“What Can You Pen?” Creative Writing Contest Results

We would like to thank everyone who submitted to our annual contest, and especially to our honorary judges — Karen Kevorkian, Mark Richard, Leslie Schwartz, and Reed Wilson — for their expertise and time dedicated to the support of UCLA student writers. Their comments on the winning submissions are reprinted below. Continue reading ““What Can You Pen?” Creative Writing Contest Results”


A Letter for 2013: What Can I Say?

Given this opportunity, I wanted to write something beautiful, something memorable like Andrew’s post, something that would show how moved I am by how much we have grown – from 7 or 8 or so of us in my first meeting three years ago, awkwardly sitting in a rectangle as Andrew and Paula tried to get us to take their pizza, to this year’s first meeting, with a listserv of more than 300 students and a good 40 or so of us squeezed in a classroom with bolted chairs, sitting just as awkwardly as we faced the chalkboard and not each other.

I wanted to write something that could convey how valuable it has been to be in a room full of diverse writers with distinct and powerful voices, where poetry and personal narratives and humorous quips find their way into the dialogue of our meetings; I wanted to write about how much I personally look forward to Tuesday nights so that I may pause from the rush of classes and work, and instead listen to the creative writing fabric woven by talented students here at UCLA – threads that probably would not have come together without the space the Writer’s Den envisions.

I wanted to write something to show how proud I am of our board and our members, especially in the volunteering front. In our discussions and lesson planning, you can see how dedicated each one of them is to the middle school students and to the students at our new site at Wooden High. If I could, I would paint you the early morning rides to school, the number of times a volunteer would exchange sleep just to get to their weekly sessions, and the volunteers’ at times difficult yet irreplaceable experiences in the classroom. I would draw for you how vibrant and moving our students’ stories and personal accounts are, the walls they need to break through to graduate, and the creativity and self-belief we hope to inspire.

With 2013 starting, and more writing retreats, creative writing contests, and (crossing my fingers) a panel in the works, I wanted to write something that could show how afraid I am of all that still has to be done, but also of how excited I am of all that will be done. Someone asked me this last year why I spent so much time on the Writer’s Den. And I could only answer that I didn’t know, that it was a mix of everything, that when there’s something good, you know it, and Writer’s Den was something good, that I believed in creativity and how far it can take people, that writing made me remember to be human – and perhaps, I said, like me, someone will stumble upon our club and find something that they find worthwhile.

I wanted to write something that said all of this – but sometimes it’s just too hard to find the words.

All my best,


Learning Plot with the WD, Part 2

We ended up teaching plot to our high school class a week after our middle school teams, so I took the results from Columbus and reworked the lesson plan before Friday. Normally we start our classes with a freewrite, then teach the lesson and finish off with an activity. However, our first quarter with Wooden has shown us we need to adapt our traditional routine to better fit this group of students, so we tried Kate’s suggestion doing an activity first and teaching the lesson second.

I think it worked.

First, the starting activity: Each student drew three cards—one each for character, setting, and a story starter—and had 30 minutes to write or plan a short story based on the cards.

Second, the lesson: we drew a plot mountain on the board and explained its different components. (I even made a fancy little graphic for this week’s lesson plan because I was avoiding finals.) Continue reading “Learning Plot with the WD, Part 2”

A mini pep talk for NaNoWriMo

I’ve always wanted to write a NaNo pep talk, so I took the most captive audience I could find and talked about Thanksgiving weekend in an email to our members participating in NaNoWriMo this year:

If you’re behind: your goal for this week/weekend is to either catch up completely or catch up enough so that you feel confident you’ll make it to 50k by the 30th. Remember: your family will be around for Christmas. It’s totally okay for you to ignore them during Thanksgiving weekend if it means catching up on your word count. (But don’t tell them I said that. If they bug you, play the “Why aren’t you supporting my DREAMS? I thought you LOVED me!” card. It works. Hypothetically.)

Be ambitious. Aim high. Write 5,000 words in a single day–believe me when I tell you how exhilarating it feels. Ever spent a day alone with just you and your laptop, completely immersed in your story’s world? If you have the time, try it. But why stop at 5k? Try for 7k, or 8k, or even the almighty 10,000. Revel in the glory of words. Spew them out. Barf your book if you need to. Disconnect the Internet with SelfControl (if you have a Mac) or a free trial of Freedom (Mac/PC ) and get into the zone, that mystical place where you’re in tune with your story, when your fingers are flying over the keyboard, and it feels like the words are pouring out of your head by themselves. Once you’re there, it’s hard to leave…but when you do, you’ll have a much higher word count and some amazing material that you–yes, you–created. So make as much time as you can for writing when you’re home, because this weekend is your last shot at positioning yourself to finish this crazy awesome endeavor.

Never give up! Never surrender!

Time Management During NaNoWriMo

In NaNoWriMo, utilizing every spare moment of the day is what helps you stay on top of your classes, get enough sleep, and cross the finish line.

…I’m really bad at using my time wisely. Sure, I plan my time down to the half-hour, but I never feel like doing what I’ve scheduled. I end up sitting at my desk arguing with myself over what to do until I’ve wasted an hour (or even two) fighting an arbitrary schedule of my own creation. And even if I remake the schedule, it happens again.

I can’t afford that kind of time loss during NaNoWriMo, so last year I created a productivity system based on a checkbox method that Austin Kleon used to create 250 poems in six months.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Make a to-do list for the week or the weekend. Include your assignments, word-count goal, and anything else you want to get done.
  2. Break up every single item on that list into manageable chunks that preferably take between 30 minutes and an hour to complete.
  3. Draw the boxes onto a sheet of paper, grouped by task.
  4. Fill in a box whenever you complete that portion of the task.

So simple it seems kind of stupid, doesn’t it? But turning your to-do lists into a visual progress bar can radically increase your productivity.

Usually when I have a spare 45 minutes I figure I don’t have enough time to get started on anything, but this system helps me shift my big-picture thinking down to the micro level and I actually get stuff done. Little by little, yes, but a small amount here and there is easier than trying to do it all at once.

NaNoWriMo is approaching!

In exactly twenty-four days November 1st will be upon us, and you (may or may not) know what that means—National Novel Writing Month will be in full swing!

I have a five-year NaNoWriMo winning streak that I don’t dare break, so if anyone is interested in participating this year and needs some sort of motivator/spiritual guide/taskmaster, I can offer you advice and physical force encouragement for catching up on your word count. I’m dragging as many people to the finish line with me as possible this year, including YOU. Yes, you. You can do it. I have faith in you. We can do this together.

And if you want to attend NaNoWriMo meetups/write-ins and meet other participants, make sure to set your region to Los Angeles on the NaNoWriMo website—you’ll then get emails from our Municipal Liaisons about events in the area and have access to the regional forum, where someone will soon start a UCLA thread for arranging on-campus meetups (and I’ll probably be at all of those).

Stay tuned for a blog post about why I do NaNoWriMo! That’s all I’ll be writing about for the next two months, by the way. Just a heads up.