Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

College and Contests August 15, 2012

Filed under: Whatever,Writing — katblogger @ 8:36 PM
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I’m writing this post from my college dorm, which is kind of crazy.

I only moved in yesterday, so I can’t make any definitive statements about college life yet. I can give you my first impression though – busy. I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off – to use the very tired simile – finding books, fixing computers, buying passes… everything I need to get my life up and running.

Unfortunately, college also means something terrifying. Socializing.

I am not good at this. In the IB programme, I studied with the same set of kids for four years. Now I’m expected to learn people’s names? To talk to strangers? My reaction to all of this is to curl up in a hole and hide until semester break. But I will persevere. I’ve even learned three names!(Which I will forget quickly.) However, posting may not be as regular for a while as I wrestle out my new life.

Meanwhile, I got some good news!

Three times now I’ve succeeded by sneaking into the teen market right before the door shut on me. It’s a decent strategy. Competition is a lot lower in teen only magazines, because it cuts out so many people. Take advantage of that while you can. I’ve left those opportunities behind. Now any contests I enter pit me against writers with decades more experience, maybe even with books or awards to their name. Fighting my way past them is going to be tricky. For now I think I’ll sit back, relax, and handle college. Writing contests can wait.


Playing the Odds (and Losing) June 3, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 10:38 AM
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Writing contests can be a drag.

They’re definitely the best way to get experience and exposure. The market isn’t very open to poetry and short stories, but literary journals are. Contests offer a cash prize and a snazzy addition to your résumé. There’s only one problem.

They’re kind of hard to win.

This is obvious. If you don’t realize that the odds are against you going in, you’re either clueless or hilariously overconfident. I’m out of high school, which means I don’t qualify for most teen competitions anymore. Now I’m up against writers of all ages: 60-year-old contest veterans, people with six novels to their name, poets with more awards than pictures on their wall. I know my odds are microscopic.

Still, when I add up the cost of entry fees, paper, ink, and postage and set it against my projected winnings ($0), life looks grim. What’s the point? What do I hope to gain from this excerise in futility?

I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that I have to keep trying. I want all these terrible poems and creepy short stories to mean something. For someone else to agree that they have worth. I need to prove to myself that the people who suggested I switch to engineering or chemistry or ‘useful’ fields weren’t right all along. So I keep sending out emails and envelopes, hoping that someone somewhere will give the girl with the morbid fiction a chance.

Maybe someday it’ll happen.


Silver Keys and Schizophrenics February 1, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 8:59 PM
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Their logo, taken from I encourage anyone from grades 7-12 to apply next year. It's a good experience even if you get rejected (which happens to everyone, believe me.)

Some short stories take time. Others, especially flash fiction pieces of around one thousand words or less, are written in a sudden frenzy of inspiration. That’s what happened to me when I wrote Maria and the Angels. The sudden idea – a schizophrenic’s take on the end of the world (or is it?) – and a few striking images combined. I wrote the whole thing out in a notebook, forgot about it, and then retyped it a few months later into a 600-ish word piece of flash fiction. When I decided to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, I brushed it off and sent it along with a longer short story and a group of poems. Maria was an afterthought. I never expected it to win.

So naturally I got a Silver Key. This seems to happen to me a lot. (The guessing wrong bit, not the winning things. That’s tragically rare.)

For a quick background, SAWA is a teen art and writing contest that moves through regional and national levels. Winning a Silver Key is a big honor – that means my piece was scored in the top 10% of my region – but also kind of disappointing. For me, the line stops here. Only Gold Keys move on to nationals, where they have a chance of getting a professional critique or cash rewards. It’s completely selfish to feel disappointed – I’m aware of that – but I can’t help it. I think humans are born always wanting more.

However, that won’t stop me from celebrating just a little, quietly and inside my head. This is one more thing to put on my resumé, one more step into the publishing world. At the beginning of this year, I had nothing. That’s what I call progress.


Homecoming and a Surprise January 3, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 12:45 PM
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I’d just gotten home after a long flight from Arizona, and I was in no mood to read the mail. Despite the fact that most scholarship and application deadlines have passed, many colleges have continued to accost me. Sifting through mail from schools I’ve never heard of just isn’t worth it.

“You got something huge,” my mother told me, returning from the mailbox. “What’s Teen Ink?”

I frowned, searching my memory. “This site I signed up for a really long time ago. Then I switched to inkpop and didn’t end up going back. What do they want?”

She handed me a packet that was – as she’d said – huge. I’d estimate that it was around 12” by 18” – and I had no idea what it was.  I opened it quickly – assuming it was some kind of mistake – and out fell a copy of the magazine.

“That’s weird,” I said. “I never subscribed to them.”

Then I noticed another paper of regular size, lost in the expansive envelope. I tugged it out and read “Dear Published Contributor, Congratulations on being published in the December issue of Teen Ink magazine…”


“What is it?” my mother asked.

“Um,” I said, completely confused, “they seem to have made a mistake. They say they’ve published me. But I never put anything up on the site. I was only there for like five minutes.”

I spent the next few minutes looking through the magazine, never finding my name. Clearly, this had all been a very big mix up. Then I checked the cover – January issue. I’d been published – or they thought I’d been published, at least – in the December issue.

After digging through old papers to find my password scrawled across the back of an index card, I logged on to the website. To my surprise, I had one work listed, although I’d never uploaded it. One of my least favorite poems, listed as a part of the December magazine. Huh?

Finally – perhaps I was being a little slow, but I’d just sat on an airplane for hours, so I wasn’t at my best – I remembered. Long ago – I’m talking March or April – I sent a few poems and a short story off to Teen Ink. Not through the internet, but over mail. As months passed, I assumed they’d rejected me and never bothered to send a note. After almost a year, I’d forgotten the whole episode. Apparently they had not, and submissions have a long shelf life at Teen Ink magazine.

Staring at the little ‘MAG’ label next to my poem online, I slowly realized something both exciting and rather alarming.

In the loosest sense of the word, I am now a published author.