It is usually difficult for me to squeeze in the time for creative writing during the school year. However, the task came easier in the summer of 2020, when part of the world had just recovered from its most immense trauma in decades, and the other part of the world was still struggling to overcome the outburst of fear and uncertainty. I, too, was sitting at home all day, searching for the meanings of life to replace the nothingness I encountered at the moment.
Then, I came across an article published by the New York Times. It was not a piece of news nor an opinion; instead, it was an announcement calling for teens to participate in their contest, titled “The 11th Annual New York Times Summer Reading Contest”.
As the official website stated, “Every Friday beginning June 12, we will publish a post here asking the same two questions: “What got your attention in The Times this week? Why?” That’s where you should post an answer, any time until the following Friday when we will close that post to comment and open a new one that asks the same two questions. You can choose anything you like that was published in the print paper or on NYTimes.com in 2019 or 2020, including articles, Op-Eds, videos, graphics, photos, and podcasts. To see the variety of things winners have written about over the years, take a look at this column.”
Having nothing to do except biking around the neighborhood, I decided to commit to this challenge and create a self-supervised “writing intensive” session. This article will be about my journey with Creative Writing through this event and some takeaways from my participation. Hopefully, my own experience can also inspire you to add Creative Writing to your plate. Not only can you use Creative Writing as as an outlet to express yourself, but it can also double as an activity to add to your CAS roster!
Step 1: Find a topic that interests you
Every week, I’d spent two hours browsing through the New York Times’ website, looking for the pieces that stood out and spoke to me. Then, I would carefully read through every article I chose while paying close attention to its author’s background, perspective, and intended audience. Finally, I would select one piece that resonated with me the most and conclude what I’ve learned or observed from that writing into my response. At that rate, I continued the process for ten weeks. The excessive amount of information that swarmed into my mind transformed me into a more sophisticated and more conscious reader.
I believe that the method I used is useful because it really helps you narrow down your options and focus on certain themes.
For example, the topics I selected range from controversial discussions about “Z Generation Coming of Age” to the social phenomena aroused during quarantine. Materials regarding modern family relationships, Hamilton: An American Musical on Disney+, surviving in a masked world, and teens and climate change actions stirred my interest.
Step 2: Transform the vision of the journalist to the voice of your own
At first glance, it might seem like the variety of subjects I touched on had a scope as large as that of global scale, but I managed to conclude them into personal opinions. As I’ve grown to read more award-winning pieces, a spark of inspiration hit me: creative writing at a high school level does not require complicated judgments about the world. Instead, it highly relies on the connections between broader topics and oneself. Meanwhile, I’ve learned to appreciate peers from all around the globe, for they provided the world of internet literature with such genuine voices and powerful points of view.
Step 3: Crafting your response
The actual writing process wasn’t as prolonged as we would assume, since the maximum is 1500 characters, which is about 250-300 words. Under such circumstances, the important thing was to condense my thoughts. I experimented with several approaches. Usually, I’d start off by introducing an event related to the topic of the article without pointing out the connection, then I’d go into the analysis of how my experience is related to the message conveyed by the article, and how reading this article brings me a new perspective. I will not specify every structure I used in this blog post, but I hope that this example can still inspire you.
Step 4: Do a quick reflection
The benefits of participating in this contest were beyond the recognition one could possibly receive. As one of the largest news platforms in the world, the New York Times is certainly unconventional. Sometimes, I found it challenging to develop a central idea that appeals to the judges, mainly because there was no standard to follow. While I could talk about literally anything I found interesting, I felt speechless. Oftentimes, I had to look back to events that happened throughout my lifespan and dig up the essences of life that I valued. This work ethic woke up a deep sense of nostalgia and the daunting concerns I have regarding the future.
Like anyone reading this article, I was almost emotionally and intellectually isolated for a long time. When quarantine first began, I cherished the moments of “breath” from school. But as loneliness haunted me, I longed for a tunnel to let go of my inner thoughts. I recalled the minor details of pre-COVID 19 life. At the same time, I doubted if my plan for college and adulthood would fall in the right direction. At this point, writing came as healing energy, and it saved my soul from insecure feelings. As time proceeds, I stopped perceiving writing as an obligation but a personal pursuit. Before I realized it, I’d sat in front of my laptop from dusk to night, perfecting every word choice and every punctuation.
Besides the personal benefits that a reflection such as this can bring, it is also a great way of documenting the experience and formalizing it in a manner that fulfils CAS requirements. Ponder about which learning objectives you came across during your creative writing process and take note of them as you do your CAS reflections.
According to my personal experience, writing for the New York Times is just beyond fascination. Moreover, the Learning Network hosts different writing contests throughout the year, covering different writing genres such as editorials, personal narratives, and reviews. Our generation’s diverse voices deserve to shine, and adults should always have access to our opinions so that they can truly understand the significance of growing up in an age of constant reforms.
Now that my sophomore year has begun, creative writing has become a desire that remains mostly absent from my daily life. Every now and then, I would revisit the responses I crafted, attempt to recreate the overwhelming joy that used to come up in my mind, and then move on and embrace school life with a vibrant attitude.