After college, I was surrounded by too many white male writers and journalists. They were everywhere! I even wrote a dopey fan letter to, of all people, Jonathan Franzen, seeking advice. He wrote back, months later, and recommended I read Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and added the following: “My first piece of advice, perhaps already unnecessary, is to seek out a reader or two whom you can trust to be maximally and lovingly hard on what you write.” The words “lovingly hard on what you write” were not, for me at least, the right advice, though I guess it was cool that he wrote back. Thing is, I was already hard on myself. As a woman of color, aren’t we all already so hard on ourselves? Either trying from a young age to fit in, or be the best, or be invisible? What I needed was to trust myself more, trust my voice, let it run a bit before it could walk, and believe that my own way of seeing things and making connections were valid. It’s funny to write now, but even a year ago, I felt like my words were illegitimate. Meeting other women writers of color, especially so in the last year, has given me so much momentum. The ways in which a simple, knowing nod can encourage me back to my computer are breathtaking. I now write not just as a reader but as someone who trusts that my lived experience can offer more to the conversation. Sometimes I just remind myself to feel valid and to know that I can only approach the macro through my own micro experience.

For much of my life, I wanted to be other people; here was the central dilemma, the reason, I believe, for my creative stasis. I was always falling short of people’s expectations: my immigrant parents’, my Indian relatives’, my American peers’, above all my own. The writer in me wanted to edit myself. If only there was a little more this, a little less that, depending on the circumstances: then the asterisk that accompanied me would be removed. My upbringing, an amalgam of two hemispheres, was heterodox and complicated; I wanted it to be conventional and contained. I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?

Pitching advice from my editorial guardian angel Ann Friedman

filmmefatales:

A good query email is one that’s sent directly to the assigning editor for the specific section you’re pitching. The email features a compelling subject line (think of it as a proto-headline) and a tight paragraph explaining the piece you want to write, why it’s timely, and why this outlet is the perfect place to publish it. A second short paragraph in the email explains who you are and why you’re the best writer for the job. It also includes a link to your personal site, which has an easily navigable archive of your work. It ends with a note about when you’ll be following up. Depending on how timely the piece is, that follow-up date can be anywhere from 24 hours to several weeks away. Basically, it’s just to help you set a timeline and enable you to pitch the piece elsewhere before the time hook expires, rather than twiddling your thumbs for weeks waiting for a reply that may never come.”

(Source: cjr.org)

Sometimes I think that trying to make a home is what I’ve been doing my whole life. I’m tired of it. And it’s September and all I want to do is to crawl inside somebody else who knows how to do this. I want to make a home of another body. I want a story made out of somebody else’s material. I’ve been taking little stabs at writing fiction.

Sometimes I think that if I could really write the truth of my life, it’d turn into a building that I could live in, a finished product that I’d be satisfied with, a moving box taped up and labeled, something I can store in the back of my garage and forget about or visit like a shrine. Something permanent. Right now it’s an ocean, salty and indefinite like bile, rising up, threatening to spill.

No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can’t put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.

These were my two first mistakes about honesty: I thought it meant relentless self-flagellation, and I thought it could redeem everything. I believed there was nothing self-awareness couldn’t save. My readers taught me otherwise: They often read my self-awareness as meanness or self-indulgence or delusion. It didn’t endear me to them at all. It didn’t dissolve the flaws it confessed.

– Leslie Jamison, Is There Anything You Did as a Writer Starting Out That You Now Regret?

(Source: The New York Times)

rightnow-forever:

[…]

I stopped biting my nails six weeks after I moved here, breaking a twenty year habit. There have been other shifts, too, more in two years, I sometimes think, than in the previous twenty-four of them combined, but the one I’m most interested in today is what it’s like to be with someone who can only know the you that you are now, none of the hints or symbols or details that are revealed from years of knowing, from exposure to your real pasts, not just pasts recounted through the filter of narrative, what seems most true or fair in the moment that you say or don’t say it.

For instance, I could say, “I vowed four years ago not to cook a meal again for anyone I’m sleeping with,” but though this is true––the vow, not necessarily that I kept it––it is strange to say that without also saying something about the years I made quesadillas every Thursday night and how a few months after I stopped doing that I tried it again, same ingredients but different kitchen, and it went so terribly there were tears, some texts to China about not being able to go through with it, with any of it, again. This is an anecdote where the sheer volume of back story is tiring and also not terribly interesting, and that it seems that way now means it is no longer a story worth telling, no longer one it’s necessary to know about me, not important anymore at all.

[…]

ink-splotch:

There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” - JK Rowling

Can we talk about Susan’s fabulous adventures after Narnia? The ones where she wears nylons and elegant blouses when she wants to, and short skirts and bright lipstick when she wants to, and hiking boots and tough jeans and big men’s plaid shirts when she feels like backpacking out into the mountains and remembering what it was to be lost in a world full of terrific beauty— I know her siblings say she stops talking about it, that Susan walks away from the memories of Narnia, but I don’t think she ever really forgot.

I want to read about Susan finishing out boarding school as a grown queen reigning from a teenaged girl’s body. School bullies and peer pressure from children and teachers who treat you like you’re less than sentient wouldn’t have the same impact. C’mon, Susan of the Horn, Susan who bested the DLF at archery, and rode a lion, and won wars, sitting in a school uniform with her eyebrows rising higher and higher as some old goon at the front of the room slams his fist on the lectern. 

Susan living through WW2, huddling with her siblings, a young adult (again), a fighting queen and champion marksman kept from the action, until she finally storms out against screaming parents’ wishes and volunteers as a nurse on the front. She keeps a knife or two hidden under her clothes because when it comes down to it, they called her Gentle, but sometimes loving means fighting for what you care for. 

(Source: ifallelseperished, via prawnsofthetiger)

There’s no method. There’s no formula. If you really proceed a sentence at a time, if you pay attention to the sentence you just wrote and look to it for the clue for what to do to the next sentence, you can inch your way along to what may be a story. This wouldn’t have occurred to me starting out, for example, when I thought you wrote one sentence, then just looked out to the world trying to snag the next one. That’s not how it works. You look back at what you gave yourself to work with. Sharon Olds said something beautiful about sometimes thinking of her poems as instructions for how to put the world back together if it were destroyed.