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.

Advertisements

I’m a Writer in the 21st Century

As I take a moment to honor Women’s History Month, I’m grateful for the contributions given, earned, and fought for the equality of women and men. I’m fortunate to pursue my career at the male-dominated CenterPoint Energy with ease, and to publish my creative writing with the best of my personality and style. This month reminds me of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech in the 2016 Grammy Awards. After all the obstacles she hurdled in her 14+ years in the music industry, she gave this message which spoke to me:

“I want to say to all the young women out there: There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you’re going, you will look around and you will know—it was you, and the people who love you, who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

When I heard this speech from my Eagan, Minnesota, townhome, it struck me that a creator’s work can stand above extreme criticism. My college education taught me the theory of New Criticism, which states that a reader or critic can evaluate a work independently of the author’s life or the society and era in which the work was written. The work should speak for itself.

When I observed my own life and writing, I found that my greatest comparison to Taylor Swift is my zeal for the creative life. My experience in the Teen Writers Group at the Wescott Library, my bachelor’s degree in Literature & Writing, and my career has taught me that experience and persistence stand above a crowd. I feel honored to live in the 21st century where the maxims of my favorite authors, both male and female, are at my fingertips. My advice to you, my readers, may sound cliché, but be yourself and stay true to your calling. Your work will shine above the rest.

When We Were Babies

When we were babies, we woke up to the sight of Beatrix Potter on our nursery walls. When we were in middle school, we read Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and by the time we’re grown up, we’ve read Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, Lord of the Rings, and classics which we’ve relished in our book clubs and coffee shops, sitting with a cup of tea in our hands and poring over each book we’ve grown to love.

This is the culture from which I’ve grown up and from which I’ve come to college, wanting to write my own stories, and daydream with imagination.

And yet, in this final semester, I’ve had to reconcile the world of fiction with the world of employment. From my culture, I grew up believing that employment would be the opposite of pleasure, that desk jobs would be like cages where I would be setting aside my writing for employment.

Which I have discovered is a very wrong aspect.

I did not anticipate the pleasure of seeking jobs where I would find the usefulness of my degree working itself out in so many different ways.

And yet, when I’ve had to ask God, “Where is the pleasure in writing?” I’ve had to reconcile the worlds of fiction and professional writing as a Literature and Writing major.

For here in our department, I have learned valuable skills in the worlds of technical writing, documents, manuscripts, and descriptions—all of which serve a purpose.

I have had to dissolve the dichotomy between literature and writing—and trust in God, which seemed like an abstract concept against the digital physicality of resumes and cover letters.

Though I have had to seek pleasure in both writing and literature, the stories with which I have grown up will always remain, and I will never lose the sight or dream of becoming an English major and writing fiction. And I hope you, too, inductees, will seek pleasure in both writing and literature as God guides you in this process. May you find pleasure in Him, and He in you. Thank you.

 

This speech was delivered to the inductees of Sigma Tau Delta, an International English Honors Society, at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul on April 21, 2015.

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’m Ditching New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, there’s the familiar pattern that people worldwide experience. It’s called New Year’s resolutions. After people cheer the jubilant “Happy New Year!” and yell the last ten seconds of the countdown, they begin to turn their minds to an imaginary list that some will achieve and others will forget. By the time the new year’s rhythms set in and people get busy with their lives, only a few achieve or begin to achieve their resolutions. Some abandon the idea of resolutions completely.

I’m definitely in the category of abandoning resolutions, but I hope my reasons will encourage you. When I was in my late teens or early twenties, I stopped writing them for the following reasons:

1. I did achieve them, but by working very hard.

2. I realized that one’s life should be consistent every year, regardless of resolutions.

3. Eventually, I found the task of writing resolutions redundant.

In my early teens, my New Year’s lists looked something like “I will exercise more,” “I will read the Bible for 30 min. a day,” “I will write more,” and so forth. I’m proud to say that I achieved these with great gusto. Now in my mid-twenties, my mind has turned to a powerful phrase which I hope will encourage you.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and Damned, the protagonist Anthony Patch is a young aristocrat who spirals into insanity because he waits for his grandfather’s inheritance year after year, during which time he does little to nothing with his time. His best friend Richard Caramel encourages him to pursue a career, something to take his mind off the inheritance and make his life meaningful. Richard says, “You do nothing, so nothing matters to you.” (My paraphrase.)

If you turn this statement into a positive perspective, you have a direction for your life. You can ask yourself, “What excites me most? What do I spend my time on most?” Fitzgerald’s statement hit me in the stomach when I reminded myself how little I was writing in the past two years. This year I’m determined to write more to fulfill my dream.

If you’re like me and you don’t write resolutions, please comment below on what you’re passionate about. If you do make resolutions, please share them! I’d love to hear from you, readers! Thank you for your thoughts.

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.

What Makes a Book Classic?

“A classic … is a successful book that has survived the reaction of the next period or generation. Then it’s safe, like a style in architecture or furniture. It’s acquired a picturesque dignity …”

-Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

When I think of my favorite classics, I remember how much joy they brought me. Growing up I read The Velveteen Rabbit and Too Much Noise, and growing older I read The Little House in the Big Woods, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Great Gatsby, A Christmas Carol, Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre … I could keep going.

I know a book is classic when it is intelligent, when it soothes or inspires me, and when it has clear transitions between its characters’ development, plot progression, and moral teachings. There is no plot summary that can satisfy the definition of a classic, but when readers from the next generations remember the most famous lines from a book, the book has survived into longevity:

  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride & Prejudice)
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities)
  • “Call me Ishmael.” (Moby Dick)
  • “You may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden.” (The Tale of Peter Rabbit)

 

That, my friends, is the definition of a classic. I am proud to be one of the readers to enjoy and pass on these tales of wonder.