Emily Zhang, editor of the Community Section for the MoCo Student, recently received two nominations for the prestigious American Voices Medal from the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. Here, Emily discusses her creative process and shares an excerpt of her work. Noa Gur-Arie, a staff writer for the MoCo Student, also received two nominations for the prize last year.
When I was cleaning out school papers a few weeks ago, I found a creative writing assignment I turned in for my sophomore year English class. I read it, and I cringed so much I thought I was going to cry. The story was terrible, and not even terrible in an endearing sort of way, because it was so pretentious. And then I thought: what will I think of my current writing in a few years?
I think this self-doubt is pretty typical. While it’s probably important to recognize that as a high school student, I haven’t figured out much of anything yet, I’m very appreciative towards the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for giving young writers the affirmation and motivation to keep going.
When people find out that I like to write, I feel awkward. Like, really awkward. It sounds incredibly ambitious and self-absorbed—the words high schooler and writing are usually associated with angsty nihilist love poems on college-ruled paper. But Scholastic reminds us that young writers are great and they have great things to say! They listen and seriously consider our submissions, and I think that’s really nice.
I’m afraid this advice may come off as overly-didactic, but I think it’s important to note:
Please don’t cater your writing for contests, or submissions. I’ve done this a lot, and it’s terrible, and sometimes it works, and sometimes that means one of the contests you submitted to will get that poem you hate because you changed your writing style for it printed on a pamphlet and give it to that same sophomore year English teacher, or that teacher might show it to the rest of your class, and you may want to disintegrate into the cold linoleum tile of the floor right then.
Please don’t take any lack of recognition too seriously, and please don’t take any recognition too seriously either. Writing is incredibly subjective. Don’t be disheartened by how much red text there is on your Submittable account. Don’t sarcastically like other peoples’ Facebook statuses detailing recent writing achievements you didn’t receive. No one’s success is your failure.
Please write for yourself. Write a poem while crossing the street and almost get hit by a bus! Read a poem that makes you stare at a blank wall for ten minutes afterwards out of pure contemplation! Writing is crazy! If you feel like it, read Anne Carson instead of that textbook chapter for history class! Do everything because you can!
I am walking & sludging & singing & producing things that move I
am something that moves & the ground is like an egg yolk & it moves
I want to be manufactured & pasted on a billboard I want to look
at people & their exfoliated eyes I want to smash the cake carefully
in the bride’s face & rescue a rabbit & jump off a lighthouse & read
the labels on the backs of pill bottles I want my insides to be outside
and poisonous I want to feel like an incubator & break a coffee table
in the suburbs & get surgery & wake up in the middle of surgery
& punch all the doctors & push a sofa down the stairs & caress
a turtle & drop a bird in a trashcan & throw a snow cone at a Cadillac
I want to saw off the branch that pinches the bee hive & I know
that the bees want to live but I want to live too
*Previously published in Word Riot