Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Now What? For Dhonielle, School’s Out for — Well, Forever!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On June - 18 - 2012

closedforsummer color Now What? For Dhonielle, Schools Out for    Well, Forever!So school is out, and I’ve decided that I will not go back (except to culinary school when I’m 35). Now what?

Well, lots of things…

I’m moving to another New York City apartment — yay!

I’m going to Hawaii.

I’m teaching summer school in Harlem again.

I’m going to South Africa to visit Amy Ewing with Jess Verdi.

I’m going to catch up on reading!

But first off, it’s business as usual. Writing! Writing! Writing!

And critiquing… I’m looking forward to continuing to read my classmates’ work, as well as that of my other writer friends. I like deadlines and I like the feedback I receive from my classmates. We’ve been off for a couple weeks since graduation, so I’ve been able to recharge my battery, and getting ready to get back in the saddle again.

It’s time to work now. Usually, I HATE the summer. The heat makes me a slug. But I’ve decided to use these three months to do a lot of work, so when September 1st rolls around I feel good about what I’ve accomplished.

My plan is to turn in another revised manuscript to my agent in August and to start something brand new. I work well with self-imposed deadlines and stress. Somehow in my head I make up this story that my lovely (and patient) agent Emily has called me frantic and upset, wanting the manuscript on a certain date. Then I work like a dog to meet this made up deadline. It has worked well so far, and I’ll be keeping with that tradition.

I hope to head into the fall with an arsenal of fun things to share and celebrate.

Photo Credit: Momland.wordpress.com

The First Year: Full of Realizations for Riddhi

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On May - 31 - 2011

 The First Year: Full of Realizations for RiddhiThe first year of the MFA program at The New School was full of realizations. Moving away from home, halfway across the world from Bombay (also known as Mumbai) to New York City had a lot more in store for me than I could imagine. The last eight or nine months introduced me to a whole new world. One full of more books than I was used to seeing on my bedside table, weekly meetings with inspiring teachers, life experiences lined with lessons and a wonderful bunch of classmates that encouraged (and continue to encourage) me to reach my goal as a writer.

Before this program, I spent over five years as a journalist, writing feature and news stories for a newspaper. This has largely shaped my habit of writing—perhaps negatively. I always write closer to a deadline, a habit that I believe stemmed from my days as a journalist. But writing a book or a story, as a novice, with no agent or publishing house monitoring my progress, is not half as easy as I imagined. I always knew the stories were flowing through me, but this MFA program has taught me the importance of setting deadlines for myself. With many of my peers from class already published or well on their path to it, the stakes have gotten really high. I know that it is up to me first to churn out something meaningful, and this will not come without practice.

I’ve set myself a lofty goal for the summer, to read a book a week and write a hundred pages of my novel. I consider the second part of my goal lofty for a few reasons:

1. I’m still unlearning my journalistic ways, of waking up hours before a deadline and spewing words and research onto a page.

2. I’m spending the summer in India, where for the first time in many years, I’m on holiday: I don’t have to wake up and make myself breakfast. I don’t have to bother with the dishes or laundry. I don’t have to really lift a finger AND I do not have a class of attentive readers picking on every word I have penned and helping me with their feedback.

While many of my classmates (Mary especially) said that the target of writing a hundred pages through three months is rather easy (I simply had to get on it like it was a job) I think the challenge is going to test me. I hope to accomplish this goal through the summer and be thick in the game when I go back to NYC in the fall of 2011, ready to be workshopped for the next two semesters.

Photo courtesy of WVS: The Technical Writing Company


The First Year: A Rollercoaster Ride for Dhonielle

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 2 - 2011

rollercoaster 460 803453c 300x187 The First Year: A Rollercoaster Ride for Dhonielle Warm weather has settled upon New York City and turned my mind into mush. I am not a huge fan of hot weather because it makes me sluggish and distracted, and thus less prolific or focused on school/writing. So this is a great time for the semester to come to an end, because I’m transforming into the biggest slacker of all time (even more than in the fall). As a former teacher with summers off, all I can think about is Mexican food, the beach, wandering New York City after 7 p.m. when it cools off, Shake Shack burgers, and summer reading lists.

I’m both saddened and very relieved that the first year of the MFA program is complete. I am itching for a break from the constant feedback, assessment, and opinions on my writing, just to get some “head space” to be creative and play around with a new project. The first semester was a whirlwind experience between exploring various projects in a workshop with Hettie Jones and a heavy reading load from David Levithan. The second semester got increasingly harder. Workshop became a bumpy road with our new professor, Tor Seidler, and his “intense” style of criticism and feedback, plus having to write on the spot in our middle grade literature class with Susan van Metre. I love middle grade literature, so I found the literature class exciting and interesting. But my creative muscle fatigued from trying to finish my middle grade novel as well as crafting new scenes based on writing prompts. Each Tuesday and Wednesday night, I left class with a migraine, and a desire to have this semester come to an end.

I’m thoroughly exhausted and thought at times: Why the hell did I decide to get an MFA?

But, alas, despite my criticism, the whole year has been successful. We launched a great blog as a class, I finished my MG fantasy novel, I wrote scenes in the MG literature class that may turn into novels, and I’ve gotten some fantastic, life-long critique partners. I achieved my goal for the first year: finish a book.

I am sad that we only have one more year of the program before it’s “show time.” Either I sell a book or get another job. But like I tell my father, I am just not made for “real work” (haha!), and I love the broke-ass life of a writer.

For the summer, I hope to continue the momentum I’ve set up. Here are my goals for the fall:

  • Finish another MG fantasy novel
  • Get an intern for TWB to help make the blog even better
  • Finish a ghost-writing project
  • Launch a new author website and update it

In the fall, we must take a class outside of our discipline of children’s literature and join the other MFA students. I am not looking forward to this at all. I don’t want to be forced to read adult texts and would love to take a course on picture books or early readers. Here is where The New School fails its Writing for Children students, whereas programs at Simmons College and Hollins University have the upper-hand on great literature courses in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. But I will get off my soap-box!

My first year in an MFA program has been a rollercoaster, but worth the ride.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

Posted by Corey Haydu On February - 23 - 2011

comicquery Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

I’m on the road to (hopeful) publication. Step One: The Query Letter.

Fact: QueryTracker is an evil enterprise designed to make writers go insane.

Fact: The New York City dating scene is, miraculously, less stressful than the agent search.

Fact: My time in the New York City dating scene included a guy who talked about himself in the third person (G-Man. I’m not kidding) and a guy whose big business plan was to sell tampons on the internet. Just giving you a basic sense of the levels of stress we are talking about here.

Fact: I am currently totally qualified to be working on my novel about obsessive-compulsive disorder because I have developed a OCD habit of checking email over the last month of querying.

For those who don’t know about the process of getting published, it basically starts with a query letter. This query letter has to pithily describe your book in a way that is both original and accessible, descriptive and contained, literary and commercial. Also, it requires bragging about yourself modestly and not sounding insane.

It’s a tall order.

Lucky for me, I have classmates who are actually good at this kind of skill. In the words of my boyfriend, I “go on” sometimes. I’m pretty sure this is a nice/vague way of saying that in my attempt to describe my work I end up writing something longer than the actual novel. I also lack certain skills, like writing business-y letters or basically doing anything that isn’t either writing creatively or serving cocktails to weird tourists or picking out really good restaurants.

But with people like Alyson and Sona on my team I am UNSTOPPABLE. These girls took my 27 page query letter* (*dramatic interpretation of reality) and made it a nice little three paragraph superstar query letter.

Once the query letter was polished into perfection, I added on a few fun quirky details (being careful not to “go on” too much) and picked out the agents who would be lucky enough to consider it. Once agents receive your query letter, they decide whether or not they actually want to check out the book. Sadly, they can (and very often do!) reject the manuscript based on the query letter alone.

This is where the obsessing begins.

Because there is a website called QueryTracker, on which you can see who else is submitting queries, how long it takes agents to get in touch with them, how often agents request Full Manuscripts after seeing an initial query letter, and who is actually getting an agent. Then, if you are prone to craziness, you do complex Beautiful Mind-like calculations to see how likely it is that you will become famous soon.

Note: I never finished high school math.

Note: This is a completely true fact. I squirmed my way out of any math after sophomore year. It has not yet affected my life negatively in any way. Aside from an unfortunate idea to attempt taking the Math SAT 2, which, funny enough, requires you actually have finished your basic math requirements.

The point is: I do not actually have the skills to do any mathematical equations but I’m so nervous and impatient that I, for the first time ever, wish I had learned things like probability and percentages and algebra back in the day.

Long story short: Agents are looking at my novel. It has been exactly one month since I began querying. I am a super-fun combination of excited and terrified. I am a joy to be around.

More on this process later. I must go watch The Biggest Loser, which is the only thing able to distract me from my thoughts of agents and query letters.

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

A Look Back at First Semester: Sona’s Finding Her Balance

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 30 - 2011

balance A Look Back at First Semester: Sona’s Finding Her Balance

My theme for first semester? Much too much. Much too much work, much too much reading, much too much paper-writing, much too much time spent chasing after my baby. Colds, the flu, Levithan-worthy paper-induced stupors. Panels and workshops and readings, oh my. Much too much of everything.

And much too little time spent writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved every minute of it.

But as I do for everything, I had big expectations for first semester. Over-blown, over-ambitious, lofty goals. That is just my way. Big dreams, always. And fire, sure. But this time, I think, maybe I took on more than even I, in my typically Type A way, could manage.

A baby, for starters. A beautiful, exciting, enthralling and exhausting experience. She’s so fun, but boy does she take up a lot of energy. The fix: as much as it pains me, Kavi’s going to daycare fulltime. I honestly need the few extra hours a day she’ll be there to actually write. And the time that I spend with her can really be Kavi time. At the New School, I have this once-in-lifetime opportunity to really focus on this goal, this phantom thing I’ve been hopin’ and dreamin’ about for years. It’s now or never. I better make the most of it.

Work. To make a good dent in my apparently crippling grad school debt as I go along, I decided to amp it up. I’m about two years into building my own writing business, and happily, things are going well. But feast or famine is the nature of this beast. And so last semester, I took on a lot — too much — because I could. It hurt. So now it’s time to refocus here on working smarter, being more strategic, and learning, despite the pinch, to sometimes say no.

School. It’s been so energizing and enthralling, getting to know my classmates and their work, being focused on the craft of writing, delving into the canon of teen fiction under the wise tutelage of none other than David Levithan himself. But boy, did first semester kick my ass. Granted, it needed kicking. Still, one thing I most wanted out of my time at the New School — and didn’t give myself — was the concentrated writing time. As my New Year’s Writing Resolutions state, that all changes this semester. I can’t wait.

An education. Sure, I already said school. But between being involved with Teen Writers Bloc and all the readings and events we’ve been going to, I feel like I’ve learned a profound amount already about the way “writing as a career” actually works. Libba Bray. Rachel Cohn. Scott Westerfeld. Alumni like Coe Booth and Jenny Han. New York City is teeming with teen authors who are all about sharing their insights and experiences. There’s a real sense of community amongst them (and amongst us, already!). It’s overwhelming. And it’s awesome. And I can’t wait to be a part of it all.
Image courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr

A Look Back At First Semester: Caela’s Still Striving

Posted by Caela Carter On January - 28 - 2011

blog first semester image A Look Back At First Semester: Caela’s Still StrivingI am where I always wanted to be.

I keep reminding myself. I started exploring MFA programs in 2004, six years before I actually set foot in a classroom. After years of researching just about every program in the country; keeping spreadsheets on application materials, acceptance rates, professors and rankings; writing and re-writing chapters and stories for application samples; and tweaking my personal statements repeatedly, I finally applied to eleven programs in 2009. Although I was accepted into many, after visiting several disappointing classrooms, I realized that I am going to get an MFA once; I didn’t want to rush into it. Instead, I went back to the drawing board and applied again in 2010, this time getting admitted to six out of eight programs and happily accepting a spot at The New School, my top choice.

So I am where I want to be. Right?

Finally, the first word that answers what I’m doing with my life is “writing.” I have broken out of the short story format that was stuck in my brain from undergraduate courses and completed a novel. I live in New York. I have met so many authors for teens it’s overwhelming. I understand this career as a business, instead of purely an art form. I am writing thousands of words every day. I have a group of talented peers invested in my career and open to allowing me to be invested in theirs. If you Google-search my name, the first hit you get is about writing for teens.

So, yes, I am where I want to be. But now I don’t want to be here anymore.

Now that I’ve written a novel, I want to know how to pitch it — how to make it sound as fresh as I hope it is.

Now that I’m in a serious MFA program, I want an agent.

Now that I’m writing everyday for several hours, I want to be able to give up the day job and just write.

There is no denying that I got somewhere this semester — a full draft of a novel, at least fifty books read, and, in a way, a re-shaping of my entire identity from “teacher” to “writer.” There is no denying that I’ve been happy, or that it was worth waiting the six years to take this step at the right time. But now I feel like I won’t really be satisfied until I get an agent. And then I won’t be satisfied until I sell a book. And then I won’t be satisfied until I sell a lot of books.

This semester, we heard a lot of people tell us not to write for the money, and I’m not. They say we have to write because it’s the only way to make us happy, and I am. But the stakes are higher than that. We need food on our tables and roofs over our heads and if our writing isn’t going to put them there, something else in our lives will be eating up our precious writing minutes and dominating our brain cells. I want writing to be my career so that I don’t have to fill up my days being something that I’m just not.

But for now, I’ll just keep writing for myself and reminding myself: I am where I want to be. And, hopefully, it won’t be another six years before I take the next step.

A Look Back At First Semester: Jess’s Pre-Second Semester Musings

Posted by Jessica Verdi On January - 26 - 2011

writing 300x241 A Look Back At First Semester: Jess’s Pre Second Semester MusingsI can’t believe we’re already starting our second semester. Our first semester went by more quickly than I could have imagined. We only have two semesters of classes left and then we’ll be in the throes of thesis-mode. Crazy. But time flies when you’re having fun, right?

By leaps and bounds, The New School Writing for Children program has exceeded my expectations. That could be because I really had no expectations going into it — I had never been part of a writing program or a workshop group before and I really had no clue what I was in for. But I’m glad I took the leap, because I’ve found a wonderful writing community, people I admire and trust to help me make my work as good as it can possibly be. Not only are these people great critiquers, they have such immense knowledge about children’s and teen literature, it’s inspiring just to have conversations about books. Outside of this program, I don’t know anyone who shares my love of YA literature nearly as much as these awesome peeps.

As far as for my own goals, I truly believe that I am already a better writer than when I first started the program, and I hope that will continue to be the case. My plan for this next semester is to write as much as I possibly can, and try (futile as it may be) to not let myself get too bogged down with class assignments so that I have no time to work on my own writing. That was my mistake in the first semester, but I’ve learned my lesson. In a writing program, the actual writing should take precedence!

New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Alyson’s New Years Non-Resolution

Posted by Alyson Gerber On January - 12 - 2011

6408 527567608262 14100174 31545001 7636841 n 300x225 New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Alyson’s New Years Non ResolutionI’m a New Year’s resolution failure. In fact, I’ve screwed up every routine I’ve ever established, regardless of the season. During my senior year in high school, despite my Jewish roots, I gave up dessert for Lent, and ended up practically eating my body weight in chocolate over those 40 days. I don’t do well with restrictions or guidelines and I can’t follow directions, even when I’ve written them myself.

In the past, I think my goals have been too lofty: finish and sell a three part series of middle grade books, always have a stocked fridge, run a marathon. So a year later, when I’m ordering Chinese, because all I have in my kitchen is coffee and a bag of dry pasta, I’m only sixty pages into the first book in my dream series, and I’ve barely made it through three treadmill miles, I’m sure I’m destined to choke on my vegetable lo mein having accomplished nothing.

In 2011, almost halfway through my twenty-sixth year, I refuse to make a resolution, which I guess is sort of a resolution. I’m not afraid to fail. In fact, I expect to ― in my life and in my writing. But this year, I don’t want to manufacture it.

New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Jane Wants to Get Things Done

Posted by Jane Moon On January - 11 - 2011

pen and paper1 150x84 New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Jane Wants to Get Things Done

A problem that I’ve often encountered while writing is not being able to finish a story. Last semester, I started a novel, but only got as far as the third chapter. After several days of trying to figure out what would happen next, I decided to begin another story instead. Then the same problem happened and I started a third story. Therefore, my first New Year’s writing resolution is to complete, at the very least, the first drafts of these three stories by the end of the year.

In order to do this, I need to make another writing resolution. Once I have something written down, I’m usually hesitant to make too many changes. I get stuck on one idea and I feel my story MUST go down a specific path. So here’s my second resolution: Don’t be afraid to give my writing some freedom and to explore. I may not only find new paths, but streets and avenues may open up. I might even discover a hidden trail that will lead me to a great story.

This leads me to my last writing resolution. I got great critiques from my classmates for my first two pieces, but I wasn’t sure how to incorporate their suggestions into my stories without making them sound less like me and more like someone else. But then it hit me: my classmates are helping me improve my writing, not change my style of writing. My stories will always sound like they’re from me as long as I’m the one writing them. So here’s my third resolution: Be open to input and always remember that, in the end, my goal is to make my writing better.

Happy New Year!

dreams1 199x300 New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Amber vows to ‘Hold Fast To [Her] Dreams’ Despite the fact that I am still stunned by the fact that 2011 is now here, I do in fact have a resolution or two to make regarding my writing. Usually I don’t make resolutions because they seem to not last past January 31st. However, with such a great support system around me now, I’m confident that I will be reminded of what I wrote here and forced to abide by the rules I’ve put in place for myself.

My first — and most important — resolution is to write. Work, class, dinner, sleep, phone calls, texts, the Huffington Post, movies, books,  friends, Glee on Hulu, shopping for work clothes and for food and cleaning supplies for my suite, these things all somehow seem take precedence over the one thing that I’ve always wanted to be the center of my universe. Well, not in 2011, I vow. (Sort of.) Honestly, the best I can say is that I’m going to try my best to make sure that, unless it’s something work-related, my writing will come first. Once we’re in the midst of classes and reading and papers again, who knows? But, for now, this is my plan.

Now, that said, my only other resolution is to let myself experiment more with my process. I have all these ideas, but I get inhibited by my efforts to find the right words, to tell the right story, to convey the “right” message. In the beginning, it always seems like over-analyzing will benefit my work, but I’m learning more and more that it won’t. So I hope to just see what happens as I go, and to tell the story that I want to tell, instead of worrying about what everyone else will think about it.  There will be time for that during the revision stage.

As I write this, I can’t help but think of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “kitchenette building.” In essence, it speaks to what a luxury it is to be able to dream of being something more, something better than you could ever have imagined, especially when you have immediate responsibilities that must be dealt with. Well, herein lies my third resolution, and it is not just for me, but for those closest to me as well. Here’s hoping that in this New Year we can all remember to hold onto our dreams– as another great poet, Langston Hughes, advised–so that none of us squander our ability to dream, nor any chances we have to live out our dreams, regardless of whatever else we may be facing in life.

pixel New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Amber vows to ‘Hold Fast To [Her] Dreams’

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