Why It’s Absolutely Okay to Write Badly

One of my favorite writers, Cinda Williams Chima, recently made a post on Goodreads saying, “I give myself permission to write badly,” in answer to a question about how she gets past writer’s block.

That’s really what writer’s block, isn’t it? The fear of failure. The doubt that you might not have something important to say. The uncertainty that what you have to say won’t be well-received.

It’s completely okay to write badly though. A first draft is not a final product, and no one expects perfection on the first try.

Writing, like just about everything else in life, is a skill. It must be learned. It must be practiced. You won’t get it perfectly right straight off the bat, so why sweat the terrible first try?

This is a process I’ve been undergoing myself as I write my novel and novella. As I go writing, I find myself reading back a section and thinking, “No, that doesn’t work. I should do this instead.”

That process of editing while writing will delay you terribly. It sets you back to the point where you keep rewriting and revising what you already put down, keeping you from the finish line.

To stop myself from the eternal edit mode, I make notes in the document saying to come back to this. Essentially, I say, “This is future Meagan’s problem.”

It’s fine to write something that doesn’t work the first time you write it down. That’s what revising and editing are for.

You’ll make a rough draft. Then you’ll do developmental edits, revising the story strucuture or character development. Next, you’ll do line edits where you scour the manuscript line by line for syntax. Finally, you’ll do copy edits for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Do you see how many steps it takes to get to the final, finished product? How could you ever expect to do all that work on the first round? It’s not possible (or at least highly improbable).

Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft. It might not make sense. It might make you cringe when you look back on it. But it’s how you’re going to learn how to tell a compelling story.

The important thing is to simply start. More important still, to keep going. Even if you reach the point where your story gets published, you’ll feel like it’s not done yet. That is the nature of art. It always feels like a work in progress.

Something that helped me get past that constant need to go back and edit was writing each chapter of my novel in a separate document. If it wasn’t all together in one document, I couldn’t go back and edit.

Also, I started tracking what was happening in the story by making an outline with chapter summaries. If something felt like it was missing or I realized a story inconsitency, I made a note in the outline to go back and change or fix that element.

Finding tactics that keep moving your writing forward will help you get past the writer’s block. Are there any processes you practice that help with writer’s block? Share them in the comments!

Becoming a Real Writer

It’s hard to feel the confidence to say you’re a writer. I often said I like to write, but never really said I was a writer. Even when I started writing a book, I still didn’t call it a book. I called it a story or manuscript at most.

Recently though, the more I write and the more people ask what I’m working on, I started saying, “Oh, I’m writing a novel.” The first time those words came out of my mouth without any hesitation took me for a loop. When had I made the tranistion from hobby writing to writer?

As I think about the transition, I realize it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took place over the course of years of honing my craft and practicing the skill. It started as, I like to write, then changed to, I am writing stories and poems, until eventually it turned into I’m working on a manuscript.

The day I first said out loud, “I’m writing a book,” I knew I had arrived at the next phase. I am a writer. What a thrilling and yet nerve-inducing feeling it was. To speak the words, “I am a writer,” is no small feat. Ridding myself of the imposter syndrome has taken years, nay, decades, of hard work.

So, when do you know you’re a writer? When do you know you’re a real writer? The answer is: there’s no formula. It’s different for everyone. The idea of “real” before a label is arbitrary. For me, it happened when I stopped being scared of what people would think if I said, “I’m a writer, but I don’t have any big, famous publications.”

Others may never publish anything at all and consider themselves writers. That’s great. The truth is, only you can define yourself. If you want to call yourself a writer, then you’re a writer. Don’t let others’ expectations or standards sway you from your path.

What about any other fellow writers out there? When did you start to consider yourselves “real” writers? What does being a writer mean to you? Let me know in the comments!

Wanderlust: Ireland (Killarney & Ring of Kerry)

The next stop on my tour of Ireland back in March 2017 was the town of Killarney. This was somewhere between a small town and a big city, so, suburb. Strolling through the square at night with my new friends felt like I’d been doing that my whole life.

In the morning, our tour director arranged for horse carriage rides through a nearby park. We bumped along the gravel road right next to the cars driving on the street, locals on their way to their daily lives.

By now, our group was accustomed to the cool grey skies with flurries of drizzles. The cold no longer digs into our bones, at least, for us Floridians. Instead, the sting of the cold air refreshes and wakes us up.

Even out in the suburbs, Ireland proves to never lack any green. The carriage ride took us through a park forest covered in moss and mud, following the gravel path created by modern-day citizens.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Ireland without a visit to another crumbling castle. Fortress remains are scattered throughout the country, making it a land perfect for those who love the fairytale aesthetic.

Even the lake nearby with swans feels like a picture straight out of a Disney movie. There are tourists walking all along the grounds, but I imagine at night it would be emptier, making it prime real estate for a story about a haunting.

The next stop in Killarney is the Red Fox Inn, famous for its Irish coffee. This was probably one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. At 7 a.m., I was served black coffee poured over whiskey, and topped with frothy cream. From the first sip I found myself thinking, “Now this is how you should wake up every morning.” There’s something to be said about sharing an early morning coffee and liquor with a group of strangers who are for the time being your best friends.

As we continued our trek around the Ring of Kerry, we encountered the brightest, bluest, and sunniest day in Ireland, stopping by the beach. It’s not what this Florida girl expected when I was told the beach, but it was beautiful nonetheless. I also took a rock and snuck it through airport security on the trip back (shhh!).

The bus ride around the Ring of Kerry took us through rolling hills of green, well, mountains really. The Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mixed with the brisk Irish weather and gray skies was a sight to behold. The country has so much beautiful scenery to offer, each day in the Emerald Isles made it harder to look forward to my trip back home.

One of the last stops before leaving County Kerry was the Killarney National Park. We only got to spend a couple of hours in the magical forest, but it is a hiker’s dream. Just a few minutes viewing the spectacular Torc Waterfall was enough to inspire a spirit of adventure that leaves me longing for more.

You can get lost along the many roads and countrysides that Ireland has to offer, and never feel aimless. It’s the kind of place that gives new life to the cliche, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”

For more posts about my trip to Ireland, see the following links: 1, 2, and 3.

If any of you have ever traveled Ireland, let me know in the comments. What were your favorite highlights? If you haven’t gone, which of these sights do you want to see?

Meagan Reads Fiction: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I picked this book up for black history month and finished it just before February ended.

Image from Goodreads

Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman growing up in Africa with some of the same concerns as most teenagers, and some not so common.

As she navigates her youth and becomes a college student, the constant protests and walk-outs from the schools’ faculties makes it hard for her and her friends to get an education. She decides to go to America, leaving her high school sweetheart Obinze behind.

This novel is not told in chronological order, but that’s the base storyline from which all the other events and moments that take place are founded on. The book takes on the Herculean task of addressing numerous sociopolitical issues, from race to feminism to sexual assault to class to culture and so much more.

While the material sounds heavy and overwhelming, Adichie’s writing is so precise and focused, that it never feels like it’s all over the place. The story itself doesn’t take on a linear structure, but its commentary and social elements are clear and articulate.

Even when the protagonist is working through the issues herself, Adichie’s development of Ifemelu’s feelings and actions in regards to them feels like real life. Sure, the characterization conveys the sense of a messy human being, but the writing itself is never a mess.

The events throughout the novel are broken up by posts that Ifemelu writes for her blog, each one relating to the particular scene happening at the moment. It was interesting to see the character’s introspective moments take place in this format, as it presented her thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a cohesive manner that couldn’t be conveyed by the narration.

One of the salient points that stood out to me is that Ifemelu is often irked by displays of false identities. She doesn’t care for two-faced people, and yet in participating in her blog that sends her into internet fame, she too wears a mask. This hypocrisy might make for an unlikeable character to some, but for me personally, I found it realistic and just plain human.

Of the many issues touched on in this novel, its handling of mental illness and how it is perceived in other cultures stood out. The basic understanding brought to light by the African characters surrounding Ifemelu is that mental illness and conditions are fake diseases made up by white people.

When Ifemelu experiences anxiety and depression, her best friend Ginika recognizes the symptoms and talks to her about it. Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju though, from an older generation, says it’s just another made-up disease created by the quirky American doctors who think everything is a disease.

The split between generations and cultures creates a striking picture of how “Americanized” those who emigrated have become. However, they are still seen as foreigners and outsiders in America, but when they return to Nigeria, they are now foreigners and outsiders to their homeland.

This idea of belonging to two places and no place all at once resonated with me, as I’ve seen it second-hand with my father, and how he’s been living in this country longer than the country he was born in, and whenever we go back to visit Ecuador, he’s an outsider there now. It’s a feeling I’m sure many readers will find rings true.

Adichie’s novel doesn’t necessarily provide answers or easy fixes to the issues discussed or the problems emigrants/immigrants face. Rather, she brings the discussions to light so that those who read the book may take on the conversation, the same way her characters have.

Best Friend Strangers

Read my poem about the joys of travel friendships

The thing about traveling is that
you make temporary best friends
wherever you go. You meet a complete
stranger who overheard you say
you’re from Florida, next thing
you know you’re bonding over
how fucking cold it is in Ireland
for you two. You and your roommate
for the week salivate over parsnips
that seem to come with every meal
and by the time the farewell
dinner rolls around you’re shouting
simultaneously, “Where are the parsnips?”
and laughing at the inside joke.
You all leave and never see each
other again, never speak, but click
like on Facebook. Somehow
still bonded for life. Strangers
yet best friends by this shared experience.

Originally posted here.

Meagan Reads Poetry: My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet

I saw Aja Monet read at a poetry panel at the Miami Book Fair a couple of years back, and immediately knew I needed to pick up her book. It took me a while to do that because every time I went to look for it in a store, it was out of stock. That should tell you something right away. I finally found it at a store in Boston though, so I could finally read it!

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is a collection of poetry dedicated to the strength and vulnerability of women of color who straddle multiple worlds at once. The voice of so many of the poems feels soft, but strong, like a quiet passion. It’s feminine and reverent, like a prayer to a goddess.

Monet creates subtle, but powerful lines that evoke a primal emotion, like these:

"i cannot tell the difference
between her wailing and mine
my mother does not know
we are sisters"

In poems like “ree ree ree,” Monet uses solid images to convey a simultaneous sense of womanhood and the weight that comes with that identity, as well as freedom from identity afforded by childhood:

"how black and brown girls
gather and peel
comparing stretch marks
and playground scars."

Poems like “the young” give a raw and visceral feeling with images that pound on you as hard as the piece’s rhythm itself. This combination of detailed imagery with disciplined rhythms works to make a piece of art that hits hard.

The poems with short staccato lines create spitfire lyricism, while those with longer lines create a rich and lush cadence that conveys a sense of reverence. Monet is also adept at the use of space around words and on the page to convey sound instead of silence. The visual structure of the poems makes it feel like the blank space between words is louder than the words themselves.

Monet’s specific choice to use no capitalization and very little punctuation also plays into this sense of prayer within poetry. The collection reads as a series of pleas from the men, women, and children from the speaker’s world of simultaneous joy and sorrow.

While the first section focuses more on the power of femininity, the second part of the collection contains a cry for justice. Once again, Monet’s use of space and structure create a visual plea on the page that conveys a sense of urgency that evokes the pain behind the pleas.

The third part of the collection hones in on intimate relationships that have shaped the speaker. In the piece “selah,” Monet states:

"i love my body
when it is with your body"

This language shows a total vulnerability and insecurity that many people have, and yet in that vulnerability there is strength. It’s a personal sentiment, but one that is universal, and that’s what makes Monet’s work so brilliant.

The collection ends with a salient call to “always, be.” It’s a statement that ties the whole book together and reaffirms the very title of the collection, because the speaker knows that merely to exist is to resist, an act that those in the margins are all too familiar with.

I highly recommend this poetry collection to those who want to dive into work that lifts the voices of those who were once made voiceless. It contains so much emotion and power that long after reading, it lingers with you.

Has anyone else read My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter? What are your thoughts on the collection? Any particular poems that stood out to you? Let me know in the comments!

4 Bookish Podcasts for Your Reading Life

Aside from being an avid reader, I also love listening to podcasts. Naturally, I gravitate toward a lot of bookish pods. I started in podcasts with Welcome to Nightvale and Lore, but soon expanded from audio dramas to topical shows. My foray into the bookish podcast world started with Book Riot, and it’s only gotten better ever since. Here are my favorite reading and book podcasts (in no particular order), and what value they add to my reading life.

Book Riot

I started by reading the articles, and then delved into the audio side of the media brand. I can’t recall anymore how I stumbled upon them. It was probably through Tumblr, but regardless, this podcast about books, publishing, and the world of reading just hit all the right notes.

It incorporates everything I love about that world, from discussion of news from the publishing and book retail world to analyses of the most recent branding weirdness that Barnes & Noble does. Hosts Jeff and Rebecca cover a wide range of reading topics that can appeal to any type of book lover. Whether you’re a professional in the business side of the industry, an aspiring writer, or an avid consumer of stories, this show has something to tickle your funny bone.

Get Booked

While Book Riot is the main brand of the media group, its many other shows offer readers of all kinds just what they’re looking for. Get Booked is my other favorite podcast from BR because it appeals to my particular addiction of adding to my ridiculously large to-be-read (TBR) pile.

The hosts, Amanda and Jenn, create a fun and energetic banter while answering reader requests for book recommendations. The way this show works is listeners send in their questions for books to read, whether it’s for gifts for someone else or book club or just to find out what they should read next. Get Booked offers listeners a more interactive experience. I actually sent a request and got it answered during the very next episode, which felt so nice to hear, because it made it all that much more real.

The other part I love about this podcast is that there are often questions and backstories from listeners that may be similar to something you’ve been looking for, so once they get recommendations, you do too. Recently, they started incorporating listener feedback, in which listeners can send in their own recommendations to previous questions asked on the last episode. It makes it all feel like a community.

Overdue

Hosts Andrew and Craig make for a hilarious duo in discussing backlist “books that you’ve been meaning to read.” Each week one host reads a book and tells the other about its plot, characters, and his thoughts on the story. What I like so much about this podcast is that it sounds like my best friend and I talking about our latest reads. It’s smart, but not academic and dry, perfect for the average reader who wants to discuss themes and symbolism, but still wants to make jokes and puns to lighten the tension on those tough reads.

The most fun part are the episodes in which Andrew and Craig embark on a choose your own adventure book. The hosts will do about seven different paths, depending on how each one ends, all while getting through fits of giggles and making character voices that just absolutely make a long work commute worth the time in traffic.

Eclectic Readers

I can’t very well talk about bookish podcasts without mentioning the Eclectic Readers. Disclaimer: my cousin is on this podcast, so there may be a bit of a bias.

With this podcast, hosts Jeannette, Tara, Susan, and Meredith rotate between episodes, sometimes with all four discussing that month’s read or just a select few. They call themselves the Eclectic Readers because their tastes vary in range, reading across the board, from Pachinko to The Last Black Unicorn. They started as an in-real-life book club/virtual book club until these four hosts eventually developed a podcast for their group.

My favorite part of this podcast (aside from my cousin) is hearing their pre-show discussion of their latest non-book club reads. It feels like sitting down with friends and catching up on mutual bookish interests. Plus, there always seems to be some kind of reading or book event happening that one of them is attending, so it’s always fun to hear about those.

Listening to books and reading podcasts has only enhanced my life as a reader, whether it’s by increasing the TBR, knowing there are others like me who care about reading as much as I do, or getting the insider scoop on the publishing industry. What bookish podcasts do you recommend? Why do you like them? Let me know in the comments.