Noa Gur-Arie, a staff writer for the MoCo Student, recently received two nominations for the prestigious American Voices Medal from the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Here, Noa discusses her creative process.
I’ve been writing for about as long as I could hold a pencil. It’s a solitary sport, and not always the most fun. Last night, at the 86th annual Academy Awards, Robert DeNiro introduced the best screenplay category with a depressingly accurate observation: “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.” I believe that if you write, you are a writer; and if you’re a writer, his statement probably rings true for you. Most days, it’s difficult to write anything at all, let alone anything that you deem to be of quality. But then there come the rare, glimmering occasions when, on a crazy, anxious whim, you let your words out into the world – and other people, unbelievably, seem to appreciate them. Those are the occasions that keep you going.
The Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards have played a major role over the decades in simply keeping young writers going. Each year since 1923, Scholastic has accepted slews of submissions from thousands of high school students all across the country. Each year, thousands are recognized, and the kindling of praise is added to thousands of young creative fires. The awards’ alumni include writers Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Ned Vizzini, and Joyce Carol Oates; artists Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, and Cy Twombly; photographer Richard Avedon; actors Frances Farmer, Robert Redford, Alan Arkin, and John Lithgow; filmmakers Stan Brakhage, Ken Burns; and on and on.
This year was the first that I submitted work to the Scholastic Awards. Of course, I had known about the program – and the submission due date – for months, but ended up running to the post office on the day of the deadline with the ink on my submission forms still wet. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I submitted nine pieces that I’d been worrying over for weeks, and promptly forgot about the whole thing. I was flabbergasted when, a couple of months later, I learned that I’d received four gold awards, three silver awards, two honorable mentions, and two nominations for the American Voices Medal. I’d been going through a rough patch with my writing – one of those phases dominated by “panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy” more than actual productivity – and the awards-induced realization that, wait, I can write? And people like my writing? helped to jolt me out of it and get me back to typing.
It’s easy to romanticize writing, to posture and pretend that all those coffee mug/tote bag/bookstore greeting card quotes make perfect sense to you: write for yourself above all else, they croon, listen to your heart and let it explode onto paper, they murmur, let the divine spirit of creativity fill your body and possess your soul and move your fingers on the keyboard to produce perfect, celestial verse. But I’ve found that really, you do need outside affirmation to keep going, sometimes. That affirmation can be incredibly hard to come by, and even harder to look for in the first place. I’ve also found that writing is not so much about listening to your heart, which can say some pretty confusing things at any age, but is particularly baffling in adolescence. Rather, it’s about showing up and putting one word in front of the other. The Scholastic Awards celebrate the act of putting one word in front of the other. It’s a strange and difficult thing. I am so glad that programs like the Awards exist to give us a little push when we need it.
To love as a cricket does:
to occupy an ear, a blade
of grass, to see with eyes like
cut stones, to behold the miraculous
pebbles sitting unprecious,
a hundredfold, a millionfold,
to sing for dirt, to bring cut-up
wings together in hymn and count
time as the sky goes cold, tempo
for temperature, louder even than the
cone-headed katydids, to listen
closely with the crook of a knee for
a harmony of veins, to sing
to be heard by everything, earth and
air and sky and you, muscles
thrumming with the atmosphere,
symphony for the soil.
Article and poem by Noa Gur-Arie, MoCo Student staff writer