"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Saturday, December 22, 2012

5 Things I Learned About Writing in 2012

(Note: This post is a response to "5 Things I Learned about Writing this Year" by Stephanie Morrill over at Go Teen Writers.)

When I read this post over at Go Teen Writers, something about it struck a chord. I've always been the kind of person who prefers to look forwards rather than back, so thinking about what I've learned about writing over the course of this year never really occurred to me. However, now that I think about it, reassessing your progress can be a valuable technique. It's important to remember that it's not just about the face-level accomplishments. It's not about how many words you've written, or the number of short stories you finished, or the novel still languishing in your drawer. It's about the changes your writing has undergone, and how it has changed you as a person. Keeping that in mind, here are 5 things I've learned about writing in 2012:

1. The importance of community: This summer I attended the Iowa Young Writer's Studio. The group of other teenage writers that I met there changed my life. We keep in touch through Facebook and I now have an active community of writers all over the world who I can turn to to find advice and inspiration. Not only that, but I've been lucky enough to find a group of friends at my school who are also passionate about writing, and together we've done so many great things. Oh, and joining Twitter* was probably the best thing that's happened to me on the social media front, besides starting this blog, of course. :) 

2. Time will always be a limiting factor-so work around it: This year more than ever has been extremely busy: from getting through the second semester of my junior year, to all the traveling I did during the summer, and not to mention the two or three months I spent on college applications. If you want to work on the projects that mean the most to you, you have to make time for them. Don't wait for your schedule to clear up, because chances are, it won't.

3. Trust your instincts: I learned this mostly from all the college application essays I had to write, but it applies to all writing (and life in general, for that matter). If something you've written doesn't feel right, don't give up and call it a day because you're tired or you tell yourself it's "good enough." For a while I thought the first draft of my Common Application essay was fine as is, but in the end I chose to re-write it completely and the finished result was ten times better than the original. The same rule applies the other way around, too. If someone wants you to change something about your work and you disagree with them, by all means consider it, but if you still come to the conclusion that it is not the best thing for your story or poem, then don't do it. After all, it's your work, and you have to satisfy yourself first. 

4. Be concise and to the point: Another lesson learned from writing application essays. When you only have 300 words to showcase a piece of yourself, you don't have room to ramble. The same goes for other types of writing: If you can say the same thing in fewer words, do it.

5. Don't forget to live a little: Writing is hard, and no matter what you think, staring at a blank screen all day most likely isn't going to break your writer's block. Get up, get moving, and take a break from writing if you need one. You'll come back to your computer refreshed and hopefully brimming with ideas. (Also, if you're worried about missing inspiration when you're out and about, consider carrying a purse sized notebook wherever you go and write in it when you see something that might be useful. Oh! and read this beautiful essay: On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion.)

What have you learned about writing this year?

*If you'd like to follow me, my Twitter handle is @laurapoet33

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Paper Towns

I finished Paper Towns by John Green last night at 12:15 am. This is the first John Green book I've read, and you should know I came to this book with several already formed expectations:
1. It would be funny. Some of the funniest scenes were (somewhat) spoiled by my friends when I happened to be around while they were talking about the book.
2. It would be well written. I don't know if you've yet stumbled upon the phenomenon that is John Green. If you haven't, know that he is pretty much the equivalent of a YA superstar. His books have won numerous awards and have pretty much all been on the best-seller list at one point or another. Needless to say, I was expecting to be blown away.
3. It would be very John-like. One thing that is the most unique about John Green is his online presence. He is one half (the other half is his brother, Hank Green) of the extremely successful Youtube channel: Vlogbrothers. And after watching so many of his videos, I started wondering wether or not the John Green I saw on Youtube would be the same John Green that I saw (heard?) while reading this book.

Before I tell you wether my expectations were lived up to, here's the jacket copy of Paper Towns: 
"Who is the real Margo? Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life- dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge- he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover than Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues- and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew..."

And now for wether or not Paper Towns lived up to my expectations:

1. It is funny. No, it's hilarious. I can't remember the last time a book made me laugh this much. Every other chapter I was doubled over, and even when the stakes are raised Green manages to slip in several more hilarious scenes. The dialogue is sharp and witty and the cadence of teenage speech is spot on. The perspective is decidedly male, and there is no shortage bodily function jokes running throughout. Even for someone who's not necessarily a fan of that kind of humor, it's impossible not to laugh when you're in the grasp of John Green's deliciously funny prose.

2. It is well written. At the beginning I was somewhat skeptical of this fact. The writing wasn't extraordinary, but it wasn't bad either. And as I read on, my doubts disappeared one by one. The book isn't filled with flowery language, but it doesn't need to be. Instead, Green's style is both frank and profound. He has a strong grasp of what he is trying to say and he says it well. All of the characters felt genuine, even the adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman, who the reader doesn't fully understand until the end. He captures high school friendships beautifully: the main character's two best friends get along most of the time, but also get on each other's nerves. There is also a philosophical side to the story, which ties in with Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself."As well as metaphors about paper towns and strings and the things that hold us together and make us see and understand each other for who we are. These are the parts that most remind me of the "Youtube John Green," which leads to the final section of this blog post.

3. It is very John-like. Of course, I don't pretend to know John Green personally. I base this solely on the version of him that I've seen from watching his Youtube videos. But while reading this book, I couldn't help hearing his voice. It is his humor and his philosophies and his heart. If you watch John's videos, you can't help feeling like you know the author of this book, and that makes it an even more worthwhile read.

Overall this was a genuine and beautifully written book. If you haven't read it (even if you're an adult and don't normally read YA) I highly recommend it. If you have read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

It seems fitting to end this post the same way John Green would: Don't Forget to be Awesome!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Inspiration: Jane Eyre

Something unusual happened to me last weekend. I was inspired...by a movie. In our household this should not be an uncommon occurrence. My parents are documentary filmmakers. Our DVD collection takes up two shelves in our bookcase, stacked. I doubt we could survive for long without Netflix. And yet, few movies have affected me in the way that the 2011 version of Jane Eyre did. I can list my favorite films (that's for another post), but its harder to think of films that have actually inspired me to go out and make something. I think I can say that Jane Eyre was one of these films.

(Note: This post is not a movie review. I will not be evaluating the casting, storyline, or the adaptation of the book. I should also say that I haven't seen any other adaptations of Jane Eyre-to date-and I am only part way through the book, which I am enjoying.)


Basically every scene in this movie has the same effect on the viewer as a Vermeer painting. The lighting is so beautiful, especially natural light that comes in through the large windows. The whole time I was watching, I kept thinking: "If only I could capture this atmosphere in words." Story aside, just the feel of this movie is enough to make me love it.

As you probably know by now, I've always been a lover of movie music. I have a whole playlist dedicated to it on my ipod. But until now I never thought I could write with a movie soundtrack in the background. In the past when I've done so, the music is too engrained in the film, and I can't separate them. I'll start immediately visualizing scenes from the film in my head, or worse, writing them down. The music becomes the words, not the guiding force behind them. 

Unlike some of my favorite soundtracks, I did not consciously notice the music while watching the film, which often happens if a score is particularly beautiful. However when I listened to the Jane Eyre soundtrack on its own I realized just how emotional, raw, and eerie the music is. Even better, my mind's eye was not overrun with scenes from the film. All that was left was the feel of the film, which was what drew me to it in the first place. I still have some experimenting to do, but I think this is one soundtrack that I will be able to write to.

If you would like to hear a sample, click here.

Other Notes
It's hard to pin down why we are inspired by some things and not by others. Something just has to speak to us at the core of our being, like a silent understanding. The list above talks about two main reasons I love this film, and as for the third, it's hard to say. There is just a feeling, an atmosphere, to this film that I can't quite put my finger on, but I know that I love the vibe that it gives off. Jane Eyre made me want to write. It made me want to travel to England and wander the moors. It made me see light differently.

I encourage you to see this movie if you haven't already, and if you have, I'd love to hear your thoughts. What other films have you been inspired by recently? 

Also, expect a review of Jane Eyre (the book) soon!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The People Who Rock My World

This post is going to be long, but simple. What follows is a list of the people who have shaped my world in the past year. Most are people I've never met, but that's all the more reason thank them for giving me inspiration, for unknowingly providing much needed encouragement, for making me work harder for my dreams. These, in no particular order, are the people who rock my world.

Maria Popova 
I discovered Maria's website a couple months ago and I've been hooked ever since. It's called Brain Pickings. Every time I visit the site I am reminded why I want to be a creative person. Filled with inspiration for writers, philosophers, artists, and scientists, it never fails to teach me something new. I suggest you sign up for their mailing list right now. You won't be disappointed.

The Vlogbrothers
I made a Youtube account a few weeks ago and the Vlogbrothers were the first channel that I subscribed to. It is made up of the YA author John Green and his brother Hank, and has a following of 823,843 devoted fans (and counting). Hank and John are always funny and insightful and they totally deserve their tremendous success. These are two people who are living life to the fullest, doing what makes them happy, and sharing their awesomeness with the world. I have yet to read a John Green book, but Paper Towns is next up on my list. Plus, I can now proudly call myself a Nerdfighter. DFTBA! 

Rachel Coker
Rachel Coker is the 17-year-old author (I hope I'm right about her age! Sorry if I messed it up!) of Interrupted and the soon-to-be-released Chasing Jupiter. Her blog is full of posts about writing and funny stories from her life, and it never fails to pick me up when I'm feeling down. I hope I get to meet her someday because I have this weird feeling that we'd get along!

Shannon Hale
This was the year I finally got to meet my writing idol, Shannon Hale. I could write whole posts on what a cool person she is and how good her books are, but I'll save the space. I just feel so grateful that I got to meet her at the Texas Library Association Conference, and that she gave me a hug, and that she signed my copies of her books. It was only about five minutes of my life, but I'll remember it forever. Also, you can check out her awesome blog, here.

The note is a reference to the fact that I sent her an e-mail full of restaurants to eat at while she was here.

Kristan Hoffman
I've been following Kristan's blog for about a year now. She writes about everything, from television shows to encouraging quotes. This post in particular got to me. I admire her so much for going after her dreams no matter what. Also it's her birthday today! Hope it's a good one! :D

Victoria Schwab
I only recently discovered this author, but I'm SO glad I did. I haven't read any of her books yet (all of which have very intriguing premises), but I've watched almost all of her Youtube videos and am subscribed to her blog. Her recent post on inspiration had me itching to write, and the adorable video of her signing the last forty copies of her first book made me want to be an author even more. (I always wondered how lefties signed books!) All in all, I can't wait to read her newest release, The Archived, and I wish her all the best!

And finally, because I'm in the spirit of thanking people, I just want to send a shout out to all the people who have encouraged/inspired me in real life. A HUGE thank-you to:
-Ms. Harris, my amazing English/Creative Writing teacher who always brings sunshine to my day. I don't know what I'm going to do without her when I go off to college!
-Indigo, my best friend, who reads my work, listens to my ideas, participates wholeheartedly in all our random conversations, and never fails to be an inspiration :) You can read her blog, here!
-My Family, who also reads my work, and has never wavered in their encouragement and support.

Well, I'm off to a birthday party in a couple hours and then it's Turkey day! Writing this blog post has been a rewarding experience in itself because it made me think about all the people who have had an impact on me. I've been so lucky to not only have wonderful, creative people in my life, but also a well of inspiration to draw from on the inter-webs. Thanks again for reading, and I hope that in the coming days you'll go out and thank your favorite creators, too. They deserve it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Best Fireside Reads

Since winter is kind of a joke where I live, people have to make up ways of knowing when it's actually here. For some, it's pulling out boots and scarves (many of which are more decorative than they are warm), and for some it's the moment they start selling the pumpkin lattes at Starbucks. In our house we know it's not the holiday season until there is a blazing fire in our fireplace.

So, in honor of our first warm, toasty fire, I've compiled a list of great fireside reads. Get some logs going, curl up in an armchair, and enjoy any of these on a wintry night.

1. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Reason: This book is perfect for any time you want to lose yourself in a simpler time. The characters are sweet, the descriptions are delicious, and the book itself is a beautiful testament to enjoying the little things in life.
Quote: "The weary mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon he had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancor." 

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Reason: This book has it all: humor, tragedy, love, family, scenes of decadence and of poverty.  Being surrounded by the four March girls was like being around the sisters I never had. If books could have hearts, Little Women would have a big one.
Quote: "On Christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed which was the dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz curtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was a good deal of rustling and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp smoke, and an occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to get hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bell sounded, the curtains flew apart, and the Operatic Tragedy began."

3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Reason: I love this book. Seriously. I can't recommend it enough. It's mysterious, atmospheric, and beautiful in a ghostly way. Perfect for a dark and stormy night.
Quote: "All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind, and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story."

4. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
Reason: If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors. This book is the second in The Books of Bayern, a series set in the same world as The Goose Girl. I promise, after reading this book, you won't look at fire the same way again.
Quote: "She was aware of all the living around her. She could feel its heat- the trees, the sleeping animals in their arms or in holes in the ground. Even the frozen grass was still alive at its root, still emanating tiny strings of heat. Her sense of it was much stronger than at first, and she knew she could draw on it at any moment."

5. The Tales of Beedle and the Bard by J.K. Rowling
Reason: Actually any of the Harry Potter books would be a great fireside read, but I chose this one because of its format. These are strange and beautiful stories that deserve to be savored, especially for those who want to disappear into the world of Harry Potter without re-reading the lengthy books.
Quote: "'Now you are healed and will know true love!' cried the maiden, and she embraced him. The touch of her soft white arms, the sound of her breath in his ear, the scent of her heavy gold hair: All pierced the newly awakened heart like spears. But it had grown strange during its long exile, blind and savage in the darkness to which it had been condemned, and its appetites had grown powerful and perverse."

6. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Reason: This is another book that I absolutely love. It is whimsical and lighthearted, but it also has a thread of sadness running through it that I can't quite explain. Overall, its more beautiful and fascinating and complicated than I ever imagined it would be, and I highly recommend it.
Quote: "Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John's, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingos flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a wigwam, and Wendy in a house of leaves deftly sewn together. John had no friends, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents; but on the whole the Neverlands have a family resemblance, and if they stood still in a row you could say of them that they have each other's nose and so forth. On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more."

A few more recommendations:
-Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
-The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
-Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson
-Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
- Anything by Edgar Allen Poe

Well there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my list and if you have anything to add I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

ps. Stay tuned for more! For the next five days that I'm off from school I will be doing a blog post a day. Tomorrow's post: People Who Rock My World

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why You Should Keep Everything You Write

So it's been a long time since I've written any kind of "writerly wisdom" posts, mostly because I don't feel qualified yet to give advice on a lot of things. However, the subject of this post is something I feel strongly about, and something I think a lot of budding writers (especially if you start young like I did) don't think about. So here it is, my little piece of advice:

Save. Everything.

Take everything you write and put it in a drawer somewhere. Make a binder. Have a folder on your computer (and back it up!). Whatever system you come up with, make sure you have a secure place to keep your writing. Even if you think your work sucks. Even if you know it sucks. Save it. 

Why? Because it's yours. Because your life is finite and so are your memories. One day you will wonder about that story that you wrote when you were thirteen. You will try and try to remember it but you will only be able to recall the edges of it, the feeling of it, and maybe not even that. Maybe you won't remember it at all. And chances are, that story you wrote when you were thirteen probably won't be any good. If you did save it, you'll always be able to go back and cringe at your shallow characters and silly dialogue. But it's more than that. That story is a piece of you. It has you-from-the-past stamped on each and every word. Reading it won't turn back time, but it'll be close. In fact it's as close as your future self will ever be to being thirteen again. 

One of the first writing books I ever owned was Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. She talks briefly about this in the first chapter and I think she puts it eloquently:

"When you become a teenager, you step onto a bridge. You may already be on it. The opposite shore is adulthood. Childhood lies behind. The bridge is made of wood. As you cross, it burns behind you."

She goes on to say that if you keep your writing...

"You'll be able to see yourself in that lost country. You'll be able to wave to yourself across that wide river."

Obviously the moral of this story is to keep the writing you do as a young person, but what if you've already lost a lot of what you've written? Don't worry. Instead of dwelling on the past, look to the future. Start saving everything you write, even those seemingly meaningless paragraphs you compulsively delete. Save it, make a new document, and keep writing. You'll be so glad you did.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

From a Writer's Notebook: Justin Cronin on Writing

As many of you know, I was in Austin last weekend for the Texas Book Festival. I'll be giving you a full recap soon, but for now I wanted to tell you about one of the best events that we went to: A Talk with Justin Cronin.

For those of you who haven't heard of Justin, here's a quick bio (from Goodreads): Justin Cronin is an American novelist. Awards he's won for his fiction include the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Stephen Crane Prize, and the Whiting Writer's Award.
Born and raised in New England, Cronin is a graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He currently lives with his wife and children in Houston, Texas where he is Professor of English at Rice University.

His newest and most popular books are The Passage and The Twelve, which most of the audience members had already read.

Me reading while waiting for Justin to arrive
We arrived outside of the House Chamber forty-five minutes before the start of the session and the line was already out the door, down the hall, and snaking around the balcony of the rotunda. My dad and I chatted with a nice elderly lady about books, e-readers, and the digital age, before heading in to find our seats. I was a little worried all the good ones would be taken, but thankfully we were still able to find some near the front.

After another long wait made less boring by the one book I let myself buy at the $5 dollar book tent (more on that later), Justin Cronin and the moderator, Owen Egerton, finally took the stage. Hearing Justin Cronin speak is like listening to a really inspiring teacher. From the moment he began talking I could tell that was passionate about writing, generous with knowledge, and all around an extremely intelligent person. His words were captivating. From the excerpt that he read from his new novel, The Twelve, to his jokes about being a literary nerd, I couldn't help but notice his talent for roping the audience in with a good story.

Left to Right: Justin Cronin, Owen Egerton 
One of the best things about Justin's talk (aside from the surprisingly firm: "Sit down!" he gave to a questioner from the audience who accidentally let slip a spoiler), was his abundant advice about writing. His eloquently stated tips were sprinkled throughout the session, and I found myself compulsively taking notes. Here are just the ones I managed to jot down:

  • In response to a question about his own literary influences, he said, "Don't pretend for a second that you are inventing the novel." He mentioned the importance of reading and also talked about the literary references in both The Passage and The Twelve.
  • Developing a story is like playing jazz riffs. The music may veer off and become almost unrecognizable, but there is always some hint of the central melody that leads the listener through the song.  In the same way, novels can be large and all encompassing, but they should have a main story arc that is always present.
  • On creating characters: "Know the one thing they are not telling anyone else."
  • When asked wether or not he keeps the market in mind while writing, he said that the most important thing is to be as interesting as possible. You can only write so many autobiographical stories before readers start to get bored.
  • On titles: "If you don't know your title, you don't know your book." He also mentioned that he likes titles that have multiple meanings in the context of the story.
  • Finally, the most profound piece of advice (for me) was his words on failure: "Most writing is failure, so by all means, be willing to write an interesting failure."

Overall the Texas Books Festival was a great experience, and Justin Cronin was the highlight of my weekend. I hope to do a more expansive recap soon, but until then, happy writing!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What Happens When People Ask Me About Books

Yesterday my parents and I were in this beautiful place for the wedding of a family friend:

That doesn't have a lot to do with what I'm about to tell you except that I started thinking about it while I was in this beautiful place, and for some reason places are usually linked with thoughts in my mind, so I figured I should include a picture. 

This thought train actually started a while back at a party held by the family friend who's wedding we attended. My parents and I were chatting with a drama teacher and somehow we got onto the subject of "kids not reading anymore" and then my mom mentioned that I was into writing/reading and the drama teacher asked if I had any book recommendations for teens. I don't know what happened. Suddenly I was listing off book title after book title, the first being The Goose Girl of course, but then branching out into whole other genres. I think she appreciated it, even if she might have been a little overwhelmed by the time I stopped talking.

 I thought this little outburst of bookish enthusiasm was a one time thing until yesterday, when the subject of conversation moved to the Texas Book Festival, which as you may recall, is happening next weekend (!!). As expected I went into hyper drive and gushed for five minutes about how excited I am. (Which is ALOT.) Obviously I can't speak for the other person, but my enthusiastic outbursts are always a little strange for me. I'm usually a pretty quiet person. I speak when I have something meaningful to say...or when the conversation turns to books. And it's usually not until the end of my rant that I stop to think about wether the person I'm talking to is actually interested in what I have to say. What is it about reading that makes we want to yell book titles from a hill top?

Despite the occasional awkwardness, I think I've finally made peace with my little outbursts. Books are something I'm passionate about. I enjoy talking about them, especially with people who share my passion. Sure I may seem a little weird to people who aren't reader types, but I'm sure if I got them talking about their passion they'd want to shout about it on a hill top, too. Well...maybe. 

So next time you're at a party, find someone and get them talking about something they're passionate about. Chances are you'll learn something new, and maybe you can then steer the conversation back to books, which is what you really wanted to talk about. ;)

Photo by Jeff Mills.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Books, Fall, and Cool Buildings: Ohio Recap!

Well, I made it back from the dream-like state that is fall in rural Ohio, only to be greeted by humidity, fall temps that feel more like summer, and a very stressful week. After being welcomed back into my life by mounds of homework, those four days in Ohio almost don't seem real. But, dream or not, I want to share them with you anyway.

 Our first stop was Oberlin, both the name of the college and the town that it's in.

 We saw some absolutely stunning fall foliage. (It may actually get better than this, but we Houstonians take what we can get!)...

 Some really cool architecture...

 And LOTS of bikes!

The above picture is slightly ironic, since the name Oberlin is actually my grandmother's maiden name, and her father owned a Ben Franklin. How freaky is that?! Also, half of this Ben Franklin was a used bookstore, and I sat in a comfy arm chair for about 45 minutes reading a book called Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell. I'm still not exactly sure what it was about, but it was intriguing. Have any of you heard of it/read it?

 Next we visited Kenyon College, which is in the adorable town of Gambier (actually it's more of a single street with businesses along it) and saw more stunning foliage along Middle Path (shown above)....

We ate lunch in a room that could have passed for the Great Hall at Hogwarts...

Experienced more beautiful architecture...

And visited another bookstore!

I think what I loved most about this trip was not just my beautiful surroundings, or bookstores, or even getting to check out two really interesting schools. I think it was something deeper than that. It was taking in the crisp fall air and listening to the crunch of leaves under my feet. It was watching college students interact, and realizing that I will be one of them in less than a year. It was a breather from the cyclical nature that my days have begun to take on lately. I felt free. I felt myself embracing each place that we visited, and everything was fresh and new. Since then, I've been trying not to let that feeling slip away, but it's hard with school and college apps bearing down. Either way, I'm so grateful for this opportunity, and overall it was a great experience.

If you've been enjoying these travel posts, stay tuned for more, because I'll be in Austin, Tx for the next couple of weekends, first for a wedding and then for the Texas Book Festival! Let me know if you're going to be there! (The book festival, not the wedding...unless of course we know the same people...weird. :)

Photos by Jeff Mills.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Travel Log: 30,000 Ft, 6:40 am

I am writing this from an airplane headed for Chicago. Actually our final destination is Cleveland, Ohio, but we are switching planes in Chicago. I’ll be visiting two colleges, Kenyon and Oberlin, and I thought it would be interesting to document the people and places that I encounter. So, I guess think of this series as one long “From a Writer’s Notebook” post. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures!

This morning my parents dragged me out of bed at 3:45 am. I had a bagel and iced chia tea for breakfast, and then it was out the door and off to the airport. I find airports fascinating, especially when you are there early in the morning or late at night. You can always tell who’s having a bad day, who didn’t get enough sleep the night before (seems like that applies to everyone these days), who’s traveling for business, sporting events, musical gigs, or just for fun. Even with the constant activity, airports have always seemed like large, lonely places to me. Everyone’s detached, all of them going separate ways. I like to imagine them completely empty: no security, no coffee/gift shop employees, no bag checkers, flight attendants, maintenance workers, or passengers. With people, airports are really just buildings you walk through to get from one place to the next. Without people, they are just empty shells with only a vague memory that anyone passed through at all.

This morning however, the airport was crowded with interesting people. A few of the characters I saw were:
- A twenty-something who was dressed in a sweater, black skinny jeans, and leather boots. She was carrying a broad rimmed black hat, and a vintage leather bag. Her hair was done up in a cylinder-like shape  on the top of her head, and she had an air that said, “I’m anything but mainstream.”
- A middle aged man in a white v-neck and khaki shorts, with a gold chain around his neck. He was talking on his phone and I overheard him say, “If I get a chance to go to the LAX candy store, what did Sarah say she wanted? I’ve already forgotten.”
- A mom with two bright pink suitcases, a pink outfit, and a little girl dressed in pink, too.
- An Asian woman boarding the plane with a musical instrument case under her arm. 

When our plane took off it was 6am, and the world was still dark. We rose above Houston and the lights stretched out beneath us like stars. Now it’s almost 8 o’ clock, the sun is up, and according to the pilot we’ll be landing in Chicago shortly. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Road Less Taken: My thoughts on social media

Being a human is hard. Compared to other species, our existence is so much more complicated than eating, sleeping, and making babies. We have relationships and careers and hopes and dreams. We spend innumerable moments pondering questions that we know have no answer, while at the same time deciding what to have for dinner. One of my favorite quotes of all time, from (I believe) one of the best books on writing ever written, puts it this way:

"Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully, or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same time we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded."- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. 

This, I think, was one of the original goals of social media. It was meant to give us a place to record both the mundanities and the mythologies of our everyday lives and connect with the things that are important to us. While I think it still does this to a certain extent, I also think that it is quickly becoming a substitute for real relationships and real intellectual thought. Summarizing our ideas in a tweet or Facebook status makes us consolidate our thoughts. It causes us to move from one train of thought to another too quickly, without actually thinking deeply about what we are saying or absorbing from others. That means shorter attentions spans. It means jumping to conclusions, and not taking the time to consider sides before spouting our opinions to the world. And that brings up another problem. There are so many people out there who are doing this. They are all interesting people with thoughts worth sharing. But by trying to listen to all of them at once, are we really listening to any of them? 

I've been reading a lot of blog posts lately about people who have become discontented with social media. I don't know if I really fall into that category, and I'm not sure I'd  be willing to delete my Twitter or Facebook accounts just yet. But what I do know is that we need to start learning how to listen to people again, and how to start thinking deeply about what we put out into the world. We are human beings and we have complex thoughts and feelings. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to fit "all sorrow and all winters" into 140 characters.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Perks of Being an Author

Everyone talks about becoming a writer because they love writing. And I mean really love it. For most people who call themselves writers, writing is something they will do no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. Even if these hypothetical people are flipping burgers or working as lawyers or dog trainers or astronauts, chances are they are still finding (or trying to find) time to write. But let's face it. Not everyone is happy with just writing. Most aspiring novelists hope and dream that someday they too will join the ever coveted realm of the Authors. 

Texas Book Festival 2011
I feel this wish (with a burning, soul crushing intensity) every time I am in the presence of an Author, especially a group of Authors. Being in their company just makes me want, more and more, to be one of them. Over the years I've written on this blog about attending events in which Authors congregate, such as the Texas Library Association Conference (where I got to meet my idol, Shannon Hale), and the Texas Book Festival, which you can read an account of here. And yes, I write first and foremost because I love it with all of my being. I will always be a writer, and I will always write. It's like a part of my identity. But despite loving what I do, part of me feels like I won't ever be fully happy until I become an Author. Here's why:

1. Community: Authors are a very close knit group. Case in point: I was watching an old Youtube video today in which John Green was having a writing party with Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld. In another he was talking about how Libba Bray had managed to break both her elbows and how that is totally something that would happen to her, as opposed to oh, I don't know...Sarah Dessen? The only thing I could think while watching these videos was, "How do you know all of these awesome people?!" and  "I would break both my elbows to be part of the company you keep!" 

2. Lifestyle: Besides being awesome and getting to hang out with awesome people, Authors have it pretty good as far as work goes, too. Sure, the actual writing part can be stressful and demeaning to the point where they probably want to burn their manuscript by the time they're done with it, but I like the fact that they can work in their pajamas if they feel like it. No dress suits and high heels for me! Give me a cup of coffee, a comfy chair, and a computer with a word processor and I'm the happiest girl in the world.

3. Readers: Almost as much I want to belong to a community of Authors I also want a community of Readers. I want to get mail from people who have read my work and who will ask interesting questions and tell me honestly what they think. I want to sign copies of books for anyone who's willing to take them. Most of all I want to know that there are people out there who have read my words and been moved by them.

Sounds pretty great, right? Of course it does! One of the reasons I wanted to write about this topic is because I am attending this year's Texas Book Festival in late October and I'm super excited! Just getting to spend time surrounded by books and Authors is a wonderful feeling, and while hopefully someday I will achieve Authordom, right now I can be happy by simply being in the presence of intelligent, compassionate people who write fantastic books.

'Till next time, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Overcoming Expectations

Writing was so much easier when I was younger. That's what I caught myself thinking the other day. I suppose there was some truth in that statement, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt...wrong. Because, while writing may have felt easy when I was younger, it wasn't any more or less difficult than it is now.  My expectations were just lower. In fact, I didn't have any expectations. I wrote because it was fun.

It seems that as we get older we loose that blissful freedom to write without expectation. Instead, we are suddenly bombarded by outside pressures. First, it's the pressure to be something. I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I've also always known it would take work, that I'd have to struggle to become who I wanted to be, just like everybody else. But sometimes it feels like I'm cheating. I mean, in essence, I can do what I've always wanted to right now. I don't have to wait until I've graduated from college, or landed a job in  my desired profession. I can be a writer right now.

So why does it feel like I still have so far to go? The answer? Expectation. When you've done something your whole life, you're expected to improve. And if you work diligently at it, you do. That's pretty much an established fact. However, you can't judge yourself based on this fact, because most likely you will feel like you haven't improved enough, not matter how far you've come. I've been playing piano since the fourth grade, but there are times when I'll look at a new piece and feel like a novice again, my fingers fumbling clumsily for the correct notes. It's times like these when it's most important to remember what it was like to be a kid. Think about why you wanted to be a writer (or a musician) in the first place. Embrace the joy of simply creating, and not caring if your dialogue is lame-sounding or if you still can't get the timing on that musical phrase to sound right. That's okay. Because art is not about what you or anyone else expects. It's about making something that speaks to you, and that you enjoy making. Make art for yourself, trust that you will always improve, and try not to think about what's expected of you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why I Love Mary O'Connell's "The Sharp Time" and I Haven't Even Finished Reading it Yet

I have made it to page one-hundred of The Sharp Time, a novel by Mary O'Connell, but I can honestly say that I knew I was going to love this book from the very first page. It had been on my radar for a few months, mainly because I was enchanted by the cover. And like most of the books that have changed my life, I stumbled across this one in a library.

Of course, I can't say with certainty that this book will change my life. That kind of thing doesn't happen on page one or one-hundred or even right after someone closes a book. I don't think you realize how a book has affected you until much later. But I can tell you why I like The Sharp Time. Why, one-hundred pages in, I decided to stop reading it and tell you about it:

1. The First Page:  Before I get into that, here's the premise: "Sandinista Jones is a high school senior with a punk rock name and a broken heart. The death of her single mother has left Sandinista alone in the world, subject to the random vulnerability of everyday life. When the school system lets her down, her grief and instability intensify, and she ponders a violent act of revenge.

Still, in the midst of her crisis, she gets a job at The Pale Circus, a funky vintage clothing shop, and finds friendship and camaraderie with her coworker, a boy struggling with his own secrets.

Even as Sandinista sees the failures of those with power and authority, she's offered the chance to survive through the redemptive power of friendship. Now she must choose between faith and forgiveness or violence and vengeance."- Goodreads

 This sounds like a pretty typical YA book, right? I figured it would be a slow starter. The reader would follow this Sandanista Jones through her day, maybe start with her fist day back at school after the death of her mother. Instead, Ms. O'Connell throws you head first into the story, starting instead with Sandinista being interviewed for a job at The Pale Circus. 

Not to mention it has this delicious first line: "Anybody can tell that the pretentious ass who runs the Pale Circus fancies himself an artiste of sorts: a purveyor of poplin and mohair, an architect of nostalgia."

Wow. I mean, who wouldn't be hooked by that first line?

2. Colors: Reading this book is like being lost in a candy shop. That's the only way I can think to describe it. Everything is coral, cream, and green, or sometimes cool turquoise, dark cherry, cinnamon brown. And of course the colors on the cover match perfectly.

3. Voice: Sandinista(!) Jones is one of the most fascinating narrators I've ever read. She is constantly thinking up witty asides that the reader is always privy to. Her thoughts and actions ring true and yet I feel like there will always be more to learn about her. She's hurting and she thinks dark thoughts sometimes, but ultimately we want to believe in her. Or rather, we want to believe that she will make the right choices.  I don't know what will happen next or how she will deal with it, but if it means spending more time inside her head, I want to be there.

 I still have 128 more pages before I finish The Sharp Time. I am absolutely loving it so far, and I can only hope that the rest doesn't let me down. I can't wait to let you all know what I think after I've finished!

Now it's your turn: What was the last book that you loved (or thought you were going to love) from the very first page?

Monday, July 2, 2012

What Really Matters: Shining Eyes

I know I don't usually write posts about music, but music is my other passion and so I couldn't let this go without sharing it. This TED Talk completely changed my perspective on music, and life. Please watch, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

You Can Do Hard Things

I want you to take a moment and think about the title of this post. Now, look at the information below:

Characteristics of Hard Things:

  • Hard things are difficult 
  • Hard things are overwhelming
  • Hard things make you feel scared and inadequate
Now read the following sentence:

 You can do hard things.

Doesn't that just lift the weight off of your shoulders? Suddenly whatever it was that was belittling you with it's scary difficult-ness seems just a little bit less difficult, right? Those five little words just made you feel better about yourself. Language is a powerful thing.

I have to admit, mantras don't usually work for me. Maybe they do when someone else is drilling them into my head, but not when I'm on the brink of some scary something and I'm trying to tell myself it will be okay. "You don't know that!", my brain says, "You're just saying that in an attempt to calm yourself down. And you better try something else because it's not working!" Despite my fickle brain,  "You can do hard things" is one of the phrases I've found that actually works. Whenever the going gets tough, wether it has to do with writing, or school, or (more recently) my driver's test, I say that phrase to myself. Why? Because  instead of filling my head with promises of everything magically working out, or making myself feel worse by pretending that what I'm trying to do is easy, those five little words actually make me believe that I can do it. Why again? Because I can! I think that every one of us is capable of doing hard things. We just have to put our minds to it. And that is what makes this phrase so powerful. It's the truth.

Armed with this new knowledge, you are ready. The time has come. Go out and write that novel, or ace that test, or climb that mountain. Yes, it will be difficult. But something tells me you can do it.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Okay. So I know I'm not supposed to apologize on my blog, or make excuses about why I haven't been posting recently, but I have a couple of legitimate reasons for my absence that I'd like to have go on record:

  1. The end of May was insane, with finals and the end of my Junior year of high school. I am officially a senior now!
  2. I just got back from a seven day cruise in the bahamas. My computer stayed at home. 
  3. I am going to break the first rule now and apologize for being missing in action. I do plan to continue writing in this blog and I hope you will continue reading! (Next time I'll try to warn you about any absences!)
Well, now that that's out of the way, I thought I'd give you a little update on the things going on my life right now: 

  • I got accepted to the Iowa Young Writer's Studio! I will be there for two weeks in July, not including a detour my parents and I are taking in order to explore colleges in that area when the workshop is over. I WILL be bringing my computer, so I will try to keep you updated on all the goings on.
  • Two pieces of my writing were accepted for publication in the Ivy Quill, Ivy Tech Community College's (in Indiana) literary magazine. So happy!
  • As part of our assignment for the fiction class that I will be taking in Iowa, we have to write in a notebook every day. I've been trying to do that, with...moderate success.
  • I just started writing on a new project that I'm dubbing "Laura's Super Secret Project."More on that later.
  • Also, I love this video. This is what I hope writing a novel is like, even if it does make me seem crazy. (Via: Kaleb Nation)
  • I'm sick. Meaning I have a cold. And it sucks.

Well, that's about all for now. I just want to say how good it feels to be blogging again! In a few days I will try to post another "From a Writer's Notebook" post. I feel kind of bad that I haven't done more with that series.

Also: I'm currently reading "A Good American" by Alex George. It is wonderful so far. Stay tuned for a review!

Finally, thank you everyone who has read and commented on this blog. It means so much to me!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ten Things Playing the Piano has Taught Me About Writing

From MaltaGirl

1. Practice, Practice, Practice!
2. Don't rush: Being good takes time.
3. Don't be afraid to experiment.
4. Listen. To everything.
5. Let yourself go. Loose sight of reality. When you come back to it, everything will be different.
6. Learn through imitation.
7. My piano teacher has a sign on her wall that says, "All pianists must have wrists of butter and fingers of steel."  How about, "All writers must have hearts of butter and minds of steel."
8. Don't be rigid. Fold yourself into your piece. Be flexible.
9. Each new accomplishment is a kind of amnesia. You forget about the pain that went into learning/writing the piece. And best of all, you know it was all worth it.
10. Share your work with anyone who will listen.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Letter to My Former English Teachers

Dear Former English Teachers,
        You may remember me...or not. I'm the one who wrote passionate, page long answers to your questions like "What is your favorite book?"and "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" and you'll be happy to know that I can tie To Kill a Mockingbird into just about anything (and I did, in an essay on the AP English Language test yesterday-I'm not allowed to talk about specifics). But enough about me.
        I'm here to talk about you. Collectively, you are the craziest, most passionate group of people I know. Some of you were odd balls, or just plain grumps, but I understand how teaching long enough can make you that way. You each have your quirks: one of you is afraid of hair (Journalism teacher), another of you used to teach 3rd grade math and made us play math games in class, and you, my current english teacher, are obsessed with Batman and John Keats (nicknamed Junkets). And I love you for it. Even the teachers I'm not particularly grateful for have taught me something, even if it's only, "Don't grow up to be like her." 
        And without you, ALL of you, I might never have discovered my love of language. The books we read in elementary school stay in my memory to this day. And the books after that, and the books after that. Harper Lee, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Alice Walker. Their voices stay with me. I can hear the words running through my mind, and what I was feeling when I read them, and what I was feeling when you talked about them in class. Your voices run together into a collective voice, at times passionate and inspiring, and at times serious, asking the tough questions, telling me to think harder than I am. 
        You teachers don't get much recognition. Chocolate, maybe, at Christmas time, and lots of Barnes & Noble Gift Cards. But real recognition? For everything you do? Every day, you deal with math loving *shudder* middle schoolers *shudder*. I'm sorry I never told you how I feel. I hope my love of English was evident in my writing. I hope, even in those dark ages known as middle school, that you knew I cared. You were the ones who planted the spark. The spark that makes me sit down and write every day. The spark that keeps me up to all hours of the night, reading. The spark that makes every essay a personal challenge to outdo myself, and every question like "What is your favorite book?" a dissertation.
         So thanks for being there. For pushing me when I needed pushing, and praising when I needed praising. Thanks for showing up at awards ceremonies. Thanks for showing up, period. Because even if we seem like thankless slobs who can't even remember to do our homework, we will never forget you. And that's the truth.


On a loosely related note, this is what our current english teacher wrote about John Keats on out final exam review sheet:

"In order to adequately prepare for the rest of your life, you must learn to embrace John Keats [know the glorious date of his birth, know that Fanny could never deserve the greatness of his love, and know that "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be" is his most truly awe-inspiring poem!]"

Yeah, she's cool, right? And for those of you who are interested, here is my summer reading list:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Started reading it but never finished.)
How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (Same as above.)
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Never read. Excited about this one!)