I write about writing because it helps me sort through my mindset at the time, my insecurities about my journey as a writer, but also because…well, stringing words together in any form reminds me that I AM a writer, even when I’m not actively working on a novel project.
The truth is, I haven’t been writing in months (outside of the journal I keep for sanity purposes).
It’s not because I don’t have any good ideas either. I’m sitting on four novel ideas that felt so huge to me at one point in time, in varying states of drafted/edited/planned out.
And it’s not really because I haven’t had time. Sure, I just finished my first semester of grad school (that’s another post entirely). Yes, this spring semester has been absolutely crazy and I’ve been settling into a new routine amidst a global pandemic. But I could’ve squeezed in a few hours a week, and I’ve already proven that all I need is 10-12 hours a week to write effectively.
No, I haven’t been writing because I haven’t felt that drive to write that usually keeps me going.
For me, writing takes a lot of momentum. It’s like trying to ride a bike on the hardest possible gear: once you get going, you don’t notice the difficulty… it’s when you stop for a while that you realize how much work this thing really takes.
It’s been six months since I “finished” NaNoWriMo. Six months in which I’ve thought a lot about that story I worked on in November, but also about the other stories I’ve tabled throughout the last, oh, decade of my life. I wonder a lot where I went wrong, and it really comes down to the fact that most of the time I hate what I’ve written when I read it after the fact.
I’ve gone back to school for a master’s in something that isn’t even writing, or literature. I’m 1/4 of the way through a graduate degree in secondary education, that thing I always said I would NEVER DO. I have, in some respects, given up on my goal of just struggling along as a writer until I get published; I’m pursuing a Real Career for the first time in my adult life.
And I just turned 30.
So I guess I’m writing this post because I need to work on some self-forgiveness.
Deciding to become a teacher doesn’t mean I’m no longer a writer. I think in stories, I read stories, and I know eventually I’ll get back to writing them too. Just because I have a 2-month break between semesters doesn’t mean I have to bang out an entire novel in order to prove I haven’t given up on writing.
As for the fact that I can’t decide which story to write at the moment…maybe that just means that I’m still bursting full of potential, even though I’m not a 20-something anymore. The well doesn’t just dry up because I’ve been distracted for half a year. If anything, the well is maybe growing deeper now that I’m not clinging to it so desperately.
If you’ve read to the end of this post, you’re a true friend. Thank you for reading, and I’d love to know your thoughts! If you’re a writer, do you ever struggle between what project to work on? Do you battle against self-doubt on a daily basis? Let me know how things have been for you in the comments. Until next time,
ICYMI, my good friend Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers and I decided to do another writing discussion series. Throughout the month of July, we’re going to be reading and discussing Elizabeth Gilbert’s creative manifesto, Big Magic. If you’re interested, you can catch up right here!
Since when did creativity become a suffering contest?
from ‘The Teachings of Pain’
This week, I did a lot of deep thinking about all of the ways I inflict suffering on myself, mostly because I feel I’m supposed to suffer as an artist.
I know how crazy this sounds. It’s not that I enjoy suffering, or that I wouldn’t experience pain if I didn’t do it to myself. But I can’t deny the ways I’ve treated myself like shit because somehow I got the notion that I don’t deserve any better.
Eleven summers ago, I was fresh off my high school graduation. I’d just started my first real job at Starbucks. Everyone I worked with was a good five years older than me at least, so I slid into my role as the baby of the store family.
I learned a lot from those guys in the months and years that followed—including the fact that I was spoiled and had no idea what it meant to live on my own and really take responsibility for myself.
They weren’t wrong. I was spoiled; I didn’t have to work in high school, and I only worked through college because my parents felt I needed to learn time management. I’d never had to want for anything growing up, but I was also highly aware of how lucky I was—and still am.
But as soon as I finished college, I made plans to move far away from home so that my ability to take responsibility could be put to the test. I made life as hard as possible for myself, working long hours, saving my money, living in two of the most expensive cities in America—all because I felt the need to prove myself to a world full of people who saw me as a child.
I developed a martyr complex when it comes to my creativity.
I beat myself up for the fact that I’m working full time and only have ten or so hours a week to put into writing a novel. Then I beat myself up because I don’t spend enough time with my friends, because I let this blog fall apart in less than six months, because my apartment’s cluttered and I keep procrastinating chores.
Reading Big Magic has been a real wake-up call for me.
I don’t want to live like this anymore. I don’t want to torture myself just because that’s somebody else’s idea of what it means to be a writer. I don’t want to suffer, and I don’t want to believe that I deserve to suffer for my art.
What would happen if I started to believe that God/The Universe wanted me to create? What would happen if I could trust that my writing loves me as much as I love it?
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.
from ‘In Conclusion’
I’ve been moaning for months on this blog that I’m a workaholic, when it comes to writing, blogging, reviewing, everything. I’d like to think I’ve gotten a lot better—I no longer expect myself to log hours and hours at blogging when I’m not feeling inspired in that direction. My blog’s growth has slowed to a standstill as a result, but I’m mostly okay with that. In fact, as much as I don’t want to be a quitter, I think I’m going to put this blog on hiatus for a while and see what happens.
The truth is, I don’t know how to not take blogging seriously.
I know I need to be more playful with all aspects of my life. The more pressure I put on myself to produce great work, the harder it is for inspiration to break down my walls and give me the help I so desperately need. And while that obviously goes for my creative writing, it’s definitely true of this blog too. I don’t know how to do things halfway, and I don’t know how to have fun at blogging, not right now at least.
Maybe I will come back; maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll reignite my fun side by posting things on my half-defunct Tumblr account that I’ve had since 2010. Maybe I’ll be inspired to post reviews on Goodreads. Maybe I’ll get involved on Twitter. Who knows? All I know is, I need to take a step back and see what becomes of my writing as a result.
Have you read Big Magic? what do you think is the most important requirement to live a creative life? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,
ICYMI, my good friend Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers and I decided to do another writing discussion series. Throughout the month of July, we’re going to be reading and discussing Elizabeth Gilbert’s creative manifesto, Big Magic. If you’re interested, you can catch up right here.
You must keep trying. You must keep calling out in those dark woods for your own Big Magic. You must search tirelessly and faithfully, hoping against hope to someday experience that divine collision of creative communion—either for the first time, or one more time.
from ‘The Beautiful Beast’
Persistence, I thought, might be the one part of creative living that I’ve got pretty well figured out.
For years, folks in my life have been silently (or loudly) wondering when I’m going to give up on writing and get serious about being an adult. For years, they’ve been wondering why I keep working in coffee even though it pays just barely enough to live minimally and is slowly but surely destroying my wrist cartilage. For years, they’ve been wanting to know when I’m going to finally put my bachelor’s degree to good use (read: become a teacher).
For years, I’ve been surrounded by well-meaning folks who think I’m wasting my time.
And yet, I persist. Partly out of stubbornness—because the more people imply that I should give up, the less likely that becomes. I persist because the idea of not writing, of focusing on some sort of practical career, makes me feel slightly sick. I persist because the years of my that I wasn’t writing much are hands down the worst years of my life. I persist because writing is what keeps me sane.
If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work—perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process.
‘The Shit Sandwich’
Here’s the part I’m not so great at dealing with: the frustration.
I know that being frustrated and rejected is a huge part of being a writer. I’m familiar with the story of how J. K. Rowling was rejected a million times. I know that it takes years to find an agent, and that’s okay too.
And yet I’ve been avoiding rejection for quite a while.
I’m great at persisting in creating things, but it’s been years since I’ve submitted a single word of my work for publication. I’m fine with continuing to move from one novel project to the next, but I’m too much of a perfectionist to revise my own work—because I hate seeing how imperfect it truly is.
I’m fine with the fact that I’m only in elementary school in writer years, but the possibility that I’ll be 60-something and still unpublished isn’t one that I relish.
Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that—whatever the outcome—you have traveled a noble path.
I still want that success, no matter how hard I try to deny it.
I’m admitting this now, in this blog post, because it’s something I know I need to work on if I want to become a better writer. I have to let go of my dream of success if I want to keep happily making stories. At the very least, I need to redefine my idea of what success looks like as a writer.
If success is publication, then I may never be successful. But if success is showing up every day and doing the work, then I’d like to say I’m on the right path.
If my worth is measured by the hours I put in, even when I’m tired, even when I’m cranky and hormonal, even when I’m depressed like no other—then I’m absolutely killing it.
If success is measured by devotion, then I’ve already dedicated nearly 15 years of my life to this craft—and I plan to devote many more in the future.
If success = persistence, then I will strive for that above all else. I will show up to the page, call out for my Big Magic, and see what happens. That’s a goal I can achieve.
Have you read Big Magic? What is something in your life that requires persistence? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,
ICYMI, my good friend Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers and I decided to do another writing discussion series. Throughout the month of July, we’re going to be reading and discussing Elizabeth Gilbert’s creative manifesto, Big Magic. If you’re interested, here’s my first post in the series!
You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.
from “Your Permission Slip”
This section of the book rocked me harder than I expected.
After all, I’ve just come off of Round 2 of The Artist’s Way. I’ve been writing—fiction—for over half my life at this point. I openly call myself a writer to pretty much anyone I meet.
And yet—in so many ways, I’m still waiting around for someone else to give me permission to live my creative dreams.
In the beginning of the section titled Permission, Gilbert begins by describing her parents. Despite being staunch Republicans, they decided what they wanted to do in life and did it, without asking permission. They raised Gilbert to see the world this way.
Here’s the thing: Gilbert acknowledges that a lot of us don’t have parents like hers. It’s pretty common, in creative circles, to bemoan parents who just don’t “get it,” who maybe want what’s best for us, but only when that looks the way they think it should.
I love my parents dearly. They love and support me in so many ways and are always available when I need advice. But that’s just the problem: I’m so good at asking for advice, asking for permission, that I don’t even notice when I’m taking power away from myself.
I completely understand this need for validation; it’s an insecure pursuit, to attempt to create. But if you’re working on your craft every day on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator, and you don’t need to pay anybody to affirm that for you.
Up until this week, I’d been seriously considering applying to MFA programs in creative writing. Despite all the years I’ve spent denying that I need a creative education in any formal sense, I’d decided that I wanted the experience—even though my conservative estimate shows me I’d be taking out $40,000 in student loans.
Elizabeth Gilbert talked me out of this. And it’s not just because of the section she spends bemoaning how many young writers do just that—put themselves in mega debt to get a piece of paper that says they’re serious about their craft. I realized that, for the most part, I want an MFA for the wrong reasons.
I want to spend 2-3 years honing my craft in the occasional company of other writers. I want writing mentors (despite the fact that I’m terrified of other writers, especially published ones). But more than that, I want an MFA because it will be a sign that I’m a Real Writer, and that other people in my life have to take me seriously.
The hard truth: just as I’m always seeking permission from external sources, I’m also far too concerned about making sure that everyone else takes me seriously as an artist.
I feel like I’ve spent half my life trying to justify my writing to other people, whether it’s telling my parents I want a master’s degree to make it easier to teach, or whether it’s holding myself to a ridiculously high standard and expecting myself to write to a specific word count each week. I treat writing like a part-time job when what it’s really supposed to be is fun. But I do this because I’m afraid that if I don’t treat my art like it’s serious business, no one else will treat it like it’s important.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what I do, people will always have their opinions about me. There will be plenty of people throughout my life who think it’s ridiculous that I got a B.A. from the University of Tulsa just to work at Starbucks and write novels I won’t let anyone read (yet). There will be plenty of people who think I’m wasting my potential no matter what I decide to do next. If I ever do publish a book, there will be people who say it sucks, people who say I can only write what I know, people who think I should stick to writing what I know.
Let people have their opinions. More than that—let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgements about you are none of your business.
I’ll be the first to say that I have a long way to go on this journey toward living my best creative life.
This week has surfaced a lot of insecurities I didn’t even recognize that I had. I’m still not sure if I want to go back to school someday or if I’m dreaming the wrong kind of dream entirely. Hell, I don’t even know if I should just rough draft my entire WIP or if I should slow it down, do some re-writing as I go, and see if I can write something I don’t completely hate.
What I do know is this: creative expression through writing is the most important part of my existence…but it also doesn’t matter that much.
Nothing I do or don’t write will change the world. It may not even change my world. Maybe I will die having never published a novel. Maybe I’ll wind up teaching high school English like everyone in my life seems to think I should. Either way, I’m going to keep writing, because it brings me joy—and I can’t imagine my life without it.
Have you read Big Magic? Do you ask permission instead of following your heart? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,
Within the first few pages of Big Magic, I knew this book would wind up being important to me. It already came highly recommended by several of my close friends. Despite the fact that I’ve never read Eat Pray Love or any other of Gilbert’s books, I knew from the first few pages that her writing style resonated deeply with me.
When I refer to ‘creative living,’ I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
from ‘An Amplified Existence’
I have always been terrified of my own creativity.
Yes, I’ve always been writing, always found solace in my own words when I couldn’t find it anywhere else. But I’ve also always been too petrified to share the words that mean the most to me.
I live in fear, both that I won’t ever “make it” as a writer, won’t ever be able to publish my work, and that I will publish something and everyone will see how much of a fraud I am as a writer.
What struck me most about Elizabeth Gilbert’s words on courage is just how much fear is a part of it. She writes that creativity isn’t a path for the fearless at all, but rather that we need to embrace our fears.
This was so transformative for me to read. I’ve always felt that I’m not a strong enough writer because I’m so damn scared of my own words. A real writer wouldn’t be so afraid of what success might bring.
Instead, Gilbert argues that fear is a natural part of being a creative—because creativity requires that you jump into the unknown, and that’s what fear is really about.Instead of trying to get rid of fear, we’re to make space for it, while not allowing it to drive us.
Funny enough, this little pep talk was exactly what I needed right now.
Although I’ve been showing up to the page regularly, I’m terrified of my own WIP. I’ve said this before, but this time I mean it: this is the most personal, most emotional, most terrifying novel I’ve ever attempted to write. I’m horrified that I will get it wrong, that my characters will be flat and frustrating rather than nuanced and lovable in all their flaws. Even worse, I’m terrified of what will be said about me if I can’t write this right.
Reading the first section of Big Magic was the kick in the pants I needed.
Rather than trying to squash my terror because it seems un-writerly, I’m working to make space for it. I’m using my morning pages to acknowledge what’s holding me back, but I’m not letting my fear of failure keep me from trying in the first place.
I believe we are all capable at times of brushing up against a sense of mystery and inspiration in our lives.
from ‘Hard Labor vs. Fairy Dust’
Just like with The Artist’s Way, Big Magic is forcing me to suspend my argumentative disbelief in anything bigger than myself. I have to at least try to believe in the magic of inspiration.
In this segment of the book, Gilbert outlines her creative belief system, in which “ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form” who are constantly seeking to be made manifest through collaboration with a human being.
Ideas, she writes, come knocking at our mental doors every day, and most of the time we don’t even realize they’re there. When we sit up and pay attention, though, we can enter into a contract with the idea, where we commit to help the idea become manifest in some form.
Gilbert also argues against the notion that great artists are geniuses; rather, she subscribes to the Roman concept that creatives have a genius, a “guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration.” Society has done a disservice to artists, since Roman times, by labeling them as geniuses, because it creates an impossible bar that they can never surpass.
Most of being a creative, according to Elizabeth Gilbert, is showing up and doing the work, whether or not your genius shows up that day.
I don’t sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit. If anything, I have come to believe that my genius spends a lot of time waiting around for me—waiting to see if I’m truly serious about this line of work.
from ‘Let It Come and Go’
Reading Big Magic reminds me just how hard I am on myself.
I expect myself to be some sort of genius, some sort of fearless writerperson who poops out brilliant stories like it’s nothing. In reality, all I can do is show up and hope that the creative forces that are external to me will take pity on me and give me some help when I really need it. But ultimately, that’s all I need to do: show up to the page and see what happens.
Really, it’s quite freeing.
What do you think? Have you read Big Magic? What’s your take on how creativity works? I’d love to know your thoughts! Until next time,
Hello! Christine here! Welcome back to LADY GETS LIT!
First off, let me just apologize for having been so absent over the past couple of weeks. Turns out that starting back at my old job has been more of a transition than I wanted to admit. I’ve been adjusting to the sleep schedule, actually working closer to full-time hours, the sheer amount of energy I have to expend in any given shift… so needless to say, my blogging time has really slipped through the cracks.
ICYMI, here’s the intro post, explaining why we decided to do this project and what The Artist’s Way is all about. But here’s the TL;DR: The Artist’s Way is a book and creative recovery journey by Julia Cameron. Throughout the 12-week process, participants undergo a kind of spiritual journey toward letting to of what’s keeping them blocked and getting back to the heart of their creative self. If you want to journey back through my previous posts in the journey, please do!
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
Semisonic, “Closing Time”
I’ve been putting off writing this post for weeks now. Actually, it’s the whole reason I neglected to even write my Week 12 Check-In, although I did journal about it in my morning pages. I wasn’t ready for The Artist’s Way to be over. To be quite honest, having committed to this project is the one thing that kept me blogging over the last couple of months.
If I had to sum up the Artist’s Way in only a few words, for someone who’s never heard of it, much less gone on the journey, I would have to say this: The Artist’s Way isn’t a 12-week journey—it’s a lifelong journey.
Since this is my second time going through the 12-week process, I thought I’d share a little bit of what I’ve learned, what major shifts have occurred in my life over the past few months, and where I hope I’m headed next.
I began to take what’s working and leave what’s not.
Perhaps the simplest, but most important aspect of The Artist’s Way journey is learning to listen to yourself. It sounds like it would be incredibly easy, but the truth is that we are all influenced by external voices that tell us what we “should” be or do, how we “should” create—namely, that we shouldn’t create at all, unless it’s just a hobby.
The hardest part of the process, for me, is committing to doing Artist Dates, weekly adventures alone with yourself where you explore what your inner artist child needs and wants to do. I’m certainly not afraid of being alone, but I definitely don’t invest enough time in letting myself play, which is ultimately what creative recovery is all about.
Throughout the process, though, I learned to let go of things that are no longer serving me, whether it’s a job, a toxic friendship, a set of feelings about a situation, or even a story idea. Through listening to myself (especially through morning pages), I learned to listen to what I need and act accordingly—even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings by not living up to their expectations for me.
I acknowledged that I am a workaholic, just not in the traditional sense.
If you’ve followed my weekly updates, you know that I finally acknowledged the reality that I turn everything—including this blog—into work when it doesn’t have to be.
Because I’m addicted to feeling like I’m a productive citizen of my capitalist society, I let everything come before my right to play at writing. My need to feel productive not only keeps me from doing the self-care I need in order to be a happy and healthy person, but it also contributes to all the ways I sell myself short when it comes to my writing.
This is something I’m probably going to have to work through for quite some time. I will not say that I’ve mastered it, but I’ve done the hardest thing, which is becoming aware.
I began to re-frame my idea of what spirituality means.
Since growing up and abandoning my Christian faith, I’ve really struggled to have any God concept at all. Doing the Artist’s Way forced me to confront the reasons I’m so dead set on believing there is no god, and thus started me on the path to exploring what having faith in something beyond humanity would look like, for me specifically.
I won’t say that I’ve suddenly become religious; that’s not realistic, and honestly it’s just not me. But I’ve definitely started to open myself up to the possibility that I’m not in this alone, that maybe the Universe is looking out for me in whatever sense, and wants me to succeed and be happy.
I’ve started noticing all the tiny ways that things work out the way they need to (even when they don’t work out the way I want them to). I’ve re-committed myself to yoga and meditation, because I recognize that the most important thing I can do is be present with what is in each moment. Most importantly, I am open to that which is currently beyond my own understanding.
I’ve re-imagined what it means to be a writer, and what writing looks like in my life.
I’ve always been a writer, as long as I can remember, and I’ve been actively writing fiction for more than half my life at this point. That being said, I’ve always (but especially lately) put too much emphasis on quantifying my writing in ways that are ultimately really constricting.
As a writer, I feel the need to prove to the non-writing world just how much of a writer I am. It’s not enough to show up to the page each day and make something; I feel like I need to be able to show something of myself. It’s one of the draws to blogging, and it’s the reason I tend to record my weekly and monthly word counts—because if I can’t show something of my writing, am I really writing?
Doing the Artist’s Way this time around forced me to confront the ways I’ve turned writing—my passion—into work. Yes, there are aspects of writing novels that are damn hard…but it’s not supposed to be work all the time. If I’m not using my writing time as play time, as an exploration of who I am and how I’m feeling, and then turning that into a story, then what the hell is the point? If writing isn’t fulfilling on an deep internal level, there’s no point.
So I’m re-framing the way I look at writing. Instead of keeping track of word count, I’ve been clocking hours spent on my craft. Instead of only counting the hours I spend actively writing at my WIP, I’m tallying up time spent doing morning pages, time spent outlining or working on my plot, even time spent hashing out the story with a friend. Hell, I’m even counting the Artist Date I took this week—because moments I spend nurturing my inner artist are important steps toward becoming the artist I want to be.
I am actively working on letting go of my constant anxiety about time.
I turned 29 during this go round with the Artist’s Way, and it really hit me like a ton of bricks. At 29, I feel like I should have more of my life together than I actually do. As a kid, I imagined that I’d already be published by now. It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve realized just how long a process it is to become who you are meant to be—as a writer, but also as a human.
I am still figuring out who I am. I know I’m a writer, that I’m meant to create in that way, but I don’t know what that will look like five or ten years from now. I don’t know where I’ll be living, who my closest friends will be, whether I’ll still be blogging even six months from now. Hell, I don’t even know what I want this blog to look like next week, much less a year from now.
And I’m okay with all of that. The idea that I should have my life together, especially as a writer, is based on a false calculation of my own trajectory as a person, based on other people’s idea of what I should be. The truth is, I’m meant to still be figuring it out, because as a writer, I’m really only just now hitting the puberty stage.
The only way I can continue to grow is if I remain open to the fact that I’m still figuring it all out, and trust that I’m on the right track toward doing so, eventually. I can only grow when I’m open to the reality that I will never really be done growing. I can only change when I’m open to whatever life brings.
TL;DR: What’s Next?
I’ve been really struggling with what to do about this blog lately.
On the one hand, I’m not really motivated to be a book blogger in the “traditional” sense. I haven’t felt like writing reviews, even though I’ve been reading some incredible books lately. I don’t have the emotional energy to blog hop the way I know I “should” if I want to grow my blog.
But on the other hand, I don’t relish the thought of giving up on blogging yet again.
So I’ll be here, at least every once in a while. At the beginning of this year, I promised myself I would post twice a month, and I think that’s a completely reasonable goal.
I want to use the coming weeks as an opportunity to explore my blogging voice, writing the posts I’m drawn to write, and interacting when I have the energy to really connect with other bloggers.
Maybe I will never be a big influencer in the blogosphere; maybe my blog will remain difficult to categorize; maybe I won’t get as many ARCs as I once did. I am okay with all of this.
I’d rather stay quiet and invisible while being myself than try to live up to someone else’s idea of success.
If you’re still here, having read through the entirety of this incredibly long-winded post, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
I know this blog isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I appreciate those of you who’ve stuck with me over the past several months.
Your support and kind encouragement mean the world to me, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I’ve discussed.
Are there any particular posting styles of mine that you appreciate and would like to see more of? How has your month been? Let me know any and all of your thoughts in the comments, and until next time,
Dani is one of my favorite book bloggers—I love her unique take on reading as a writer. I saw that she’d posted some buddy read posts, so I reached out and asked if she’d be interested in buddy reading with me.
This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, so I was really excited to branch out. Today, I’ll be answering questions Dani asked me about reading Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan.Make sure to check out Dani’s post as well so you can see her answers to my questions!
What were your expectations going into Girls of Paper and Fire? Were those expectations met or surpassed? Was there anything about the story that you want to point out as really well done? Anything you would have liked developed better?
I’d heard a lot of buzz around the blogosphere about Girls of Paper and Fire. Several diverse book bloggers I admire a lot had raved about it when it first came out.
I definitely went into the book expecting, well, a lot. I knew it had amazing Asian rep, and that definitely lived up to my expectations. I enjoyed the f/f romance as well. I got really into the world-building, even though I’m not a huge fantasy reader. There was enough detail to help me paint a mental picture of what was going on, etc. but not so much that I felt like I was being dumped on.
That being said, I do feel that Lei, the main character, could’ve been more developed. She definitely has a Dark Past that haunts her in the present, and she’s very concerned about the fate of her remaining family members. Other than that, I don’t feel like I know a whole lot about her, enough to believe her capable of her actions in the story. Without giving anything further away, I guess I just wish I’d gotten to know Lei a little bit more outside the context of the plot itself. Hopefully I’ll get to know her a bit better in the sequel!
The world building was a major reason I wanted to read Girls of Paper and Fire. There is clearly a caste system in place that weighs the balance of power in the favor of those with demon blood. Hence this becomes a story about the choices we make when in untenable situations. What are your thoughts on how Girls of Paper and Fire explored this theme? How do you imagine readers will absorb Lei and the other Paper Girl’s choices?
I absolutely loved the power dynamic themes in this book! Because Lei is an outsider, rather than having been raised to become a Paper Girl, you can definitely see her struggling to absorb her new role. I found myself wondering what I would do if I were forced into this situation.
While I admired some of Lei’s actions, particularly the way she stands up for herself whenever possible, I think I’d behave more like Aoki—she’s timid and does what she can to fit into her circumstances. I’m definitely not much of a rebel, when in those sorts of situations, but it was neat to watch Lei interact.
As dark and upsetting as the story was at certain points, it’s ultimately an empowering one. I think this is an important book for young girls to read, in particular, so they can see the darker side of sexual politics and how sometimes the powerless are the ones who ultimately must take back power for themselves.
The Paper Girls come from a range of backgrounds and are as diverse as our world. What did you think of how each girl was portrayed? Did their diversity come out in the story? And because I love this question you sent me (yes, readers I stole one of Christine’s very neat questions)… Of the Paper Girls in the book, which girl are you most similar to in terms of personality? Which girl do you most admire?
I was really impressed with how Natasha Ngan brought something different to each girl in the story. On the one hand, you have Blue, the noble paper caste girl who thinks she’s better than everyone else. And on the other hand, there’s someone like Aoki, who’s raised more or less on purpose to be a sex slave to the king.
I loved how each girl was described with different features: Chenna is described as being darker skinned and from the South, whereas the twin girls are described as being paler. What I loved most was how each of the girls come from slightly different cultural backgrounds. I learned a bit about different styles of dress as well as religious practices as well. Yet despite their differences, the girls ultimately come together to support each other. I loved the picture of what’s possible for female solidarity in the bitterest of circumstances.
I definitely admired Wren the most, but like I said, I think I resemble Aoki more in terms of how she interacts with the world. I would try to keep things positive, but ultimately I am just not much of a rebel!
Paper Girls are basically sex slaves to the King. There is a lot of brutality and a predominant focus on sex through the book even though its not graphically described. And there is violence against women in the course of intimacy. What did you think about how this was explored? What connections can be made between this fantasy world and the real world for readers?
I knew that there was an aspect of sexual violence to this book, but I was quite impressed by how carefully it’s handled. Ngan did a really wonderful job of both showing the brutality, but not making the scenes unnecessarily violent.
I really appreciated the frank discussions of sex in the book. It’s rare, in a YA book, to have open talk about sexual arousal. One of my favorite scenes occurs in the Night Houses with Zelle, one of the concubines who’s charged with more or less teaching the Paper Girls how to be sexy. I loved the way Zelle described sex as being really natural, but that it involves an aspect of embracing oneself in order to reach that level of comfort. I definitely think we need more books that subtly show young women embracing their own sexuality.
As far as connecting to the real world, I think Ngan did a great job of expressing how wrong it is to force sex on someone. This story goes a long way to demonstrate just how much rape is an aspect of power, not just sex. Although it’s difficult to read, ultimately the characters do gain an aspect of power over their captors, and I really enjoyed watching that process.
There is a queer romance at the heart of Girls of Paper and Fire. Lei didn’t understand where her sexuality lay at the start of the story. What did you think about how she explored her attraction to girls? Is this something teen readers will be able to relate to as they explore their own sexuality? I really, really loved Wren, the Paper Girl Lei falls in love with. How did feel as you learned about Wren’s feelings for Lei?
I definitely found Lei really relatable. Without getting too personal, I didn’t really understand my own attraction to women for a long time; I always knew I was attracted to men, and that was such a default that I didn’t question it until I was much older.
I thought it was really interesting that, because the book is set in a fantasy world, Lei and Wren don’t really use any sort of labels. I think it’s really powerful to read a story about a girl exploring her queerness without it being a coming-out style story.
I loved watching Lei and Wren fall for each other, mostly because their relationship starts out as being a test of trust. Lei finds out secrets about Wren, and Wren in turn supports Lei in her rebellion. I thought it was really beautifully done, and it’s so important to show teens that good relationships are built on mutual respect and trust, not just lust.
When Lei becomes a Paper Girl she is quite resistant. Then she realizes she’ll have an opportunity to find out what happened to her mother. That mystery is something that gnaws on her through Girls of Paper and Fire. Was this well explored through the plot? Were you satisfied with what and how Lei learns?
It definitely seemed like Lei’s family exists in the plot as a way to keep Lei a bit more docile. She wants to resist the king and her role as a Paper Girl, but she’s afraid of what he’ll do to her family. She only calms down a bit when she gets to research what happened to her mother.
To me, her discovery is ultimately pretty anticlimactic. It felt like that scene was mostly there to allow her and Wren to bond over their mutual loss. I wish the mystery had been a little bit more fleshed out. It would’ve been interesting to see what would happen if Lei’s mom was actually a concubine inside the city.
Lei makes a big deal about the oaths and secrets Wren made to others before they met. She talks about lying and trust even though she and Wren haven’t known each other long. This is a theme played out in many relationships found in books. Did you feel like Lei did, that Wren was lying to her and that it was uncalled for? What bearing do you feel not knowing about her mother plays in Lei’s relationship with Wren? Is there ever a time when keeping secrets is understandable?
As much as I wanted Lei and Wren to get together pretty much from the start, I could completely understand Wren’s motives for keeping secrets. It’s not like they were in a typical high school setting or something; their lives are literally on the line. Especially once we learned why Wren was keeping to herself so much, I could definitely understand where she’s coming from.
I could understand Lei’s frustration, I definitely feel like it was a bit overdone. There’s a difference between lying on purpose and keeping secrets to protect yourself. In some ways, Lei seems more concerned with finding out the truth—about her mother, and about Wren—than she does about surviving her life as a Paper Girl. I don’t think the true danger of her situation really sunk in, on some level, just based on how she acts in certain situations.
You mentioned that you felt let down by how minimally Lei’s character was constructed. This is quite a brutal world Natasha Ngan paints. To me Lei felt like a “special snowflake” who escaped not only experiencing what the others did, but the true consequences of the situation. Yet she goes on to inspire Wren and Zelle with her resistance of the king. Did you feel her punishment was in line with resisting a king? Do you believe he would have allowed her to live and instigate resistant thinking among the other Paper Girls?
YES I definitely feel like Lei was a special snowflake and/or a reader-insert character. Which makes sense: the reader needs a point of entry to the story, and Lei, with her resistance to and ignorance of how things work in the life of a Paper Girl, makes for a great character in that sense. She definitely seems to get away with a lot: for whatever reason, the king decides to save her for last, and then (SPOILER) Lei ends up resisting the king’s advances and escaping her first time with him for quite some time (END SPOILER).
I do think Ngan could’ve been harsher in terms of what happens to Lei. Based on her resistance to the king, and the fact that she was ultimately added onto the Paper Girl roster as an afterthought, I do feel like Lei could’ve been sentenced to die. It seems that paper caste people in general are disposable in this world, so I feel like Lei is kept alive because she’s the main character of the story. That being said, Lei does inspire others around her, and that’s an important aspect of the plot. Maybe this is just one of those things where you have to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story. Still, I do wish Lei was more complex as far as characterization goes.
With all of the different females in the Women’s Court did you enjoy Girls of Paper and Fire from only one POV? Would you have enjoyed reading one or two of the other Paper Girls’ POVs? Whose and why? Do you think this would have changed your opinion of Girls of Paper and Fire?
Ooooh I love this question, because it’s such a writing question! To be quite honest, I feel like so many YA books are in first person, and I would’ve loved to see from the perspective of other characters. I obviously loved Aoki so much, but I would’ve been really curious to see inside Blue’s head; as it stands, we only learn the truth of why she’s such a jerk when Lei is told about Blue’s backstory.
I can understand why Wren doesn’t have a POV, since it would lose some of the mystery of what she’s up to, but I would’ve loved to see more from other girls. In some respects, Lei comes across as a bit…well, slut-shame-y, when it comes to how she treats the other girls. It would’ve been nice to see how the other Paper Girls dealt with having to be the king’s sex slaves.
I know you loved Zelle, a concubine who trains the girls. Why did you love this character so much? What did you think about her training and actions toward Lei?
To be honest, I found Zelle waaaay hotter than Wren (even though Wren is super dreamy, I won’t lie). In some respects, she’s kind of a classic character: the prostitute who teaches the newbies how to do their jobs. I think what really drew me to her is how she combined sex positivity with an aspect of power. By taking control of her sexuality and her emotions, even though she’s forced to sleep with men she doesn’t want, Zelle takes back a lot of the power these men have over her.
In her own way, too, Zelle encourages Lei to follow her heart. It’s in that first training scene with Zelle that Lei begins to realize her feelings for Wren. I honestly wish I’d had someone to talk openly with about sexual feelings as a young person; I was raised to never talk about it, so I’m now 29 and still figuring out my sexuality. I guess a part of me wishes I had a Zelle in my own life when I was 17. Which I realize sounds super weird, but we’re gonna just go with it.
Okay, I’m sorry but I’m dying to know your answer so I’m going to steal one more questions… If you were a Steel or Moon caste in Ikhara, what do you think your animal form would be?
First of all, there should totally be some kind of Buzzfeed internet quiz for this question.
I’d like to think I’d be some kind of big cat, like a panther or leopard. As a kid, I used to imagine I was something powerful like that. In truth, I’d probably be more like Lill, a little bit fawnish and soft and delicate. Honestly, this question is really hard to answer—but I’m looking forward to seeing what you’d be!
Have you read Girls of Paper and Fire? Have you ever done a buddy read before (and would you be interested in doing one with me in the future)? Let me know in the comments! Until next time,
Erin and I are both going through The Artist’s Way, a 12-week course in self-discovery and creative recovery. Throughout the next three months, we’ll be sharing weekly updates on how it’s going, what we’ve learned, and how this process has affected our creative lives.
The Artist’s Way Week 11: Recovering a Sense of Autonomy
For me, Week 11 was about taking stock: where am I now, compared to where I was a few short weeks ago? Where am I planning to go? And how am I going to get there?
Because I’m so hard on myself, I often lose sight of what I’ve actually accomplished. This week, I made a list of the changes I’ve made—and the ones that seem to have happened through serendipity—since starting this journey. Surprisingly, a lot has changed, even though many of the changes are small ones. I’m learning to listen to what I need and leave behind things that aren’t serving me anymore. Even though I still struggle with being a workaholic, I’m working on being better about this. I’m working on accepting myself as a work in progress.
Week 11 Check-In
How many days this week did you do your morning pages? How was the experience for you? Have you recommended morning pages to anyone else? Why?
I’ve continued to stay true to my morning pages. I definitely don’t hit the three page mark, but I show up every single morning, regardless of how little I feel I have to say. I’m also re-framing how I look at pages; rather than just a great way to do self-care, I see the pages as an important part of my creative life. Even if I don’t have time to write fiction that day, writing morning pages is better than not writing at all. I’m exercising the muscle, and that’s what matters.
As I’ve continued to read over previous weeks’ morning pages, I’ve realized that I generally have the answer to my own problems…I just have to actually take action toward those solutions. I’ve begun to talk more openly about the power of morning pages in my life. When I’m asked to do anything in the morning hours, I speak up about needing time for the pages first. Even though I’m working earlier now, I still get up with at least half an hour to write first. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Did you do your artist date this week? (Have you considered scheduling an entire artist’s day? Whew!) What did you do? How did it feel?
Although I spent a lot of time alone with myself this week, I didn’t necessarily take a specific artist date. I tend to utilize my days off from work to “get things done” in the rest of my life. I can’t actually fathom taking an entire day as an artist date—but maybe that’s something I need to plan in the weeks to come. Maybe I owe that to myself.
Did you experience any synchronicity this week? What was it?
As I read over my morning pages, I discover moments when it seems like everything lined up to meet my needs. When I wrote about my job frustration and promised the Universe that I would do the work to solve my problem, the Universe gave me the answer I needed (even if it wasn’t 100% what I wanted).
Funny enough, I wrote about how I long for more writer friends, and an old friend of mine reached out. She asked if I wanted to be writing accountability partners and have weekly coffee dates to encourage each other’s creativity. And even though I don’t believe in some all-powerful force, I do believe that sometimes, when I put positive energy into the world and ask for help, it appears.
Were there any other issues this week that you consider significant for your recovery? Describe them.
I’m still working (heh) through my workaholism. I know this isn’t going to be an overnight thing. I’ve started forcing myself to take a break at night and just watching something on Netflix instead of forcing myself to keep reading until my eyes close on themselves. I’m trying to be kinder to myself, but it’s weirdly hard. This will be my big project going forward, even after I’m “finished” with The Artist’s Way.
Have you ever participated in The Artist’s Way? How was your week? Let me know in the comments, and that’s for stopping by! Until next time,
Hello blogosphere! Today I’m bringing you a post that’s probably way too personal! Here’s hoping no one from real life sees this.
Every June, I get way too in my head about Pride. I’d like to blame it on Gemini season, which always makes me a little spacey and indecisive, but the truth is, Pride Month makes me incredibly anxious. Why, you ask? Because I’ve never really felt fully straight*, but I don’t feel queer enough for Pride.
*When I use the word straight, I’m choosing to use this as an umbrella term for allocishet.
Let me specify a few things:
I’ve considered myself bisexual for the past eight years or so—although it took me ages to accept. That being said, not everyone I know in real life is aware of my sexuality. I’m a cis-woman in a relationship with a cis-man, so my queerness is pretty much invisible.
I know that this is a privilege; I don’t have to be outspoken about my sexuality because nothing about my queerness is truly threatening to people who don’t know I’m queer. I don’t have to come out to my family because it’s simpler for them to just assume that, since I’ve now married a man, I’m automatically straight. I don’t have to explain my gender identity to coworkers because I’m just feminine and female-bodied. I don’t have to have uncomfortable conversations about how I experience attraction differently.
I don’t have to come out. But a lot of times,I feel like I should.
Should is a funny word.* Why exactly do I feel, each June, that I’m supposed to make some sort of display of my queerness? Sure, I put rainbows and bi-colored hearts in my Twitter display name, and I make a list of queer books, but I still feel like I need to make some sort of declaration to the world—or at least the internet—that I am, in fact, part of the queer movement, that I belong.
Which, really, is the crux of my problem: I don’t feel like I belong.
*I had a therapist who liked to remind me, “don’t should on yourself and others”
Pride is weird for me.
I came of age in a conservative state, where I clung onto the few queer friends I could find, and at a young age, that mostly involved gay men. I learned that I was welcome in queer spaces, mostly because gay men looooove fag hags. And I sunk into that role because it was easier than explaining to them that I am, in fact, queer, just in a different way than they are.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. But it seems that unless I have a passport stamped with an equal number of male and female (and non-binary!) sexual partners, I am not really bisexual—I’m just trying to make myself included, just being a special snowflake.
Maybe no one has ever said these things directly to my face, but I can feel how I’m not queer enough. So I don’t talk about the fact that I’ve never done more than make out with girls—because the fact that I’ve mostly only been with men disqualifies me as a true queer. I have never felt queer enough to claim the label, especially not in explicitly queer spaces.
Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my labels altogether.
I think I chose bisexual when I did because I wanted a word that expressed my attraction to women despite the fact that I’d never acted on these feelings.
At the time, back in 2012, I’d never heard the word asexual. I had no idea that sexuality can be fluid, that it exists on a spectrum, and that falling anywhere on that spectrum qualifies. I’d never heard the term demisexual—a person who experiences sexual attraction only after establishing an emotional connection with someone—so I had no idea how much it applied to my experiences with sexual attraction.
I had no idea how much the word queer would end up meaning to me. It occurs to me now that maybe queer is the right word for me, that queer on its own is enough, that I don’t have to explain myself to anyone but myself.
One day, if I have my way, I’ll be a published author. I’m sure some well-meaning reader or interviewer or blogger will wonder if my queer books are #OwnVoices. I will have to make a choice: come out of hiding and help someone out there feel less alone, or stay silent and know that I am still queer enough.
To be quite honest, I have no idea what I will do in that situation. I do know that I am embracing the fact that self-discovery is a never-ending journey, and I am perfectly okay with taking my time.
Do you identify under the queer umbrella? If you feel comfortable, I would love to know your thoughts on Pride. Much love,
Erin and I are both going through The Artist’s Way, a 12-week course in self-discovery and creative recovery. Throughout the next three months, we’ll be sharing weekly updates on how it’s going, what we’ve learned, and how this process has affected our creative lives.
Week 10: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection
This week, for me at least, was about being brutally honest with myself—especially in regards to what I allow to come between me and my art.
For the first time, I recognized that I’m a workaholic, but not in the traditional sense. See, I let anything and everything become “work” to me in order to avoid giving myself time to play, creatively.
I use my most energetic hours to do things I “need” to do, which leaves me too drained to spend much time on creativity. I feel the need to justify the time I spend on things that bring me joy, like reading and writing, and then I define my sense of self-worth by my ability to produce. But the fact is, there are aspects of creativity that don’t produce anything, and those things are just as important.
This week was really impactful for me in the smallest of ways. I’m forging new, better habits surrounding how I look at work, and hopefully that will pay off in the coming weeks and months.
Week 10: The Check-In
How many days this week did you do your morning pages? Has reading your pages changed your writing? Are you still allowing yourself to write them freely?
I did the pages 7 days this week, but I’m really averaging more like 2 pages a day rather than 3. While I’d like to write more, I also recognize that I’m still showing up, which is better than abandoning it entirely. I definitely keep discovering new things about my creative process through writing the pages, which is what matters. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with writing about the things I would normally repress—like the fact that I’m a workaholic.
Did you do your artist date this week? What did you do? How did it feel?
I skimped out on my artist date again. Instead of doing something completely unproductive and fun, I went to the library to work on my AW tasks. I didn’t really let myself play like I wanted to. To be quite honest, I’ve been very distractible lately (I blame Gemini season; it always does a number on me). I need to look back over my list of things my artist child wants to do, and then actually do these things.
Did you experience any synchronicity this week? What was it?
By accident, I ended up with a whole week off between quitting my old job and starting my new one. While this should make me nervous financially, I’ve determined to use the extra time to spend with my artist child, doing things I love doing, and writing.
Were there any other issues this week that you consider significant for your recovery? Describe them.
My main issue right now: what to do about the fact that I am truly a workaholic.
For example, over the past few months, I’ve turned this blog into an obligation, a thing I “have” to do, rather than a hobby I enjoy doing. Sure, there are aspects of blogging that I love—writing discussion posts, and getting to share my thoughts with other bloggers through comments. But there is so much more to blogging than just the parts that I love, and I somehow make the “work” parts of blogging more important. Yes, it’s nice to have neatly organized posts with clever graphics, but isn’t the content the most important part? Why do I allow the process of organizing and scheduling posts become more important than anything else? These are issues I want to continue to work through in the coming weeks.
Have you ever participated in The Artist’s Way? How was your week? Let me know in the comments, and that’s for stopping by! Until next time,