Why I Write

When I was in college studying literature and writing, my mom suggested I watch Dead Poets Society, the brilliant Oscar-awarded movie featuring Robin Williams as a university literature professor inspiring his students to love literature. Recently one of my Facebook friends posted the following quote:

“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

I am in the middle of living out the first part of the quote. I’m a Communication Specialist for a natural gas company. I work among engineers and talk about gas pipes and construction routes. I know that, while I want to publish novels about fantasy, animals, finance, and government, I am living my best life by doing what I’m meant to do at the moment: staying with my parents; paying off my college debt; spending quality time with my brother, sister-in-law, and friends; and enjoying the fruits of my bountiful Minneapolis job.

But my mind lately has been nudging me toward the second part of the quote. Why did I choose a bachelor’s degree in English Literature & Writing to master my novel writing, only to choose a job in professional writing? The answer is necessity. One has to make decisions based on what they know now. That’s what my parents taught me. To back this wisdom, I remember a powerful quote from Becoming Jane, another one of my favorite movies, in which Jane Austen’s father says to Jane, “Nothing destroys family like poverty.”

Far from being poor, I took the sensible decisions. I took out student loans and procured scholarships to afford my degree. I’m living with my parents to lower my expenses and am enjoying the fruits of well-balanced decisions.

But since my mind has remained on the second part of the quote, I satiated myself by going to a Young People’s Literature conference at the University of Minnesota this past Wednesday, April 4. The authors on the Q&A panel were M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, David Barclay Moore, and Nicola Yoon, all of whom were either middle-grade or young adult novelists with awards or film adaptations. (Below is their picture with the authors from left to right.) They spoke on the subjects of writing for children as adults, battling writers’ block, avoiding any sugar-coating of children’s stories, portraying truth explicitly and implicitly, and writing issue vs. non-issue books.

My heart was billowing that night when I heard my favorite middle-grade novelist, Kate DiCamillo, read from her The Tiger Rising novel and spoke about the encouragement she received from her university professor, who helped inspire her full-time writing career. When the Q&A panel was finished, I raced to be the second person in line for her book signing. Although I had no book with me, I told her it was a delight to hear her speak and that I was a fan of her writing since I was nine. My heart was thumping from delight. She shook my hand, thanked me, and said it was a pleasure speaking that night. When I took my phone to text my parents, my hands were shaking.

Since then, I’ve kept my mind in a state of awe for the literary life. When I picture myself as a mature writer, I think of what rhythm I’d have. I’d be sitting in my living room with my laptop on the couch, a mug of tea on my coffee table, and a printed draft of my manuscript for reference. My goals are as follows: to revise my manuscript, compile a list of literary agents, and query my manuscript to agents, per the advice of blogger Jackie Lea Sommers, a graduate from my alma mater. In her blog, Sommers teachers her readers what to expect when publishing a novel. (If you’re interested, go read her blog here.)

The more I read about the daily lives of writers, the realistic challenges they face, and the typical results of publishing with traditional companies, the more excited I become. This is my dream laid out before me in black and white. I’m taking it one step at a time.

My advice to you, readers, is to follow your heart. I’m taking the sensible and passionate routes of keeping my dreams alive while fulfilling my basic daily needs. I believe you can do the same.

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Why Do You Write?

In his memoir A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote about Gertrude Stein’s thirst for reader approval. “Writing every day made her happy,” he wrote, “but as I got to know her better I found that for her to keep happy it was necessary that this steady daily output, which varied with her energy, be published and that she receive recognition.”

At this point in my writing journey, I’m not sure which is better for me: to be recognized for my writing or to pursue the pleasure of writing. I’ll illustrate with two narratives from my life.

My pursuit of the pleasure of writing began when I was nine, when I started writing children’s stories like those I read from Angelina Ballerina and poems like those from Dr. Seuss’s tales. Going into high school, I kept my dream of writing fiction alive. I attended a teenage writers group at the Wescott Library in Eagan, Minnesota, where I received consistently positive criticism on my short story excerpts.

Going into college, I quickly learned how to write under pressure and intense grading, from which I took some of the most invaluable courses from my bachelor’s degree at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. For example, “Writing Theory” was a class that taught me how to affect my readers’ emotions by choosing my diction, the sounds of my letters, and the length of my sentences to match my prose or poetry. Because of my dedication to my craft and the effort I put into my Honors classes, I graduated with flying colors.

Since I’ve been living the graduated life for two years now, I’ve found that I need to balance the pleasure of my writing with the recognition I receive from writers. Some of my favorite examples have come from reading my prose to a group of writers at a coffee shop in St. Paul. (Check out my essay “Simply Bask,” which I published in my university’s literary magazine!) The thrill of reading aloud to a live audience, seeing their attentive faces, and walking off a stage to a clapping crowd is one of the reasons why I want to keep writing. To publish my fiction with a traditional company is one of my goals, when I will further experience the joy of being published and recognized like Miss Stein.

So, my readers, what are your dreams in writing or publishing fiction? What are you pursuing, and when have you had an occasion to be recognized for your work? My thoughts go out to you! Godspeed.

I Broke My Writing Hiatus

Friends, readers, I’m sorry I took a year and a half off from writing. Not only did I neglect my blog, but I also neglected my craft. For the years of 2016 and 2017, I set aside other important duties which, as much as I respect writing, I found to be more important. My brother got married to a beautiful and godly woman. My family and I moved from Eagan to Lakeville in a stunning house. Finally, I found my job at CenterPoint Energy, which has been more wonderful than I could’ve thought possible in a job. I’m using my writing skills to publish about 15 construction reports a week; my co-workers and my boss make my days enjoyable and fun; and I’m using my salary to pay off all my college debt!

Writing has never been far from me. I’ve published an article in Refreshed about a woman who recovered from consumption abuse and created her own clinic to help those who’ve experienced her pains. I’ve shared my college poetry at a reading in a local coffee shop in Roseville. My days have a blessing. Even my personal reading, which has varied anywhere from Confessions of a Shopaholic to The Old Man and the Sea, has been consistently pleasurable. My professors would be proud of me.

But one thing remains on my mind: Why did I take off a year of writing if it meant so much to me? I believe I was starting to lose a little motivation. Although my passion never ceases and my imagination never runs dry, I did what was honorable: spending time with my family two years after my college graduation. My next step remains open: Now that I’ve established my life’s routine, I want to incorporate a healthy dose of creative writing into my daily life. It all starts with a little motivation.

I look to my job search as an inspiration for how to proceed with my writing life. None of my steps were in vain. Sending 90 applications with a result of 25 interviews was exhausting, but they led me to a full-time job in my field. Prior to CenterPoint Energy, I took six different temporary jobs, ranging from proofreader to data entry assistant. None were a waste.

I have never been one to settle for less, which is why I’m planning my steps to publish my fiction. I hear phrases like, “Life has a funny way of working itself out,” and you know what? It does. I truly believe it does.

I’m Still a Kid at Heart: Pooh Bear

When I was on my lunch break at work, I was reading Winnie-the-Pooh, the original adventures by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, at my desk and a co-worker came up to me. “What’s that?” he said. “I’m a kid at heart,” I said sheepishly as I pulled out Winnie-the-Pooh.

“No way!” he said. “I love it! You never stop growing up!”

It was my biggest reading compliment of the day. I had read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Gertrude Stein’s Paris France, and now Winnie-the-Pooh after craving something more delightful than modern fiction. I was blessed by all the cute and wonderful sayings I saw in Pooh Bear’s world, and below is one of my favorite quotes which I should make into a poster and put on my bedroom wall:

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

“It’s the same thing,” he said.

Now that I have a Pooh Bear quote to live by, I can wake up and have something to look forward to every day, like a good hearty breakfast (preferably with sausage and a muffin) or a coffee date with my favorite person in the whole wide world. Or I could be thinking “Grand Thoughts to [myself] about Nothing,” as A. A. Milne says about Pooh Bear when Christopher Robin goes off to sleep.

Maybe I should think of Grand Thoughts about Nothing? I suppose they’ll help me get to sleep sooner than I already do. Good Night, or Good Morning readers, and have a Grand Day.

How to Introduce a Book, and Why I Like Hemingway

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish….

-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

When you introduce a book, you can’t simply give an imagery description of the town, or a bland description of the character’s physique. Sometimes you wait to say who the character is or how the character looks until after you say what the character does.

Here in the introduction of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, I am struck by the short paragraph which tells readers why the old man is the center of this story. Look at the following passage, which is the rest of the introduction, to see what I mean:

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

Although I omitted sections for brevity, I included the most important phrase—“the flag of permanent defeat”—which sets the story’s tone and shows the old man’s perpetual misfortune. My favorite lines in the next few pages involve dialogue between the old man and the boy, when they reminisce about the time they first met and how important the boy is to the man:

“How old was I when you first took me in a boat?” [said the boy].

“Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?”

“I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. …”

“Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?”

“I remember everything from when we first went together.”

The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

“If you were my boy I’d take you out and gamble,” he said. “But you are your father’s and your mother’s and you are in a lucky boat.”

When Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for this novella, he deserved it well. We now know who the old man is by seeing him with our eyes and understanding him with our minds. That is the importance of style when introducing characters.

How a Story Ought to Be–Truthful and not Grotesque

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

One of the most prolific examples of fiction theory comes from “The Fiction Writer & His Country,” by Flannery O’Connor, a prolific fiction writer from the 1960’s South. O’Connor explains the reason why most people are drawn to grotesque elements in literature: These people experience grotesqueness in their lives and thus struggle to relate to anything else. They do not enjoy happy endings because they do not experience happy endings. Above all, they do not realize Jesus’ hope, and as a result, their stories have elements that are also without hope.

However, fiction should not include grotesque elements for the sake of being grotesque; rather, fiction should leave readers with a sense of energy, excitement, or hope, while conveying truth in a manner that seems realistic or true to life.

In my fiction writing, I aspire to create this atmosphere and convey my Jesus without words that only Christians would understand or fantastical situations that non-Christians would disbelieve. (If my stories require the character’s demise, I will use it.) I want to gradually incorporate Him in my stories until my readers are accustomed to Him. If I offend them with Jesus, I will not mention Him. Yet if they are open to possibilities, I will show them what joy I have found in Him (such as no stress) and appeal to them through this enjoyable atmosphere.

Aiming for Truth in Fiction–Flannery O’Connor’s Word of Wisdom

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

In her Mystery & Manners, Flannery O’Connor emphasizes the issue of some writers writing for the sake of being “THE writer” and not for the sake of writing. She instead claims that the writer should aim for truth; for art is truth, and the artists or writers that aim for truth have successfully accomplished this goal, regardless if their names are seen on the headlines of a newspaper.

I believe that O’Connor is labeling pride. Some writers may write to exalt themselves so that they earn millions or win the Pulitzer, when in fact the writer should aim to serve the work and serve God instead. To serve the work is to aim for excellence and truth, not to blatantly state an abstract issue, but rather to convey a sense of mystery that will draw the reader into the story.

To serve God is to accomplish all these things, whether His name or Deity is mentioned. Writers should subtly incorporate this truth into their work for the glory of God. They must not aim to exalt themselves; for in doing so, they may miss the main purpose of writing. They must allow truth to convey itself through a mystery, regardless if their names appear on the front headlines.