By Cate Pitterle
Over the weekend, I was talking with some writers I knew, and one of us asked the most dreaded, most glossed-over question a writer can encounter: how on earth do you find time to write?
We all had different answers. One of us said they wrote when inspired; one said they found deadlines helpful; another deleted distracting social media apps off his phone; a fourth found she had a hard time juggling everything. As for me, I always keep the Notes app on my phone open. When a piece of poetry or a great line for a story hits me, I jot it down for later… and hope I ever find the time to get back to it.
In reality, I’ve found balancing writing and the rest of my life hard, especially in the thick, standardized-testing, endless-homework-pile, mountains-of-work slush that high school can become. What’s the solution, then? Staying up until 2 a.m. typing away on a document, or waking up at 5 a.m. to do the same? Writing during free periods during the school day? I’ve tried all of those options, and I’ve personally found that staying up late works for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a night owl, but I’ve found that my “writing hours” usually fall somewhere between 11:00 and 12:00 at night.
Whatever time of day works for you, though, one thing remains the same—you have to make the time to write. A day is only 24 hours, and every writer in history has had those same 24 hours in which to work. Not everyone is perfect (let’s admit, everyone needs some Netflix time now and then to relax), but cramming in writing sessions whenever you can means more words on the page, more stories and poems taking shape, more characters coming to life. Toting around a notebook or a phone is a step in that process, sure, but I think it requires more than that. It requires staring down that blank page and conquering it. It requires dedication. It requires the dedication that I’ve tried to build up over the years, the kind of dedication that every author needs.
When I open my Instagram and wonder how the professional authors that I love pound out 5,000 words a day, I feel a little intimidated. But even if I can get 100 words on the page, it feels like a win. Writing is a marathon sport, as cliché as that sounds. No matter how much you write, you’re moving forward. If you keep writing, you’ll reach the finish line.
Establishing a writing routine is easier said than done, though. I try to write as often as I can, but when it comes to sitting down at a desk every day, it can feel impossible. Some things that have worked for me in the past were NaNoWriMo (if you’re competitive, try this in November! The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days), creating a daily word goal calendar, or even setting an alarm on my phone to remind me to write at a certain time. I also like to think of it as “carrot and stick”—if you don’t write, do you have to do a load of laundry instead? If you do write, should you give yourself a chocolate to celebrate? That kind of risk-reward system might be another source of motivation as you look to develop your writing habits.
Is finding time to write hard? Definitely—I think every writer, even the pros, would say the same. But don’t let that stop you. Just keep swimming (writing?).
You’ve got this.
Songs for late-night dreaming, big-future scheming, and city lights gleaming, curated by our blog correspondent Cate. Listen on our Spotify here, or see the track listing below:
Royals by Lorde
Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato
Strange Young World by Rånya and Hidden Citizens
King And Lionheart by Of Monsters and Men
Crown by Camila Cabello and Grey
Elastic Heart - Piano Version by Sia
Trampoline by SHAED
Immortals by Fall Out Boy
7 rings by Ariana Grande
Over my head by Judah & the Lion
It’s Gonna Be Me by *NSYNC
By Ottavia Paluch
The deadline for BWO’s latest contest, centered around the theme of HIPS, is in April, so there’s still plenty of time to get your submissions in. However, if you’re struggling to think of something to write based off of that theme, have no fear! I’m here to help you get started.
Below, I’ve attached a few major ideas that you can choose to expand upon. At the end of each, there’ll be a prompt for both a short story and a poem based around that idea, in case you like the idea but can’t decide between one or the other just yet.
Ready to write? Ready to say “hip, hip, hooray!” as you dust off some metaphors? Then let’s get started.
1. As our Editor-In-Chief, Courtney, outlined in the submission guidelines, according to Merriam-Webster, “hip” has multiple connotations, the rest of which we’ll get to later. For starters, it could mean to be “aware or appreciative of something.” But what is that something, exactly? What have you made others aware of? Your weaknesses? Your strengths? Your mistakes? Speak to your family, speak to the world, even, and watch their reaction, if they’ve been appreciative of what you’ve told them.
Write a short story about a character’s biggest secret, which they have chosen to make public. It’s difficult to balance both keeping a secret a secret and still appreciating it. What is that secret? What do others think of it?
Write a poem about something you’ve been aware and appreciative of. What makes your hips swivel around to look? It doesn’t even have to be something physical. Whatever it is, give us the truth.
2. Shakira once told us that “hips don’t lie.” Or do they? We say a lot of words that we come to regret or don’t mean. Sometimes we don’t know what exactly we’ve said until it’s too late, until our hips have indeed lied. But what have hips got to say? How do they say it? Vulnerability is something we might have a difficult time handling, so it makes a lot of sense to ease the tension and drop the shame via writing.
Write a short story about a character who tends to lie abundantly. There’s a lot of feelings you can feel when lying: guilt, disappointment, the list goes on. What makes them afraid to tell the truth? What makes them feel vulnerable? And how does sex, gender, and sexuality have a role in all this?
Write a poem about a lie you’ve seen someone tell. How did you feel when it was told? Or, put yourself in the liar’s shoes, and find out why they did what they did. Wiggle your toes in those shoes; is there breathing room for them when they lie? Or is the lie spoken in one breath?
3. Society expects a lot from us teenagers, whilst frowning upon a lot of our activities, such as our stereotypical desire to fit in, to be trendy, to be fashionably current, in the know. Basically, to “be hip.” Meaning, to be informed about the latest ideas, styles, and developments. But just like how something referred to as “cool” can become uncool in the blink of an eye, being hip does not refer to one specific quality. What is considered hip in today’s world is incessantly changing. What’s “hip” now? What’s in between the cool and uncool—between hips?
Write a short story based around something mundane that has now become hip. Or better yet, someone. Analyse intensely. Take a look at society, at yourself, at the bigger picture.
Write a poem about what you’ve found between hips thus far in your life. What have you experienced relating to what we crave for in your submissions—sex, sexuality, gender, reproduction, reproductive illness, sexual violence? Be persistent. Be truthful. Be frank with yourself, with what’s inside yourself.
Submissions for BWO’s Hips Contest are due April 15th. As Courtney stated, don’t lie. Show us what’s really between the waves.
Are exams coming? & are you nervous? To calm down, these songs will be of service, curated by our blog correspondent Ottavia. Listen on our Spotify here, or see the track listing below:
The Animator by The War On Drugs
Daydreaming by Radiohead
Mystery of Love by Sufjan Stevens
Suspirium by Thom Yorke
Midnight by Coldplay
I Need A Forest Fire by James Blake and Bon Iver
Angeles by Elliott Smith
Lua by Bright Eyes
Gravity by John Mayer
The Man Who Sold The World by Nirvana
In the Absence of Everything, I Promise to Keep You Warm by Flatsound
A Lack Of Color by Death Cab for Cutie
By Courtney Felle
The best way to learn new writing skills is to read others’ work and see what techniques you love, and the best way to appreciate reading others’ work is to try your hand at writing your own and seeing exactly how difficult those techniques are. Writing is constant exchange, push and pull between styles. With that in mind, we have a collection of prompts, spanning poetry, short story, and other genres, that include reading recommendations and examples alongside them:
1. Write your own fairytale, whether it’s significantly reimagining one that already exists or using the genre to establish an entirely new one. This could take the form of a poem, like Carol Ann Duffy’s “Little Red Cap.” It could take the form of a short story, like Molly Gutman’s “Magenta” or Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber.” If you want to challenge yourself, it can also become autobiographical, as a personal essay or as a song, like Florence + The Machine’s “Blinding.”
2. Write a modernized version of a classical myth. For poetry, see Margaret Atwood’s “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing.” For prose, see Ye Eun Cho’s “The Year of the Tiger” (in our fourth issue!).
3. Write a short story that exposes the pervasive, underlying sexism that saturates our society. Good examples include Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch” and Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person.”
4. Write an ekphrastic poem based off a piece of contemporary art that preserves elements of classical poetry and art. For inspiration, see Steffi Che’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” or Richard Siken’s “Three Proofs.”
5. Write a poem in which you cover or erase a page of pre-existing text. Bonus points if you mix words and art like Jessica Goodfellow’s “The Wide Net” or Joy Merritt Krystosek’s “My First Solo.”
6. Write a poem in the form of a collage. This is especially good for satire, like Jessy Randall’s “David Foster Wallace Cut & Paste Poem #1.”
7. Write a poem based after a song, like Logan February’s “Sober II (Melodrama)” or Stephanie Chang’s “Nobody (2002).”
8. Write a poem comprised entirely of questions, like Erika Walsh’s “Lana del rey asks for space.”
9. Write a poem as a computer program, like Jason Sears’s “The Gusting Winds,” or as a math problem, like Yongyu Chen’s “Problems With Two or More Variables and Too Many Equal Signs.”
10. Write a poem that keeps beginning again, like torrin a. greathouse’s “Self-portrait as Daedalus, Writing the First Draft of His Autobiography,” or that keeps redefining an object or event, like fargo tbakhi’s “When Palestinian Children Die I Swear to You They Become” or Lana Pochiro’s “What You Think is a Serving of Rice.”
11. Write a poem that keeps redefining “girl,” like Emily Corwin’s “girl/creature” or Taryn Pire’s “Love Letter to My Lost Skins.”
12. Write a personal essay in the form of a list, like Kristin Chang’s “Detainees May Receive.”
13. Write a poem as an address to someone else, like Jason Harris’s “To the White Boys Who Sang Suwoop as We Passed on a PWI,” or to yourself, like Ocean Vuong’s “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong.”
14. Write a split poem in which the two halves mirror, expand upon, and contradict each other, like (our previous contributor!) Vivian Parkin DeRosa’s “When the Unborn Are Prioritized Over Suffering Refugee Children” or Adrienne Novy’s “I. This Song is Called Medicine” and “II. Who Wants to Live Forever?”
15. Write a poem where the title actively leads into the first line. The title could serve as only an entrance, like Kayleb Rae Candrilli’s “Though Odysseus was gone for 20 years my sister was gone for 9,” or as the main force of the poem, like in John LaPine’s “In Which President Trump Has Ordered the Detainment of Nearly 2000 Young Boys, Separated Them from Their Families, & Housed Them in Temporary Confinement Facilities Located Inside a Former Wal-Mart, & Attorney General Jeff Sessions Uses the Bible as Justification for Upholding the Law, & I Am on a Road Trip with My Parents & We Stop at a Gas Station in Wisconsin for Lunch & I Am Trying the New Bourbon Barbecue Bacon Brisket Sandwich from Arby’s with a Side of Small Curly Fries & a Diet Dr. Pepper.”
Hopefully, with these thoughts and recommendations, you can find new ways to keep developing how you read, write, and engage with literature at large (and, if any beautiful pieces emerge, send them to us)!
Power ballads for the adventures that inspire rushes of adrenaline, rushes of confidence, and the sense that you are as wild as your dreams, curated by our blog correspondent Cate. Listen on our Spotify here, or see the track listing below:
Castle - The Huntsman: Winter’s War Version by Halsey
Survivor by 2WEI
...Ready For It? by Taylor Swift
Ready Set Let’s Go by Sam Tinnesz
Whole Lotta Woman by Kelly Clarkson
Danger To Myself by The Unlikely Candidates
Glory Days by the Federal Empire
Heart of the Darkness by Tommee Profitt feat. Sam Tinnesz
Watch Me by The Phantoms
Natural by Imagine Dragons
Wolves by Selena Gomez and Marshmello
2019 still holds so much potential, and we still have the entire world in front of us. This year will be tender, & open, & empathetic, & young, & so, so full, like these songs curated by our editor-in-chief Courtney. Listen on our Spotify here, or see the track listing below:
New Year’s Eve by Pale Waves
Pynk by Janelle Monáe feat. Grimes
Lilo by The Japanese House
Make My Bed by King Princess
End of Desire by MUNA
Happy Birthday, Johnny by St. Vincent
New Year’s Eve by MØ
Girls Your Age by Transviolet
Gimme Sympathy - Synthetica (Deluxe Edition) by Metric
Youth by Daughter
Drive by Now, Now
Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl by Broken Social Scene
Ribs by Lorde
By Ottavia Paluch
Late in 2017 I decided that 2018 would be the year that I took my writing seriously. This became my New Year’s resolution, and over the course of the subsequent 12 months, I committed myself to doing as much as I could to improve my writing. Looking back on my progress, I (surprisingly!) am quite proud of how far I’ve gotten. The 2017 version of me would be shocked to learn that I now have eight publication credits under my belt (with more hopefully coming soon!) and that I managed to become a member of the BWO organization, writing blog posts like this one. I still have a copious amount to learn, but below are eight things I learned over the course of 2018 that might help you in the years to come.
1. Reading about writing is extremely beneficial. My local library system doesn’t necessarily have many poetry books, for instance, or many books on writing. Yet there are so many great websites that will teach you plenty about the written word. Poetry Foundation’s Teens section is excellent. Also recommended: sites like Lit Hub, Electric Literature, DIVEDAPPER (who publish awesome interviews) and The Rumpus. Even The Paris Review publishes free content, like Poetry Rx. Journals often run the coolest blogs; look at Frontier Poetry’s interview with editors like Talin Tahajian, for example. Which leads to my next point:
2. The Internet is an amazing tool. You might already know that, being that you’ve found BWO. And if you live somewhere where opportunities for young writers are few, the Internet is your best friend. There are entire novels and Shakespeare plays that can be found online. There’s an infinite amount of slam poems you can listen to on YouTube. There are lists all over the Internet for publications that aren’t The New Yorker and, like BWO, accept work by teens. NewPages (another great resource) made this list which I may or may not believe is god-sent.
3. If you want to become a better writer and get published in literary journals, you actually have to—get this—read literary journals. Early in the year, I came to the realization that publications essentially expect you to read their publications first before you submit to them. Take time to become familiar by reading an issue or two full of work they publish. Don’t just submit work to them without having gotten a general grasp of what they like. Chances are, they’ll reject you.
4. Subscribing to email lists/newsletters featuring/about writing is a good idea. If you’re like me, you probably get a shot of endorphins every time you get a notification or a beep that signals you’ve gotten an email. In April, I signed up to receive daily emails of new, contemporary, and classic poems from the Academy of American Poets (who run Poem-A-Day) and Poetry Foundation (who run POETRY Magazine), and I haven’t looked back. Though my inbox can sometimes get flooded, I read more poems than I thought I could, and my writing benefited greatly from it. If you’re more fiction/nonfiction oriented, sign up to get weekly emails from The Writer—emails full of great content sure to help you power through that first draft of your novel/short story/who knows what else. Plus, writing prompts!
5. It makes a lot of sense to track your submissions with an Excel spreadsheet or something of the like. Making an Excel spreadsheet to list every submission of mine was worth the time that it took to make. Say you submit to a journal that has previously rejected you. With a basic spreadsheet, you can double-check that you haven’t included any pieces that you sent in your first submission. If you get rejected from another journal but the editors still thought positively of your work, you can mark that submission as a tiered rejection, so that if that email gets lost in your inbox, you’ll still have the name of the journal on file so that you can submit to it again. You’ll thank me later.
6. Taking risks in your writing is hard, but you have to do it in order to succeed. I’m still learning this: to write candidly, to kill your darlings, to write what you haven’t written before. To try your hand at flash fiction if you haven’t written much prose. I’d say more, but speaking of email lists, David Shields, an internationally best-selling and critically-acclaimed author of fiction and nonfiction, did a fantastic interview with The Writer that I found through their newsletter a while back in which the hits the nail on the head regarding the importance of taking risks in your writing.
7. Rejection is part of being a writer. There’s no other way to put it. Can I say it again? REJECTION IS PART OF BEING A WRITER. As of writing, I have been submitting work to publications for a year and a little under a half. My submissions spreadsheet currently has eighty rows filled up with data. It might sound like a large number, but in reality, it’s not. So far, I have only made eighty attempts to give my work a home, whether that be online or in print. Because wouldn’t you love to have your words available for the world’s viewing pleasure? In order for that to happen, you have to get over the hurdle of being afraid to send your work out only to get a rejection in response. Yes, rejections suck, yes, they sting, and yes, you’ll feel disappointed, but you will learn and grow from them in more ways than you’ll ever notice. Sometimes, publications might even send you tiered rejections, encouraging you to submit again. Oh, and here’s a tip: once you receive a sizable amount of rejections, print them out and throw darts at them. The ultimate remedy.
8. Acceptances are wonderful, so celebrate them. It’s funny, my first acceptance letter was from BWO. This was in early March; I had already been submitting my work for eight months, which made receiving my first one so much sweeter. Speaking of celebrations, rewarding yourself frequently is helpful. In fact, I encourage you to go reward yourself now, since you’ve taken time out of your day to read this article.
Upbeat songs perfect for small-town picnics, walking down the street on a sunny day, or dancing umbrella-less during a rainstorm, curated by our blog correspondent Cate. Listen on our Spotify here, or see the track listing below:
Journey (Ready to Fly) by Natasha Blume
Let Me Down Slowly by Alec Benjamin
Spirits by The Strumbellas
Stuck by Imagine Dragons
Eastside by benny blanco feat. Halsey and Khalid
joy. by for KING & COUNTRY
Now Or Never by Halsey
High Hopes by Panic! At The Disco
The Last Of The Real Ones by Fall Out Boy
Kamikaze by WALK THE MOON
Adventure Of A Lifetime by Coldplay