Getting Back into Writing

When is the last time you intentionally sat down and wrote something?

I’m going to be honest, I haven’t written creatively for a while. There have been a few fits and starts, but as a whole my writer’s well has felt a little dry lately. It can be hard to get back in the groove after taking some time off. Life happens, and it’s left me wondering: Where do I go from here? I found my answer, of all places, in a pair of bright-eyed fourth graders.

My workplace recently hosted a group of fourth graders who came to interview the staff about their jobs and learn about different careers. I was interviewed as a “Professional Writer” by two initially shy and then unapologetically enthusiastic girls who, after a little prompting, shared their love of stories with me. (We may have gone down a bit of a rabbit hole with that one, so I probably wasn’t the best example of an on-task professional, but we got around to finishing their questions eventually.)

Hearing them talk about why they enjoyed writing, and how they loved to tell stories about people and struggles and imaginative worlds, made me hopeful about my own work. It reminded me that there are little girls out there who are still recklessly hungry to share their creativity, voices, and thoughts with a world that could learn something from them. And isn’t that what storytelling is all about?

Fourth grade was when I really started pouring myself into my stories, too. As I got older, I didn’t realize how easy it could be to have the desire to share my voice dampened. Don’t get me wrong, the desire for stories is always there, but sometimes it takes a fresh perspective, or a reminder of their purpose, to kickstart inspiration again.

All of this is to say that, when we as writers feel like we’re falling a bit flat, I think it’s important to remember and be encouraged by why we are telling the stories we tell, and who we are telling them for. Because there are wide-eyed little girls (and boys, of course) learning about life by watching us and by reading the stories we hand to them. Let’s make it worth their while.

Happy writing!

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What to Read: Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green


Summary
Inside your own mind can be a difficult place to be. Aza’s most worrisome thoughts are a constant companion for her, and she finds herself desperate to be understood amidst her obsessive compulsions. When an old friend’s father disappears, Aza is reunited with a kindred spirit. But her thoughts and compulsions continue to pry at her, escalating alongside the mystery of where David Pickett went.

Overall Impressions
First, I’d like to acknowledge that everyone is different, and everyone has varying degrees at which they’ve experienced struggles with mental health. My anxiety is nowhere near the level of struggle portrayed in this book. That said, I recognize “the spiral” that Aza talks about. I understand the “intrusives.” That’s why I think this is a really important book, not just for those who struggle with mental health but also for those who love them. Green captures mental health in a very real way (albeit framed around his usual dramatic teen mystery scenario). It’s meaningful to have something to point to and say, “Yes, this is how I feel,” when it’s difficult to find the words to express it yourself.

On a lighter note, Green also has the delightfully uncanny knack for mimicking the dialogue of high school girls. After reading one particular exchange between Aza and Daisy, I immediately grabbed my phone and texted my own best friend about a passage that sounded exactly like a conversation we’d had before. His characters interact in relatable, witty, and heartfelt ways that any reader can appreciate. I recommend this book for John Green fans (obviously), but also for those who like young adult stories about managing mental health, getting through high school, and finding first loves.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater


Summary
Everyone wants a miracle, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to get one—especially after they realize the consequences of receiving it. For generations, pilgrims have trekked to the purposefully secluded home of the Soria family to be given a miracle. When an unlikely duo arrives, the core Soria cousins, Beatriz, Daniel, and Joquin, find events set into motion that they could never have anticipated—events that will change them and their family forever.

Overall Impression
I am a sucker for magical realism, and Stiefvater delivers it beautifully in this haunting but hopeful novel about family and redemption. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would like this book at the start of it. The initial pace and character interactions felt lackluster compared to some of her other books, but I held on. After the first couple chapters, I was really glad that I did. This is a heavily character-driven piece, and the longer I spent with the characters the more I grew to appreciate them and their struggles. I found this book to be a thoughtful dive into the complexities of self and family, the spoken and unspoken rules we are forced to live by, and the courage it takes to question them. I recommend this book to lovers of stories about self-discovery, family bonds, and those looking for a little bit of a miracle.

Happy reading!

For more by Maggie Stiefvater, try The Raven Boys.

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What to Read: Passenger

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken


Summary
Time travel is real–and so is the danger Etta Spencer faces when she is suddenly abducted into the schemes of the Ironwoods, a powerful family of travelers who believe she is the only one who can return something that her mother stole from them. It’s hard to know who to trust, but Etta finds an ally in an Ironwood family outcast named Nicholas. It seems everyone around them, themselves included, is hiding something, and retrieving what was stolen could endanger far more than they had imaged.

Overall Impressions
If you’re a reader who likes stories of impossible odds and star-crossed lovers, then I think this may need to be the next young adult novel on your list. Admittedly, I found the book a bit longer than I would have liked, but I’m sometimes about action myself, and this is a very character driven story. Through her characters, Bracken practically and tactfully addresses historical tensions like race, gender, inequality, and privilege. She does a wonderful job of getting inside the minds and hearts of the characters, and laying them out for the reader to grab on to through the twists and turns of the plot.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: The Poet X

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo


Summary
Xiomara Batista doesn’t understand how someone who can make so much space with her fists can feel so voiceless. Frustrated by the family, neighbors, and classmates who seem to do nothing but try to fit her into their own boxes, she finds solace in her writing. Xiomara’s powerful story is a battle ground of culture and adolescence organized in poetry.

Overall Impressions
I have never read anything quite like this. This novel-in-poems is extraordinary and raw, and I wish there was more of it. Reading it felt less like, well, reading, and more like a conversation with someone who has the exact words to express how it is to feel out of place in a crowd of familiar people. While I can’t claim to have experienced anything close to the level of Xiamara’s exact circumstances, I do know how words can change a person, and how they can give someone power when they feel small. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys coming-of-age stories and poetry, and urge even those who think they don’t “get poetry” to give it a try. The novel format makes the story accessible, and its themes are absolutely compelling.

Happy reading!

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Weekend Writing Prompt: The Deal

Happy writing!

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What to Read: We Are Okay

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour


Summary
It has been months since Marin has spoken to anyone from her grief-stricken life in California. Now a student in New York, alone in the dorms for winter break, she anxiously waits for her former best friend Mabel to arrive–and with Mabel, the ghosts of everything Marin had tried to leave behind.

Overall Impressions
“Aching” is the most accurate word I can think of to describe this earnestly woven story. It aches with loss, loneliness, and the complexities of love in all its forms. Normally, I have a tendency to disengage from such introspective realistic fiction books because they tend to have a slower pace. But We Are Okay kept me up way past my bedtime, calling me from page to page. I love LaCour’s simple but elegant style, and each layer of the character’s lives that she pulled back left me wanting to see deeper. I recommend this book for fans of melancholy, sincere, and triumphant new adult fiction.

Happy reading!

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What to Read: Tumble & Blue

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley


Summary
Blue Montgomery was destined to be cursed. He is a Montgomery after all. His particular affliction? To lose at everything. Abandoned at his grandmother’s house for the summer, Blue finds himself surrounded by equally unlucky relatives, and each of them is determined to be the one chosen. Chosen to go into the swamp, face the legendary monster that first cursed their ancestor, and change their fate. But when he meets Tumble, an idealistic girl with a hunger for heroics, they both wonder: What if you can change your own fate?

Overall Impressions
Tumble & Blue is inarguably charming right from the start. It beings with the cozy, fairytale familiarity of a boy dumped on elderly relatives by an emotionally absent father, and quickly builds into a fresh adventure as Blue’s world collides with Tumble’s. It moves quickly, and its lively but sincere characters color every page. The young protagonists’ longing to be something other than they are will resonate with anyone who has ever had the pleasure of being twelve. I also adore the style choice to shift perspectives between the heroes and the wise but unforgiving monster who waits for them. I recommend this book to lovers of young adult books that feature low-key magic, quirky families, a sprinkle of mystery, and a whole lot of hope.

Happy reading!

For more books about cursed people named Blue (oddly specific, isn’t it?), check out Maggie Stiefvater’s series, The Raven Boys.

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Weekend Writing Prompt: Coffee

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February 1, 2019 · 10:00 am

Attention Hog: Being Intentional About Writing

Like many people, I have a habit of leaving used dishes around. It’s usually nothing too gross. Mostly cups of water that I put down and forget about, forcing me to get a new glass mere minutes after pouring the first, only to rediscover the original a few hours later. (When I was a kid, my dad found this habit slightly eerie because it remind him of the little girl from the movie Signs.) But what does this unsolicited fun-fact about me have to do with writing? Well, like those abandoned glasses of water, it can be easy to forget to write, I mean really, intentionally write. It’s easy to get distracted, procrastinate, or straight up forget to make time for writing once you fall out of the habit (*cough* guilty). Here are a couple ways to get back in the groove and give writing the attention it deserves.

Use a Writer’s Devotional
Yes, a devotional may sound a little cheesy, but habits form in small, consistent steps. It will provide you with structured daily prompts that force you to put something down on paper even during those creativity downswings. And they’re usually short, so it’s easy to make time for a 10 minute writing exercise. I understand that some writers don’t work well with structure, but who knows, those first 10 minutes of rusty-nails-on-chalkboard writing may even bloom into something more inspirational!

Join a Group
The first writing group I joined was actually an annual weekend camp at Michigan State University called the Greenrock Writers Retreat. Being around other writers my age, and being assigned fun but consistently themed prompts kept me in a fluid writing mindset. It also gave me a relaxed environment to experiment with my craft. In college, I joined Writing at the Ledges, a local group based out of Grand Ledge, MI. The majority of its members are at least ten years older than me, and many of them have published work outside of our group anthology (the latest of which includes three pieces by yours truly). Their creative experiences and factual knowledge of everything from grammar to genre tropes significantly advanced my own writing, for which I am incredibly grateful. I recently moved too far to continue attending meetings, and I have to say I miss having a community of writers so close at hand. Through WATL, I also attended my first Rally of Writers, which is a conference that I HIGHLY recommend.

Talk about Your Work
Now this one will get a little uncomfortable for some of you. Maybe because of what you write about, or maybe because you simply don’t feel confident to talk about your writing with other people. I get it. Telling someone you enjoy writing is one thing, but giving an in-depth look at a particular piece or idea can make you feel overly exposed. But what I’ve found is that if someone manages to pry the general idea of my latest work out of me, and if it’s something I love enough, I actually want to keep sharing because there’s a story inside me that is dying to get out. And that realization often leads me to finally chase after it. If the story has to come out, even if it isn’t pretty the first draft, it will find a way.

Happy Writing!

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