My Grainy Confidence

As artists, we all reach stages in our writing where we feel like our work is the worst we’ve ever created. We put our hearts and souls into personal pieces only to find the harshest criticism comes from ourselves. This doesn’t only happen to famous authors, it happens to all writers. As human beings, our confidence is like grains of sand; it slips between our fingers and completely leaves before we even know it.

December of last year, I felt like the tiny amounts of grainy confidence I had finally was blown out of my palms. I had been involved in a project produced by the Elan staff called Coffee House. It’s a performance put on by the students that go to our school and the pieces presented are all original work. This includes poetry, Spoken Word, short plays, musical bands, and singing. To get into the performance, you had to audition and then be chosen by the staff in charge. I had written my piece, performed it, and was picked by the judges to be in the show.

As I went to rehearsals and worked on making my piece better, I began to get this feeling that maybe my piece wasn’t all that good. Especially being surrounded by so many beautifully talented artists, who before the age of 19 are already extremely skillful, I found it very hard to maintain the pride I had in my work before.

I had to keep telling myself that they chose me for a reason. The judges liked my piece, and they thought my message was important enough to be in Coffee House. The fellow members who heard my piece also enjoyed it, and encouraged me every day at rehearsal to not hold myself back on stage. Other people told me I had created good work, but it didn’t really help me feel any better about it.

It’s important to recognize that as artists, our confidence can only rely on ourselves. We nurture our work, fall in love with it, and sometimes even share it with others. The reason we love writing isn’t just because we love how it makes us feel afterwards, but because we appreciate ourselves more when we put ourselves through the struggles and challenges of finishing work. I remember that even on the night of Coffee House I felt like no one in the stage would like or even understand my piece. But when I finished performing and took a deep breath, I realized that I loved my piece after all. It didn’t matter if people hadn’t clapped and given me support. What matter was that it felt right to have gotten my piece out into the world.

What truly helped me love my piece again, and what I use most of the time when I feel like I’m falling out of place with my writing in general, is thinking about the reason I started writing something in particular. What motivated me to write it down and work on it? What do I like about my writing? It’s also important to ask myself why I don’t feel like my writing is good. Whether it’s just one piece that maybe isn’t where I want it, or it’s over time where I feel like all my writing isn’t nearly as strong as I want it to be, I like getting down to the core reasons why I don’t believe it’s where it should be.

Good work needs patience and attention. Good work needs time to breath by itself and time to stand on its own. Writers, be kind to yourself. Be kind to your work and your passions.

Valerie Busto, Fiction/Creative Non-fiction Editor


On Puzzles

ana's bp picMy​ ​first​ ​year​ ​in​ ​a​ ​creative-writing​ ​intensive​ ​program​ ​came​ ​as​ ​a​ ​shock​ ​in​ ​many,​ ​many ways.​ ​Not​ ​least​ ​was​ ​the​ ​pure​ ​amount​ ​of​ ​writing​ ​we​ ​were​ ​instructed​ ​to​ ​complete,​ ​the​ ​way​ ​each piece​ ​came​ ​with​ ​specific​ ​mentions​ ​of​ ​goals,​ ​elements,​ ​techniques​ ​were​ ​were​ ​supposed​ ​to understand.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​been​ ​writing​ ​for​ ​as​ ​long​ ​as​ ​I​ ​could​ ​remember,​ ​but​ ​always​ ​sporadically,​ ​always on​ ​my​ ​own​ ​schedule.​ ​I​ ​liked​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​novels,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​expand​ ​and​ ​expand​ ​my​ ​characters, ideas,​ ​settings.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​no​ ​idea​ ​how​ ​to​ ​write​ ​towards​ ​an​ ​intent,​ ​and​ ​especially​ ​not​ ​how​ ​to​ ​apply craft,​ ​to​ ​revise​ ​my​ ​piece​ ​and​ ​actually​ ​improve​ ​it.​ ​Writing​ ​shifted​ ​from​ ​a​ ​hobby​ ​to​ ​a​ ​confusing obligation,​ ​and,​ ​finally,​ ​a​ ​boring​ ​chore.​ ​Craft​ ​still​ ​seemed​ ​like​ ​a​ ​total​ ​mystery​ ​to​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​couldn’t understand​ ​how​ ​characters,​ ​plot,​ ​syntax,​ ​or​ ​theme​ ​worked,​ ​so​ ​I​ hated​ tinkering​ ​around​ ​with​ ​my words.​ ​My​ ​love​ ​of​ ​writing​ ​had​ ​fizzled​ ​away.

And​ ​then​ ​came​ ​Raymond​ ​Carver.​ ​In​ ​particular,​ ​his​ ​short​ ​story​ Cathedral.​ In​ ​it,​ ​a​ ​rather

obnoxious​ ​narrator​ ​has​ ​an​ ​awakening​ ​with​ ​the​ ​help​ ​of​ ​a​ ​blind​ ​man,​ ​whom​ ​he​ ​had​ ​spent​ ​most​ ​of the​ ​story​ ​despising.​ ​There’s​ ​this​ ​uplifting,​ ​brightened​ ​final​ ​scene​ ​in​ ​which​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​human connection​ ​moves​ ​from​ ​physical​ ​to​ ​nearly​ ​spiritual.​ ​While​ ​the​ ​story​ ​no​ ​doubt​ ​has​ ​many interpretations,​ ​to​ ​my​ ​fifteen​ ​year​ ​old​ ​self,​ ​the​ ​story​ ​got​ ​at​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ ​what​ ​it​ ​means​ ​to​ ​be human.​ ​It​ ​showed​ ​where​ ​our​ ​lives​ ​gain​ ​meaning.​ ​The​ ​structure​ ​of​ ​Carver’s​ ​story​ ​opened​ ​up​ ​to me.​ ​The​ ​detail​ ​choice.​ ​The​ ​characters.​ ​The​ ​dialogue.​ ​I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​comprehend​ ​stylistic​ ​and​ ​artistic choices:​ ​why​ ​an​ ​author​ ​makes​ ​them,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​they​ ​can​ ​be​ ​executed.​ ​My​ ​role​ ​as​ ​a​ ​writer​ ​moved from​ ​abstract​ ​and​ ​diluted,​ ​to​ ​understandable,​ ​with​ ​tangible​ ​elements​ ​of​ ​craft.​ ​Revision​ ​began​ ​to make​ ​sense,​ ​as​ ​I​ ​could​ ​connect​ ​the​ ​choices​ ​in​ ​my​ ​writing​ ​to​ ​how​ ​they​ ​built​ ​up​ ​a​ ​reader’s understanding,​ ​how​ ​writing​ ​could​ ​really​ ​impact​ ​a​ ​reader​ ​and​ ​illuminate​ ​parts​ ​of​ ​their​ ​life.

In​ ​response,​ ​I​ ​set​ ​about​ ​crafting​ ​this​ ​narrator.​ ​She​ ​was​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​center​ ​of​ ​a​ ​story

portfolio​ ​in​ ​my​ ​sophomore​ ​year,​ ​one​ ​of​ ​my​ ​first​ ​where​ ​I​ ​sat​ ​down​ ​and​ ​outlined​ ​just​ ​what​ ​I​ ​might be​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​show​ ​the​ ​reader.​ ​My​ ​story​ ​had​ ​become​ ​a​ ​function​ ​of​ ​creating​ ​connection​ ​and​ ​intent, a​ ​fascinating​ ​puzzle.​ ​The​ ​narrator​ ​was​ ​a​ ​young​ ​child,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​pay​ ​close​ ​attention​ ​to​ ​every word​ ​she​ ​used.​ ​To​ ​convince​ ​the​ ​reader​ ​that​ ​they​ ​were,​ ​honestly,​ ​reading​ ​from​ ​a​ ​child’s​ ​point​ ​of view,​ ​everything​ ​she​ ​said​ ​or​ ​thought​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​believable.​ ​Her​ ​interactions​ ​with​ ​other​ ​children had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​realistic​ ​for​ ​children​ ​that​ ​age.​ ​Still,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​show​ ​her​ ​story​ ​in​ ​such​ ​a​ ​way​ ​that​ ​meaning could​ ​be​ ​gained.​ ​To​ ​accomplish​ ​this,​ ​I​ ​not​ ​only​ ​worked​ ​hard​ ​on​ ​voice,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​also​ ​used​ ​symbolism for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time,​ ​adding​ ​layers​ ​to​ ​objects​ ​or​ ​gestures​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​around​ ​her​ ​to​ ​communicate​ ​the experience​ ​she​ ​was​ ​having​ ​in​ ​a​ ​richer​ ​way.

I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​love​ ​writing​ ​again​ ​when​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​the​ ​blocks​ ​in​ ​my​ ​hands​ ​weren’t​ ​just

piece​ ​of​ ​wood,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​could​ ​be​ ​arranged​ ​in​ ​specific​ ​ways​ ​to​ ​build​ ​other​ ​structures,​ ​and​ ​that those​ ​structures​ ​depended​ ​on​ ​careful​ ​placement​ ​of​ ​every​ ​piece.​ ​In​ ​my​ ​other​ ​classes,​ ​I​ ​have always​ ​loved​ ​math.​ ​In​ ​a​ ​way,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​translate​ ​writing​ ​to​ ​more​ ​mathematical​ ​context.​ ​It​ ​doesn’t sound​ ​particularly​ ​exciting,​ ​or​ ​artsy,​ ​but​ ​writing​ ​only​ ​works​ ​for​ ​me​ ​if​ ​I​ ​see​ ​the​ ​work​ ​as​ ​a​ ​puzzle, a​ ​structure,​ ​a​ ​complex​ ​combination​ ​of​ ​separate​ ​elements.​ ​Then,​ ​I​ ​can​ ​set​ ​about​ ​solving​ ​the puzzle.​ ​Finding​ ​the​ ​best​ ​combinations.​ ​To​ ​love​ ​art,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​to​ ​take​ ​it​ ​apart,​ ​and​ ​learn​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​the parts​ ​in​ ​my​ ​hand,​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​get​ ​distracted​ ​by​ ​the​ ​big​ ​picture.

Ana Shaw, Senior Editor-in-Chief

I am a Writer

lex bpTowards the middle of my sophomore year, I began losing my love and need for writing. I had exhausted the typical topics I was used to writing about, written about so many things I needed to write about, and worked out so much of my internal conflicts that I was… happy. So happy I was another cliché. Being in this satisfied place, I didn’t know what was next for me so I kind of just avoided that topic altogether, for a while at least. I figured it would go away, but, of course, it did not. I still had the rest of my life ahead of me, much less the rest of the school year and there were assignments due. While I was in this stuck place, lacking addiction I once had to writing, I wrote so many awful things about being happy. That’s when I began to think, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore. I don’t know if I am capable.” It wasn’t until I wrote a poem about new-found love, ironically the least cliché thing I’d written in so long, that I regained the knowledge that I am a writer.

I still did not feel like my normal, writer self, but after a talk with one of my beloved fellow writers and mentors, I made the decision to take the summer to stop, breathe, and stimulate my mind in other ways I had not; I needed the time to recharge and rediscover myself. I needed to stop over-thinking. I spent the time trying new restaurants, going to art museums, and going on long, hot hikes through nature. I did not read or write until one night I pulled out “If Only You People Could Follow Directions” By Jessica Hendry Nelson to loan to a friend. I decided to reread parts of it and sobbed in my bed for hours. Every emotion I had ever felt in my whole life came rushing back into my body and I thought about the first time I had ever read anything written by her. In the midst of self-discovery and freshman year the essay “Rapture of the Deep” was an in-class read. After that, it was like the marrow that had been sucked out of my bones was put back; I knew I was a writer.

It was inside of me and there was no going back; I could never not be a writer.

When I read Nelson again over the summer, it rekindled the sort of hunger we, as artist, feel in the bottom our chests to create, but also explore humanity. We are very curious human beings; we want to know. I want to know. Through my journey this far, I’ve come to realize that I can write about my situations or the things I am still struggling with in a way that is not sad or happy, but simply thoughtful. Writing does not amount to happy or sad; it amounts to the meaning of life or, what meaning you give your life.

Lex Hamilton, Co-Marketing/Social Media Editor