Hey, guys–I have a guest post over at Today’s Teen Writer about the value of a formal writing education.  Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments.

burning the candle at both endsThis week, I’m counseling debate camp.  I’m back in the brick buildings of my high school, selling incoming freshman on the merits of giving up weekends and school nights for tournaments and researching.  I’m telling them about the friendships they’ll make, the community they’ll be a part of, the ways debate will benefit them in the classroom.

And all of this is true:  My best high school memories center around debate.  My boyfriend of two and a half years is a former debate partner; two of my closest friends I met at debate.  Pictures hang in my room of our tight-knit group frolicking around Boston, DC, and the North Carolina boondocks at tournaments that were more fun than any exotic family vacation.  I’ve had more interesting conversations on the backs of buses or in hotel hallways than I ever did in classroom discussions.

But I found myself wavering when my dad confronted me at dinner last night:  “If you had to do it again, would you? Read the rest of this entry »

Everywhere I look online, there is a writer/editor divide.  Writers and Editors are enemy creatures:  They have different blogs, different advice, and different career paths.  One creates; the other destroys.

But we’re young; we don’t have careers, and that means we don’t have to compartmentalize quite so fiercely.  What I loved (and hated) about high school was that there were so few opportunities for writers that we could take advantage of all of them—including those that involved editing.

This post is a celebration of the act of editing, of the writer brave enough to cross the divide.  As editor of my high school literary arts magazine, I was able to see writing in another light and to take that perspective back to my own work.  So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 Reasons You Should Join a Literary Magazine. Read the rest of this entry »

CelebrateIn art, you must consider the negative space around the object as carefully as the object itself:  Careful consideration of negative space draws the positive into sharper focus. The negative is what we talked about in our last post, but what about the positive, the fun stuff? What about the things that are important to your and your creative work, that are life-giving? As important as it is to cull the negative from your life, it is equally important to fill your life with activities that energize your writer’s soul.

Earlier this year, at a youngARTs conference I was lucky enough to be a part of (and to which you should apply), actress Kerry Washington spoke about why she loves art. “Art is creation,” she said. “It’s beautiful because you create something from nothing.” (I’m approximating here; I don’t have the exact quote.) Indeed, the word creative has its roots in the Latin creo, meaning to make or create.

But this idea doesn’t apply solely to our artistic product, literature. Read the rest of this entry »

Positive EnergyYou know it well:  That time halfway through every semester when the obligations pile up, when your to-do lists just aren’t enough to get everything done.  You go into survival mode, purging from your schedule everything but those assignments due tomorrow.  And time for writing is often the first thing to go.  Even if you can squeeze in the time, you’re just too tired—maybe tomorrow.

This is a student saga all too familiar, and one that needs careful management.  Writing, after all, can’t only be a part of your life during the few empty weeks of the school year.

My theory is thus that energy should be carefully and consciously spent, leaving enough for your daily creative tasks.  Often, students have at least one major negative source of energy in their lives, a class or extracurricular that brings more than its fair share of stress.  My goal publishing this post in the summer is to prevent this epidemic before the school year frenzy starts.

In this post, I suggest two possible solutions: Read the rest of this entry »

On the platform, reading

My life is my message. —Gandhi

Here’s my radical philosophy:  You should always be working in service to your creative self.  Relaxation is not an excuse to be a vegetable.

I know, I know—student life is so stressful, so endlessly jam-packed of obligations that free time seems like an inviolable luxury.  If you finish your work an hour early, a few episodes of Entourage seem like the perfect reward.

But you knew you wouldn’t get off that easy.  Read the rest of this entry »

02.Juggling.MerdianHill.WDC.17July2011

In an earlier post, I discussed the value of dropping extracurriculars to benefit your writing life.  That solves for the issue of time by telling you what not to take on, but it doesn’t tell you what you should do:  what classes you should take, what non-writing extracurriculars are good, or what you should do with your newfound free time.

At this age, you’re expected to fulfill certain roles.  First and foremost, you are a student, expected to take a certain amount of classes and receive in those classes at least halfway decent grades.  And, despite my earlier post, I imagine many of you find it hard to fathom dropping every one of your non-writing extracurriculars.  (I get it; I joined the Debate team freshman year and never looked back, despite its huge time suck from my creative and academic life.  Some things just do it for you.)

The new dilemma, then, is not what to eliminate from your life but what to selectively add to it.  You can’t avoid classes, but you can pick only those that will work towards your creative life and minimize the impact of those devils you can’t avoid.  Here’s my advice: Read the rest of this entry »

Huntington Beach

In my last post, I discussed the value of regular writing throughout the school year.  And if you want to produce any sort of reasonable quantity—especially necessary if you’re creating a portfolio for college scholarships or supplementary materials (more in a later post)—you need to be regularly producing material.

The problem with this method, however, is that it doesn’t speak to quality.

It would be nice if improving at writing was a linear process, with each hour of effort yielding a proportional return in quality.  Instead, however, it is a jerky ride, one alternating between quick, intense leaps and plateaus.

Productivity guru Scott Young describes it like this:

In chemistry, there’s the idea of an activation cost. This is the threshold of energy you need to surpass to start a chemical reaction. Dynamite, for example, contains a lot of energy. But unless a spark or lit fuse pays the activation cost it won’t explode.

This explains why, for all of your routinized effort, you aren’t seeing meaningful improvements in the quality of your work:  You haven’t paid your activation cost.  This doesn’t mean that your regular effort is meaningless; it just means it’s not enough.

What, then, can get you over these writing slumps?  Read the rest of this entry »

From the day you enter high school, clutching your bookbag in homeroom, all anyone can talk about is college admissions.  Guidance counselors, teachers, that annoying teacher’s pet—everyone is obsessed with getting into the best college and the all-powerful resume you need to get there.

Most students panic and immediately run for student council, join the Debate team, and sacrifice their Saturdays to Habitat builds.  Whenever they can spare a free moment, they’re tutoring underprivileged ESL students or squeezing in French Club meetings.  The kids who like to write might add to this list the school paper or literary magazine.   And they end up being remarkable at none of these things.

Take my disastrous freshman year, for example.  I ran for student council and spent every Tuesday listening to the student body president, a pretty pageant-girl type, talk about her weekends; I tutored local elementary school students for fewer hours a week than it took to get to the tutoring center; I jumped onto my class’s Relay for Life teaTo Do'sm and, in a desperate time crunch, donated $100 of my own money.  None of that is particularly impressive, none of that mattered on my college applications, but it managed to suck away almost all of my time and energy from writing.  In fact, all I wrote at the time was terrible, post-midnight poetry—the kind of stuff I cringe reading now.

See, here’s the thing about writing:  Read the rest of this entry »

Note:  This is a work-in-progress, as these are just the ways I’ve gotten my work out there.  I’d love to hear what other opportunities exist!

youngARTS:  Sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, this program selects up to 20 creative writers in the genres of poetry, short fiction, novel, script, and nonfiction to attend an all-expenses paid week in Miami (no, really—and in January, no less).  All attendees will earn anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 for their work, and those winners who receive the $10,000 or the $5,000 awards will also get a free week in New York City.

This program is also the selection process for Presidential Scholar in the Arts,

Nominating up to 60 artists out of the 150 invited to Miami. 20 are ultimately selected for an all-expenses paid trip to DC.  (It seems like most years 4 or 5 writers are nominated; my year had 10.  And for whatever reason, we do better than other art forms at making our nominees Presidential Scholars.)

WEBSITE:  http://www.youngarts.org/

OPEN TO:  Read the rest of this entry »

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