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Dustin Lee

When Should You Read and When Should You Write?

This question seems simple to answer – “you should read when you want to and write when you want to.” Great! Problem solved.

Nope.

As writers, it is constantly reiterated the importance of nourishing our creativity with books written by other successful writers. It keeps our imagination from rotting and inspires us for our own writing. However, we are also encouraged to write every single day to keep the juices flowing and make it a habit to write (it’s so easy to avoid writing and get rusty). Obviously, it’s expected that both reading and writing be done on a daily basis, but as a busy bee that works two jobs and also tries to stay healthy with exercise, the chance of me finding time to do both in a single day seems iffy. On top of that, when you’re in the zone on either of these tasks, stopping simply because “you have to *insert read/write*” is just not cool.

I’m all about spontaneity to keep me from getting boring (to an extent, of course). I am also a lover of finishing tasks before beginning another because perfectionists just can’t move on until something is absolutely right. However, I tend to take things too far and easily forget that I must read or write depending on which one I’ve thrown myself into. I am a black hole, really. Or maybe I am like a kid alone in an amusement park with no self-control to know when to stop riding the rollercoaster.

When should you write?

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I’ve come to figure out that I use reading as a form of procrastination. Sure, there is nothing wrong with not being able to put a book down (see Elena Ferrante’s book review). But there is something wrong when you can’t put the book down because you have self-doubt. I’ve written about this topic before, but it is something that doesn’t just goes away once you’ve dealt with it. Self-doubt lingers like the stench of burnt bread.

If you find yourself reading and reading with no end in sight, maybe you should stop and admit to yourself that you can also write great things. Practice makes perfect (sometimes) or at least lets you learn who you are as a writer.

There are also these rare moments when a piece of literature just sparks inspiration. You are reading furiously, intensely… intimately and you begin to wonder how you could use a similar voice for a short story or pick apart a scene for a poem. These moments are amazing, but sometimes they are fleeting that by the time you put your book down, they’ve vanished and you just don’t know what you were thinking.

If you find yourself with these magical thoughts, stop! If you’re anything like me, jotting down the ideas won’t cut it and you have to actually submerge yourself in your own creativity. Write like there’s no tomorrow. Write, write, write – don’t lose inspiration.

When should you read?

DeathtoStock_Creative Community6As I’ve said before, I’m a perfectionist who has a hard time stopping things without some form of closure i.e. finishing the task. I’ve tried to write through the dreaded Writer’s Block countless times until my eyelids drooped and my words were incoherent. I’ve struggled – like many of you – to really come up with something to write, but have failed repeatedly. It is the unfortunate journey of the writer: not everything you write is great.

If you find yourself in these situations repeatedly or that you’re actually struggling to finish something because every which way you phrase it, rearrange it, or describe it isn’t melding right, stop and read. They really don’t encourage reading as a key aspect to a writer’s life if it actually wasn’t useful. Maybe you haven’t given yourself enough reading time or material to nourish your creativity. Maybe you need to seek out different reading material and simply spend time in another writer’s world before you can complete your task. Reading is wonderful and a powerful tool to writers.

Reading is also something that should be done if you are trying to write about new topics. This may seem obvious, but I don’t know how many times I’ve met other writers who simply began a topic without actual knowledge of what they were trying to write. Find writers who have written on what you are interested in. Read other stories that are similar to your writing style, so that you get a general idea on how those writers have successfully written stories. These are our “Bibles,” our instruction manuals for how things get done. I’m not saying every published book is great, but if you really dig around, you’re bound to find a story that speaks to you and can help you out.

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Ideally, as writers, we should be doing both as much as possible. Unfortunately, life demands that our attentions stay on other tasks (working and working because cash rules everything around me), so finding the time to do both is more difficult. Play around with a schedule to see what works best for your creative style. Read one day and write another. Take turns on a task (read a book, write a story).

Nevertheless, don’t let it stop you from reading/writing, if that’s what you need.

What are your thoughts for when you should read or write?

Images: Dustin Lee/Unsplash; Death to the Stock Photo; Green Chameleon, Cliff Johnson/Unsplash.

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Book Review: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

I’ll cut the bullshit and quickly say that Ferrante’s novel, The Days of Abandonment, was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. A previous professor – one who has read through a ton of my short stories and poems to know that I love description and things most people wouldn’t find beautiful – thought that a book about a woman’s emotional turmoil after her husband leaves her was a perfect fit for me. And it definitely was.

Ferrante begins the story just as Olga’s husband, Mario, leaves her for another woman. Using a first-person perspective, Ferrante drags the reader along Olga’s mental state of mind and carefully, yet vividly describes the back-and-forth questions and problems that plague her as she scrambles to keep her life together. Through each short chapter, we are able to see the repercussions of decisions and the deep impact betrayal and loss has on someone fragile.

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The novel itself – rather short – is very diaryesque without the actual cheesy, diary entry format. Instead, it is almost as if we are Olga and we are experiencing these painful and quite depressing situations ourselves. There were times, while I was reading, when I had to give myself moments to breathe and to simply take in what I was feeling. Ferrante’s intensity and portrayal of emotional breakdown is raw, honest, and something that can ring a bell with anyone whose been hurt before.

I’ll be honest and say that it wasn’t easy. I’m quite an emotional person to begin with and I tend to truly find myself within the pages of the books I read, so I was very much attached to Olga’s life. But Ferrante’s beautiful, elaborate descriptions and imitation of real-life mental thinking is something all writers should appreciate. She was able to capture moments that sometimes seem as if they have no words and recreate them on the page for us to watch.

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Like most books that focus on topics that aren’t pleasant, I say to prepare yourself before you begin. But, please, please, please begin because this novel is worth a read.

You can find an indie bookstore carrying Ferrante’s book here. To learn more about Elena Ferrante, check out her website here.

Images: Mikael Kristenson, Roberto Tumini, Volkan Olmez/Unsplash.

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Janaka Stucky’s “The Truth Is We Are Perfect” Book Release

In one of my favorite theatres in Cambridge, The Brattle, I was lucky enough to attend Janaka Stucky’s book release party for his first book The Truth Is We Are Perfect. I have had the pleasure of hearing Janaka read before in Brookline for the Bash Reading Series, so I was excited to attend and hear some of his recent poems. I will admit that I wasn’t able to stay the full night due to public transportation (my bus runs occasionally in the evenings). This, unfortunately, means I lack any knowledge of what happened after 10:45pm; however, I did catch some readings and interesting performances.

The night began with Janaka welcoming everyone and sharing a bit on his experiences ever since the book first came out. He shared the joys of celebrating on the spring equinox in New York City, along with the typical struggles of road-tripping on book tours. During his storytelling, he elaborated on thoughts that crossed his mind as he struggled to deal with a fever in the backseat of the car. Without faltering, he smoothly transitioned from thoughts to poetry reading.

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Tranced and emotionally locked inside the words of each phrase, he slowly shared a few poems by memory with the audience listening intently. Janaka paused after each phrase, letting it sink in and allowing everyone, including myself, to truly meditate on the words he was delivering. There were phrases that have stayed with me from the first couple of poems, though I won’t share them here, but I felt very much emotionally connected to the pictures he painted. With each pause, I mulled over his words and how they could be seen (or not) in my life and writing.

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After some by-memory poems, Janaka continued with some poems read from his new book before introducing Jennifer Hicks. Jennifer performed an improv dance using images shouted out by the audience, including one line from Janaka’s poems/stories, “move the back of your heart to the front of your heart.” This let everyone chuckle before she danced to some live instrumental music. Afterwards, a Rhode Island duo called Thunder Perfect, made up of violinist Hannah and accordion player Alec, came on stage and performed some acoustic songs with lots of Irish flavor.

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Unfortunately, this was when I had to leave. Nevertheless, before bolting for the train station. I stopped by the Harvard Book Store table in the back of the theatre to purchase Janaka’s book. As Janaka announced at the beginning of night, it was Indie Bookstore Day, so it gave me more reason to support a cherished local bookstore from Massachusetts (and, of course, because I have to support other writers too!). I was also lucky enough to snag the last of his limited edition coasters, which were given to the first 50 people to buy his book that night.

Even though I had to leave early, I was glad I had seen some of the performances that night and been able to share in celebrating one of the greatest accomplishments any writer can experience – the release of a book. Due to the recent events in Nepal and Baltimore, all the proceeds for the ticket sales went to Nepal; Janaka also promised to donate $5 for each book sold that night to the ACLU in Baltimore.

You can purchase Janaka’s book here:

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The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops

What better way to write than with a nice cup of something? Currently, I am drinking mint tea out of my official writing cup: a Starbucks Qingdao mug my boyfriend sent me from China. It’s big enough to hold a decent amount of coffee, tea, or occasionally some Merlot. So, when I’m contemplating some difficult transition or staring at a blank screen, I can slowly sip on deliciousness to help me think. However, one can only spend so much time writing in the same place with the same things for so long. I, for one, eventually fall in a rut if things don’t change after a while. Sure, I will not switch my mug or the notebook I use to jot down ideas, but the environment could spice up my writing!

I like to blame the wanderlust aspect of my personality for causing me to have to put pants on and go outside with my laptop. One the other hand, it also could be the hipster side of me that just craves being stereotypical out in public. Whatever the cause is, I sometimes venture out to various coffee shops to sit down and do exactly what I could do at home for free.

DeathtoStock_Medium3Being a frugal individual, it seems quite the opposite to head out and pay god-knows-how-much for coffee and cookies. Yet, it seems that my little observant heart craves being out in public surrounded by a bunch of strangers who talk about the funniest things (yes, I do eavesdrop on your conversation, which you will later read in some short story). Having experienced writing in coffeehouses (that majority of which were) in Boston, Oxford, and Bath, these are the things I’ve gathered as pros and cons of typing away at these places.

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  • Finding seating at a coffeehouse is the worst thing imaginable. This past weekend, I spent a good chunk of writing time running around to different places only to discover that there was nowhere to sit.
  • Once I do find a place with seating, it could still be a total fail if the level of noise is just insane. I’ve found myself comfortably writing and in a deep train of thought only to be scared to death by babies shrieking or the barista’s booming voice announcing that “Cindy’s soy chai latte with two espresso shots” is ready.
  • After awhile of sitting somewhere drinking large cups of whatever, chances are I am going to need to go to the bathroom. But if I am alone, which is most of the time, I have no idea whether I should leave my stuff at the table or take it all with me. I always end up leaving my jacket and having to pack up all of my things just to go come back not even five minutes later. Then I have to unpack, resettle, and begin getting comfortable knowing that in an hour’s time I am going to have to do it again.
  • This is only a minor con, but one worth mentioning. I have found that some people – actually a lot of people – don’t seem to take me seriously when I am writing at coffeehouses. Yes, I am aware that my presence with my laptop and notebook make me seem like every other typical “writer,” but I am a writer! I have heard people whispering about my “douche-y” or “stuck up” appearance just because I happen to be writing in the same vicinity as them. Thankfully, I usually forget about them once I start writing.
  • Like I’ve said before, I just hate having to spend money. I know I’ll never be able to make a Spanish latte at home like Pavement does, but it still hurts me a little when I pay for it knowing I have satisfyingly, cheap coffee at home.

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  • Coffee. And not just any coffee, but the kind prepared for you with fancy swirls and shit that you know you could never perfect in the comfort of your home. This is both a pro and a con because, while I definitely just paid $5 for that cup o’ joe knowing I am satisfied with bad coffee, sometimes I just need that little heart-shaped foam in my life.
  • I can’t stress enough how amazing the conversations are in coffee shops. When people think you’re listening to something super hipster, like Spotify’s Indie Electronica (which I do, in fact, love), they talk about the funniest things that make for great writing fodder. I’m well aware of the fact that eavesdropping is rude, but I can’t help but listen when you decide to talk about the man in a bunny costume who you saw frolicking in your backyard last night.
  • I know that some days I have to go out because if I stay home, I’ll spend it in bed watching Netflix or reading. If I am at a coffeehouse, I am dressed and ready to work! The fact that I’ve put on pants is just a little annoyance, but well worth it.
  • What I love about coffee shops is being able to meet up with friends for writing dates or meet others who don’t mind conversing. I’ve met some great readers and writers while I’ve been out writing who have graciously spent time telling me about what they write, what books they found amazing, and what they thought about on topics we both found interesting or important. These kinds of conversations are totally worth putting on pants.

What are the things you hate/love about writing in coffee shops?

Images: Seemi Pletoniemi/Unsplash; Death to the Stock Photo (3)

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The Writing Process: Writing Everyday

I may have written about this before, but finding the time to write creatively (nevermind everyday) is an issue that truly affects me. Now that it is NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), I have been forced to confront my “laziness” or, for better word choice, “carelessness” for not writing enough. NaPoWriMo challenges poets to find the time to write a poem a day; it does not need to be the best poem that merits an award, but a poem nonetheless. NaPoWriMo challenges poets to find the time to write – that is the key.

Did I find the time to write?

No. Actually, I may still be trying to finish one of the many poems I started at the beginning of April. I am a careless, irresponsible, horrible, horrible failure of a writer. But can I defend this ridiculous behavior? Of course! I can come up with a million reasons for why I wasn’t able to sit down everyday and write a poem, or why I haven’t continued the short story I’ve been working on. There is always someone or something to blame for not being able to complete tasks; we can’t possibly take the blame for our own errors.

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But, we can. We actually can. I’m going to take the high road and admit that I just didn’t do it sometimes. I could have, but I found other things to do (like reading, Netflix, writing other articles, or sleeping). Although it’s not bad that I gave myself some me-time, which is critical for my emotional state – if I’m not emotionally stable, I can’t function properly, which means I can’t work and make money (I work full-time and part-time for Bustle) – it’s bad that I didn’t find my creative writing important enough to find the time to write.

Yes, I remember now! I wrote about this in the first blog post for this website. I explained how Pressfield’s self-help book for writing gave me a major mental check for why it’s important to write everyday and keep that spark alive.

Obviously, I’ve let it burn out. Or maybe I’ve transferred that energy to writing other things/reading (which is good). Nevertheless, I’ve placed one of my most important aspects of my life on the back-burner and now I’m here writing a post about how I’ve clearly forgotten the purpose of my existence.

Florian Klauer: Unsplash

I am a writer. I cannot forget that, for some odd reason, I was given this talent and urge to write. But writers are the best procrastinators, and goddamn, I’m an expert at that shit. This lack of creative writing must end. It’s detrimental to my life. It’s probably why I’m so confused right now because I’ve managed to diminish a part of me from my everyday lifestyle.

However, it’s not the end of the world. Just like anything, you can always pick yourself up and keep going. I haven’t ruined my life as a writer (yet?). I’m going to get back into the groove and hold myself to it. I’m going to finish my poem and complete my series of prose poems. I’m going to finalize a rough draft of my short story. I’m going to write now because it’s still possible for me to dive back into things. I haven’t forgotten how to write; I just forgot that I had to.

Images: Death to the Stock Photo; David Mao/Death to the Stock Photo; Florian Klauer/Unsplash.

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Poem Published on The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society!

I’ve got some lovely news to share, it being that my poem has officially been published on RPD’s March 2015 literary magazine.

It’s always humbling when someone enjoys your writing enough to want to share it with others.

Check it out here and the rest of this month’s publications!

Image: Erin Celikovic/Unsplash.

New from Essay Press: “Women in Visual Poetry: the Bechdel Test”

Curated by Jessica Smith, this chapbook features Michelle Detorie, Gillian Devereux, K.S. Ernst, K. Lorraine Graham and Sheila Murphy & an afterword by Maureen Thorson.

These conversations on poetry between women writers is amazing! You get an intimate look at how these women think and share their thoughts with other women writers, which lets you experience their writing process. Overall, it’s real. And real to me makes me want to write.

Check it out!

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Why Picking a Book is The Worst

For someone plagued with the horrible “disease” of indecision, picking a book is basically the equivalent of pulling teeth. I’ve literally stood around bookstores – local ones, of course, because we gotta support our local bookstores – and just wandered between genres with the thought, is this what I want to read next? Almost always, the answer never comes and I usually leave with another journal to add to my collection of half full (or half empty, you choose) journals that will end up collecting dust on my personal bookshelf. Of course I do end up choosing books eventually, but the struggle to reaching that point where I finally take the plunge on a title is far too long.

I’m a Kindle user because if I were to purchase a hard copy of all the books I read throughout my short life (I am only 23) I wouldn’t have enough space to store them. So sometimes these decisions come from the comfort of my own home. Unfortunately, this does not make it any easier. The last book I chose, because it is possible for me to actually make a choice, took me 1.5 hours to finally make that decision. And to be frank, that is way too long. Can’t I just make decisions? I have no idea.

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Why is this so hard for me? I’ve literally asked myself this question a million times. There are all these places that offer recommendations of what would interest me based on my previous reads, like Goodreads, and yet this doesn’t actually help at all. Once, (the last time, if you want to know), I decided it would be smart to ask others for what they thought would be something I’d like to read. I had managed to narrow it down to some horror/thriller type of story so I sent a tweet with this message:

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 5.30.36 PMThis made it worse. Now I wasn’t plagued with having no choices to sift through, but having too many options. I had friends offering suggestions that all sounded amazing! I had gone full-circle.

What an awful way to live.

I am totally exaggerating. This is really not a horrible problem. People deal with worse shit than this; but here I am, complaining. Yeah, this is a rant of some sort, and I apologize. However, if you have to deal with indecision, you know that this problem spreads to all aspects of our lives and having to deal with it is actually the worst possible thing ever. And, picking books is so important to me! I am a literary nerd at heart. I want to be able to just indulge in some great works of fiction or non-fiction about whatever topic that sounds great. But I’m hindering myself by just not making a choice.

So, as I said, I did actually make a choice: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. I love it so far and definitely recommend it to others who love his type of writing and love The Shining. But to get to that point was horrific.

I can say that picking a book was easier once I had some suggestions to work with, but there has to be an easier way to reach that point. And this will be through lists!

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Yes, I have said it, lists. What if I make a list of each book that I will read next for the next five or ten books? I will have to suffer through the horrible experience of deciding which of the books will go on this list, but it could save me the trouble down the road. I don’t know. Maybe I could just pick a book off of my Goodreads “want to read” list by random and just read it. Maybe I could just read a goddamn book.

What a way to live, seriously. So here’s my call to all you people:
why is choosing a book so hard for you?
how do you choose books?
is it possible to overcome this issue?

Let me know! Hopefully I can update you all on my choosing next time and its improvement.

Images: Death to the Stock Photo(2); @_vanesaa/Twitter; Mikhail Pavstyuk/Unsplash

The Writing Process: Writing with Music

There’s something great about writing with music. If I’m starting a new piece and some good R&B is playing, I always feel a boost of motivation to type with the mellowness that is Luther Vandross or Maxwell. If I’ve been struggling to get through a hump and I hear TSwift’s catchy pop lyrics, I can’t help but feel some little nudge to keep writing to get over it. And, hearing Anberlin as I am erasing lines for a poem makes the atmosphere that much better and challenges me to think about what I’m really trying to say.

Currently, I’m shuffling through Taylor Swift, Amy Winehouse, Paramore, and Beyoncé. I am on a female-led, strong vocals vibe while I write this short blog post. The difference between each artist mentioned inspired me to write this post on how music influences my writing and me.

As I’ve said before, the type of music that I am listening to changes the way that I approach writing and how I feel about what I am doing. If I am feeling stuck, it wouldn’t help me much to listen to some really great, but depressing song like “Let Go” by James Bay. However, if my mind is sporadic, listening to Calvin Harris isn’t going to make it any better. Picking the right tunes for what you’re going to be doing is crucial to productivity and just, overall, happiness.

I’m not going to say that having music playing in the background is the best way to write. Actually, there are times when I think it’s distracting and I end up paying attention to the songs more than what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s when I need to turn it off and just focus on my own words and my inner voice (I tend to read out loud, which makes writing in public a little embarrassing at times).

But, music and writing just can’t be another way to write – at least to me. There are pieces that could not have come alive without the jazzy improvisations of Amy or Duke Ellington. Without London Grammar or Empire of the Sun, some stories would be boring and incomplete.

What are you listening to these days?

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