Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing to Win, Place or Show

      The marine layer has burned off, the sun is shining, and it's another glorious day at the beach.  During my residency, I've met some interesting folks, and thought I'd share some of the joy visitors bring.  The questions they ask.  The things they carry.

     Last Saturday was really crazy, and apologize if you tried to visit, but couldn't.  If it makes you feel any better, I couldn't even find a parking space, and had to circle around.  UCLA and USC were having a volleyball tournament with their respective bands playing.  And in the Annenberg House, there was a barmitzvah.  The good news, there's still time.  You can visit me Saturday, 17th, during office hours, come here me speak/read Monday the 19th, March 24th and March 26th.

     As you might predict, most of my visitors loves stories.  Love telling stories, sharing stories, writing stories.  How do you start out?  This question is easy, and not easy.  Bird By Bird.  It's an excellent motivating book by Annie Lamott.  There are no ways out.  If you want to write, you have to lock yourself up, unplug and face that blank screen, blinking cursor or blank page.

   But the cool thing is that you can do it!  There is more than one way, more than one path.

   Many people have commented that I've won a lot of awards.  I had to.  It wasn't just the "Asian Tiger/Cub" upbringing, it was a way to prove and motivate myself.  When you first start out, it's likely that you are the only one who really believes in yourself.  Even people who say they support your decision might just be saying that to be nice.   And there are the people blessed with candor.  Many have good intentions.  "How will you pay your bills?"  "What about health care?"  

    With an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago, and being a former bond trader on Wall Street and serving as deputy chief of staff during Mayor Dinkins' Administration in NYC, in the beginning I couldn't get anyone to read my work.  People told me I was too left brain to have a fully-functioning right brain.  Everyone knows artsy-fartsy people can't do math!   Overheard one artistic director tell another, what could a bond trader have to say that's worth listening too?  I had no publication credits, no English major, no M.F.A.

   So it's possible that you have to make time to write in a world that is downright "hostile."  There are days you'd rather suck gas than write (writing is solitary, $$$ worries, life is busy, the house is dirty, you've just been rejected, again!), and contest deadlines were a way of pushing me.

   You will get this done.  You will submit.  You will take a risk.  Plus you can keep it a secret.  No one has to know.  Ssshhh.  Until of course you win, because no denying, it's fun when you win!  My first award was from the Kennedy Center, and my world changed.  Opened up.  Productions, two page profile in the New York Times.  I remember feeling like Sally Field, My doormen respect me!  My doormen really respect me.  You see, before that award, everyone worried about  me.  My friends, my in-laws, my doormen.  Even me.

   For example, I learned Saturday that NPR currently has a 3 minute fiction contest.  I thought for many of you who visited, or follow this blog, you might be interested.  I've cut, paste, edited below:


All Things Considered is launching Round 8 of its Three-Minute Fiction contest. Here's what we look for: original, short fiction that can be read in less than three minutes – that's no more than 600 words.
Each round, we have a judge who gives us a writing challenge. For Round 8, our judge is Luis Alberto Urrea, the award-winning author of 13 books, including The Devil's Highway, The Hummingbird's Daughter and his most recent release, Queen of America.
For Round 8, Urrea wants you to start your story with this sentence:
"She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door."
For your story, you must use that full sentence exactly as it is. Those 17 words are included in the 600-word limit, too, but all the other words are up to you. Each and every story will be read, and once again, we're lucky enough to still have creative writing graduate students from New York University and the Iowa Writer's workshop on board as our first readers.
The deadline for submissions is Sunday, March 25, at 11:59 p.m. ET. After that date, we'll post some of our favorites on the website and read highlights during weekends on All Things Considered. Meanwhile, you can keep up with the latest posts on our Three-Minute Fiction Facebook page.
The winning story will be read on air, and the winning author will receive a signed copy of Urrea's book, Queen of America, as well as join us on the show.
Before you get started, though, Urrea has a last tip for writers:
"Be bold, baby. Just jump in there and let us have it."

   I agree, if you want to write, jump in.  Be bold.  Be you.  I'll meet you at the Winner's Circle.
 



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