A promise to keep on

11231036_10206439186115425_7479951697701760541_n-2 For so long, I wanted nothing more than to go to grad school for journalism in New York City.

I worked my butt off to perfect my applications so I would get accepted to Columbia, CUNY or NYU. I took my personal essays and rewrote them tons of times, each time filled with even more dread and anxiety.

And then I waited for several months, heart in my throat, for the response. I vacillated between certainty that I would get in and the absolute knowledge that I would be rejected from every single one of my dream schools.

Until the emails started coming in: CUNY, yes; NYU, yes; Columbia, yes.

I cried. My dreams were coming true. Within a few months, I accepted NYU's offer of admission, packed my belongings into a bunch of boxes and drove from South Carolina to New York City.

My dream was coming true.

And now I don't know how to go forward.

Because I don't know if I can do this, after all. I don't know how to be unafraid, how to go after a story like a hound dog and not care who gets in the way.

I'm terrified, every night, of failing. I'm filled with anxiety, wondering if this is really what I'm supposed to do with my life. Perhaps I'm better suited to a simpler life, a life with fewer hardships and less angst.

I got into journalism because I wanted to tell stories. OK, that's not exactly true. I got into journalism because I liked writing and wanted another avenue; and the more I learned about it, the more I got into it, the more I discovered the possibilities. Journalism offers a chance to tell people's stories when they can't do it themselves, to give hope sometimes and yes, to uncover injustice and lies and generally bad things.

The longer I spent studying journalism, the more passionate I became. My first "real-world" work experience was at the Sochi Winter Olympics, when I spent nine days putting together video packages with other students. As hard as that experience was, as many blisters as I got and as many late nights as I lived through, I would have stayed for weeks and weeks longer.

Then I did a summer internship, and that just set my passion into stone. I got to cover events and tell stories of incredible people and that's when I knew, that's when I knew for sure, that I was going to pursue this for the rest of my life.

And now I don't know. Now I'm living my dream and facing the prospect of that all coming to naught. Because what if my fear is going to keep me from doing this job? What if my instinct to believe people when they say what they're doing is good will actually keep me from being great at the job I've dreamed of for so many years?

What if I'm standing in my own way?

Maybe I should have just kept to creative writing. I shouldn't have gotten into such a demanding, high-pressure field.

Maybe this is why The New York Times keeps rejecting my internship applications: they sense, in the way that I can't, that I'm not suited for this career. They've seen through the facade and understand that I'm not going to add anything to their newsroom, because I have nothing to add.

I'm in the midst of an identity crisis. For the past four years, I've been a journalist. Sometimes a student journalist, sometimes an intern and sometimes a freelance journalist, but always a journalist. I don't know who I am if I'm not that anymore.

More importantly, I don't want to give it up. This is what I'm passionate about. I mean, I've dreamed of this for such a long time! I want nothing more than to be a successful journalist living in New York City.

I know the field is hard, and the city is hard, and the person I am today is too weak and untested to survive either.

But I'm not willing to give up my dream just yet. I'm not willing to let a few blows knock me out completely.

I will keep pursuing this career as long as I can, until I'm bloody on the ground and unable to get back up. I will fight to be Karis Rogerson, journalist extraordinaire. Nothing can keep me down.

This is my dream. I'm scared of continuing to pursue it, but for once in my life, I'm not going to let my fears keep me down.

I'm a journalist because...

... The thrill of discovering is addictive. ... I thrive in a fast-paced environment that simultaneously energizes and scares the crap out of me.

... I've been telling stories since I was a child, and it's become as natural to me as breathing.

... I have a wealth of passion to see justice done and have worked on sharpening my journalistic skills to make sure that happens.

... There are too many liars and pundits in the world, and sometimes all people need is to be told the truth — and then be allowed to figure out what to do with it on their own.

... Sometimes people are too scared or too rusty with words to speak up for themselves, and this is one way I can help.

... Stories like this need to be told so the world can be enraged, and opinions like this need to be shared to remind us that some people just aren't worth our time and energy.

... The world is full of people trying to hide their corruption and I can do my part to bring that to light.

... The world is full of people doing incredible things that no one knows about, and I want to remind fellow humans that not everything is war and destruction. 10405327_10152565449759884_2885326472995272677_n

... I get to go to cool events and wear snazzy press badges.

... Every day is a new adventure and nobody knows who I'll run into or what's going to happen.

... I think it's just as important a calling as that to ministry, healthcare or whatever else is considered necessary.

... The pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

... It's where my heart is.

^ In no particular order, all of the reasons I'm pursuing the field I'm in. You might have happened to watch a TV show lately, and in that case you were most likely given the idea that the press is evil and out only to shock people and boost sales. And I'm sure those journalists exist.

But journalism at its core is about truth-telling and secret-uncovering. It's about using the power of communication and the might of words to do good, to build people up instead of tearing them down. It's about taking down corruption, bringing justice where it's needed and making the world a better place. That doesn't always happen, of course. But the world needs people who are willing to try their best to do just that.

The Idea Machine, or, how to actually write a good story

A while back, a friend asked me how I get my story ideas. I told her I have a machine in my bedroom, and anytime I need a story, I crank the lever and it shoots out an idea. It's kind of like a pitching machine, so I have to get all geared up in my helmet and gloves and I have to dive for it to catch it before it vanishes into thin air and never gets told.

That's a total falsehood, by the way. I did not tell her that; I just thought it might make the story better if I took some liberties with it. Which, now that you mention it, is how I get most of my ideas anyway: I hear a story, a snippet of conversation, a characteristic, and I expand on it and fluff it out until it becomes something bigger, sometimes even bigger than myself, and I write a story.

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that my most recent novel idea came from a news article I read about a woman who tried to kill her children. As little as I know about her story, it gave me the seed of Keira's story, and I've spent the past couple of months--and will continue to spend the next few months--delving into her life and seeing where it takes me.

Because the other part of that story I told that's a falsehood is the concept of the Idea Machine. There is no such thing. There is no magical machine, no fairy godmother, no fount of inspiration writers use to pull novel and short story ideas out. There is only life.

Which, frankly, is so much better than any magical water or glitter-blowing old lady. Life itself provides the inspiration for stories. And what more intriguing, mystifying experience is there than life? Created and woven together by a Master Storyteller, billions of insignificant creatures, moments, exchanges coming together to form a beautiful tapestry of a story. And us puny human storytellers, sitting in front of it, picking at threads and seeing if we can weave our own small replica of the Master Tapestry.

I think I just mixed about three metaphors there, which you're totally not supposed to do. But I like it, so I'm just gonna leave it there. Life is the only thing we've got to inspire us, but it's the best thing we could ask for.

Just think about how many times you've looked at someone else's life and wished it was yours, or contemplated how fantastic and unreal it seemed. You look back at your own life and all you see is a blob of tangled threads. But take a few steps back and you can see that your life tapestry is just as intricate and beautifully woven as your friend's. Multiply that intricacy and beauty by seven billion, and that's how many different tapestries you have to choose from when picking your story.

It's totally okay to mix and match when writing. Take your good friend's perfect hair, your best friend's skills, your sense of humor, your favorite TV star's problems, and voila, you've got a brand new story that's never been told before.

To write a great story you don't need a magic machine. You only need some creativity, a hefty amount of attention to detail, and a good bit of conflict. Mix it all together and start sharing. There you go: you're a storyteller. I can't wait to hear what you've got to say :)

Phoenix Will Rise

Phoenix Will Rise.

That's what I think should be the tagline for the new novel I'm working on. Number seven...or was it eight? Possibly nine.

Either way, this is number one in its own right because it's the first novel I'm working on collaboratively.

That's right. I'm writing a novel with someone. Even better, I'm writing it with two someones: my dear friends Alli and Leticia, more commonly known as Lettuce. We concocted this crazy idea on a five-hour car ride from school to Alli's house, where we are spending Easter Break. It started as a way to pass the time on a road trip, but quickly developed into something more. I mean, what do you expect when you put three writers in a car together? Of course we're going to plan out a novel.

This is such a weird experience, because it's the first time since 6th grade, really, that I have worked on a serious piece of writing with other people. Collaborative writing was one of my first introductions to the act of storytelling, but it's been a while since I've indulged in it. And I'm learning a lot about the differences between writing solo and writing with other people. Here are a few of them:

  1. You have to make some compromises.
    1. When you're working on a project with other people, you can't have everything your way. Occasionally, you have to compromise what you want for what the group thinks is best. It can be hard, if you're used to writing solo and doing whatever you please, but it's kind of an Iron Sharpens Iron situation, in which perhaps the piece will be better off because of it. Which is actually Number 2.
  2. You get [a lot] of constructive feedback.
    1. That's right. Almost every idea you come up with will either be accepted, rejected or improved upon. Instead of looking at this negatively, think about it as a way of strengthening not only your own writing, but the story as well.
  3. Sometimes other people have better ideas.
    1. There are some aspects of Phoenix's story that I absolutely love, and never would have come up with on my own. Three minds, each working in their own individual paths, will come together and come up with some really fresh ideas. I'm excited to see where this novel is going to take us, what with the combination of three different writing, storytelling and thinking styles.
  4. Outlining is hard and can be crazy.
    1. We spent last night editing a Google doc that contains our outline, and that was...an experience. I mean, first we just had to play around with the fact that we could all three type at the same time! And then we hashed out our ideas on the document, and since we are three people who like to have fun and aren't always serious, we talked about a lot of silly things. Like ruggedness. And really horrible ways to kill off characters.
  5. You will have a ton of fun.
    1. This one is pretty self-explanatory, I think.

So there you have it. Stay tuned for Phoenix Will Rise, which will surely become the next great bestseller and skyrocket the three of us to fame and fortune. Even if it doesn't, I know I will have a ton of fun writing it and I hope you all get to read it someday.

TV: escapism or storytelling?

I've been wondering this pretty much since freshman year when one of my professors first brought that word into my vocabulary. Is my semi-addiction to television shows justifiable even on some small level, or is it a complete sign of laziness and escapism? I'm a writer. Stories, and the art of telling them, are some of the things I think about most. One night, as I was falling asleep, I was contemplating the idea that conflict is at the heart of all stories and it is impossible to tell a story without conflict; it would just be a list of events. I routinely dream additions to my novels, and I don't think an hour has passed lately in which I haven't thought about my novel and how to make it better. Stories, and their execution, are the things I think about when I have a spare second.

I also think a lot about TV, probably because I watch so much of it, and naturally I've started thinking about how these two loves might relate. There are those whose perceptions of me might change if they knew that I watch a lot of TV, thinking it makes me lazy or something worse. How dare I spend hours watching TV instead of doing homework, hanging out with people, or, as every good writer should spend hours doing, reading?

My perspective on that has actually changed recently. I used to feel ashamed every time I opened my computer, put my headphones in, and went to watch "Arrow" or "Castle." Well, for a few seconds, anyway. Almost as soon as the first scene started rolling I forgot about all those other concerns and got all caught up in, "Oh my gosh, where is Beckett!?" or "Come on Oliver and Felicity, just kiss already!"

Then I realized...TV shows are really nothing more than visual stories. They, like movies, are the visual representation of words on a page, brought to life through actors, sets and dialogue. A good TV show will tell you a story, take you for a wild, spinning ride, and deliver you safely home, in one piece. For 20-40 minutes, it'll take you somewhere you've never stepped foot, but somewhere you've traveled to in your mind time and time again.

And isn't that just what books do? Without the visuals and sounds and everything else that makes TV shows unique? Books also take us on journeys, send us roiling through space or time and introduce us to new characters and places. From Westeros to Narnia to the little house on the prairie, books are simply stories that capture our imaginations and take us by the hand, leading us somewhere else.

The only* difference between a TV show and a book is that one leaves little to your imagination and the other allows you to do all the hard work of creating on your own. Granted, that is a big difference, and I completely understand people who prefer to do their own work. The reason I still prefer books to TV shows is that in TV you don't get the beautiful descriptions; all you get is dialogue.

But don't judge me for liking TV shows. Don't call me an escapist, or lazy. My life, my entire future career will hopefully revolve around stories. So I write and I read, but I also watch TV. It's just a different storytelling experience, and it's equally as valid as reading a book.

(This doesn't mean you shouldn't read books. There are things authors can do in books that screenwriters can only dream of. There is something incredibly gorgeous about reading a well-written book and allowing the author to take you with them. All I'm saying is, give TV a chance as well.)

* I'm being hyperbolic. There are a ton of differences between TV and books, this is just the only one I'm going to focus on today.

The classic "Why I Write" post

I recognize that it's been done literally a thousand times, but not by me. So, taking my cues from this article, a list of 52 blog ideas for authors, I chose the only one that's actually relevant to my life at the moment. So why do I write?

I write because it's a compulsion. I write because every book I open inspires me, calls out to me, whispering, "You can do this, too." I write because every story I hear reminds me of another story, one that was born in the depths of my soul and longs to be told. I write because the world is full of voices and I believe that my voice can add something to the mayhem.

I wonder if that makes me sound conceited? But here's the thing: I believe everyone has something to say, everyone's voice has something to teach us. It's just that everyone chooses to raise their voice in different ways. Some people, like my roommate Rebeca, speak up through acting. Others tell stories through filmmaking. In less conventional ways, people are speaking up by being doctors--by saving lives and helping others. Everyone is a storyteller; not everyone knows it.

So I write because I'm a storyteller and words are my medium. I can't explain it. Ever since I was a child I've had a fascination with words. From reading my first books to my unhealthy need to read something if I'm not doing anything else (it doesn't matter if it's the nutritional value on the back of a cereal box or a road sign--I've probably read it three times already), I read. And in time, that obsession with reading became a need to write.

I like to play with words, with the way you can line them up in a string and form a coherent sentence. I love the way poetry works, because a well-placed line

break can change the meaning of the entire poem.

I love words. Big words, short words, they have a special ring and beauty to them that thrills me.

I write because I want to tell stories and because I want to manipulate my vocabulary to see if maybe, just maybe, I can tell an old story in a way that will set your heart on fire and thrill your nerves.

And I'm terrified of hitting "publish" on this post. Because there's a chance you might read this and think, "Dang, that girl sucks. I hope she never writes again." But you know what? Screw that. I'll write if I want to write, and if no one likes it, I'll do it because I like it. You heard that. I write because I want to. Period. End of story. And if you don't like it, don't read it.

If you do, solid. Thank you. I hope you keep reading. There will be more.