Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Writers and The Ouroboros

I just got back from spending a week in the city with my kids, playing both tourist and showing them the joys of Writopia Lab. From 1pm - 4pm we would be at the Writopia headquarters on West 81st street where I would be with high school seniors in a college essay workshop, and they would separate into different rooms with their own instructors.


I am passionate about writing not only as a craft, but as a tool for finding out what we think, believe and who we are. It's a way of finding our voice. Writopia helps me give back - it's like the Ouroboros - the snake eating its own tail - it's constantly recreating itself.

Rejection doesn't phase the ouroboros, and nor should it phase us writers. At least, not for the long haul.

Don't let rejection eat you! 

The other day I got an email from my agent Edward with disappointing news about India Flips: he doesn't think that he can sell it. 

But he believes in me as a writer; he believes in my career. Edward didn't just say: Sorry, them's the breaks, instead he invited me out for fancy shmancy dim sum at a restaurant called Zenga on 40th Street and 3rd Avenue. We talked for over two hours about what it means to live and breathe writing.

His smile is wry: "Your task is simple Léna. You just have to write a 'break-out' novel."

I laugh: "That's it?" Snap! "Easy-peasy."

"I'm serious Léna. You can do this. You've proven yourself. You are a novelist."

India Flips however good it is, is not that "break-out" book. The standards for a second novel after publishing my first with FSG (and not becoming a best-seller) are unbelievably high. Nobody is going to publish a book with Reality TV/ cheerleaders as the backdrop. India Flips was a major overhaul, a rewrite of a previously rejected (by FSG) novel, In Your Face. So Edward had already counseled me not to rewrite because every publisher "has something like that" on their list. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?)

But I had to do it anyway. And I learned something from it. I had never written a novel in the first person, present tense. And it's a great story! But I am a writer and not a marketer so no, I am not going to self-publish.

Onto the next. Back to writing, ALWAYS back to writing. Creating, re-creating, inventing new narratives and new ways of looking at things.

Writers, are you with me?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

College Essay? What Do I Write?

Summer is coming to a close and the school year beckons. And so do college applications for you incoming high school seniors. One of the many perks of being a Writopia Lab instructor is that I get to be a part of this life-affirming process.

Wait, did she say life-affirming?
I did. Striving for a goal is life-affirming. Figuring out who you are is life-affirming, and there is nowhere else you have to fine-tune your essence so carefully as in the personal essay. You can either love it or hate it, but everyone's got to do it, and one thing each college applicant has to make sure of is that their personal essay is... personal. Yep, that it reflects you and how you've come to view the world.

Despite their reputation, by definition personal essays should not bore the reader. YOU are not boring. You have something to say, something to offer, and something to learn. You may have way too much to say and you may start to panic and worry that your essay will never fit into the 500 word limit on the Common Application. But you'll choose your words carefully and it will fit.

Colleges are looking for four simple things from students and their essays: curiosity, humility, honesty, and self-reflection. You can write about anything, as long as it has these qualities and it is in your own voice. You can even go over the word limit - the admissions officer won't be counting if every word matters and you keep their attention.

Curiosity, humility, honesty and self-reflection. Those are worthy goals for ourselves and our relationships, so it's no surprise that it's what the colleges want from you, the applicant. Let your essay show that your intellect, emotions, and spirit  are ready to be fully engaged.

Affirm your life and let them know who you are!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Swimming in the Right Direction

I can't swim. Well, I can doggie paddle and float on my back, but is that really swimming? No. You have to be able to put your face in the water and I'm scared to death of doing that.

I am scared of lots of things, but I do them anyway. Staring at a blank page for example, and opening my heart (my words) to others.

However, watching my own kids and my community's kids on the Bedford Hills Swim and Dive Team has taught me something about facing fears and persevering, about moving forward and about doing the best you possibly can in any single moment.

About practice. Practice may not make you perfect, but it most certainly makes you better.

My two boys joined the Bedford Hills Swim Team last year. Coming from the city, we couldn't believe what a special opportunity this was, and thought everybody would be doing it. Not so in Bedford Hills. We had 45 kids on the team and were held together by one awesome parent. (Our numbers were so low that we lost every meet and went down a division to fifth, losing our privilege to have a Dive Team.)

This summer, my husband Rob and our neighbor Liz joined forces to be the parent reps for the swim team, determined to raise the number of kids on our team and parent involvement. (Anybody with any knowledge of suburban swim teams knows that this is a HUGE commitment. But Rob had no idea.)

Rob had to put tiling our bathroom on hold in order to do everything he wanted to do for the swim team. I groaned, I pulled my hair, but all the while he looked at the bigger picture. The picture of being part of a community where the sum is bigger than its parts.

Participation went up dramatically this year and the team has won every A meet.

And yes, the kids were creamed by Katonah Swim and Dive and other higher-division teams in a B meet a couple of weeks ago. But "winning" isn't what inspires me. I love an underdog. It's the seven year old who puts so much energy into her stroke that it actually slows her down but she keeps on anyway. (Okay, that's my kid.) It's the kids who come in last, but are in the game and part of the community anyway. They are the ones who truly persevere. It's my husband and the way he insists on putting 150% into every project he takes on.

It's the kids who can put their face in the water, because to me, that's nothing short of a miracle.

And what is a miracle but a change in perception?

I apply this to my writing life, my teaching life, my home life. It's about striving for our personal best and finding beauty in our struggles, in our imperfections. (So what if the bathroom isn't done? It's such a tiny part of the picture.)

My seven year old tells me she overcame her fear with nose plugs. (Frankly Scarlett, I think I'll be getting myself a pair!)

And Saturday, at our Championship meet: go Bedford Hills Barracudas!