5 Things I’ve Learned from Writing My First Short Story

In elementary and middle school, my teachers would encourage me to write a short story. Writing a short story was the perfect outlet for me to unleash my imagination.

Well, I stopped writing stories when I got to high school, since my teachers made me writing essays only.

I didn’t think about writing fiction again until I stumbled upon Yin Chang’s 88 Cups of Tea podcast.

To my surprise, Chang interviews various NY Times Bestsellers on their writing process and struggles they’ve faced as writers.

After listening to the podcast a few times, I decided to write a short story! After editing my final draft, I submitted it to a literary magazine!

No matter what response I get from the magazine, I’m proud of myself for finally writing a short story.

From writing my short story, I’ve learned some things.

1. It’s a process

Don’t expect a perfect draft on the first time. Your story will probably change more than once. Get the idea of perfection out of your head.

2. Don’t get lazy

I will admit that I didn’t work on my story for more than a week. I was being lazy. It was my friend, who was so nice to edit my story, was always asking me when I would get a new draft to her. That forced me to continue perfecting my draft.

3. Expect a lot of rewrites

Coming up with an ending was the most challenging part. Every ending I wrote, my friend rejected it. She expressed that each ending didn’t feel natural for the story.

I took Matt de la Pena’s advice of not overthinking how a scene relates to the story. His advice eventually led me to my ending!

4. Accept constructive criticism

You won’t grow as a writer if you’re unwilling to accept constructive criticism. For example, my friend commented that the dialogue didn’t show the characters’ personalities. Her comments made me realize that the character development aspect was missing in my narration.

5. Utilize free time to write

During my breaks at my temp job, I was working on my story. I always brought a printed copy of my draft, so I could read and revise my story. Using those breaks were so beneficial because I didn’t have to worry about my draft when I got home.

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Writer’s Block Is The Worst

Sometimes when I write, my fingers just type out the words within minutes. Then I will have a nice piece of writing. But there are times where I can’t type anything.

I can be starring at my screen for an hour and have nothing typed.

That leads me to be frustrated with myself for not being able to write. I question why I can’t just come up with an idea. Or why I can’t develop an idea fully.

There have been times where I can’t write for days.

But recently, I have realized that I don’t need to always produce a masterpiece. If a draft is shitty, it’s okay. I can just hit the delete button and no one would know.

The one thing I have learned: a writer’s block can be removed. I just have to remember what Liz Gilbert said at a Ted Talk (which I am paraphrasing), “No one expects you to write something perfect. Just write.” As long as I write something, I’m happy.

Podcasts As My New Lectures

Back in February, CollegeFashionista emailed me about their new podcast series. I heard about podcasts as a medium vaguely in the past; they were explained as digital radio interviews.

I listened to Amy Levin’s, founder CollegeFashionista, first interview with Joyce Chang, EIC of Self Magazine. Amy Levin asked Joyce how she pursed a career in journalism. Besides journalism, Joyce shared her new habit of meditating in the morning to clear her mind.

Listening to Joyce’s talking about meditation made me make meditation a daily part of my routine.

The podcast interview showed me how information can be presented differently.

Podcast as a medium taps into the audio senses of the mind. Unlike print, you can actually hear the tone and attitude of a person.

On the contrast with video, you’re only listening instead of letting visuals distract you. When you watch an interview on YouTube, you can’t help judge what a person is wearing. That can distract you from understanding the ideas a person is conveying.

Thanks to CollegeFashionista, I have began listening to other podcasts. My favorite is 88 Cups of Tea by Yin Chang. I remembered Yin Chang as Nelly Yuki on “Gossip Girl”.

To my great surprise, Yin switched from acting to hosting. She interviews various creative minds, especially writers and directors, on how their creative process works. Plus, she asks them to give practical advice on deal with writer’s block, such as which computer programs to use.

Just recently, Yin interviewed David J. Peterson, on how he created the language for “Game of Thrones”. I learned the term conlag, which means a person who invents languages.

My new habit of listening to podcasts has shown me that you don’t have to gain knowledge from a classroom only. Podcasts are a free way to gain others’ knowledge and advice. Plus, they are a lot more enjoyable than a typical college lecture.

I recommend that you take the time to listen to a podcast. You will enjoy it.

My Ground Rules For Social Media

Social media is a great way for me to share my life. Yet, there are things that are off limit. The reason is that I don’t want too much of my personal life being exposed.

I have some ground rules of what I don’t share.

1. Not posting info or pics of family

I don’t want strangers to know who my family is or know where they live.

2. No pics of home

I’ve read of YouTubers getting robbed after they showed off their homes. See, I don’t want people to get familiar with the layout of my home or know where I live.

3. No mention of work unless it’s professional needed

I avoid talking about my professional activities unless they’re needed to be mentioned, such as LinkedIn. Otherwise, I don’t talk about my professional activities because I don’t want to accidentally burn any bridges.

Five Things I Learned In College

It has been over six months since I graduated college. I am slowly figuring out my life. I am glad that I went to college because I learned a lot from it.

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Me in Beijing

Here are five things I learned in college:

  1. Always be curious

People prefer to stick to one thing only. That causes them to not branch off. In life, you should always be striving to learn more. Never be afraid to learn a new skill or experience something different, such as traveling on your own for the first time.

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Kashgar, China
  1. Communication is important

If you have a problem with people, you have to tell them. Passive aggressive attitude will get you nowhere. When you tell people the issue, explain why it bothers you.

  1. Be organized

Life loves to throw things at us, but you have to stay organized. You have to know when work assignments are due. If you drop the ball, you will get in trouble.

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The Book Bar in Denver
  1. Advocate for yourself

Before college, I was a mouse. When I got to college, I quickly realized that I had to speak up. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you will get disrespected.

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  1. Give people a chance
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With my friends Lily and Bethany at Beijing University (Bei Da)

Socializing can be one of the scariest things possible, but you can’t be shy. People are not here to bite you. You can’t truly know people until you get to know them. Never be afraid to say hi first.  

5 Rules on Writing/Blogging

School loves to tell us how to write. We’re told that using contractions is wrong. A lot of professors make ridiculous requirements, such as requiring ten pages for an essay.

Well, a lot of things school teaches us are wrong in the real world.

Recently, I have been a contributor writer at Slant News. I have learned a few things about writing.

1. Don’t ramble

Readers have a short attention span. Generally, articles should be between 500 to 800 words. If you ramble, people won’t bother reading the whole thing.

2. Better to keep it short and simple

In school, it’s encouraged to write long sentences and paragraphs. In the real world, that isn’t okay. When writing an paragraph, it’s better to have only one sentence rather than five sentences. People want concise writing.

3. Only give reverent information

Background information is important, but only give facts that matter to your story. Dumping random facts on people will annoy them.

4. Know your audience

You have to cater your writing to whoever is reading it. If it’s for a specific professional crowd, you should incorporate their jargon into your work.

5. Have a clear point of view

Stick to your voice. Know what you want to convey to others.

 

Finding Inspiration

Laying in bed this morning, I struggled to get my butt up. I wondered what I was supposed to do. The idea of being productive did not appeal to me. All I wanted to do was to stay in bed. It was not until I grabbed my phone and listened to the British Muslim musician Harris J, who I found out by NPR.

Harris J’s song “Salam Alaikum” made me smile for some reason. The background tune sounded so simple, yet refreshing. I started dancing to the song.

Finding inspiration can be difficult sometime. We sometime think that we have to go to some exotic location to find inspiration. Yet, we don’t have to.

Inspiration can be found anywhere, especially on the internet. If it wasn’t for NPR, I would not have found out about Harris J. To find your inspiration, here are some simple ways:

1. Take a walk outside. Have your eyes wide open and enjoy the smell of the air. Something might spark something in your mind.

2. Read a book. It seems so mundane, but the story could stretch your imagination out more.

3. Waste some time online. This sounds so stupid, but you never know what you might find, especially on YouTube. I have found some creative videos, such as the Halloween makeup videos by Nicole Guerriero.

4. Hang out with friends. By simply talking with them can make you randomly think of an idea.

5. Look at images. Images are non-verbal messages made up of lines, colors, texture, and shades. Even one trait in the image could become your muse. You can find images in magazines, online, museums, and pretty much anywhere.