Goodbye

Dearest readers,

It is with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to this blog of five-and-a-half years.

I started “Teenage Struggles” in November of 2014, when I was a junior in high school. What began as a personal means of expressing grief over a career-ending injury transformed into something greater– a public documentation of one of the most formative periods of my life. It has been my greatest joy and privilege to have shared my life journey with you all. From slowly grieving the end of my life chapter as a gymnast, to rebuilding my identity, discovering a new passion in Latin ballroom dancing, starting school at UCLA, grappling with career decisions, coping with bipolar disorder, and ultimately graduating from UCLA with a degree in psychology, it’s been a wild roller-coaster ride, but I would not have had it any other way. All chapters of life must come to an end, and as a 22 year-old college graduate, I am ready to embark on the next phase of life: young adulthood.

But. This is not goodbye forever. If you haven’t grown bored of me yet and are still interested in following my journey, this time as an adult-in-training, I am currently building a new blog called “The Post-Grad Vagabond”. Stay tuned for the launch date!

I love you all, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your loyalty and support all these years.

 

 

Love always,

Belicia

Training for First Triathlon

Hi guys!

As of today, I’ve decided to commit myself to training for my first triathlon! Now, I don’t know when this event will take place, given the coronavirus and how this quarantine has completely upended our world. But regardless, it will happen sometime in the future. Now, you may be wondering why the heck a dancer and writer like me would want to do something as physical and random as a triathlon? I’ll tell you why.

Well first of all, a triathlon is not totally out of the blue. I was a gymnast in my youth, and now I’m a dancer; both activities are very physical, so I am used to training my body to do incredible things. I think ever since going to college, I’ve grown disconnected with that physical side of my being. I’m a strong believer in the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit. If one of those entities are off, it affects the other two as well.

For the past three years, I’ve fallen short physically. I stopped exercising regularly, started eating junk food, didn’t dance as much, lived a sedentary lifestyle (thanks, college) and as a result, I gained a considerable amount of weight. Sadly, I am in the worst physical shape of my life right now. And I’m about to change that. That’s where the triathlon idea comes in! Having a long-term goal like that will serve as motivation for me to finally get off my ass and whip myself back in shape. Unlike dance competitions, which are extremely expensive, triathlons are accessible to pretty much anyone. It involves three things: running, biking and swimming. These are things I do already!

Another thing that inspired me to pursue a triathlon was the movie/book series “Divergent”. I’ve talked about it extensively in past blog posts. The reason why this story resonates with me so much is because of this profound theme of facing your fears head on and pushing yourself to the mental and physical breaking point. In the process, you grow tremendously and build character. And that’s one of my greatest life values and philosophies. Working hard, growing in the process, becoming mentally strong, and ultimately achieving your goals. I have fallen in love with the protagonist and heroine, Tris, who starts off at the bottom of her Dauntless training class and emerges at the top. She overcomes obstacle after obstacle and faces each one with courage. That is the person I want to become.

I see the triathlon as a great starting point to challenge myself physically, and in turn, mentally. If I can prove to myself that I can do it, then that’ll fuel me to be able to accomplish other dreams of mine. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated by pushing my body to the limit. I am far, far removed from my past life as an athlete. But I know that person is still alive inside me, ready to shine.

The Start of My Reading Journey

Today is April 8, 2020. I am exactly one month into turning 22. In 11 months, I will be 23. By age 23, I hope to have written something, whether it’s a short story, memoir, or novel.

Besides it being my one-month anniversary of being 22 years old, today was also the start of my journey into reading. I have not read much, if at all, in the past… oh, I dunno, 4 years?? I was so busy with earning my degree in psychology, I barely had time to crack open a novel, short story, or even an essay! It was all just research papers and the like. Dry, boring stuff. Nearly snuffed out the creative light within me. Thankfully I continued to write all throughout college, so at least my writing chops haven’t withered too much.

I am on a quest to become the greatest writer I can be. Notice that my goal isn’t, “Oh, I want to be a NY Times Bestselling author one day.” Honestly, if that miraculously happens, how wonderful it would be. But that’s really not what I care about. Up until now, I didn’t really take my writing seriously. I was a casual blogger with a small following who simply wrote for writing’s sake. I couldn’t not write. It was my primary way of expressing myself, especially because I am such an introverted person. With the start of the quarantine, however, I have had a lot more time to reflect and turn the mirror inward. And I realized something: I wanted to do something more with my writing. Not just write for myself and be pleasantly surprised if someone along the way happened to praise my work. What if… what if I wrote deliberately and with purpose? Truly apply myself to the craft, the same way I applied myself to gymnastics, and the same way I applied myself in my studies. I’ve proven to myself that I can succeed at anything, if I focus. I am smart, a quick learner, and oh-so passionate. So if I wanted to become a writer, I think I could. Heck, maybe I already am a writer, and I just didn’t realize it until now.

After reading numerous articles online about advice for aspiring writers, the general consensus is this: write a lot, and READ a lot. A good writer is a great reader. So, for the next 11 months, I will make it a daily habit to read. Voraciously. Novels. Short stories. Essays. Memoirs. Newspapers. Magazines. Everything I can get my hands on. This is my training to becoming a seasoned writer. I am so, so excited to see what worlds I’ll discover along the way.

Coronavirus Quarantine Series: Day 23

Hey guys! Happy 23rd day of quarantine. At least I think it’s day 23… Not sure. These past few days have gone by in a blur!

I’ve been throwing myself into my writing training, which involves: writing at least 4 hours a day on my book; reading and outlining short stories, novels, and memoirs (paying attention to language, dialogue, how scenes are constructed, and outline of story/novel); taking a creative writing class online on Coursera; watching masterclasses by famous writers like Judy Bloom, Margaret Atwood and James Patterson; reading about writing; vocab development training; and listening to the New Yorker Fiction podcast.

I know I’m riding the wave of initial intense passion that comes from starting on a new exciting project. Training won’t always be this easy. I know that as time goes on, my motivation levels may decrease, whilst my level of frustration may increase. That’s where self-discipline kicks in. I must train my mind to be strong. It helps tremendously that I have a competitive athlete’s background, because honestly, being a writer takes the stamina and focus of an athlete. You need a lot, a lot of self-discipline to become a published author. And even more so to become a successful one.

I wake up each morning with a purpose. I dread going to sleep because it tears me away from my craft. It’s been a wild ride… but this whole process has also grounded me. Honestly, being in quarantine has been nothing short of paradise. It opened an opportunity to be creative and focus whole-heartedly on my craft. Strange as this may sound, but I wish we could be in quarantine for longer (though who knows, we might be).

But anyway, I must get back to work. I’ll talk to you guys tomorrow (or maybe in a few days… we’ll see)!

 

 

-Belicia

First Novel, Here We Go!

2:00pm– Been sitting at my desk for the past hour, trying to write the first page of my debut novel. I haven’t a clue where to start. So, naturally, I write about what is most familiar: my feelings. This is what I churned out.


I don’t know what to write. I’ll admit that much, and I suppose that’ll get me kick-started. I don’t know what to write, so here I am, typing out the one thought permeating my brain. What to write, what to do? I haven’t a clue!

How do writers do it? How do they create such compelling, ingenious work filled with intricate plot twists and beautiful, captivating language that draws readers in to the very worlds they depict? I suppose I have much to learn in the realm of creative writing. Scratch that—LOADS to learn. A LIFETIME of learning ahead of me.

This morning has been at once inspiring and humbling. I spent the greater part of today watching interviews of famous writers like Margaret Atwood and James Patterson. The one common piece of advice they impart is: JUST START WRITING. Write… anything. Just set a specific goal for yourself, whether it’s writing 1,000 words a day, or a single chapter, or one full page. Doesn’t matter. Just make it a habit of writing consistently, even on the days you aren’t feeling creative (like today, for instance). Outlines are overrated. A lot of great writers don’t even use outlines and kind of let the plot unfold itself. I believe I fall into this camp. Try to get me to make an outline, and I’ll stop frozen in my tracks. My mind will go blank, and I could easily sit for hours at my computer, writing down half-baked, nebulous ideas that my uninspired brain cranks out, only to delete it all in a single moment of frustration.

My best writing comes from what I feel. When I feel something deeply—and because of my bipolar, I feel a wide spectrum of emotions, all the freaking time—I write it down out of sheer necessity. For me, writing is a must. It’s something I need to do to survive. It’s like oxygen. Without it, both my body and soul will wither. I truly believe that writing and living go hand-in-hand. I write about my experiences. About my thoughts, sentiments, worldviews. About everything that’s happening around me and to me. I write about what it is to be human. And that’s what I have going for me. Not that I’m particularly poetic with my language (though, I believe that can be trained with copious amounts of reading and writing). Not that I have the divine creativity to create high-concept fantasy, like Harry Potter. But rather, that I am real and genuine, and what I experience, others can relate to. How do I know this? Because I have had people literally come up to me and tell me that they resonated with my experiences and were impressed that I could articulate it into words. “Base affirmation on fact”, is one key advice I learned from a professional writer. Well, as of right now, that is the only affirmation I can say about my own writing. That it’s relatable.

Question for both seasoned and neophyte writers: do you ever read an incredible piece of work, whether it’s a specific scene, dialogue exchange, short essay or novel, and are at once inspired and demoralized at how profound it is, and how your own writing pales in comparison? Because that’s what I felt when I read the prologue of Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir, “An Unquiet Mind”. The language she uses to depict an opening scene was vivid and captivating. I was there with her as she sprinted in circles around an empty parking lot in the middle of the night, manic and out of her mind. And her choice of scene too—out of anything she could have talked about to introduce her bipolar disorder, this one stood out. And it’s not like running around parking lots is, in-and-of itself, particularly interesting. It’s the way she described it that made it fascinating. As I was reading it, I was like… oh man, this is what I’m up against? Because I was thinking of doing something similar, where I write about my own experience with bipolar disorder.

Well first of all, I’m making a grossly unfair comparison between my writing and hers. She has decades’ more experience than I do, not just in writing, but in life as a whole. Secondly, this is a NY Times bestseller. Why am I, a 22-year-old fledgling writer-wannabe, comparing myself to the best of the best? Another thing– no memoir is the same. Just because she wrote an amazing memoir about her bipolar doesn’t mean I cannot. Dr. Jamison has a very unique perspective of being both a bipolar patient and bipolar professor. As for me… well, I was a high-level athlete whose bipolar manifested while I was still competing in gymnastics. I was formally diagnosed only years after I had left the sport. And as I progressed through college, my bipolar got worse and worse and was severely under-treated. How did my bipolar hinder (and help) my performance as an athlete? What’s the culture clash between mental illness and competitive sports like? How did I cope with bipolar whilst being a full-time student at UCLA? What are some hallmark behaviors I exhibited while on these manic “highs”? I think those are all great questions that I can springboard off of. Good starting point. Yes, I think I know where to begin, now. Since I only recently graduated from college, my college memories are the freshest in my brain, so I’ll probably start from there. Okay. Here we go. This is the part where I jump. I’m scared, but I’m ready. So… ready, set, JUMP!

 

Coronavirus Quarantine Series: Days 17 and 18

Hello, everyone! Welcome to Days 17 and 18 of this series. Yes, we are still in quarantine, and will remain so until May 3, at the earliest. It sucks not being able to go out, but honestly, as an introvert, this is kind of a paradise and much-needed respite in the midst of a chaotic, hustle-bustle world.

The past few days, I’ve been really getting into the nitty-gritty of my book-writing. I spend several hours day and night glued to my desk, writing and writing, with the occasional bout of frustration when I feel blocked or uninspired.

I actually have two books in mind to write, but I’m thinking of fusing those ideas into one. It’s a long process, rife with trial and error and rewrite after rewrite. But I honestly love the creative process, and as frustrating as it is sometimes– alright, let’s be real, 90% of the time– I find great joy and fulfillment when everything just… works.

I am wholly committed to my craft, and I have, without a doubt, the determination, grit, and work-ethic to succeed in making my dream come to fruition. I tell myself every morning I wake up, “I WILL be a published author one day, and I WILL move people with my words.”

Going from blogger to book-writer is, admittedly, intimidating. Blog-style writing is much different than, say, creative writing or even narrative writing. With this personal blog, I kind of just spill out what comes into my head. The chronology is muddled, and most of my posts are directionless, isolated stream-of-consciousness ramblings with no clear destination. Were I to create a book simply by compiling all of the hundreds and hundreds of blog posts I’ve written in the past five years, that would make for an awful book– not to mention, a SUPER long read.

Honestly, the content is there, buried inside this very blog, “Teenage Struggles”. It’s like a puzzle with all the pieces in the box that just need to be put together; or a treasure chest filled with hidden gems in a sea of gold. I have the concepts, the ideas, the substance, which I believe is the most important thing. I just need to reorganize, refurbish and refine until something concrete manifests.

The most difficult part of writing a book is creating an outline and structure. The first question is, how do I want to present my book to the public? In journalistic form, similar to The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank? Or should I weave my blog entries into a narrative, which would tap into a whole new way of writing and thinking? The former way seems a lot easier. Yes, I’d need to organize and extricate the relevant blog posts, as well as significantly cut out extraneous information and condense my writing into a size people can actually chew (I have a tendency to drone on, and on, and on, especially when writing). The latter way, which involves creating a narrative with plot, characters, conflict, rising actions and the like, would require a lot more creativity and thinking on my end. It’s like, I know my story and I know my message, but how do I tie in everything together in a way that draws readers in? I have no idea, as I haven’t had any formal training in writing beyond the high school level. Man, I really should have taken at least one creative writing course at UCLA… But I know of many self-taught writers who have gone on to become very successful! I am of the mind that one does not necessarily need formal training to nurture their craft. In fact, in some ways, training art in a regimented environment can actually stifle, rather than inspire great work. But who am I to judge?

Back to what I was exploring earlier: the creative process. I’ve heard that many great writers actually reject the idea of an outline and simply start writing what comes to mind. From there, a story slowly unfolds, and the plot eventually reveals itself– or that is the idea. As this is my first time trying to write a book, it’s difficult to get myself into that headspace of feeling completely liberated and unconstrained with my work. The minute I sit down to write, my fingers hover over the keyboard, uncertain. As the minutes tick by and the blank screen glares back at me, the cursor arrow taunting me with each additional blink, my palms start to sweat and my mind panics. Where to start, where to start? I keep thinking about the readers, and wrack my brains to figure out what they would want to read. Well, how bout I shut down that part of my head and just think about the writing itself? What’s the premise behind my story? It starts with a message, a theme. And I already know mine: the challenges of being a young person in the context of modern-day, digitized, ultra-competitive American society. There are many topics and sub-themes within this book, including: the growing mental illness epidemic in the younger population; pressures of striving for excellence and perfection; facing much uncertainty, as well as navigating first-time independence and responsibility; the ongoing journey of developing one’s holistic identity; and so much more. I know what messages I want to impart to the reader– it’s now just a matter of how to convey it best.

The first step I’ve taken is chronologically laying out all the blogs I wrote in the past five years and compiling it into a several hundred page long Google Doc (we’re currently sitting at over 300 pages, and have yet to hit the halfway mark). From there, I’ve color-coded each blog post based on topic and relevance. Are they major, must-mention events that have happened in my life? Minor events that may serve as a plot enricher, though not vital to the development of the story? Perhaps they are reflective pieces (God knows how many of those I have) that signify an important lesson learned, or revelatory posts that divulge some of my backstory.

Once I’ve sorted out what purpose each blog post serves, I can begin the arduous process of picking and choosing which ones make the cut, and which ones are deleted into hyperspace. This process is challenging in itself, as it can be difficult to let some of your best writing go, if it doesn’t fit into the story or make logical sense. But such is unavoidable. When that editor tears apart your rough-draft, covering the once pristine, white parchment in blood-red ink, you’d better be ready to cut, cut, and cut some more.

Then comes what I think is the most difficult part: organizing and reordering these blog bits until they fit into a story that makes sense. Sometimes, gaps must be filled. I very well might have to create content that didn’t exist before to fill in time lapses, build on a sub-plot, or highlight an important character or event. A good story flows logically, is entertaining for the reader, and is, of course, well-written. Tempo I suppose can vary throughout the book, but too many fluctuations is disorienting.

Look at me here, talking like I’m already a book-writing expert. These are all just my opinions on what a good book entails. But writing is supposed to be creative, not rule-binding. Ugh. I just need to trust my instincts. I actually sought out some tips from a writing professor at UCLA, who said, “Write what you really feel and think. Don’t try to write a book. Write what you think. You can revise later.”

I have my work cut out for me, but I’m always up for a good challenge. I truly believe I can do this, that I can be a published author whose story rings loud and true to the world. This first book might be a hit, or it might be a complete bust. Probably the latter. But I came across an inspiring quotation today that discusses the idea of failure:

“In the end there’s only one real failure – and that’s the failure to be able to fail. Having tried is the true bravery.”

 

Coronavirus Quarantine Series: Day 16

Hi guys. It’s past midnight as I begin today’s post. I won’t write much, since I have to be up early at 7:45am tomorrow.

Today, I made a breakthrough in brainstorming for my first novel. I won’t spoil the deets just yet, but the only thing I’ll say is, within the next year-and-a-half before grad school, keep an eye out for not one, but THREE of my books on the shelves!

Was rewatching the movie “Divergent” earlier tonight, for what’s gotta be the third time. I’m so inspired by the part of the movie where Tris is training to become integrated into the Dauntless faction. Stage 1 of training, aka physical combat, is especially difficult for her, since she has a small build with little to no muscle. But she fights her way through and exemplifies bravery on so many counts. It’s inspiring, truly.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately on how to become a published author. They say that it’s very possible for a blog to be turned into a book; however, it’s not as simple as stringing together all your blog posts in an incoherent fashion. There needs to be a central theme and a solid structure and plot to drive home that theme.

The path to getting your book published is not easy, and most people who dream of writing a book end up never doing it. I will not be one of those people.

Excited to keep you guys posted, and as always, I hope you guys are doing well.

 

 

-Belicia