VONA: Future Advice on Writing

As I walk away from VONA, I have to remind myself first and foremost that I too am a writer. I might not feel comfortable embracing this label, with all my swirling self doubts and insecurities, but I am a writer because the craft of storytelling is something that lies deep in my genetic code. I fall into writing as a natural outlet of expression, even when I don’t intend to write there is comfort in writing things out.

I not only enjoy reading a well written piece that leaves me equal parts delighted and informed, but also to share the marginalized and not yet celebrated narratives that I come across. This is one aspect of what I want to share with the world. My natural tendency toward curiosity and wanting to understand the “why” of things naturally finds an outlet with storytelling.

However, story telling is an art that requires practice. Mrs. Faith placed the context so beautifully during our workshop when she bluntly shared with us that “writing is not gymnastics where you age out.” My coming to writing later in my life is not a disqualification from pursuing it.

In fact there are lots of examples of writers that practice and fine tunes their craft to put out some beautiful works later on in their lives. This silly notion that I have of “it being to late” is really not a barrier but rather just a bit of self sabotage in order to avoid the responsibility for putting in the hard(er) work required to fine tune the craft.

In terms of what I want to write, categorizing my end product- I find it hard to choose, and I also am against being externally categorized. This is something I came in to VONA to try to figure out, but am now leaving feeling that I have to resist. Many writers of color have struggled with this genre categorizing.

The current case of author and journalist Suki Kim’s There is No Us was a topic of discussion for many side conversations at VONA. Kim spent 10 years researching and visiting North Korea, often as an undercover journalist. Her reporting was compiled together into the book that recently got published, but was miscategorized  as the North Korean Eat, Pray, Love but also as a “memoir of self-discovery” by her publisher.

The hard hitting journalism that presented facts and investigated the lives of North Korean elites in conjunction with the history of the peninsula were trivialized and dismissed. Kim went from being an investigative journalist  who risked her life to go undercover and came out with documentation that marked the historical transition taking place in the largest gulag nation that exists in the world to being a woman exploring her roots.

For me literature is about telling the truth, even if its in the form of fiction, and the job of a writer requires them to sit with their own discomfort, with their complexity  and with painful histories, facing them head on in order to call them by their name and move forward. This can be a cathartic process for the writer, but it can also be an enabling process for the reader. Sadly, what Kim’s case highlights is that writers of color even when acting on their agency can be further muted and marginalized simply by the way that external perceptions – business decisions?- categorize their work.

The VONA experience helped construct a mind frame I have to keep as I work on figuring out how to do this writers thing. The “publish or perish” mindset is a non-factor and I can appreciate aging with the craft of writing. I am not depending on writing to be my livelihood. In fact, I think I would hate writing if it were to become that. In fact, I totally look forward to that being my end goal. Anything and everything that comes out of this is just an added benefit.

And that reminds me of this quote, “[t]alent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins” shared James Baldwin. “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.” Thats the key here, to endure failure with my work. To endure the process of putting out things just for the purpose of putting out – the power of prototyping. Eventually through the love I have for the craft and the discipline will develop a unique refined voice.

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