Apr 22, 2014

Save this for later: 25 books every writer should read.

The hard work, the MFA vs. NYC debate, the negativity, the importance of a good Twitter account, the parties you have to go to, the readings you have to do, people you should meet, the agents you need to impress — amid all the different ways writers have found to obsess over what it takes to be successful, we sometimes forget the most important thing of all: great writers need to be great readers.

You can’t read everything, but once you’ve moved past all of the totally obvious titles, considering adding these 25 titles to your TBR pile. They’re excellent examples of so many different ways that novels, short stories, poems, essays, and creative nonfiction can be done. For writers, this list could serve as something of a syllabus; for those who just want something new to read, it offers a chance to step out of your comfort zone and try a few new ideas and formats on for size.

But this list is far from complete: tell us in the comments which books you would add to it.

Apr 11, 2014


I can’t help you with poetry. I can’t help myself with poetry. I don’t know how it works and I can’t give any feedback on poems. I can’t write poems because I wouldn’t be able to tell if it is good or how to make it better.

Leveler is an online journal the posts poems, but you can also open a column that displays an explanation from the editors as to why the poem works.  Maybe I’ll be able to learn a thing or two.

Feb 7, 2014

Speaking of Thought Catalog

Do you think people ever write parodies of Thought Catalog articles for the purpose of getting them published in Thought Catalog? There are so many possibilities.

Possible Thought Catalog Articles:

  1. What Eating Kale Feels Like
  2. 31 Reasons I Parted My Hair The Other Way Yesterday, But Not Today
  3. Dear People Who Believe In Things, Shut Up
  4. Why It’s Actually Much Harder To Be Beautiful
  5. I Know The Doctor Said Your Erectile Dysfunction Is A Medical Issue, But I Can’t Help But Take It Personally
  6. 41 Reasons Why Lists Are Easier To Write Than An Actual Essay
  7. What Racism Means To Me, A White Person
  8. What Wearing Corduroy Pants, A Western Shirt, A Hoodie, Denim Jacket, Glasses And Chukka Boots Feels Like
  9. 94 Reasons I’m Over My Ex-Boyfriend
  10. An Ode To Bearded Men With Half-Sleeves

Tweet more at me. @ladymullette

Feb 4, 2014

Dear Editors of Thought Catalog: What Are Your Damn Criteria?


Dear Editors of Thought Catalog,

What are your damn criteria?

This was inspired by the racist article you published entitled So are We Just Not Going To Tell Chinese People That New Years Was A Month Ago?  Which is racist for many reasons, but also features the sentence:

If we’ve got a billion people that all look exactly the same writing the wrong dates on checks, you’re looking a global financial collapse that no eyes have ever seen – round or slanted.

What I don’t understand is if you, TC, actually want to help writers, provoke thought, share new perspectives, share universal perspectives or, like, get as many clicks as possible. Like, if you just accept whatever writing is barely passable, this writer — almost exclusively a beautiful, privileged, white 20-something — is so excited to get published (ostensibly because no other publication would accept his/her work) that s/he shares the link on all possible forms of social media so that his.her friends who would not normally read anything so trivial and self-absorbed, except this time they know the person who wrote it so it’s cool!

The only other explanation is that you honestly and sincerely don’t know what good writing is like. I don’t think of myself as a literary snob, and I hesitate to say that any writing can be objectively bad. I guess I just have a background in teaching writing and literature, which has led me to see the value in rubrics. Or, if not a rubric, some kind of standard for what is “exceptional” versus merely “proficient”.

Here is an example of a rubric: image

You may (or may not) be wondering why I think your content is, shall we say, “inadequate”. Can one really judge the quality of writing? Maybe I just don’t agree with your writers’ opinions? Maybe I’m just a Negative Nancy that likes to hate on things. Maybe I’m bitter about my lack of publication in TC and whatever other journals/magazines are out there.

I’m going to continue anyway.

You ask for work that is “fun, smart, creative, i.e., journalistic, literary or entertaining”. Well, I read an article about how a pornstar could not believe how “a brainy, band camp-attending gangly teenager turn into a confident, sultry internationally known sex icon [sic] in a matter of one year? I’m not tooting my own horn. I’m just in disbelief.” That was the article: how great she thought her life was with no details on what her life was actually like, what she did, how she came to be this way, complicated thoughts, or events, or scenes, nothing like that. Just how she thought her life was so cool that she couldn’t believe it, finally concluding that she didn’t know what to do but that simply putting it into words was an accomplishment (TC publishing the perspective of a beautiful white girl whose life is so good that it’s literally baffling and she’s proud of herself for just writing about it, whodathunkit?). Aside from being vague and disorganized, was it at least fun, smart, or creative? How can the essay be any of those things when she seems to have made no attempt to connect her experience to anything I, or anyone else, can understand, relate to, or be changed by? In other words: what was the point of reading that?

What about the article entitled “Dear Girls, Please Shave Your Pubic Hair”, in which the author unsuccessfully attempts to use rational thought to justify why women should shave their pubic hair, and how it’s not his fault that he “can’t get hard” for a hairy pubic mound? And even aside from it’s anti-feminist tones — I’ve read intelligent arguments in favor of Female Genital Mutilation that I found genuinely thought-provoking — the essay fails from an objective, logical standpoint when it attempts to scientifically justify why women should have hairless bodies. The logic was unsound; you are therefore promoting ignorance as “smart”, “journalistic”, or “literary”.

Humans use words, or any form of expression to connect. Art and writing is an attempt to find the universalities in the human experience. When you, editors of Thought Catalog, select which articles to publish, do you not take into consideration whether or not the essay could have some kind of meaningful impact on the reader? Whether or not the writer presents an interesting idea? Whether or not the writer has any sense of pacing, story, tone, or self-awareness? Have you not noticed that so much of what you publish is, from a literary and journalistic standpoint, incomplete?

I guess there is one other possible explanation for churning out content that is almost entirely pointless, narcissistic, and sometimes offensive. You have absolutely no criteria at all. Everyone who can arrange some dreamy or sarcastic prose can get published in Thought Catalog. It’s all about those delicious clicks, the publicity — who cares if it’s good or bad, and the ad revenue.

As a shitty writer, and a skinny and self-absorbed 20-something, (though I’m neither white nor privileged), I’m still disappointed with Thought Catalog. either your mission is disingenuous or your management is incompetent. You tempt writers with a chance of a byline and a wide readership, and cheapen their work by not filtering out unintelligent, bigoted, anti-intellectual, and banal work. Then you profit.

For shame.

Dear few writers who read this blog, please do not read or submit to Thought Catalog. They profit by promoting ignorance as literature and journalism. They take advantage of developing writers to churn out a constant stream of free content and “clickbait” for the purpose of generating traffic->ad revenue. Secondly, you don’t want your hard work associated with something as asinine as “Being Privileged Is Not  A Choice, So Stop Hating Me For it” or unintelligent as “17 Things Feminists Need To Stop Complaining About”. Your work is better than that. Save it for something good.

Jan 25, 2014

How Do We Learn to “Write What We Know”?

I don’t believe that it’s necessary for every writer to “write what you know”, but I do believe that I personally am supposed to be doing just that. I feel a sense of duty to my background, my family history, my place in the world, and to my unique message. The problem is, I don’t know how to sort through everything.

In every writing class I’ve taken, I’m handed short stories, and they are invariably about upper-middle class white people, usually undergoing some kind of quiet marital rot. I grew up in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska, so I thought I knew what that was like. My stories replicated these New Yorker-ish themes. After all, wasn’t the New Yorker the most prestigious publication for any short story?

Until very recently, I never saw the value of the stories I had sitting in front of me. I’m first-generation Vietnamese-American, raised by post-war immigrant parents, living in middle America. Aside from that, familial relationships are tenuous in their own ways, but also characteristically Asian. Not many people write about having a culture gap between themselves and their own parents, or inter-generational trauma, an immigrant’s view of the American Dream, or any number of things that surrounded me all this time, yet never considered things that I “know”.

But how do I sort through this and turn it into a story? I’ve never been assigned a story like mine to read. I’ve never seen it done before and there’s no one to show me the way.

In a way, it’s true that we all have to find our own stories anyway. But why is it so much easier to write other peoples’ stories? Why was I taught that this is what I “know”? Why has no one pointed out that the things I’ve written until now were not my stories at all?

Jan 16, 2014

Destiny, Knowledge, Action, Hope, and Whatever Else

I’m really into tarot cards now.

I like to think that there are ways I can learn my future. Passing acquaintances have told me anecdotes about clairvoyants and mediums — coincidences beyond explanation. And I am always rapt. I want to know my future exists and I want to know that things will be okay for me.

Tarot cards do not fulfill this function.

Last night, a friend read my cards for me. She likes to say that tarot cards make you think about your situation in a new ways. They make very specific conjectures about a question. The thing is, you pick the question.

I like to tell people that tarot cards force you to admit to the thoughts you’d been putting away. Like, for example, a tarot card will tell you that a new romance is budding. Your mind will immediately go to the person you have a secret crush on. The tarot card tells you it will be a happy affair, and you admit to yourself that you would like that.

But they do shape the future in some way. In the read above, I was told that I have been feeling frustrated with my job. That I am too focused on the big picture and ignoring my duties at work. They say that I’ve amassed a good body of creative work. They say that I will be successful in whatever I decide to do, and that I should act now. They say that I will meet an interesting person in strange gathering and he (likely a male) will be my connection to what I want. And that things will happen quickly.

When you get a reading like that, you make it about your own life and your doubts are somehow quelled. You feel just a little bit better about taking the time  to work on your projects. You feel motivated to work, and to push and to do all the things you’ve been afraid wouldn’t be successful. Sometimes, you just need a little push.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the writing contest I’ve been meaning to organize. I was contacting (albeit unsuccessfully) possible venues to host the writing contest when I was suddenly swept away in 55-hour workweeks. I thought about the contest a lot. I hate it when people say they will start something, when they have a viable idea and they just let it die. I want to think I’m only just delayed. I like to think that the reading will be my “strange gathering”.

I want to think that everything will work out for me if I just keep doing what I want to do. I want to think the cards know something.

Sometimes believing in yourself isn’t enough.

Jan 9, 2014

Embodies my deepest worries re: becoming a “creative professional”.

Jan 8, 2014

Sleep Habits vs Productivity of Famous Writers

I’m some in the Simone de Beauvoir - Bukowski range.

Jan 2, 2014

I Love Retail More Than I Hate It.

Today at work (I work in a makeup store), a customer asked if I was an artist, and I said no. I said if I could pick anything to call myself, I would say that I’m a writer. She asked me about my writing, and what my plan was. I said, I didn’t know what there was to do and that I was lost right now, which is why I was working in a makeup store to begin with.

She told me that everything I’ve done until now was leading this, and that this was leading to something else. She told me that nothing has worked out for me so far because I wasn’t meant to do those things. She said that she and I were meant to meet, and that I would find my way if I would only keep doing what I do and staying true to the things I love.

That’s when I started crying in the middle of a Sephora. But it’s a good way to start off a new year, I think.

Dec 27, 2013
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