In ninth grade English class, we were taught how to write double entry journals. In a Word doc, you created a two column table. The left column contained an excerpt from the book we were studying and the right column was where you added your thoughts, observations, analyses, and questions about the passage. It was a gentle introduction to literary analysis, a precursor to the very terrible acronym PEE — Point Evidence Explanation — I was taught the following year for writing papers. Seriously, you can’t use PEE as instructional material for high schoolers.
In college, I minored in English and wrote papers on everything from T.S. Eliot to Absalom, Absalom to Shrek (for a medieval literature class). But once I graduated, I kind of shut the literary analysis part of my brain off. Obviously, I wasn’t going to write papers during my free time and I continued reading books and highlighting passages I liked. But part of me has missed doing close readings and being able to talk about a piece of writing with others. Preferably with our desks arranged in a giant circle.
I took a Zoom novel writing class with R.O. Kwon this past Saturday and one thing that stood out to me was her guiding question for revision: why do I love what I love? Why do I get so excited about a certain sentence, page, or paragraph? What is it that makes me want to throw my hands up and quit writing altogether because nothing I write could ever measure up to what my favorite writers have done?
Her writing exercise for us was essentially a double entry journal, but instead of trying to analyze it like SparkNotes (which has an admittedly amazing Twitter account), we were asked to use our instincts.
[Paraphrased Prompt] Find a passage you love and really look at it. What details move you and why? Then, write a story that you love telling. Try to apply what you loved about that passage in your own writing.
I chose a passage from Alice Sola Kim’s short story “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying,” which is an excellent Halloween read but is also such a unique blend of teen angst, longing, horror, and humor that deftly moves between points of view:
It was refreshing to read closely, not for grades or to construct a thesis or to craft an essay title so long that it has to have a colon in it, but from a purely selfish lens of what I notice and what I like. I haven’t returned to any of my longer projects yet, but I’m going to revisit the books and stories I love for some inspiration and motivation. R.O. Kwon emphasized this Cormac McCarthy quote: "books are made out of books."
In her own words, what you love will spill into what you write.
Remember to vote — absentee, early, or on the day! See you in two weeks (gulp)!
- Subscribe to Meredith Talusan’s newsletter The Fairest Writer for free workshops and Zoom writing groups. I’ve been to both and love them!
- For T Kira Madden, writing is no catharsis: “I am not proposing that we ignore the healing benefits of creation. What I am proposing is that we get real about what it means to render an experience for the sake of art, for the sake of sharing.”
- A really gorgeous essay on not finishing and what we miss when we focus on accomplishments.
- Esmé Weijun Wang is offering a live workshop called Writing Personal Nonfiction About What Hurts.
- Looking for your next book? Find some great rainy day book recommendations from Rachel Syme. My good friend Gu is also mailing these cute Sad Book Club totes along with books by BIPOC authors to benefit a variety of reading/writing-adjacent nonprofits.
Recent reads & other media
I read The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan since I’m taking a class with her on YA fiction next week. It’s an excellent YA novel with elements of magical realism and is an intricate portrayal of mental illness and grief, as well as understanding one’s identity and family history.
Since it’s October, E and I watched a few spooky movies: Hereditary and Rear Window (which E accurately summarized as “the original Disturbia”). Thanks to my company’s Asians Employee Resource Group, I got a free screening pass for this year’s Asian American International Film Festival. As a donutFIEND, AKA my fifth grade Neopets username, I watched the documentary The Donut King. It follows the life of Ted Ngoy who simultaneously built a donut empire and helped fellow Cambodian refugees build new lives in Southern California in the 1980s. He’s also the reason the quintessential donut box is pink!
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~ meme myself and i ~
How to eat acorns. A mesmerizing baile folklórico dance. An excellent interactive Halloween costume: the DVD bubble. Boo-ritos. Making the nutmeg ginger apple snaps from Fantastic Mr. Fox. *honking gradually increases*