New Year writing resolutions

“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.”

-ANDRÉ GIDE

Hope you all had a lovely New Year’s!

I got to spend 2 weeks back at home in Arizona visiting family and friends and I’ve returned to the Bay Area in 2014,  refreshed and ready to continue my fellowship while also tackling my personal/professional projects.

I want to share my writing resolutions to encourage you and also hold myself accountable to these lofty goals.

  1. Revise and submit my short story for the Hijabulous anthology
  2. Complete my NaNo novel by July 31
  3. Have my novel manuscript ready to send out to agents by December 31
  4. Write a book review every 2 months
  5. Join a writing group or at least attend some writing community events
  6. Write 2 new poems and try to share them

What are your writing resolutions? Any tips or advice you’d like to share?

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R.I.P Ned Vizzini

Just found out on Twitter that Ned Vizzini has died. At first I didn’t believe, because Twitter is always killing off people but there are two tweets from BuzzFeedBooks and a fellow writer with Ned on a project called Last Resort. It’s amazing to read the outpouring of love and support for him from authors, writers, and readers.

I read his book It’s Kind of a Funny Story when I was a teenager and found it to be so visceral and honest about all the suffocating pressures teens feel to be perfect and high-achieving and accepted. It was also a window into what it’s like to suffer from depression and knowing Ned was writing from a personal experience, made it all the more powerful. The sincerity of his character is something I noted after reading the book and have been trying to emulate in my own writing. Ned was also just inspiration as someone who had so many writing success at such a young age, publishing essays in the New York Times and a book at 19. He went on to work on more novels and scriptwriting and speaking on writing to young audiences.

A tragic loss for his family and the community, but Ned will live on through the words he’s written and the people who knew him.

Why Do All The Girls Who Save The Day Only Look A Certain Way?

Why Do All The Girls Who Save The Day Only Look A Certain Way?

This is a great illustration of the lack of diversity among female protagonists in the most popular, mainstream dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy series. There’s nothing wrong with having white heroines, but it’s interesting that other racial/ethnic women are in the background or not really present. Is it lazy world-building or just a coincidence?

This is heartening for me to see that there’s room in the market for one of my dystopian story ideas that actually does feature a majority PoC cast. I think if I write the story well enough, then people will read it, but it is one of my fears to be put into a niche market, making my work inaccessible to most readers.

Thoughts?

Post-grad/summer life

So I graduated university 2 weeks ago exactly. I have abandoned the one identity I have been comfortably walking around in—student. As I walked across the stage to get my not-diploma in three different ceremonies (honors, bachelor 1, bachelor 2), I felt like I was shedding my skin in front of hundreds of people I didn’t know and asked to smile and pose while doing so.

Now I’m here, in the lull of summer days with no routine or purpose, no expectations, at least for a short while. I will be starting an internship in June that will have me working 40 hours a week. This sounds painful but also welcome. Boredom comes quite easily to me. I have plenty to do of course, but yet boredom still sneaks up on me because my brain begin an over-analytical inner monologue and then I end up thinking about the utter pointlessness to whatever activity I’m engaging in.

I’m trying to jumpstart the creative engine of my brain this summer and hope it lasts into the next year. Creativity comes from habit, routine, practice, action, perspiration, therefore I need to establish that for myself. I can’t let my characters, dialogue and plot points float around without a page to land on. Some sort of direction must be delineated, much like my own personal/professional life.

One of my best friends gifted me this wonderful 5 year journal that asks you a question each day with a few lines to answer. So far, I’ve been writing in it everyday and it’s been good. Here’s the cute little thing:q&a book

Also, I found this cool reading list of writers on writing compiled by a website called brainpicker. Check it out and see if it inspires you:)

My current dilemma is that I have four different novel ideas I started over the past 4 years in college and I’m having difficulty deciding on which one to come back to or if I should just start fresh with something completely different? Thoughts?

I really want to put together a good writing playlist on Spotify. Music keeps me going, so if you have any suggestions, I can add them in. I’m currently enjoying the lovely Sia. I don’t know why, but she looks like what I imagine is my writing muse: deeply passionate, profound, but also whimsical and fun.

Anyhow, enough rambling from me. I’m looking forward to rediscovering myself in the coming months and see what progress I make with my writing. This is supposed to be when my real life begins, right? Let’s hope it’s also when my real writing begins, hehe.

On new beginnings (or wow, I just noticed last time I posted here was five months ago)

It’s February. Second month of the year. The shortest month. So of course I’ve decided to pick this month to renew my intention to write more and post more on this blog. Whether it’s a poem, a few sentences, a word, an article about writing or some fabulous book, there has to be something I can write about on this blog right? I mean blogs make writing SO easy. We have a built in platform and media buttons and all kinds of nifty things to get our precious words sent out into the universe to never be read by another living soul except for spambots. But they don’t have souls, so that doesn’t count.

I’ve begun reading/listening to Bossypants by Tina Fey which I downloaded on Audible (oh yeah, I got a smartphone. Let’s just attribute my absence to that marvelous piece of technology), who is by far one of my favorite comedians. Notice I used comedian and not the feminine alternative, comedienne, because let’s face it, Tina is far funnier than most comedians male or female and doesn’t deserve to be relegated into a special breed of joke tellers that menstruate.

Tina’s improv memories with the Second City brought me back to my own illustrious improv career in 5th and 6th grade, where I was the star of the troupe because I was a master at stereotypical accents and was willing to always say “Yes, and” which is one of the major building blocks of good improv acting.

As I listened to her awkwardly painful but smart journey into becoming a successful “woman in comedy” who gets to boss people around, I became inspired to start writing again. Because for all her crazy anecdotes about working at the YMCA, having a horrible honeymoon on a cruise ship and growing up with summer showtime and befriending the cool gays, I realized I have just as many ridiculous coming-of-age/gender/life purpose stories in my life. And I’ve also been called intimidating too for being a good student, being active on campus and in the community, and just being able to make statements that don’t end in questions.

Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to write a memoir anytime soon. I’m not up there with Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus. What I do want to do is dabble in some humor writing and short stories, because I like laughing and not taking forever to do so.  I also want my stories to have a point though. Every good joke has a thesis statement even if you’re not trying to be serious. I realized that’s what made Tina Fey and Amy Poehler‘s sketch together as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton so brilliant. Correction: Tina made me realize that because she said so in her audiobook in the chapter I’m in.

Thanks to Tina, I’m not afraid of being called Bossypants either, because if I even have a modicum of her success–producing my own show, writing an awesome screenplay like Mean Girls, doing Weekend Update…yea I think I’ve had a pretty good life.

So what you should take away from this post is GO OUT AND GET BOSSYPANTS. Read  it but preferably listen. Nothing quite like having Tina talk to you while eating breakfast, driving in the car, or sitting around your apartment avoiding your homework. I have to pause the narration so many times because I’m still laughing and processing what she just said 🙂

Happy February! Hopefully you’ll be seeing me around here more.

Writing Memoirs

I love memoirs. They’re such fascinating, complex, disturbing, magical creatures. You have to remember such minute details to make everything come alive and relive those memories.

I hope to have one one day, when I’m finally done observing and analyzing the hell out of everything in my life and there’s some sort of story arc to tell. I have plenty of interesting individuals in my family and social network to round out a wacky cast of characters. My minority status could make for a clever, empathetic hyphenated identity crisis that could either be a hackneyed immigrant tale or another Jhumpa Lahiri bestseller.

But I’m still afraid of what the effect of this kind of writing could do on the people I care about. In some way shape or form, I do weave in people from real life into my stories, often changing genders, combining two people into one or vice versa, but nothing too revealing.

This interview in the Paris Review with author, Alison Bechdel, was really informative and I’d recommend you all read it to hear how she tells her painful personal stories in graphic novels, Fun House and Are You My Mother? I’ll be putting those on my summer reading list!

Getting an M.F.A- A dream deferred

I’ve blogged somewhat on this topic before of how I’ve always loved creative writing and decided in 8th grade that I wanted to be an author. Somewhere along I convinced myself I needed a “real job” so I majored in journalism. Eventually I began to feel less enthused and added another major–not English or creative writing–but Global Studies and a certificate in Religion and Conflict. I thought I wanted to be international, travel, talk about current events, be the token Muslim intellectual that blows everyone’s minds out of the water because she’s intelligent, eloquent AND Muslim. I care about humanitarian issues, human rights and community development so it all made sense in my head to pursue this path.

But now, as I finish my third year of college, I can’t help but still feel unsatisfied by my college career and where I’m heading. I can see a lot of exciting destinations for me based on what I’m doing, but all I seem to feel is stress when it comes to preparing myself to get there. Shouldn’t the journey be what’s more fun? Shouldn’t the journey be what you enjoy the most?

When I think about the journey I care about the most, all I can think about my writing. I never had any doubts or regrets or felt like it didn’t mean what I wanted it to mean to me. Sure, I chickened out and thought I wasn’t good enough to declare myself a creative writing student. I thought I should study other subjects to make myself well-rounded and I could always go to grad school for creative writing.

But I’ve visited several MFA degree websites and am really frustrated by how elitist and exclusive they are. ASU’s program, for example, says you should have majored in English or Creative Writing, but if you didn’t then you better have a hell of a portfolio to show them. They also accept just 3% of admission :O

And then let’s talk about teacher recommendations. I have zero connection with the creative writing or English program, so I’m getting nada from them. None of the professors that I do have good working relationships with, have any idea about my secret love for fiction. They all think I’m going into public relations, nonprofit or international development work, which based on my classes and activities, makes absolute sense.

So here’s the thing. Some writers have been writing their whole lives, get undergrad degrees in English or Creative Writing and are all set to do an MFA after they graduate.

Others study other subjects, go out and work, realized nothing makes them as happy as writing does and so they decide to go back to school and get an MFA. Many of these people are really crappy writers and think everything they write will be gold/the next Harry Potter/Oprah’s favorite book. Some of these people are geniuses with latent talent that never got to be developed because of fear or other circumstances.

I just don’t see how these MFA programs are encouraging people from all walks of life who maybe, didn’t have the privilege to study creative writing or for whatever reason, discovered late in life what it is they wanted to do. I have the grades, I have the work ethic and I do have a decent portfolio, but because I wasn’t in school for creative writing, I wasn’t rewarded for working on my novel or short stories. I couldn’t afford to spend all my time writing when I had articles, essays and books to read for my two majors. I joined the undergrad literary magazine with the honors college and had barely any time to keep up with my position as a fiction reviewer, because of the crapload of homework I had to do. Where are my priorities?

Now I know some of you will say, “You don’t need to get an MFA! It doesn’t mean anything! It’s not going to make you a writer or a published writer at that!”

I understand and acknowledge that. But if I’m going to pursue higher education, then I want it to be something that gives value to me in a way that I denied myself all these years. Maybe I’ll be a teacher who specializes in English or ESL and runs a creative writing program after school on the side. Is it crazy that I would absolutely love to run a nonprofit program like that, working with high-achieving, minority or refugee students and inspire them to write and publish their own work, while I handle the management, PR and fundraising, while writing my own stories? I think I’m getting a little too Freedom Writers here, but bear with me.

I have one year of school left and then I’m a graduate from ASU. I’ll be out in the world, armed with two bachelor’s degrees, theories, skills, hopes, fears and a dream deferred. Let’s hope one year from now, I’m not still the same pathetic, woeful person I am at this moment. Let’s hope I get it together, rein in all my passions, block out societal expectations and embrace my true nature.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

-e.e. cummings

Thanks for getting through this word vomit.

Update: Here’s a list of underrated MFA programs according this guy on HuffPo. Worth checking out.

Figment Activity

So I’ve been uploading a lot of my work on Figment.com for some cool contests and just to add to the library, so I’d love for you all to give me some feedback. It’s kinda crowded on Figment unfortunately and not to sound pretentious or anything, but people give out hearts (equivalent to Facebook likes) quite eagerly to friends and low-quality writing.

It’s hard to feel genuine and appreciated there sometimes and I’d really like to grow and hone my craft with serious writers who aren’t afraid to give you their honest opinion and take their time with what they do. The contests they have are always really cool, but it’s hard to have a chance in them too. I’ve read some of the finalists and they’re only based on the Figment users and then judged by the guest judges who are amazing writers like Paolo Coehlo (my fave) and Billy Collins. I guess I just wish there was a way to combine having such open access and opportunity with more realistic standards.

Anyhow, I still encourage to try out the site as well as inkpop or any other writing communities, because it’s still better than being a solitary writer, right?

Thoughts on Book Covers

We all know we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but come on, who doesn’t?

What some of you may not know is that authors don’t really have control over their book covers, though they really do try and can sometimes get the ability to weigh in into their contract. It’s really more of an editorial and marketing decision.

But I thought it was interesting when I walked by the book section in Sam’s Club a few weeks ago and saw this:

Apparently we’re in a new phenomenon in sword-wielding, lightning-fighting guys in middle grade/YA novels, similar to the brooding and glamorous vampire/zombie/fairy-tale trysts in teen novels.

Seriously, though, how are you going to know which book to buy? Or do publishers just hope that readers will just pick up all of them?

Obviously Percy Jackson and any Riordan creation will be at the top of the pack, but after that, aren’t kids going to be burned out of reading the same kind of story over and over again? You’re going to need good author blurbs and recommendations if you want to get ahead.

If publishers want to prove that their clients’ stories are unique, then I think their book covers should also reflect that, don’t you?

-On that same vein, I just love this hilarious analysis of YA book covers, showing how unoriginal they have become. 2010 was the season of “wind-blown hair,” lol.

-The Book Cover Archive has a great collection of excellence in book covers that can inspire you on what your book could possibly look like one day!

Covers from design firm, Fsiw, another great place to waste time looking at beautiful designs.

-Here’s a cool how-to on optical illusion book covers!

creativity collage

photo credit:mugley

photo credit:vladimer04

photo credit:lauraoliviabaker

photo credit:Tim Walker

Photo credit: Dylan MacMaster

photo credit: rafael milani

when i’m feeling down, out of it or lost, i immerse myself with photography. now if only i had the skills to replicate the kinds of photos that make me shiver, sigh, laugh and cry.

there’s nothing like visual stimulation to make your thoughts go aflutter into a cave of wonders. please enjoy these beautiful pieces of art and get inspired to create your own collage while you’re on your own writing journey to complement what you’re working on.