Letters from the dorm: how creative writing changed my reality for the better

By April Xu Xiaoyi, Pomona College

This aspiring writer used strategies for dealing with writer’s block to improve her real life weaknesses

By April Xu Xiaoyi, Pomona College |

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Having studied politics and social sciences disciplines, I have been focusing on something that’s a little different recently: creative writing.  

This is an interest that can be traced back to my early childhood. My writing life began before I could actually write – I would tell spoken tales of my own wild creation, and use them to grow and strengthen my voice. I wrote my first novel in primary school, and my second and third in secondary school. I never published these stories, which I regret. One of my long-hidden ambitions is to become a published author.

This semester, I am working on several short story projects and a new novel that explores the connection between ambition, romantic love, and irrational fear. They’re subjects that offer me the chance to write about almost anything, which is as bad as it is good. I’m older and more critical now than I used to be, and I have begun to experience a problem that I had never really had before: writer’s block. I’m finding I doubt my own ideas, and censor myself a lot, and (thanks to my love of political theory) I end up writing pieces that might be too abstract and confusing for my readers.

These problems are especially evident in my first attempts at writing mystery/suspense/thriller stories – a genre that I have always liked. I found that I would get too hung up on the presentation and wasn’t paying attention to the plot. I began telling myself that this was the way I wanted to write – to let the story shape itself and not know where the characters will end up. This way of writing is at once liberating, thrilling, and daunting.  It’s not the way the rest of my life tends to go – I am a compulsive planner who loves and sticks to her iCal schedule.

While I do not think I’ll ever stick to this approach – and I see many drawbacks to it – I have seen how it’s already affected different aspects of my life. The mindset I developed writing the story has made me give up some of my control-freak tendencies. It’s taught me to appreciate the value of living in the moment. Who knew that fiction could shape real life the same way that real life can influence our writing?

Edited by Ginny Wong