Category Archives: Editorial Board Essay
As we continue to grow and improve as writers, we have a tendency to not want to look back. Some of us cringe at the thought of our past writings. When reading them, we know exactly what was going through our minds as each word was written and each grammar mistake was placed. It can be quite embarrassing to look back on, which is understandable, since I have been (and still am) in the same boat. Every time I found a piece of writing that I thought was too bland or embarrassing, into the trash it went. I never wanted it to see the light of day again in fear that someone will somehow find it and go “Wow, this Mary-Kelly girl? What on earth was she thinking?”
These fears are of course irrational, but very real. I almost never kept any of my writings growing up, and even within the past couple of years. Very few pieces have survived. If I wasn’t really proud if it, it was eventually deleted and never to be seen again. I thought that I was simply saving myself from the embarrassment, when in reality, I was throwing away the purest versions of myself. I was setting myself up for regret, and regret is certainly what I feel in this point in my narrative journey, because now there is little journey to look back on.
I greatly wish that I could go back in time and tell myself to quit being so self-conscious. Unfortunately, this cannot be done and time must continue moving forward. I won’t have the pleasure of picking up a piece that I wrote in 6th grade and say “Wow! Look at how much I’ve grown!” because it’s in a crumpled ball out there somewhere. So this is a message directed to myself, and to all of you: DON’T THROW AWAY YOUR WRITING. Every one of your stories or poems has some kind of background. Whether or not you were bored in class one day and decided to scribble some words down or if you were really torn up about a breakup and couldn’t help but pour your heart and soul into a poem. It all has meaning. It’s all you. Each is a part of your narrative journey and even if you find it to be “mediocre” or an “embarrassment” it’s still your creation and has continued to drive you forward. It’s easy to pull the plug, but it certainly isn’t any easier to reverse time to get it all back.
By looking back at what you’ve written from previous years, or even from last week, you will understand yourself better as a person and writer. You get to be the audience for yourself. You let time wipe your slate clean and allow yourself to grow so that you may look back with a fresh mind, as if you were someone else. It is reminder of where you come from and how you’ve molded into the writer you are today. The progress is just as, if not more, important than the end goal. I wish someone could have told me this, so that is why I tell you. Treat your old pieces, even the ones that you aren’t particularly proud of, with respect. Do not feel ashamed of the writer that you used to be, because without them, you can never truly and honestly say “I’ve made it.”
This is the first sentence of this essay. This is the second sentence of this essay. We are talking about syntax. Each sentence is the same length right now. Each sentence is the same type right now. There are many different types of syntax. You’re probably getting bored with this essay.
I don’t blame you! When you write several sentences in a row with the same sentence length and style, you’re going to create rhythm (or lack thereof) and tone that can suck the life from what you are trying to say. Imagine having a conversation with someone. As humans, we talk in a certain way that fits with the tone of our voice. Our conversations are comprised of short, abrupt sentences or long, winding sentences that both stream from our consciousness. Would it seem natural for us to use the same structure for each sentence we speak? Absolutely not! The English language has several types of sentences we use every day without us even realizing it!
This is a short simple sentence. It fits nicely between two complex sentences. There are no pauses you need to take within the sentence, and it helps carry the flow of your story or piece. There are other times, however, where you’ll want to use a complex sentence to put more emphasis, to cause the readers to pause and think. Other times, you may have strung many longer sentences together and now you want to put emphasis on an important idea. You use a short sentence. You might use another. The reader will pause at these sentences because they stand out; the sentences will also leave a longer lasting imprint on the reader because of their brief size.
I just described how important syntax is in nonfiction writing—say, when you’re writing an argumentative or persuasive essay. You want your readers to be impacted by your statement, and the way to keep them engaged is to vary your syntax! You want to keep it exciting, interesting, and gripping. Don’t write dull—write lively. The same applies to your fiction, in your novels and short stories, and of course your poetry. You use specific syntax to help create pace for your tone and mood, and to mirror the content of your sentences and breathe life into the story you’re writing. When you want to induce fear, you break up your sentences to quicken the pace. The light just went out. You hear footsteps down the hall. What’s going to happen? Can you escape? Where is he now? Or, say it’s summertime during a chapter in your book. When you describe the setting, you might write with long, flowing sentences for a slower pace that mirrors the lazy, sleepy mood of the summer day. A breeze has just flittered through as the bright, hot sun beats down on the town, and a cat sleeps soundly underneath a shady tree.
The story no longer feels 2D—there’s an element of feeling that is introduced when our syntax can help articulate what is happening in our sentences. The next time you sit down to write something, pay attention to your syntax. Sometimes we tend to write our syntax with a “stream of consciousness.” We may not realize what kind of sentences we are writing—we just write what seems natural! But by being deliberate with your syntax to produce an emotion—fear, laziness, joy, suspense—not only are you making your writing more engaging for your reader, but you are breathing life into it, too.
No matter how genius the concept of your story may be, it’s going to fall flat if your syntax is flat too, so make sure it’s varied. Happy Writing!
As writers I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Write what you know,” when searching for or asking for writing advice. When I first heard that, I took it to heart because it made sense. In writing what we know we are inevitably going to create accurate and in-depth stories because it involves elements we’re familiar with and can essentially write well. Recently an author I follow on Instagram brought up this topic. She declared this was some of the worst advice writers receive and to instead write what we love. When I thought about it in this light, I agreed whole heartedly. How extremely limiting would it be if authors only wrote what they knew? How many amazing fantasy worlds, do you think would not have been created if authors simply followed this advice? Yes, of course writing what we know can be great, but also write what you love and what you’re passionate about! Every good writer will tell you how much research it takes to write their novel. How much stuff they must learn to make their story flow and make sense. It can be challenging to do research upon research for a novel or story. But what passion doesn’t require challenge of any sort?
It’s common knowledge that writing can be extremely difficult but writing an entire novel can be so much harder. Ask any published author and they’ll instantly be able to tell you the long and tiring process it took to get their book completely written, edited, and published. It can be exhausting to fight for those words to be written on that page and at some point, you might even feel like giving up entirely. In writing what we love and what we’re passionate about that process becomes that much easier. When we reach that point of desperately wanting to give up we can remember why we started in the first place. That fire of our passion will light the pathway to the finish line.
I encourage you all to write from your heart. Write what you want to write, and what you want to see put in the world one day. People are going to be able to see the heart and passion in your work and it will be that much sweeter for them. It can be scary doing such a thing, though. When so much heart and passion is put into our stories, we often grow nervous that people will only hate it. We’re scared of negative feedback and that all this will be for nothing. It’s common and easy to think ahead and worry about if our work will sell or be accepted. We can grow more and more anxious and can often revert to writing similar things to what other successful people have written or what we often see in published books because we know it worked for them, so it must work for us. As obvious as it seems, someone else’s success doesn’t always assure ours if we do similar things. Of course, take inspiration from your favorite authors but make it unique to you and your story, and make it your own. The world needs to hear your story, so let that be your motivation to keep marching forward.
I wanted to take this essay to share with you all my favorite author. I’m sure many of you have heard of him, and probably have even read one of the many books he’s written. While he writes some for kids, he caters more towards the young adult and adult categories. His books varying from topics of experiment teenagers, witches, murder mysteries, and ever evolving animals. My all-time favorite author is…drumroll…. James Patterson. One of the first YA books I had ever read was from his Maximum Ride Series, which I highly recommend for anyone looking for a new series to read. Patterson has such an apt ability to make his stories feel as if he’s created another world. He makes all of his character feel so real, like I’ve known them for a lifetime. And he has this way of telling stories that simply draws you in. His books are addictive, once you start it’s so hard to stop.
I don’t know how he stays so consistent with is stories, but it never fails that once I start I can’t put them down. He’s written on such a variety of genres that it wouldn’t be hard for someone to find a book they like by him. But what I really like about him is the he inspires and helps so many young writers. Through workshops he aids writers in perfecting their skills, helps them to achieve their dream. He is one of the tope New York Times bestselling authors, having written over 140 books, and over 100 of those are New York Times Bestsellers.
As a writer, I aspire very much to write like James Patterson. While I may enjoy writing in a different genre then he, his writing style is what truly captures me. He creates such realism and emotion out of pure fiction. His stories are an escape, but they have so many parallels that connect with many of the things we may go through in life. As teens, his books can help us to build our imagination. I would recommend anyone to read a book of his. Even if it doesn’t end up as one of your favorites, it will give you a new perspective on writing. They all build on one another, furthering the reality he’s created. Story after story, pulling you farther and farther in.
Some of my favorite books of his would have to be the Maximum Ride Series, Witch & Wizard Series, Confessions of a Murder Suspect Series, and Women’s Murder Club Series. They’re a mix of murder mysteries, thrillers, and fantasy novels. I would recommend the Maximum Ride books to anyone looking for an addictive, page turning, science fiction, fantasy thriller. It’s a longer series, with 10 books, so expect to get attached to the characters and wishing that everything existed before you. It’s an escape that you’ll never want to leave.
When I was in elementary school, the only poetry I knew how to write was rhyme. “Dog/log,” “sky/why,” and the list goes on and on. When I went to a creative writing summer program in middle school, I graduated from what I believed to be the “childish” rhyme scheme we all start out with and found a love for free verse. It was more, well, freeing! It was personal and exciting to work with, and it just felt more mature. I didn’t feel bound by the detested scenario of not finding the right rhyming word that will maintain the consistency and flow and meaning I desired. That just seemed to be a very painstaking task, if you ask me! For many years I stuck with free verse, appreciating its elasticity that I could work and play around with. But recently I came to realize that free verse lacks something rhyme does not: rhythm and sometimes careful consideration.
Rhyming has always been central to the poetry landscape. Shakespeare’s famous love sonnets, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” or William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” They are, of course, far from the premature voices I now cringe at in my older poems. The point is, you can rhyme in your poem and still produce the voice you desire—it doesn’t have to be a free verse at all, depending on how you want your form (the type of poem) to reflect your message. Many people feel that writing with rhyme can suffocate or hinder the fluidity of your voice, but that’s definitely not the case in my experience!
As I’ve gotten back into writing rhyme poems, I really think it’s important to encourage a greater exploration of the purpose of rhyme and how it can help develop your writing capabilities. By adhering to set a of guidelines, you are forced to be meticulous and approach delivering your message or creating your imagery in an out of the box way. You have to think “How do I get from point A to point B?” while maintaining rhythm and giving each word you write purpose (every word serves a purpose in poetry anyway!). It’s forced me to really dive into what I’m trying to say. Most importantly, as I’ve mentioned, rhyming helps produc rhythm. This is most prominent in songs, of course, with verses and a chorus that have end rhymes to produce this effect. But in poetry, rhythm is just as important for a desired effect. It can help make a poem musical, while emphasizing the message of the poem because it tends to stick with the reader more often as they read. You can also use rhyme and rhythm to change the flow of the poem to further emphasize meaning, change mood and tone, etc.! An example of this is shifting from the ABAB pattern in one stanza, to a CCDD pattern in the next. Rhyme is a tool you can use at your disposal to heighten imagery, shift tone and mood, and emphasize your message.
I highly recommend reading the authors I mentioned above, as well as other prominent poets who used rhyme. I used to stray away from rhyme also because I thought it was just too hard. While free verse is a beautiful form of poetry, sometimes it can be easy and not challenging enough, and I think rhyme really causes you to think more critically and carefully about what you’re writing! For any of you who have avoided rhyming poems, or who have struggled with them, make a resolution in this new year to work with a rhyming technique. You can try Shakespearean sonnets, the Trolaan Style poem, or any other rhyming style. You’ll soon find how fun and rewarding rhyme poetry can be!
This previous year has been filled with flooded word documents, crumpled papers, used pens, and those annoying led smears that you get on the side of your hand after writing for an extended period of time, and I must say that I would not trade anything for it. I will admit, I didn’t get as much writing in as I would have liked, but those are regrets that I will let perish as we finally shut the door that was 2017. We will miss you buddy, but it’s time to move forward. The writing journey has only just begun.
We welcome 2018 with a fresh sheet of paper. We have opened a new word document. We have replaced the ink in our pens. But all of this raises the question that certainly has been weighing on the back of my mind: What do we do now?
This question doesn’t have a certain answer. It is a question that only time can reveal. It is time that we must use to our advantage in this refreshed step in our writing journey. However, if you’re anything like me, you have probably already experienced that block in the road. The uncertainty of what to now scribble with this fresh sheet, with this new word document, with this new ink. There are billions of words in the English language and countless ways to put them together, so what makes it so hard?
We are our own barrier and we set our own standards. We have a tendency to label ourselves. We choose to “prefer.” We choose what is deemed comfortable to us. This year, tear away the label. Whether it may say “poet” or “short story writer” or whatever, let it go. Try a new writing format. Tread into a different genre. Open up your horizons.
As a young writer (well…younger) I always saw myself as someone who would only be writing fiction novels. I thought I would be the biggest thing since sliced bread. I saw myself growing up to be THE author. If little Mary-Kelly with her ring pops and twinkle toes could see me now as I move along in my narrative journey, I can’t tell you what she’d say. However, I’ve learned that dreaming big is not a bad thing, but to limit yourself from the endless possibilities that this art form can offer won’t help you learn who you are as a writer, and that to make it to the top takes a lot of time, a lot of luck, and a lot of ink. This isn’t to discourage you or tell one to completely abandon the kind of writing that they have mastered, but to simply stretch out and try. Perhaps you don’t like a style or genre. That is OK, but try to avoid restricting yourself and discover which forms of writing that you do or do not like. You never know what you can find behind a closed door.
So let regrets in 2017 die as we finally open a new chapter. Rip away the label, and refer to yourself as a “writer.” This could mean so many things. There are millions of doors to look behind. So I say, hello 2018! Hit us with whatever you got!
It’s an obvious fact that there are many difficult tasks that come with being a writer and being creative. One of those difficulties is often naming our characters. We create and imagine these people in our mind, we have their story, we have their personality, and their fears and goals in life, but finally having to pick a name can be daunting. We want to do them justice and we want it to be perfect. We want this word that we call our character to completely embody who they are. It almost feels like naming a child in a way, as these characters come from us and become apart of us. Not only is it hard because of this, but it’s simply hard to think of names that fit, but aren’t cheesy and used too frequently.
The first and most common way to find a name for your character is to go to a baby naming site. These sites have thousands of names to scroll through, often with its definition. You’re bound to find one that fits your character. Going to a naming site though can be stressful and time consuming if you have no idea what you’re looking for. Try narrowing it down by choosing a defining personality trait of your character, such as a leader, diligent, loyal, or joyful, and search for names which have that meaning or something like it. This is one of my favorite methods and is the one I use the most. I feel it is a way for the name to connect even more to that character and give the name and character more meaning to me and the story than if I were to just pick a random name from a list. Something along those same lines is choosing a name that might symbolize an action or an event that takes place later in the story for them
Another method is taking the heritage or origin of your character and where they’re from, and finding names that come from that country or place. If you’re writing a fantasy and your world is inspired by a certain country or culture, try finding names that derive from that. For example, if you’re writing about Vikings, you might choose Norse inspired names. If you’re writing a French inspired fairytale, you might choose French names. If you are creating a world with inspiration from Russia, you would likely choose Russian names.
You can even try coming up with your own name. If you find one that might fit your character but still isn’t quite right, find a different way to spell it or pronounce it or find other similar names. You can even scramble the letters to make it unique and your own. Another great method for discovering names for a fantasy story, especially surnames which might be the hardest to come up with, is using a name generator. Just choosing one of those names can do the job but if none of them are working, again mess with them a little bit. Switch around or take out letters or even combine names to make something entirely new. This is also a great method for creating names of countries, cities, towns and other places in your world.
Discovering names for your characters may never be easy but these methods are ways to make it a little less stressful. It’s hard work but in the end, it’s extremely rewarding to finally have another piece of your character put in place. It’s always important to remember that your names never have to be set in stone. If a character’s name isn’t working you can always go back and find something that fits them better.
Writer’s block is unfortunately inevitable. It’s like your stuck in a bubble that you can’t pop. Your thoughts may be there, but the words are not. It happens to us all at one point or another, and can put you in a complete rut when it comes to writing. This happened to me this year with NaNo. I had my idea laid out and everything ready, but I simply couldn’t put the words together on paper. It limited what I could do and how far my story could go. But the good thing about writer’s block is that there’s always a way to overcome it.
One of the best ways that I’ve come across to beat writers block is free writing. If you’re unfamiliar with this technique, it’s basically when you set a time limit for yourself, and without thinking about grammar, or proper writing, you simply write. You write until that time limit is up, and you’re left with an unfiltered, unedited, raw writing. It’s something just to get words down un paper. It’s not going to end up as a story, or the start of a novel, or the next greatest poem. It’s simply used to get words from your mind on to paper. In a time of writer’s block, hopefully one session of free writing will do the trick to get your thoughts and creative energies flowing again. But sometimes it takes two or three time of freewriting, and possibly some additional works to get your creativity back.
In certain cases, your writers block may be from lack of inspiration. In this case all you may need to do it read a book, or read some of your favorite writings. Go back and look at your previous writing. This may help you to find inspiration. If not, you may want to scroll through social media and look at pictures, or watch videos, even listen to your favorite genre of music to get your mindset in the right place. Another thing you can try is to just take a break. Step back from writing for an hour or two, take a day if you need it, go outside, do something fun, watch tv. Just take a break from writing. At time, when you’ve spent so long writing, you mind just gets fried. Having a change of environment and some relaxation time will help you to clear your mind.
Some other things you can try are a change of environment. Writing in another place, like at a park, or at a coffee shop, whatever suit you best. Finding a new, peaceful environment, can help you to find new inspiration and focus on what you’re trying to write. You can also drink some coffee. Take a nap. Go watch a movie. Read a book. Paint, or draw. Spend time with family or friends. Any of these can help to eliminate your writers block. One you get off the focus of what you’re writing your mind should clear and the pressures of writing will disappear. Then all you’re left with is your creativity and you’re ready to get back to writing.
The other day I was working on an assignment for AP English Literature. I was tasked with analyzing Shakespeare’s Love Sonnet 18 “Shall I Compare Thee?” The speaker is illustrating the superior beauty his beloved possesses compared to even the most beautiful summer day. I’ve never read the entire poem before, so I was pleasantly surprised at the couplet that concludes a standard sonnet, in which Shakespeare writes, “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” He says here that he has captured her beauty in his words, has immortalized her essence and his love for her, because this sonnet will continue to be read for hundreds of years ahead (and it continues to be!).
This got me thinking about the power of words. It’s no secret history and society have shown us the capacity that goes with a written statement or a spoken declaration. It has moved men, inspired movements, explored ideas and affected our own personal decisions. But something I haven’t thought about too much is its ability to capture time, and our ability as readers to embody it. This is one of the most unique and beautiful things about the written word, and I want to explore this topic a little more today.
My mom and I love watching these genealogy shows on TV where a celebrity of some sort gets a detailed, thoroughly researched presentation of one line in their family tree. It is so fascinating to see some of them related to Charlemagne or a person caught in the middle of the famous wars and historical moments we read about in history class. What’s even cooler is getting your hands on an actual diary or personal account written at the time of the event. Turning the pages of something hundreds of years old, deciphering the looped handwriting, but most importantly embodying the words scrawled as you read them aloud—it’s incredible. Often it gives me chills.
In the moment you read something written by somebody else, you feel as if you are in the presence of when those words were written, and it transports you back. In Latin class I’ve translated the Roman senator Cicero’s argument against the conspiracy of Catiline, and it is simply amazing. His rhetoric is so moving, that you can almost picture yourself sitting before him, a senator yourself, learning of the deep betrayal planned by a madman hungry for power. And this was written and spoken some 2,000 years ago! Writing captures the moment in time, brand new to the next new set of eyes that reads it.
Whenever I read my old work I’ve saved, I might cringe. But I am also fascinated by the circumstances in which I wrote a poem or a short story. Ultimately, I get a better sense of who I was as a person by what I’ve written in the past, and can gauge how far I’ve come. It’s in those moments I am met with a pang of nostalgia—but I am also met with the motivation to write, write, write, and a sense of accomplishment in who I am now. This is such a good reason to save your work, every piece that is horribly bad or pleasantly good or in between. Like a diary from the American Revolution, it is a documentation of your personal and writerly history, and you should never get rid of that. The next time you think about deleting a poem you’ve pounded out in the heat of a moment, I strongly advise you not to. Save it and store it away. One day you’ll find it again, and trust me, it’ll be worth it. It just might be the very thing you need to see at a given time! Writing is a beautiful tool, and I love that it can capture something just like a photograph can. It is all the more reason to write, indeed.
Creating something is an exhilarating experience. Getting to stand back and look at something that YOU made. Something that is built not just physically, but with the blocks that are fathomed within the depths of your own mind, all based on your life experiences and perspective of the world. Whatever it is that you create, it is very important to take care of it. In this case, we are discussing characters. There’s nothing quite like brain storming a character. Maybe you base them off yourself, a family member, friend, or the person that you strive to be. No matter where the origin of your character develops, it becomes yours.
While creating characters is a blast, it is also a responsibility. They start as a rough idea, and as the plot and everything else around it develops and molds, they begin to form like crafting lumps of clay. They bend and sway until it finally forms the shape that you want, which then begins to harden as a character. They then can make their place in your story-telling canvas. How do you do this, though? How do you get to know the beings that have made a home in the world of the story that you have created?
When you meet someone new, you ask them simple questions. Name, age, hobbies, preferences, etc. This isn’t much different from getting to know a character. Ask yourself these basic questions and give them answers for your character. Then, as the relationship with this new person develops, your questions start becoming more specific and possibly even deep. This also relates to getting to know your character. People are complex figures, they have many sides to themselves and things that fuel their desires to keep them going. If you want your characters to feel real and complex, this is a good thing to keep in mind. Even if the answers aren’t directly related to the plot of the story, they still will give you insight as to how the character should approach certain circumstances or how they will react under pressures and conflicts. Some questions to ask about your character can include:
What is their opinion on their parents?
What is their biggest fear?
What is their biggest pet peeve?
What do they value most?
What makes them stand out?
What do other people think of them?
A good list of questions to use is the 36 Questions. It is a set of questions used to make strangers fall in love, but it’s also a nice starter set of questions to begin with. Look into even the most vulnerable parts of your character. Keep in mind the setting and plot that you are placing them in when answering these, as well.
Once you’ve learned about the many aspects of your character, they are set and ready for storytelling. Remember that whatever their fate or purpose is, they are the stars that dominate the flow and quality of your story, so always keep them in mind. You have nurtured these fictional beings into what they are, which will make you more confident in your writing. Have faith that they will help you guide the story forward. But the journey has only just begun, so onward!