Writing for Yourself

After all this time, I’ve never really kept a private journal for myself. I mean, I wrote stories in black-and-white composition books when I was little and I had my own online journal when I was a teenager (still kind of do), but other people always read these things.  My family and teachers enjoyed reading my books and my friends commented on my journal. There was always this audience, even though I claimed to be writing for myself.

Well, I’ve finally decided to change that and start writing in a simple brown notebook that no one knows about. No one knows about it and no one reads it. It’s only for my unfiltered, unedited thoughts. There aren’t any stories, just these wide strokes of feelings vomited on to the page. I don’t plan on articulating myself properly with this – it’s mostly just for therapy. Looking back on everything else, I don’t know why I haven’t done this sooner. I don’t know why I didn’t find a place for this before. No big deal I guess, except for how strange it suddenly makes me feel and how it’s made me realize that maybe I haven’t really been writing what I feel, and how, maybe, I’ve still been a bit too safe in how I go about it.

If someone finds it, I’m not going to act like a teenager. If they read it, they can be horrified or disgusted or amused. Probably a combination of all the above.

It’s also made me realize how awful I am in verbalizing my own feelings. I can’t seem to spit anything out. I usually end up laughing because it makes me so uncomfortable. Maybe it makes me scared. Either way, I seem to treat my emotions like they aren’t really my emotions. Writing about them in a fictional way has never been difficult, but writing about them without the fiction is something entirely different.

Carousel #3

I don’t have much to post here this week because I’ve been busy working on writing things and spending less time just scouring the internet. Hopefully I’ll have things to post about my writing soon. Anyway, enjoy!

  1. I stumbled across the artwork of Baran Sarigul. Love when metaphors and symbols become real and lush like this. Particularly here and here.
  2. Writer Jonathan Franzen has notorious unpopular opinions and one of these is being stubbornly opposed to all forms of social networking. The thing is, he’s already a well-known writer and he doesn’t even know (or has to know) a thing about it. Roxane Gay wrote this excellent post that pretty much encapsulates my opinions as well.
  3. Infamous Latina writer Isabel Allende visited my alma mater and discussed her books, the writing process, language, her family, her idea of being a stranger in a strange culture, and feminism. Charming and outright hilarious woman.
  4. My friend Nikki recently discovered the website Least Helpful, which seeks out the internet’s least helpful (and most hilarious) product reviews. Just take a glance at those reviews of Animal Farm. Do people like this actually exist on this planet?
  5. Here is a short list of recommended books for teenagers who want to be better writers. I’ve only read His Dark Materials, but this seems like a pretty decent list (The Shadow of the Wind is sitting on my bookshelf though!).

The Small Things and the Big Things

This week, I spent some time with Melissa, dear friend and fellow writer, and we went to the same Barnes and Noble I was talking about a few weeks ago. Apparently, I’m not going crazy because there have been articles now where the stores are actually stocking less and less books. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I managed to pick up Other People We Married, a short story collection by Emma Straub that I was somewhat surprised to see (maybe I’ll tweet Emma and tell her how it was right in the front of the store, in the “new fiction” section), and Melissa got me The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Díaz is one of her favorites). We  also had a very nice breakfast together and talked about our current writing projects. She has been mostly working on fairly large projects, while I’ve been working on small things. It got me thinking about my own bigger, more involved long-term projects I’ve had in my head for a while.

Here are some of those long-term projects:

  1. A coming of age novel. Probably the one I have thought about the most over the years, and the one most likely to happen eventually. I have names for the characters I want to write about and short backgrounds on who they are, as well as the title for the novel itself. I have scraps of conversations I want them to have and recurring symbols and images to flesh their world out. What I don’t have: what kind of point of view I want to use (first-person or third? alternating between characters?) and the central conflict or main plot thread that will tie everything and everyone together.
  2. A children’s book. My family thinks I have the capacity to write one of these (or a series of these) over everything else. I definitely have the gist of a story written down somewhere, but it’s nothing fleshed out yet. Hypothetically, it would read something like a cross between The Phantom Tollbooth and The Little Prince in that it will have an imaginative world with curious characters, and hopefully can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike due to it being a story with both simple language and underlying symbolism. The main issue with this one is the fact that I think it may be too morbid or mature for children. But I know there are plenty of strange books out there like that anyway (see: anything by Roald Dahl, mostly).
  3. A short story collection. It’s the form I’m used to. I’ve written an online collection before called Letters for Burning. Short fiction is something I’ve always been naturally drawn to and I love writing it.
  4. An epic, sprawling novel with a light touch of magical realism or mythology. I’m not sure I can handle the “epic” and “sprawling” parts, but I’d like to experiment with this. I’ve written short stories that read like this, so who knows. I don’t have any ideas for it yet though.
  5. A novel that is more like interconnected stories about a community of characters. I guess this one would be in the vein of something like Winesburg, Ohio or A Visit From the Goon Squad. I like this idea quite a lot because it’s like writing short stories, but with recurring characters, themes, and timelines. No idea for anything yet, but I think maybe it would involve a gated community based on the one in which I live and how the families and their surrounding eccentric neighbors come to relate to each other.

Carousel #2

Lately, I think I’ve been getting a better handle on posting things more regularly to this blog, which is a good thing. This week, I thought a lot about names and identity and how that relates to my own writing, as well as my own personal tastes and reading habits. I’ve also got a few writing assignments to work on and a short story done that relates to the things mentioned above (which was actually just a coincidence). Hope you enjoy this week’s stops.

  1. A place where people try to one-up you on what you’ve been reading? This video clip makes Portland seem less like just a strange place on the other side of the country and more like a completely different planet.
  2. Surreal short short story: Thieves.
  3. I read a fantastic essay by Kathleen Alcott on names and why naming is so important to our identity and who we are as writers, especially.
  4. A hilarious short story about a woman giving birth to a laptop: Angela’s Baby.
  5. More Angelas appear!: Continuing with my Jean-Luc Godard run, I watched Une Femme est une Femme, suggested by Angela, who shares her name with the main character. It’s quirky and very amusing. You can watch the memorable book scene on Youtube. Although, the subtitles are far from perfect from what I can tell, unfortunately.
  6. There was this gender breakdown of the biggest literary journals that got a lot of writers and editors talking. And it got me thinking about the continuous cycle of social injustice and my own personal reading habits.
  7. My dear friend Nikki started a blog chronicling her adventures in professional floristry. It reminded me of my own little garden I had as a kid, and how I aspired to be a botanist once, before I even had the idea of writing a story instead.
  8. My other friend Tracey now posts her artwork online, and it’s all incredibly lovely. It’s been amazing to see her journey as both an artist and photographer. It also reminds me of how frequently jealous I am of people with such beautifully precise spatial skills – something I have always lacked entirely.

Read More Female Writers!

When it comes to dealing with other people’s reading habits, something that has always bothered me is the way so many readers of fiction largely ignore women writers, whether consciously or unconsciously. I always think to myself: I must be dreaming! This is 2012, and this is still going on? Yet I’ve encountered (and continue to encounter) quite a few male readers who simply just don’t read any at all (maybe a short story by Flannery O’Connor or two, and maybe some Joyce Carol Oates, maybe). It just seems really extraordinary to me.

Obviously, there is something to be said here about patriarchy and how women have been stifled and silenced throughout history when it comes to writing, philosophy, the arts, the Western canon, etc. The other day, I came across these statistics that detail the gender breakdown of contributions to the biggest literary journals around. Shocked? Well, I suppose you could reasonably guess the results without even looking. I know I did. But the gender disparity is still fairly alarming regardless, and the divide is far more gaping than I imagined. There have been several responses to these statistics already, with both editors and readers alike trying to come up with possible solutions to address these problems. Other relevant questions might be: How many men actually submit to these magazines in comparison to women? If more men do (which I suspect is the case), why is that? Do women still feel powerless in their attempts to become great literary writers, or is their attention simply focused elsewhere? Or both?

I remember once coming across a particular male reader’s blog discussing how few women writers he has given the time of day. It went something like this: “I’ve noticed I don’t read female writers at all, but I think that’s simply a coincidence. It’s just the type of books I like.” Honestly, with all the women writers I can name (even those considered “literary”), I don’t think that’s a very convincing argument.

And what about the newer and upcoming online literary journals? Is this disparity the same for them, or is it becoming more equal? This is just based on my own observations (no official statistics here or anything), but I do suspect there may be a much more equal gender representation among these journals, than say, The New Yorker.

With that said, I think it would be great if people actively tried to search out more books by female authors this year. As of now, I’ve only read one novel so far, but at least I can safely say that that is, in fact, just a coincidence (back in 2011, I actually read more female writers than I did male writers). There are many on my to-read list already, and I look forward to getting to them. Particularly Carson McCullers, who I’ve grown to love very much recently.