun, because I come into contact with interesting people and I learn about the history of the town, both of which make me feel more connected to the Santa Barbara community.

I also interviewed Jennifer Freed, an SB local and author of Lessons from Stanley the Cat, a self-help book of humorous tips garnered from Freed's feline friend. Check out the Stanley website here, and find the interview on page 45 of the Oct/Nov issue of SBMag!

Plotting Along a Straight Line

More novel plotting. Similar to the other sketch, this one was actually done first. I find these useful for reference, especially when I get stuck. A member of my Santa Barbara writers' group, who is further along in his novel draft than I am in mine, suggested jumping ahead as a way to combat writers' block. I found this advice extremely useful. When I'm stuck on one section, moving on to a completely different section can get the writing flowing again, and it's handy to have an outline of what I'm doing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Novel Plotting

            When I first started planning out my novel, I tried plotting with an upward trajectory, following the classic Cinderella “rags to riches” model. I felt like I had a pretty good start. I had events, details, and clothing. I started in on character sketches and other forms of plotting until a friend finally told me to just start writing. This was great advice and now, I’m 40 pages into the rough draft. Unfortunately, with 4 chapters written, I’m stuck. I don’t know what happens next. Looks like it’s time to start plotting again.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Stop. Start.

It is amazing to me how easy it is to get stopped. And how starting again never gets any easier, no matter how many times I do it. Last week I caught a cold and I stopped writing. It wasn’t until after I started writing again that I realized I’d felt as awful as I had as much because of the lack of writing as because of the cold. And I made it worse by thinking things like, “If I were a real writer, I wouldn’t let this stupid cold stop me. I’d write no matter how sick I was.”
            One of the tasks I’ve assigned myself as part of my seminar is to write 2-3 pages of my novel per day. Some days I write more than three pages. Some days I don’t write at all.
            Yesterday was one of those days. It was a Friday. I babysat for eight hours (a full work day) and then I went out. I saw friends I haven’t seen in months, and I had a great time. I knew as I was leaving my house that it was going to be one of those days. I considered not going out. Missing social events in order to write is something I’m familiar with. I don’t regret going, but I do regret not writing. I spent this morning devolving into thoughts of, “I’ve broken a promise to myself” and “How will I ever become a successful writer if I can’t even write every day?” Which makes it that much harder to begin again, of course.
            I have to take a deep breath, let it go, and jump back in. I have to recognize the awesome parts of setting such goals, even if I don’t always meet them. Because of my 2-3 pages per day idea, I now have 30 pages of my rough draft. Thirty will turn into 40 will turn into 50 will turn into 100, and soon enough I’ll have 250 – 300 pages. Before I know it, I’ll have a finished rough draft.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Apply to Grad School, Again?

I applied to the advanced short story course at UCLA Extension and did not get in. My mentor said, “Congratulations! You’re a writer. You need to have rejections.” There are many of these before the acceptances come. I am deciding whether or not to apply to grad schools again for next fall. This time, I will cross Cornell off the list (acceptance rate of 4 out of about 700+ students is not worth the application fee the second time around). I will also nix Columbia, NYU, Syracuse, and Sarah Lawrence, which would put me into deeper debt than I care to contemplate. I will apply again to Hunter and The New School. I will also look into schools in southern California. I am contemplating low-residency programs. I have a lot of research ahead, I think. Having done it once makes it a little easier – this time around I will not have to take the GRE, for example. However, I think I need a new personal statement. Definitely not looking forward to writing that. Do I know myself and what I want any better than I did a year ago? I think I knew myself and my goals well enough. Can I explain it any better now? I would like to think a year of writing has ceded improvement.
I was also rejected last week from an editorial job I applied to for a little paper in the Palisades. The editor was encouraging in his rejection, wishing me luck and telling me I was building an excellent resume. However, he only had one spot and it went to an L.A. Times veteran of 17 years. Knowing that this is what I'm up against makes rejection easier. Marginally.
            On the bright side, I wrote the first few pages of my novel today!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let the Novel Begin

            I have left C. I am sorry that it did not turn out as I had hoped, but now the way is open for new things. I am taking a program through Landmark Education called the Self-Expression and Leadership Program (SELP), and I am writing a draft of my first novel.
            When I was in the Greek system in college, I saw a lot of amazing things happen. I gained some incredible experiences and friendships by being in a sorority. I also saw a lot of really negative things happen. In line with my belief that fiction can affect people, I am writing the novel about a sorority girl with the idea that women who read it will be encouraged to think about how they treat each other. I hope to inspire questions: How do I treat my sisters? How can I create change? How can we empower each other? My goal: true sisterhood.
            As a part of this project, I will be conducting interviews over the next couple of weeks to find out how other people experienced Greek life. I will be asking my interviewees to conduct their own interviews, and it is my intention that through communication, we will spread awareness.
            The seminar ends December 6, so that means I have about 3 months to write this novel. Today, character sketches. So far I have a villain, a heroine, and a victim. Tomorrow, plotting. By next week, I will be writing 3-4 pages per day. This concept scares me, but as my seminar leader told me, even if I only write half, that’s half more than I have now!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why I Write

            When my aunt lent me the novel Trouble, by Kate Christensen, she told me her husband thought it was a page-turner and though she herself hadn’t thought so, I might. I decided this recommendation warranted reading the book, and as it turns out, I did go through it pretty quickly. It may not belong to the literary highbrow, but what I loved about it was the speaker’s authenticity, her vulnerability.
In the wake of her decision to divorce her husband, protagonist Josephine Dorvillier joins her rock star girlfriend in Mexico. There she meets and experiments with a young man. She returns to New York when her jaunt is cut short by her friend’s suicide.
I enjoyed the emotional exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, the female friendships, the failing marriage, and the fling. I could see how the raw narrative might give a woman in a similar position insight into her own life. Personally, I gained insight into the way I sometimes let my thoughts run away with me. I saw the character’s insecurities and identified, because I’ve been there, and though I have never gone through a divorce nor endured the suicide of a best friend, I identified emotionally. The message that everything will be all right is not original, and often it is something refuted, something fought against. But it is powerful.
And this is what I aim to do with my own writing – if I could write one piece that changes one person’s life, that would be enough. Though what I want, of course, is to write many pieces that change many people’s lives. To write something that allows someone to look into herself and accept herself. To write something that someone would read and forgive himself. That many might read and embrace each other. The hope that I will do these things – that is why I write.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Aug/Sept Bylines

            A couple of my articles in the August/September 2010 issue have been posted on the Santa Barbara Magazine website! Check out “Jaunt to Jaipur,” which also has a spot in the current header on the website homepage.

This article was a thrilling last-minute assignment. At first, I grew frustrated because I didn’t know a lot about polo, or its history in India. I was really hoping to get a quotation from some of the people in India, either someone on the team or a member of the royal family, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to. Working several months in advance can be tricky. At the time I was writing, the team hadn’t even been assembled yet!

And as for “Sweet Summer Scoop”… I have always loved ice cream. After interviewing Rori Trovato, I had to try her organic take on the classic dessert. I went to Jeannine’s on Figueroa with my dad and the bf. We had the NY Strawberry Cheesecake (which comes with homemade graham cracker crust, mmm), Salted Caramel (super sweet – reminded me of the caramel popcorn that comes in Christmas tins), and Malted Milk Ball (my favorite by far). If you’re in SB, trying this out is a must. 

Monday, August 2, 2010


It is not that they won't "let" me write. One of the senior editors at C Magazine agreed to review my clips. When we met last week, she told me, "You're a great writer." I thrilled at this. But then she said, "It’s not about the writing. It's about the information." It is about what I can bring to the magazine. In other words, pitch.
Where does this information come from? That is something I've been wondering over the past few weeks, as I ponder pitching. Where do the ideas come from? In fact, where does any of the content come from? How do editors find their stories, their angles, their interviewees?
I came to the conclusion that I was very spoiled at Santa Barbara Magazine, where my editors handed me articles and contacts. In a small town, when there is one especially glossy magazine catered to the affluent, everyone wants to be in it. As an intern, I waded through scads of emails from people telling us about their new product, store, event, career, etc. This also comes from being a known publication. Even at CASA, we had flooded inboxes. When you are a leading source of publicity, everybody wants in. So magazines, and their editors, are solicited. Information comes to you. As a starter, however, I have to go find it.
Let the search begin.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Giving Back: SBMag Aug/Sept 2010

When I was asked to write the "Giving Back" section for the August/September issue of Santa Barbara Magazine back in May, I was ecstatic. My editor approached me with a question, asking if it was something I would like to do. As if I'd say no! It was, at that point, the longest assignment I had been given (500 words). The subject, Kathleen Rafiq, had built a hospital in Afghanistan – and was still living there. I went through the entire process communicating with her solely via e-mail. It was a challenging way to write an article.
Flashback to CASA, where I learned to do phone interviews. A little about me: despite being an introvert through much of my youth, I now prefer conversing with people in person. Especially during interviews, it is easier to get across that you are interested in what they're saying and would like to hear more (in my process, excess information is always preferable to not enough). It is easier to build rapport. I was daunted at first, when my editor at CASA told me to conduct interviews only over the phone. She preferred phone interviews because they were succinct (necessary in that publication’s weekly pace). I learned how to make people feel comfortable over the phone, which turned out to be a very useful skill when I went to SBMag and was asked to do the same thing, more often than not. E-mail is completely different.
I am part of the generation that texts rather than calls and, in the face of e-mail, has forgotten that USPS even exists. I am familiar with the usual dilemmas, including how to sound the way you want to sound when you have nothing but letters to convey it. And emoticons – but I opted out of sending a happy face to Afghanistan. I asked if we might try Skype, but her Internet connection was poor.
Kathleen, it turns out, was very easy to e-mail. She was gregarious and sent me tons of pictures and information. I had a terrifying moment just before the issue went to press: my editor asked me to request caption info for photos from Kathleen, but Kathleen didn't like the pictures. When she emailed me back, asking that the article not be printed with the given photos, I almost died of worry. The art department and my editors chose the photos, I had no say in the matter, and the thing was going to press in the morning. Luckily that was just a momentary scare and now, at well over 600 words, the article has been published. Catch Giving Back in the SBMag Aug/Sept 2010 issue, on page 68, which hits stands next week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goodbye SBMag

God no, I didn’t want to leave. I love it there. I love the city of Santa Barbara, and the office, and the internship, and the people, and the writing, and I’ve said it a million times but I’ll say it again, if I could stay I would.
I have concerns about C. What if they never let me write? This terrifies me the most. Sure, I’ve only been there four weeks. But I am definitely starting from the bottom again. I try not to think about how long it took me to work my way up to writing at SBMag. There are brand new office politics to navigate. What if I mess it up? That fear is rarely latent. What if I never love it the way I love SBMag?
I am devastated. I will miss everybody terribly. But it’s simple: I have gone as far there as I can go. It is the harder choice, but it is the right one.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Doing Too Much

It is amazing how being sick makes all obligations fall away. With my feverish head in a toilet, when I'm puking nothing but stomach acid because everything else has already come up, there is only one thing I want: to feel better.
I spent last Wednesday trembling and queasy; Thursday I subsisted on graham crackers and water because I couldn’t keep anything else down. I called in sick to my internship, I canceled on my writers’ group, on a coffee date, on a friend who was to visit me in Santa Barbara, on Vegas, and on Palm Springs. The emotional breakdowns were clearly not enough, but this physical one I could not ignore. I am doing too much. This was a wake-up call from my body. This was my body taking charge and telling me to STOP. Trying to maintain two internships in separate cities, multiple odd jobs, and a social life (not to mention keeping that fiction thing goin) is not working.
            This has happened to me before. A couple of years ago I worked five days a week, unpaid, at the LA Equestrian Center (it’s in Burbank, which meant about a 3-hour commute each day, and my book-on-tape of choice, The Virgin Suicides, probably didn’t help) until, when I finally got a chance to rest during Christmas, my body revolted with a flu. Shaking, fever – I was so weakened, I would be breathing hard at the top of a flight of five stairs. In middle school, when I slept only five hours a night to complete the superfluous homework assignments at my private, preparatory school (to be fair, I was an overachiever), after a certain amount of sleep deprivation, I would just get sick. Completely incapacitated. If you just can’t get out of bed (or off the bathroom floor), you just can’t. There is not a chance of even thinking about all the things I have to do, let alone actually doing them.
            So when I was doubled over on the linoleum beside my toilet last Wednesday afternoon, I knew I had to do something about the way I was living my life. It is time to make a choice. The bottom line is, I cannot keep this up. I cannot keep going back and forth every few days. I physically cannot take the stress. And so –
I am leaving Santa Barbara Magazine.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

How Many Hours/Week?

On Thursday, I greeted and escorted people through a gallery at First Thursday in SB. On Friday, I assisted my mom at her catering job and played sous-chef – which essentially meant spending several hours chopping vegetables and washing dishes. On Saturday, I babysat.
            So basically I intern four days a week and work at odd jobs the other three, or sometimes overlap and both intern and work on the same days. Not to mention I usually interview and write articles outside of time at the office. I am working seven days a week. More. I don’t dare count the hours. Many people have validated what I’m doing. This is the life of a beginning, struggling artist. I have two unpaid internships, to get me into a career doing what I love. I am extremely blessed to have the support of my parents, and an abode in each city. And then I work at whatever I can, to pay for the two unpaid internships (gas, etc.), to have a life, to keep myself from going over the edge. This is what you have to do. This is a good idea.
            I have had an intense fear of the full-time job since…. Well, probably since elementary school, when I would eat breakfast with my father and then not see him again until dinner. If that was what being an adult was like, I wanted to be Peter Pan. Then last summer, I interned at CASA three days a week, from 9-5, and I hated it. I thought: If I can’t even do three days a week, how can I possibly do five? I’m not cut out for this.
            Over the last year, as I seemed to approach a path where I can’t see a way out of the 9-5, my trepidation increased. The pure amount of time one spends at the office – when does that leave time for anything else? And yet, as I’ve been at C a couple days a week from 9-5:30, I begin to see myself living that kind of life. When I realize that I am spending as much or more time working now, not to mention the commute, I see that I practically already have a full-time job. I just don’t get paid for all of it.
            One step at a time, I think I am making my way toward a full-time job. I think when I get there, I may not only be ready, I may be eager for it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lifelong Search

Esther gets better. They don't tell you that. Here I am, approaching the end of The Bell Jar, thinking the novel is going to end in her wretched suicide or a ghastly vision of her stuck in an asylum until she dies of shock treatments by overzealous “doctors.” But she gets out. At the end of the book, the girl regains her sanity and re-enters society.
However, she has no way of knowing if her sanity will stick. In the final chapter, Esther says, "I wasn't sure at all. How did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?"
            My questions about my life may not be certifiable but it is insanity of a sort, and the insanity in it is Esther’s bell jar, hovering overhead. The uncertainty may come back at any moment. I thought I made a choice: to write. At the time it seemed simple. I had direction, motivation, and drive in a way that I never had before. As I navigate this path, my once-simple decision blurs. What do I want? What am I going to do (with my life)? These questions reappear again and again.
My father wrote me a letter from the east coast, when he went to New York for his Cornell reunion. He wrote: "Seeing classmates I haven't seen in 44 years was interesting; some are busy, some are retired, some gave up on architecture and are writing or making pottery. Everybody's trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. It never changes. We're all searching." And I thought I would reach a turning point, one decision in which I would figure out my life, and everything after that would be easy. I found my father’s note very comforting. People in their sixties are still trying to figure their lives out. This is not a line from point A to point B. My questions are not going to disappear. Rather than fearing the descent of madness at any moment, I might as well embrace the journey. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Days at C

Yesterday I began an internship at C Magazine in Santa Monica. I am going to be at C two days per week and at Santa Barbara Magazine two days per week, so I’m looking at a crazy summer.
The first day was fabulous. I already knew how to do the usual things (though I constantly worry I’m going to say “Santa Barbara Magazine” when I’m at C, and vice versa). The office is larger, but the new faces are friendly.
In the last two days, I have had several projects that I have never had at SBMag, each with a different draw. In one assignment, I searched for a new book we might like to cover, and this meant I was assigned to read summaries and excerpts of novels! Not only fun, but also great research for my fiction writing, to learn what kinds of things are being published now. I spent today on, going through the fall lines of the top designers. This satisfied my fashion cravings, and also a bit of design, art, and photography – and it was an assignment!
Of course there were awkward moments. Once I misheard my editor, had to ask for clarification, and when the answer turned out to be something exceedingly simple, the look on her face seemed to me as though she was questioning her decision to take me on. And the paper towel incident – how was I to know that the rack was not that sturdy? I yanked too hard and the whole roll came off. The thing unwound, twirling in the air, landing in a pool of accumulated drips at the foot of the sink. Half the roll was soiled, and I felt guilty throwing it out. I peered about for a hidden camera for “America’s Funniest First-Day-of-Work Videos.”
The hours (9-5:30) plus the commute (30-45 min in traffic each way) are already wearing on me. It seemed as though I got home the first night and five minutes later had to crawl into bed in preparation for the next morning’s early wake-up. Some days I contemplate this life and I could see myself loving it. Other days I am not so optimistic – when will I have time for fiction? I like to think about my mentor telling me that he writes as much, if not more, when he has a full-time job as when he does not. I have always been a creature of routine. Perhaps it’s just about finding the right one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fig Tree Madness

When my sister suggested Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to me by saying, “It reminds me a lot of my life, but it really reminds me a lot of your life,” I thought this a compelling recommendation. Then I realized that this is the book about a girl’s descent into madness, the novel that parallels the author’s own psychological battlefield, and Plath, of course, committed suicide. And then I wondered just exactly what my sister was trying to tell me - but, insanity aside (at least so far), I found she was right. I’m only one third of the way through this book, and I’m seeing a lot of myself in Esther Greenwood. For starters, the protagonist is a young, female writer with an internship at a magazine. In chapter 7, she compares the many options in her life to an image of a fig tree:

“From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked… I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

            In the modern age, Esther Greenwood’s dilemma is a common one, and we call it “the quarterlife crisis.” As Kate Carraway says in her article Welcome to your Quarterlife Crisis,

“…the 'Quarterlife Crisis,' is as ubiquitous as it is intangible. Unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.”

After some serious soul-searching when I graduated from UCLA, I thought I was ahead of the game in my realization of wanting to be a writer. Yet as I travel down this path, I feel like my options are only expanding, and my quarterlife crisis goes on. There are so many avenues of publishing and types of writing I haven’t explored. I love the things I am already doing, but nothing seems to be happening as fast as I would like. Sometimes magazine writing and fiction writing are complementary, and sometimes they conflict. Lately I have felt as though they are separate figs and focusing on one means giving up the other. I feel like it is time for me to make some change in my life, to take some active step in my career, but I’m not sure what it is. I feel as though, about a quarter of the way through my life, I am already running out of time, and I'm afraid of wrinkling, blackened figs plopping at my feet.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Passion of Asher Lev

Quite a few months back, my mentor suggested I read Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev, and I finally read it last week. The novel tells the story of a young man torn between his religion, Hasidic Judaism, and his art. Asher Lev's dedication to his craft was more than passion. It was like breathing, or a heartbeat - without it, he could not survive.
From the beginning of the novel, discord grows between the protagonist and his father. Asher's father wants him to give up drawing and study Torah, but Asher is incapable of abandoning his art. His passion is such that at moments, he will make a drawing and not remember having done it. [**Spoiler Alert!!**] Ultimately Asher must choose his community or his art. By the end, Asher has been expelled from the community, and he hurts his parents deeply. He sacrifices his relationship with the two people he loves most for the sake of his painting.
I am lucky that I do not have to make this choice. I am lucky to have the support of my parents. For my father's 65th birthday in April, I went with him and my mother to the Lang-Lang concert at the Granada Theater. Classical music gives you a lot of time to think, and during intermission, my mother said, "I've been thinking about what I can do to support you." She was thinking about the way that she was raised, and how she has realized her passions later in life than I. I am blessed to have the emotional, and fiscal, support of my parents. I would not be where I am without them. They make the way for me to follow my dreams.
I do not have to make Asher Lev’s choice. I wonder if I could – I don't think so. But I also do not think I would die if I could not write. I have received several responses to this. My boyfriend jokingly accused, "That means you are not a real writer!" As an artist himself, he is familiar with the self-questioning we creative types daily face. My writers' group in Santa Barbara suggested several things: 1) it is unlikely that I would ever not be able to write, given the society in which we live, 2) not being able to write and not being able to create at all are different things, and 3) not writing may not inspire a literal death, but a figurative one. A mature, female artist friend said, "To die if you cannot create? That is how it is for all true artists." 
Professional writers write all the time, on everything. They keep notepads in their shirt pockets and scribble on napkins, in lipstick on car windows. At a UCLA panel last year, Kate Milliken said - "Writers write. If I am not writing, I do not consider myself a writer." My passion is strong but not that strong. I am no Asher Lev. I think about his character, his story, and I am both grateful and jealous. What would life be like, if I truly could not go a day without writing? Of course, it is not something I would like to test. The more I think about it, the less I like how my life might look with such a ban. Can Asher Lev’s type of passion be cultivated? I think I shall try.

Friday, May 28, 2010

SB Mag June/July Bylines!

            The June/July issue of Santa Barbara Magazine hits stands June 1st. I have FOUR bylines in this issue! Back page and a couple of blurbs. I also did a bunch for RSVP, but since the focus in that section is event photos, the write-ups are short and there are no bylines. I am thrilled with this issue and my work in it. It never fails – seeing my name on those glossy pages brings joy. Even more exciting, this time around some of my writing has made it onto the website!
 The above is at the Santa Barbara Magazine website under the "Style" section, and the one below can be found under "Around Town."
Now, if I could get some fiction published...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Childhood Freedom

A few weeks ago I went to a festival at Alameda Park. I was hanging out on the grass with a few friends, watching the band, when a little girl and her father sat in front of us. The girl was two or three years old, wearing pink shoes with sparkly flowers on them, a floral top, purple skirt and leggings, and pigtails. She was loving the music. Dancing, spinning, twirling, just totally into it, completely unabashed. The kind of freedom you only have at that age, when you are not afraid of anything. She spun, fell, rolled on her back, kicked her legs in the air. She twisted sideways and lifted a single leg up, then held that awkward pose for a moment before diving back into jerky movements all her own. Her dancing was the kind that you are not supposed to do after a certain age, because the movements are no longer socially acceptable. The look on her face was pure enjoyment. She grinned at us and her expression said, “Look how much fun I’m having!” But it wouldn’t have mattered if we were there or not. She wasn’t dancing for us. She was dancing for herself.
I told my mother about the girl later, describing how free she was. My mother's comment mirrored my thoughts: “That won’t last.” Her cynical remark was offhand, a reflex. She was right. There was also an old man on the lawn, having the best time with a hula-hoop. My mother’s comment about him was that he has done everything. What is there to care about? By then no one else’s opinions matter.
What is this space between the unabashed freedom of the young and the experienced carelessness of the old? Why is it that we spend the majority of our lives concerned about how we will appear to others?
I don’t think I really remember what it was like not to care. I find I struggle to write only for myself. I think about what my writing will make people feel, think, do, and say. Where is that place that I must draw from, to continue on, to believe in myself, when there are no assurances - in fact evidence, in the form of rejections, people telling me that there are a lot of better writers out there? I am looking for this place in myself. I want to tap that careless creativity, that freedom.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Building My Bookshelf

When you want to be a writer, there are two things the wise tell you to do. One, first and foremost, is write. According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success, it takes 10,000 hours to become a master. The second thing to do, of course, is read. But not just anything – it makes quite a difference what you read.
The New Yorker is a given. Poets & Writers Magazine is a popular one. Certain literary journals, which can be found in the magazine section at Borders for easy research. Of course, the Writer’s Market.
The classics are always a good place to begin – learn from the greats. Thanks to my English major education, I have a head start: Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, not to mention various required Spenserian and Elizabethan lit courses. I also took a Greek mythology course, so I’m up on my Homer and Euripides too. My reading list is peppered with all the things I managed to skip. I, like many fellow English majors, became accomplished in the art of BS – taking exams and acing them, on books I hadn’t actually read. I admit there is some Joyce I have yet to tackle.
When my writers’ group asked me to put together a brief book list, I came up with the following. My mentor suggested most of these books, which have been – and surely will continue to be – instrumental in my journey:

1. The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Commonly known as “Strunk and White.” Possibly the simplest, most straightforward grammar guide ever. I “borrowed” my sister’s gorgeous, red fabric, hardcover copy, which was given to her by one of our aunts. The illustrations make the grammar much easier to take in.
2. The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
On Becoming A Novelist,
John Gardner
This stuff is dense. And brilliant. When I first tried to read him, I couldn’t connect. I went back to it as I began to pursue writing and encounter the struggles involved. Everything made so much sense. It was amazing to discover something that so perfectly described what I was dealing with.
3. On Writing, Stephen King
A much easier read than the Gardner. Having read only two short stories of his, I won’t weigh in on whether or not King’s work is “literature,” but the guy is undeniably prolific. And he sells. My favorite pieces of advice: no adverbs, and don’t give up (I love the nail of rejection slips that turned into a stake!).
4. Story, Robert McKee
This is technically a film bible, but it holds true for fiction – plot techniques, character voice, etc. The examples are more helpful when you’ve seen the movies discussed, but overall they make the book much easier to understand.
5. Writing Fiction, Gotham Writers' Workshop
If I’m ever stuck, this is a great place to go for prompts. It also includes fundamentals of writing. It is definitely worth going through the whole thing, and then starting over again.
6. The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris
I love this guide because it takes you step-by-step. So far the way I write stories has been to just jump in, which makes editing both cathartic and excruciating. I can see that it makes a lot of sense to plan my novels before writing.

Beyond these, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is, read things that are similar to what you wish to write. Discovering my genre is… under exploration.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Writing Breeds Writing

            I always feel better after writing. When journaling for myself, writing is a release. What started as venting about my annoying little sister when I was ten has morphed into something that, no matter when or for how long, always makes me come away more relaxed. When writing fiction, I have that overwhelming and powerful sense of creation. This is bigger than me.
After writing something for the magazine, I feel accomplished. Even little blurbs, even ones that will go to press without my name on them. Of course, the ones that have my name on them, and the longer the articles are, the more accomplished I feel. I have a sense of relief. A momentary reprieve from the constant nagging need to Do Something. And then, in the wake of accomplishment, I feel drive. I am motivated to do more. What can be next, what more could I write, what longer piece?
            The week before last at the internship was fabulous. On a Wednesday afternoon, my editor comes over to me and asks me if I want to write a blurb. (I love how she asks me – as if I’d say no!) Then she says, I’m sorry to throw this at you, but the woman for you to interview is on the phone Right Now! No time to prepare – this was new. I’ve worked under deadline, felt like I had no time to write, but I’ve always had time to prepare. Luckily my editor is wonderful and always gives me a head start – what direction to go in, a few questions to ask – and the woman I interviewed was lovely and loquacious. I had a good draft done by the end of the day – just needed to put in some pricing – and I had it e-mailed to my editor that night, so it was “on her desk” by the next working day.
The following afternoon, I had an in-person interview. With a tape recorder and everything. It was brief, and there will be no byline, but I will know that my work went into a feature article. It is also incredibly thrilling to be given these assignments, because it serves as validation. It means that somebody has noticed how hard I’m working, how much I want this, and it means that the work I’ve been turning out has been good enough to warrant more. Certainly it was a hyperbolic introduction, as the editor must have wanted my interviewee to feel comfortable and not foisted off onto an intern, but her praise made me want to dance. “Taylor is one of our star interns,” she said. A star intern! Really, it just makes me hungry for more.
            Today, I got assigned a 500-word article. The longest yet, in a whole new section! I battle worry that for one reason or another, it won’t actually happen. But mostly my excitement is pervasive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Grad School: Rejection

Having lived in southern California my whole life, and feeling frustrated with seeming to encounter the same types of people (read: actors, screenwriters, directors in Los Angeles; retirees and hippies in Santa Barbara), I decided I wanted to go the East Coast for grad school. I applied to 11 programs: eight in New York and three in Massachusetts.
            The deadlines spread out over December, January, February, and even one at the beginning of March. The waiting began with the submission of my first application on December 15.
            As the prospect of moving to the East Coast became an actual possibility, I started freaking out. The cold, the extreme humidity, being so far away from friends and family, having to deal with being in big cities with so much going on, not knowing my way around… was I really ready for this? I’d be walking to class on the beach or hiking with my dog and I’d think: Am I really giving this up?
Then the rejection letters started coming in. I questioned myself. Why? Why not me? What did I do wrong in my application? How else should I have done the personal statement? And then, the worst – Perhaps I am not really meant to be a writer after all. Perhaps I should just give up now. The same form in the same few sentences in the same slim envelopes: “We have not been able to recommend you for admission” and “admissions were exceptionally competitive this year.” Which, of course, never makes you feel any better. I did appreciate the note of encouragement from Syracuse: “Their consensus not to recommend admission to the program should in no way be interpreted as a discouragement of your writing.” After dealing with the usual emotions associated with rejection, I started to feel an intense relief. I could stay in SoCal, be near friends and family I didn’t want to leave.
A couple of people in my writers’ group in Los Angeles introduced me to Driftless House, a blog dedicated to providing info about application responses from graduate writing programs across the U.S. The idea is that you’re not chewing your fingernails through February and March when the decisions aren’t even made until April. For me, it functioned as added stress. But ultimately, I was gladder to know. Rather than waiting, having the rejection letters come one by one to the mailbox, I was prepared. I still have not received all my letters, but I’ve reached a point where I am happier finally just to know.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Naming My Passion

I hesitate to call it “discovering” my passion, since I have always loved to write. When my sister and I used to have sleepovers at my aunt’s house, she gave us a marker and pencil set and two notebooks. Blank pages – those lacking lines – are usually used for drawing, and I had a pretty good collection of pictures. But in amongst the images was a story about a caterpillar that I had written in kindergarten. I have been writing stories since I knew how to write.
My mom used to force me to write journals, particularly when we traveled. I have a fantastic pocket-sized book full of ranting about my sister when we were in China. Opening the book today, the scent of the pages brings back my feelings of vexation. At fourteen, I finally started journaling for myself, using the technique of “freewriting,” which I hated when it was introduced to me in a middle school English class. English classes, of course, were always my strength, and I eventually became an English major. There was nothing else I wanted to spend that much time on, and nothing else I was as good at. Going through my closet the other day, I discovered several issues of my high school newspaper, and more articles than I realized I’d written. My sophomore semester on the editing team of the literary magazine was one of the best I can remember – and my introduction to creative writing workshops.
Often through my life, I’ve wished I’d known what I wanted to be when I grew up. I envied my father, who got an undergraduate degree in architecture, a graduate degree in architecture, and then became, yes, an architect. I think about all the things I might have done, had I known. Yet I can look back and see that I have always been a writer.
So, rather than saying I’ve “discovered” my passion, I will call it “naming” my passion. There is, however, a lot to be said for naming one’s passion. It gave me a path to follow, steps to take. I connected with a former English teacher of my sister’s who became my writing mentor. I took creative writing courses, and developed writing groups out of them. I decided to apply for graduate school, for a Creative Writing MFA, and I then applied, to 11 schools – writing the personal statement is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I got not one but two internships, at CASA Magazine and Santa Barbara Magazine . I began reading short stories in The New Yorker , I read novels on writing (John Gardner, Stephen King), I became addicted to the “Visual Bookshelf” app on Facebook. And – I wrote.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Writer's Epiphany

I ran out into the sunlight, my purple, plastic box banging against the side of my knee as I clutched it. I caught an elbow here, a bump there in the mass of children pouring onto the playground after school. It didn’t matter because preschool was done for the day.

The teachers herded us to the waiting area for pick-up. Bits of stray asphalt poked me as I plopped my three-year-old self on the ground.

A few feet away, three girls in the grade above me huddled in a circle. One of the girls whispered in another’s ear. She giggled and passed the secret on. Every day after school, those three girls sat together so close that their cross-legged knees touched.

I rested my box in my lap and opened it, but only a crack, so nobody else could see. I leaned down to the crack and looked inside, to make sure that everything was still there. When I peeked at the girls around my box, they were staring at me.

The girls giggled to each other. I closed my purple box and clutched it tighter. One of the girls stood, motioned for the other two to stay seated. She flounced over to me, her ponytail bobbing beneath a neon pink bow.

“You can be friends with us,” she said, looking back toward the other girls, “If you show us what you have in that box.”

I looked up at her pudgy four-year-old face and pictured myself sitting with them. Four girls huddled together with our knees touching, giggling, telling secrets.

“Ok,” I said. The leader beckoned the other girls over. I set the plastic box on the ground. I released the latches and flipped open the lid, exposing my treasures. I looked at the other girls, waiting. They had seen and now I could be best friends with them too.

The girls’ faces contorted as they giggled. The same sounds they had emitted moments ago, only closer, and louder, and directed at me. The girls laughed as they ran away, and the sound of their tittering continued when they gathered at the foot of the playground jungle gym.

I closed my box and cried until my mother came.

When I graduated from UCLA, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I took a seminar to try to figure it out. I was one of the youngest people in that seminar. There were all these older people around me realizing they weren’t happy with their careers. I didn’t want to turn around when I was 30, or 40, or 50, and say, I wish I’d done x, y, z when I was in my twenties.

I looked back at that incident on the schoolyard when I was three. I don’t even remember what was in that box – pipe cleaners or Silly Putty (which I still find cool, by the way) or something. It is easy to remember what it felt like sitting alone, wishing to be part of their friendship. When they laughed at me, I knew it was because of that box, and how I was different. I decided I was not going to be different anymore. I was going to conform, to do what was right, what everybody else said I should do. Then they wouldn’t laugh at me. I decided, no more purple boxes.

I can track this decision through my life – I did what I was told was the right thing to do. I got good grades, went to a good school, joined a sorority. Normal. When I graduated, I thought I was going to go into marketing. Wear a suit, get a corporate 9-5.

Then, as I saw how that preschool experience had affected my life, I was able to let it go. When there were no constraints, no “should’s,” nothing to do that everybody else said was right, I was left with questions: What did I really want? If I could do anything, what would it be?

Write. Write, write, write.