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”

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.

What does creative expression mean to you?

Two years ago, I walked into a room full of middle school students as a volunteer with The Writer’s Den – a club that only had about 7-8 consistent members. I was nervous at the idea of having to teach students about creative expression and storytelling. I was afraid they would think it was a waste of their time. I was afraid they’d BS their way through the work we’d give them. I was afraid of a lot of things, but most of all, I was afraid I wouldn’t do what I and the other members wanted to do: to guide, to inspire, to give these students a space to think and put themselves on paper.

Today, I experienced the same emotions and fears as Mary, Kate and I walked into the high school. It was The Writer’s Den’s first time teaching to high school students (This year, we’ve expanded to three weekly classes and have an outreach of more than 200 members), and I was afraid it would be more challenging, more difficult.

It ended up being inspiring – one of those times when by talking to them about why they write, I am reminded of why I write as well.
Continue reading “What does creative expression mean to you?”

Letting Go

I cling to stories the way I cling to old clothes.

My closet contains far too many old shirts, dresses, and pants from as long ago as my freshman year of high school. Some of these clothes are faded, others torn, but most have nothing wrong except for the fact that I’ve simply stopped wearing them. (When you’re in college, would you want to wear clothes you picked out when you were 14?) They’ve run their course, and now all they do is take up space.

But I don’t get rid of them. A small part of me is convinced that, someday, I’ll wear those clothes again. In the meantime, that hanger space could have been used to store clothes I would actually wear (but never bought because I didn’t have room in the closet).

The same goes for writing. I have drafts of stories that I’ll never be happy with. Instead of acknowledging that I’ve done what I can and move on, I stay stuck on those specific projects, never progressing, never changing anything significant, never letting go. Those stories were started in high school, a time of adolescent mood swings, if-he-would-only-notice-i-exist crushes, and teenybopper outlooks on life. Plenty of them need to either be finished or rewritten.

Look, I know that you’re supposed to finish every story you start, but I’ve changed so much as a person in the past two years that they’re just holding me back. I have all of these grand new story ideas that I’m not starting because, just like the old clothes in my closet, I’m convinced that I’m eventually going to fix all of the stories I wrote back in high school. But because I don’t want to work on these stories since they no longer apply to me, I end up avoiding writing altogether. The new stories inside me that sing to my soul and reflect my inner self much more accurately than years-old quasi-abandoned projects end up fizzling and fading before I finally capture them in real words.

Is it better to keep trying to revive lifeless stories, or just man up and move on? How do you know when to let go?