Writers: SHARE YOUR WRITING, Dammit!

This week, I published a mini-essay about weightlifting and how it helps me rebel against the China Doll stereotype. But, of course, this post is not just about that (although I am ELATED that the story is finally seeing the light of day). I want to talk a bit about what it means to share your work as a writer.

It has always been incredibly difficult for me to share my work with those around me. I hate the idea of self-promotion, and I also hate being a nuisance on social media. As such, I hid a lot of my writing from friends, family, partners, and strangers. 

More recently, I've started sharing my work through social media. Every time I pressed "post," my heart would be racing. I talked myself out of it several times before finally squeezing my eyes shut, clicking the stupid button, and running away from the computer to hide in a corner.

But here's the thing: The world didn't end. In fact, the world - my little world, and a little bit of the world outside of that - responded. I wasn't a nuisance. I was just a human trying to share something I loved to the people who loved me. And they, in turn, responded with kindness, excitement, gratitude, and love. 

It felt so much better than I could have known.

Still, I get it. Sharing can be icky for first-timers and tenth-timers alike. If you're a writer who wants to share their work, but is feeling weird about it, here's what I would say: 

1. Writing is a lonely activity

As all writers know, writing is a lonely and solitary activity. When I tell someone that I have spent the day writing, what I mean is this: I opened up Microsoft Word, I read my Twitter and Facebook feed, I checked the news, I despaired in the news, I got up to make tea, I contemplated whether or not I should eat, I did some laundry, I sit down again to write, I ate, I checked Instagram, I googled the history of the Terra Cotta soldiers, I wrote again, I started writing a different thing, I went down a YouTube hole of The Voice auditions...you get the gist.

And then bam. a day, a week, a month later, I finish a story.

When I am writing, there are days when I reach the evening and realize I haven't said a word out loud all day. Then there are the days when I stare at my words and wonder who the hell I am, thinking I could deserve to write anything. Rarely, there are beautiful and delicious moments when it all clicks and I feel like I've ignited. 

What I'm trying to say is this: the writing process is different for all of us, but it is very much the same in this way - most of the writing happens inside before anything else happens on the page. 

2. Writers hate sharing their work

Because of the insular nature of writing, a lot of writers can find it hard to share their work. There are a few thoughts running through every writer's head during this phase:

  • Does anyone even care about what I have to say?
  • Is what I wrote actually any good?
  • What if people hate it?
  • How dare I even try? 
  • Who do I think I am? 
  • Will this just spam people's newsfeeds? 
  • So what? 
  • Is this even important?
  • Did I get something wrong? 
  • Worst: What if nobody reads it?

The last thing any of us want to come off as is narcissistic.

But the truth is this: in order to write, you have to be a little - a lot - narcissistic. Or, maybe we shouldn't be calling it narcissism in the first place. Maybe it's a galactic concoction of awareness, introspection, and passion. Maybe, above all else, it's a desire to communicate. 

With that in mind, I reach number 3:

3. Writers MUST share their work

Writers must share their work, because while writing itself is a lonely activity, the ACT of writing is a push towards community and connection. The act of writing carries with it a sense of longing. Longing to reach someone, somewhere who can say, "Wow. You as well?" 

If you are a writer who is having trouble sharing your work, ask yourself: Why do I write? 

If your answer is something along the lines of: to feel alive, to connect with people, to tell my story, to give voice to those who have lost theirs, to fight, to live, to love...my friend, it's time to share your work. No matter how unimportant you think your story is, there will always be one person out there who connects with it. 

Right now, stories matter more than ever. Diverse voices and experiences matter. Come and join the fray - it's wild, but it's also astonishingly beautiful. 

4. How, though?

Like this: 

Start small: small websites and presses where your writing would fit, your own personal blog, a Facebook status, Medium. Get used to the feeling of pasting a URL into a text box and clicking "post." Practice it now: "Hey guys, I wrote XYZ and I would love if you read it." POST. Breathe. Be proud of yourself. Eat a croissant.

Find your supporters: because you will have supporters! Those friends who have been asking to see your writing. Your parents. Internet acquaintances you know through hobbies and interests. Communities that are related to what you're writing about. Total strangers who are looking for exactly what you have to say. Your supporters will show up for you, and you should hold them tight.

Don't be afraid to go big: what are your favorite websites, dream outlets, and adored publications? Read the things they publish. If it's in line with the kind of writing you do, pitch them (if they're accepting). Most writers will find the editor of their appropriate genre/topic (you can usually see this info in the Masthead, About, or Contact section) and shoot them a pitch. If you can't find their email, you might have to do some light stalking; the good news is, most editors have their email in their Twitter bio. 

Keep going: keep writing, keep reading, keep sharing, keep believing. Why do you write? Your voice matters. Repeat it to yourself. And again, and again, and again. And again. 

5. Resources

You can't do it alone. Here are some resources that help me navigate the intimidating world of sharing your work:

That's all for now, bbs. Go forth and create <3 You'll be more than okay, I promise. You'll be freaking brilliant. 

a pep talk for perfectionist writers

I have never considered myself an "adventurous" or "experimental" writer. And, if I am being honest, I don't even know what it means to be adventurous or experimental at all. Is it content? Form? Format? Medium? A twist ending? I have always tried to be as buttoned-up as possible with my writing. That means everything had to make sense to me, everything had to be tidy and neat and, well, complete.

The downside of this is that I began (and maybe still do) to view my first drafts as final drafts.

But a writing workshop is not supposed to entertain your most perfect pieces, I am learning. I am also learning that the workshops in my MFA program are not the same as the ones I experienced in the past, which felt more like stoning ceremonies.

So, erm, I guess what I'm trying to say is: I have been working on something uncomfortable and confounding and complicated and usually I would discard it because it is not perfect and it feels like I am just writing for myself and because it is hard to talk about such things but since I am in an MFA program and this is one of the few times in my life that I can be imperfect with my writing then well I guess I just have to work up the courage to fail because how else am I supposed to grow????????????

VONA and other things

I'm two (three?) weeks out from VONA, and still reeling from how transformative, magical and eye-opening it was. I'm afraid I was sleeping for the past year, because I emerged from that beautiful week-long fairytale with a renewed sense of this-is-what-I-must-do. On the flight back from Miami to Austin, the plane was dark and full of snores. I sat in the window seat, clutching the wall next to me because I think as I get older, I grow more terrified of flying (maybe because as we grow older, we have more to lose?). To calm myself down, I got out my notepad and scribbled some hasty, half-drunk thoughts about how VONA affected me:

On the plane back to Austin, and I still feel so very surreal, I still feel as if I'm experiencing this world from outside my body. As if I'm viewing everything from 5 seconds behind real time. This is the deliciousness. This is what magic feels like.

Sunday. 70+ writers of color in one room. The first thing I could think of was that this was the most amount of diversity I'd been surrounded by in 15 years. I stood and said, "I can't wait to get started," and it was so very true. The acceptance, the understanding. The utter care and affection--such affection. It was like coming home to family, or to yourself. It was like never having to explain or apologize for who you were and are. I never felt so affirmed, so in love, than that moment after I read my first piece, and the other Asian-American writers in the room approached me to say--"your piece really resonated with me", or "I identified with that", or "I remember a time when my mom wouldn't let me shave either!" What a beautiful moment of community--what beautiful moments throughout of community!

It may be very long before I get to experience this again, but I cherish it, and feel lucky to have ever been in this space, this magical and transformative space.

I am not the same person I was when I came here; I was still hung up about myself, still hung up about things that didn't really matter.

This is real. This is real life.

I am full of hope, happiness, joy, new friends. I admire the people I met, love them deeply and accept them, I am humbled by their strength, courage, their struggles and triumphs. Outside of just being moms or daughters or wives or sisters, we are beating hearts and timid children, we are dreamers and lovers and sometimes scared, sometimes spiteful, sometimes so very foolish--but we let ourselves feel, and that is a brave thing indeed.

I don't know how I am supposed to go back to the real world after this--I feel as if I am in a cloud (perhaps appropriate because I'm on a plane right now). I didn't think it'd be possible to be this tired, but I am. To the point where I am too tired to write, too tired of writing--and yet all I want to do is write--I want to write and write and write until my heart bleeds and my hands bleed and my eyes are dry.

I am ready. I am ready. I walk away believing so hard in myself that it hurts. I walk away believing in my fellow writers. I walk away more confident, more brave, more focused, more uncompromising. More strict, more kind. More understanding. I walk away better than I was before.

This is just the beginning. This is just my beginning.

What I have lost in fear, in silence, in swallowed words and emotions, I have gained in the courage to do what I want to do, to be who I want to be, to say yes or no. I am going back to Austin with a plan. I'm going to write myself to a better place. Life is short, and forgetting is so easy.

Other things I learned:

  1. The writing community is a beautiful thing. And being around only writers of color? I don't think I've ever felt more at home or cared for.
  2. You can't take a serious picture in Miami because there are palm trees everywhere, and palm trees are positively comical.
  3. I'm a little in love with and a lot moved by everyone I met. If my heart wasn't breaking for someone, it was full and pouring.
  4. I never knew how much I could cherish hallway conversations about shaving, body hair and eyelids with other Asian-American writers.
  5. A song exists called 'El Gato Volador,' and it is hilarious.
  6. Don't abandon your books after you write them - it's the equivalent of being a deadbeat father.
  7. I am most confident when talking about my writing.
  8. Deadlifting on a platform is so much better than anything else I've ever done.
  9. You are very much needed.
  10. Dreams. Fear. Discomfort. I owe these things to myself, and I mustn't tarry.