For Grade 11 student Emily Liu, writing is a labor of love. Trying new things and challenging herself as a writer is something of a passion for this creative world-builder.
“If a person wants to be challenged, they have to write in ways they’ve never done before…Writing is a process of trying,” says the young writer, who recently won 2nd prize in the 24th National New Concept Writing Competition.
Founded in 1998, the New Concept Competition is a gathering place for high schoolers and university students in China who have the dream of becoming writers. It was the starting place for young writers such as Han Han, Guo Jingming and Hao Jingfang.
For the semi-final round of the competition, with only three hours to complete an original creative writing piece, Emily composed a sort of fairytale featuring a young girl who, after bargaining with Death, comes to truly understand the relationship between time and the things one finds most important in life.
“I consider the award as an affirmation to my writing. Hopefully this will remind my future self to continue writing and not to be afraid of challenges,” says Emily, who was incredibly honored to have received this prestigious prize.
To hone her writing skills, this quiet and creative girl reads a lot, exploring worlds created by her favorite authors, all the while gathering experience and inspiration for the worlds she too will build in her own writings.
We caught up with Emily to learn more about her process and find out what inspires and challenges her as a burgeoning young author.
When did you develop your interest or passion in writing?
When I was a 2nd grader in elementary school, I wrote weird things in the essay section of my Mandarin tests (I went to a Chinese public elementary school in Beijing), such as using personification to make writing utensils talk and discuss which one of them was the most important for kid. My earliest memory of poetry writing is around 3rd grade with a poem I wrote about seeing the ocean for the first time.
How do you practice your writing skills?
For me, practice is just three very simple steps: read, write, innovate. Keep reading other people’s writing; read what you think is good; and, even read interviews with writers to gain perspective into how they work. And, I think innovation is very important when it comes to writing. If a person wants to be challenged, they have to write in ways they’ve never done before: try second person point of view, try script, try stream-of-conscious… Writing is a process of trying.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I normally gain inspiration from some excerpts and extracts. I have small notebooks just for copying down excerpts from things I’ve read, and I would refer to those when I’m lacking inspiration. Another method to gain inspiration is through key words or themes (don’t let your theme be too vague such as “love” or “death”, let it be a sentence), this would bring a frame to your writing before you even start it.
What/Who is your favorite book/writer/author?
Well, the high school junior me would say: Olga Tokarczuk, Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Tokarczuk is like my spiritual writer, she observes everything in her life and makes the simplest thing seem less mundane. Oscar Wilde is the writer I’ve been studying in my AL Creative Writing and Author Study class. The reason I chose him is based on absolute admiration. Tolkien was a master creator, he created a world including races and languages out of nothing, I believe that Middle Earth and its stories will be everlasting. And Victor Hugo is my forever life changer in many aspects. “Les Misérables” is a strange book that has the power to shift your life upside down. This book brightens your vision; it makes you less ignorant of people who suffer around you; the spirit of revolution is planted deep down in your heart until it eventually grows within you, and you now hold the power of empathy and leniency. These are the people who give me strength for writing.
Emily performing in the 2021 Concordia Theatre production of "Eurydice."
What do you like to do after school?
I do some crafts that calm me down and keep me from being anxious. I watch loads of movies and enjoy theatre as a whole (acting and writing are all processes of creating things from scratch. Although, I don’t really have talents for either of these.) I used to play tennis after school, now the only thing I do that counts as a sport is rehearse in the theater and go out for a ride on my bike.
What do you want to do in the future?
As an idealist, I would love it if I had the opportunity and ability to let everyone feel the charm of Chinese modern poetry and literature; and I really want to help more teenagers (especially Asian teenagers who aren’t in international schools) experience the wonders of the theatre. Of course, I can’t fully achieve these things in the present, but the future is all mysterious and unpromising. To summarize, I use this phrase I wrote and adore: “There is no shadow in an idealist’s eyes.” Maybe one day I really will manage to accomplish some of the things I’ve said here, who knows.