Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

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.


Why Am I Not More Excited? January 11, 2012

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 5:55 PM
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Today another envelope from Teen Ink arrived. I opened it, and sure enough, they’d sent me the December issue.

First of all, I’ve got to say that that was pretty cool of them. After all, I emailed the standard editor address, and they must get hundreds of emails every day. Yet a few weeks later they sent me the correct copy. The address was even written in pen. That’s customer service.

I flipped through the pages, and there it was. My poem. The accents (there’s some French included) and the italics were missing, which was too bad. Formatting probably is lost in translation between submissions and layout. I know our newspaper InDesign software cancels italics. Still, there it was. My poem. In print. Published.

Why am I not jumping for joy?

I’m not sure. I doubt it’ll be any  different if I had a short story published, or a novel, or if I actually got paid. Perhaps I can chalk this ambivalence up to exhaustion, but it worries me. Shouldn’t I feel more satisfaction from seeing my dream come true, albeit in a small way? Of course, they say everything you hope for in life isn’t as exciting once you get it, but still…

If I win the Scholastic Writing Awards, though, I’m pretty sure there will be screeching involved.


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.


Don’t Enter One… Enter Them All! *cue evil laugh* March 4, 2011

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 7:48 PM
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Yeah… sorry about the title. I’m a little nuts today. Wish I could say why, but that would blow the cover off my super secret identity. That all of you care so much about. *sarcasm* And of course, you would only figure it out if you watch obscure news from small towns in random states. Which I’m sure all of you do, searching for the identity of some blogger. *heavy sarcasm* But I’m not psyched about the idea of this trickling back to my high school and a flood of comments popping up here to ridicule me. So in the shadows I will remain. Moving on.

So I was thinking about by writing career a while back, and I realized I needed a few things:

1. Incentive. It’s great to sit down and write a little. But if I’m getting nothing out of it – no one’s reading it who will really appreciate it, not just say “It’s lovely” and hand it back, and nothing really comes of it – it gets sort of demoralizing.

2. Constructive Criticism. Parents, friends… it’s hard to get honest feedback from them. You need a total stranger to look at your work with no pity for you in their heart and tear it apart. That’s how you grow.

3. … And some cash wouldn’t hurt.

So how could I get all three things (Ok, the first two were the priority) as a teenage writer? The idea came to me eventually – and probably would have come sooner if my blood sugar wasn’t so low. I mean, it’s pretty obvious: enter a writing contest.

Now, at first I thought this would be tricky. I’d sent submissions to the Missouri Review, with demoralizing results, but once I actually read an issue, I realized that wasn’t the place for me. The selections were too… dry. Adult. I’ll be YA for the rest of my life, I’m sure of it. It’s just more interesting. And I’d entered a contest I’d seen advertised at school, and never heard back. But I just wasn’t seeing many options.

And then this crazy idea came to me – google it.


Yep. So obvious you might overlook it. So I sat down, googled ‘teen writing competitions’ and bang – loads of opportunities popped up. I’ve already bookmarked two I plan to enter. Of course, one prohibits improper language, which is sort of silly in teen lit, but whatever. Hopefully I’ll get some feedback, finally get to draw on my repository of stories, and hey – maybe win something. A girl can dream.


My First Rejection Letter! July 31, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:29 PM
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Yes, I know, super exciting. Just like you can’t be a bicyclist without falling once or twice, you can’t be an author without getting rejected. It’s a career fraught with rejection. And it’s rather exciting to know that you’ve put your name out there in the writing world, so to speak, even if you did get shot down. For now. But as everyone knows, you’ve got to submit like a million things before you get accepted.

I shall share the typed and hand written text:

Dear Author:

Thank you for submitting your work to (magazine). Though it doesn’t meet our current needs, we appreciate the opportunity to consider it for publication. we wish you luck in placing it elsewhere. Keep up the good work.

(Handwritten section): Thank you for your story submission. Although we will not be able to publish this piece, we think you have very good potential. Please consider sending us more of your work in the future.

This is open to severe analysis. Though it doesn’t meet our current needs… does that mean you can submit it again later? We wish you luck in placing it elsewhere. Do they think it’s good enough to be accepted somewhere else? Very good potential? Is that true, or just some ego salve. And please consider sending us more. That makes sense, at least. They sent me a flyer encouraging me to enter in a contest. Of course they want me to enter as many times as I want – there’s an entry fee.

Who knew you could find so many mysteries in a rejection notice? I’m sure I’ll find more as my stack of rejections grows higher… and maybe eventually I’ll get a whole different kind of letter…

(This stupid image won’t go where I tell it to, no matter how many times I try. Sorry. It’s supposed to be centered.)