"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!