Miss Musings

A modern miss provides commentary on sociological and psychological issues concerning politics, the media, literature, and everyday observances.

The modern student’s college essay debacle

Ah, college. How mystical and eye-opening exposure to the American higher education system is. I am undoubtedly stoked to dip my toes in, but I have already hit an inevitable admissions road block: writing the essay. And this is coming from a writer….

Recently I discovered that no matter how many essay drafts I write, no couple of paragraphs will accurately sum up my struggles, my personality, or my (currently unknown) goals in life. It just isn’t happening. In fact, I am cleverly avoiding writing some college admissions essays by writing this very blog post. Not because I am scared of the daunting prompts – nay, I’ve seen a few odd writing requests in my time. Rather, I know my limitations as a writer. I can live and breathe a fictional character’s experiences with accurate faux-ness and ease, but it is far more difficult recounting a tale of my own. Truly, pinpointing my best qualities or hardest moments is a struggle; I would rather play darts with my eyes closed, as I would be much more accurate at something so objective. Unfortunately subjective admissions essays require a depth and insight that perhaps takes more caffeine than usual to unleash.

Essays are, arguably, the most human aspect of any college application. After all, they are meant to be manuscripts of conversations – only edited, proofread, over-thought, sanitized, and devoid of error. Where are the cute stumbles of a chat over coffee? The charming pitfalls? The relieving letting of the guard down? They were present in the earnest first drafts, but cast aside during a quest for something more impressive. I could not imagine the frustration associated with being a college essay reader, reading the same words and phrases over and over – diversity, adventurous, mature, studious, “live life to the fullest”, want, “seize opportunities,” need, and desire.

I suppose I could call for an end to essays in general. In reality, all I want is for the students to not stress over their essays so intensely. I am a writer, and every college will know that, so it is fair to assume that my essays will be scrutinized for correctness and general awe. I hope to charm universities with my quirky stories and a quick peek inside my heart, not the mind I have carved to be intelligent over my lifetime. Let me provide a quiet glance at some beating, lively and raw organ that has been engraved by exposure to both words of love and slight odium. Allow me to make my essays more of a photograph than a painting: realistic. I could change the lighting if I wanted to, or even pose, but candid shots are hard to recreate as they were never created. Finally, I will express a good story rather than some admirable adjectives or the thoughts and dreams of others. A mere snapshot of life will provide more information than a screenshot of the world on Google Maps.

To those of you entering this personal, odd and at times uncomfortable world of endless drafting, I wish you luck on your journey.

– Miss Musings

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My Tumultuous, Blood-Stained Battle with the Omnipresent Cliché

" 09 - ITALY - Verona - Muro di giulietta - lettere a Giulietta - Dino Quinzani

By Dino Quinzani (Flickr: Muro di giulietta) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Leave it to my parents to tell me that I am a good writer; I know my ability. Yet, growing up with a prolific older sister, I did not believe writing was or ever could be my territory. It seemed like an unknown world; it was akin to a sensuous piano of untapped keys that stared at me with white eyes, black pupils…

That is precisely how I wrote. I kid you not. I personified random instruments the same way a lonely romance writer would, but I, a mere 17-year-old lady, never cracked open one of those shirtless male-clad books.

This begs the question: why was my writing so cliché?

I want to blame my more immature pieces on my love of reading. Books make my brain hurt but my senses tingle, so I read a lot of stories when I was younger. This may have been a double-edged sword: I learned how to write well by reading the works of published authors, but I also learned how to copy them down to the sentence structure. I was not a writer; I was an indoctrinated soul.

But as time went on, my diction grew more unique. No longer did I try to sound like Jane Austen. I told myself – hey, Samantha, don’t be Jane. Be you. Be inspired by Jane. Do it. Just WRITE.

When I stopped trying to imitate authors, I found a whole new way to write: by being myself. It is horrible to read the same thing twice, so it is only my hope that people will read my writing and feel enlightened simply because I said something differently than the author they read stories from in their AP Literature class. Through a bit of introspection and practicing completely self-generated writing, I learned the art of being a writer instead of a cliché machine.

It took time. I have edited my writing meticulously, wrote actively, stayed aware of my cliché trap, and attempted to be myself through-and-through while writing, even if I was a bit scared of how a piece would turn out. Then I would remember that there is always editing. But writing? It’s boundless. I would tell myself fine then, be cliché, and then change your words at your will. I fought my inner editor for countless pieces, only to unleash her on some of the most cliché articles and poems I have written. I told myself that writing from every corner of my mind, whether it turned out cliché or otherwise, was okay, because it was the only way my writing would improve. Inner editor (I call her Edna) will spice it up after the words go in my Word document. After a while, she came to visit me less, because I finally grew comfortable with writing as me; I wasn’t so cliché after all.

Quiet the inner editor. Don’t worry about being cliché. If you are cliché, fix the problem after you write something. But the chances are, if you write as yourself, you may create the most original pieces of us all.

How do you fight being cliché? Tweet Miss Musings with your tips!

How to write like a published author – or better

A lot of people ask me how I write how I do; so I figured, why not just write a guide for blooming young writers?

  • First, read a lot. I don’t mean John Green books and Twilight – those are rather juvenile in my opinion; in fact the last time I read a Young Adult novel I was humored by the immature language and uninspiring sentence structure. Instead, read something brilliant that speaks to you: for example, I like to fixate myself on specific time periods and read little-known memoirs. I also frequently read medical papers and acclaimed poetry. While reading these types of literature is time-consuming and difficult, the act exercises your brain and teaches you how to write descriptively and persuasively.
  • Read different things. Variety truly is KEY: read poems, memoirs, short stories, novellas, creative writing, non-fiction… the only way to write uniquely is to synthesize styles; the only way to do this is to read literature of different styles. For example, I utilize myriad creative writing techniques in my journalistic pieces. Feel free to mix it up and explore.
  • Fake it until you make it. I often idolize certain authors, some being Poe, Austen, Rowling, and Plath. Once you find a writer you like, try to mimic his or her style. Don’t rewrite what he or she has; try to analyze the tones of pieces and how they are conveyed, and then write your own masterpiece.
  • Write every day. You heard me. If you want to be a great writer, you really need to be prolific. I write anywhere from 500 to 2000 words per day, on top of taking AP classes, participating in extracurricular activities, volunteering, editing, reading, and studying. It may seem like homework at first, but once you start getting jolts of creativity, you are going to crave the catharsis provided by writing every day.
  • Edit your own writing. While it is great to receive feedback from teachers and friends, you need to learn how to improve your own pieces. Thus, you should actually read what you write. Do you repeat certain words a lot? Are your transitional phrases lacking? Is the overall style kind of “meh” and lackluster? Be your own harshest critic so you can be aware of problems before they emerge.

 

Finally, always, ALWAYS try to figure out a new way to describe an old idea. Look, a lot of people write about the same topics: love, vampires, crushes, empowerment, society, teenage crises, loving yourself… they are all overdone. This is not just because these topics are frequently written about, but because they are written about in the same way, and from the same angle. Provide a new perspective on a tried-and-true concept. Voice your story, not the story you just read. Trust me, clichéd writing is something I have had to fight for years – no hyperbole intended – but if I can beat it, you can beat it. It is a process worth going through because you will gain amazing results.

 

 

Diagnosis: Writing Anxiety

Everyone has some form of downtime to partake in. I know people who play the flute, read, paint, draw, illustrate, dance, and sing. However, the form of downtime my friends and I share is one special activity: writing.

I suppose I should expect to have a bunch of writer friends; I edit for all of my school’s publications, and a lot of young people thoroughly enjoy writing. I did not expect, however, to experience the reluctance some writers have for sharing their work with others.

 

Just do it.

Just do it. (Still from Sprint commercial). Source: http://www.cultofandroid.com/15519/sprint-starts-say-no-to-sharing-campaign-against-shared-data-plans/

 

Plenty of my friends write, though I have never read a single piece of work by them. On the other hand, I have looked over a handful of friends’ creative writing and reporting pieces. The question that is bothering me is logical: what separates the open writers from the closed?

I have decided that all of us, regardless of our extroversion as writers, face some level of writing anxiety. I fall somewhere in the middle of the open-closed spectrum: while I frequently share my writing with people, I always feel a bit nervous in doing so; I am afraid that they may critique it harshly or worse, not critique it at all. Also, some pieces are easier for me to broadcast than others. I can squelch writing anxiety to a degree.

Perhaps all writers have writing anxiety, even those of us who share words with other people. It is indisputable that we are all secretly afraid of being criticized for our opinions and viewpoints. Still, some of us share our works hoping that we will learn from other people’s comments, while others feel that outside feedback is unnecessary. This does not mean closed writers are more confident in their artistry, but they may not feel a desire to be validated by other writers on something that is so personally connected to them.

 

Don't touch my writing!

Don’t touch my writing! Source: http://mrwgifs.com/no-touchy-kuzco-kronk-in-emperors-new-groove-gif/

 

Truthfully, it is fine to not want to share your writing. For me, writing helps me reason with myself. It is something I do instinctively every day, and I often enjoy the result of the activity. If someone read literally everything I ever wrote they would probably understand my thought process to an unnatural point, which would make our situation as friends rather uncomfortable. Though we all love feedback, especially the positive and constructive kinds, writing is more than an attention trap; it is an art, and it is a form of expression. When you critique someone’s writing, you draw attention to their thought process or view of the world, and then point out its flaws. This process is painfully difficult to accept for lots of people, sensitive or not, so not exposing their worlds to people for feedback is a perfectly appropriate method of self-defensive for many writers. They are simply protecting the one thing people will never be able to fully have access to: their minds.

One final note: when people reveal that they do not want to share their writing, realize they may have writing anxiety, but don’t share your pity – respect their privacy.

Do you have trouble sharing your writing with other people? 

My secret novel-in-verse

secret

Source: http://www.thecoast.ca/RealityBites/archives/2011/09/29/right-to-know-week-day-3secret-government-meetings

 

I don’t let anyone read poems written by my twelve-year-old self, period. But outside of this minor restriction, I have made a great effort to becoming more open with my writing. I frequently write for a creative writing blog, posting everything from serials to poetry; although I kiss each piece goodbye like a mother would: very reluctantly. Certainly I write prolifically for various publications, and I have even created this blog in order to inspire others and publicly spread some light to those who are trapped in perpetual night.

Let me tell you: I have discovered that sharing words, combined into well-phrased sentences, is vastly liberating. Nonetheless, I still hold certain pieces of writing closer than others; yet here I am, healthily outing one of my creative projects: my unpublished novel-in-verse.

To be candid, some writers physically have to write when they are inspired, lest they internalize a shallow viewpoint. When I witnessed a piece of art, the film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I shocked myself by not crying. Instead a new feeling of anger, power, and desire to end worldwide hatred helped me discover a new point of interest: researching the holocaust, and in particular, how it is portrayed through myriad art forms.

 

Still from the movie The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Still from the movie The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Source: http://theboyinthestripedpajamasproject.weebly.com/friendship.html

 

I read countless novels, memoirs, poems, articles, and scholastic papers on genocide. I watched The Pianist and listened to Chopin for hours afterwards. But none of these creative activities, however interesting, satisfied me as much as writing, so I decided to generate my own way of coping with a situation I would hopefully never have to endure.

So I wrote lines of poetry as I thought of them. There was no general framework for the piece or any planning. I did not know who would survive the wreckage. Truthfully, I was not even fully set on the names of the characters. I had soaked in so many emotions from the victims, families and portrayers of the holocaust that my only catharsis resulted from writing my own reaction to such a tragic moment in history.

Writing my secret novel-in-verse means I have the power to cope with anything; it means I have the ability to create – to procure instead of destroy feelings. It means I have strength in my mind that allows me to summarize indescribable emotions.

 

How I feel when I write poetry

How I feel when I write poetry. Source: http://www.sodahead.com/entertainment/clap-along-and-post-your-favorite-songs-about-being-happy/question-4221899/

 

Yet, regardless of this skill that I may possess; I have trouble letting anyone read poetry written from a vulnerable place. Perhaps all writers do.

I research what bothers me: my struggles with poets

Cognitive dissonance in action.

Cognitive dissonance in action. Source: http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/cognitive-dissonance-in-psychology-theory-examples-definition.html#lesson

 

The power of psychological disturbance is greater than you may imagine, especially when it is transcribed in the English language. Undoubtedly, we accept what is normal easily, and what isn’t, not so easily. This follows the theory of cognitive dissonance: we remember what sticks out to us, because it is atypical.

When I read books, I aim to read them actively. In doing so, certain words stick out to me. An author’s diction sticks to my throat.

Most of these words and phrases are centered on topics that I have little knowledge of: for example, strained relationships, depression deeper than mere medication can heal, or oppression few people could handle long enough to carry out the plot of a short novel.

I distinctly remember reading the poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath for my literature class. It shook me about in that bothersome literary way. The metaphors of fascism and the holocaust that Plath employed affected me, as I was deeply involved in independent genocide research at the time. Shortly after I finished reading the poem I ordered Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar, from the library and absorbed its richness page by page. A quick Google search lent me a key fact: the book is semi-autobiographical. Hence, Esther Greenwood’s enigmatic personality must be a reflection of Plath’s, and was written by a primary source. Plath’s unabridged journal collection fell into my hands, as did several medical papers, and I went on researching, intensely and meticulously, this woman who adjusted the definitions of modern-day psychological disorders.

 

Segment of Plath's writing.

Segment of Plath’s writing. Source: http://data2.whicdn.com/images/74477080/thumb.jpg

 

This, along with a quick trip to Target for a caffeine-loaded soda, was my personal-enrichment project weekends ago. Days later I was assigned to read and analyze a feminist novel entitled “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. I was enticed by the romantic, iced-cupcake style of language, but when I bit into it, something tasted sour. Edna committed suicide by drowning.

After reading several pieces by Sylvia Plath, this little event should not have affected me as deeply as it did. But a character I related to, whom I spent one-hundred pages with, intentionally sank in the ocean.

There had to be a deeper meaning.

Thankfully, there was. More than one, actually: Edna’s suicide has been debated by world-renowned scholars, and her purpose has been analyzed from feminist and humanist perspectives. I scanned pages of discussion on this act of defiance, trying to understand why my literary doppelganger decided to sacrifice everything without “thinking of the children.”

Throughout all of this, I had my own “awakening”: what disturbs me prompts my intellectual discovery. The cognitive dissonance created in my mind by wordsmiths, while not original, is influential on me as an inquirer. I Google what bothers me; I learn from the mistakes of characters. They spark movements in my mind.

What is the most disturbing yet thought-provoking thing you have ever read?