Valerie Wang is a senior at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View and an author. That’s right. Not an aspiring author, a REAL author. She wrote a self-reflective book, Muted Mind, published by Pocketscholar Press (San Francisco) in late 2015 after a year and a half of hard work. She covers topics from the evolution of relationships to personality design and the prospect of disillusionment, and presents her ideas artistically to inspire reflection. Here’s what she had to say about it and the whole journey.
Q: Tell us about Muted Mind! What's it all about?
A: Muted Mind is fundamentally an introspective work. It is a reflection of personal experience and emotion, during my years of maturation, distilled down into black-and-white lines of letters. The themes range from evolution of relationships, personality design, dealing with disillusionment, pursuit of perfection, and the perception of an individual.
Q: What inspired you to start writing it?
A: I had always been writing and I thought that other people might be able to relate to what I felt and experienced. I think that writing is a vehicle for transferring thought from the internal to the external.
Q: What are you passionate about, and how did working on your book fit into that?
A: I believe that our emotions and experiences, epiphanies, memories of the past, they are traces of our identities: vital elements of who we are that will be erased by time if not preserved. When these pieces are not woven into writing, into permanence, they leave voids in our identities. What are we if not an accumulation of all that we have seen and felt and lost? For me, writing is as much an act of the heart as it is of the mind. I am impelled to write like I am impelled to breathe. Therefore, when I was offered the opportunity to publish a book, the endeavor of writing it fit naturally into my mentality.
Q: What sort of setbacks have you faced in your time working on your book?
A: I felt vulnerable that my identity had been inscribed into the ink, authentic and bare. I feared opening up so completely and irreversibly to the world, though I hoped that my writing would echo in the hearts of others and align with the broader human experience. Electing to publish Muted Mind was one of the most difficult decisions in my life.
Q: Most memorable experience?
A: The most memorable experience was the response. I had thought that happiness would arise from the writing itself, the feeling of a perfect phrase of poetry, precise and potent: the joy of expression. But I didn’t predict the happiness I would receive from human responses to my writing. I was delighted by and wanted to etch into my memory every moment a reader approached me to tell me how much she related to the messages, or point out exact lines whose language she loved, or explain that she is now more in tune to her own insights and emotions after reading my book.
Q: How did you keep yourself moving forward and organized during the process?
A: I began by categorizing my ideas into clusters, them arranging them in a chronological order that made sense. I also had to reconsider and clarify the essence of each concept.
Q: Did you have any mentors or sources of inspiration?
A: My sources of inspiration included the works of other writers: not just formal, published authors like Suzanne Collins or Michael Ondaatje, but anonymous authors of all ages who post their work on Tumblr or other online platforms. There is a lot of beautiful writing and art, deserving of appreciation, in places where no one ever thinks to look at first. I wanted to be open to as many avenues of learning as possible.
Q: What did you learn from this writing this book?
A: Writing a book was a journey that brought me through a metamorphosis of identity. Daring to open up to the world in pure expression paved the way for profound bonds of empathy. As for the practical aspect of executing projects, I learned that an attitude of fearlessness is very important, as well as reasonable planning and responsible time management.
Q: What advice would you give to other high school students who are aspiring to also write a book, or just want to start any sort of independent project?
A: I think that initiative is the most important element in executing a project. You have to be proactive and driven, and you have to take all responsibility into your own hands and dedicate time and thought to it. You also have to really want whatever you are trying to achieve: half-heartedness is detrimental. Finally, you might think that when you are doing an independent project, you are predominantly working alone, but this is not true. Ask for advice and feedback from other people as much as possible, because no one ever succeeds in isolation.
Q: How do you believe your work on your book diverges from what you learn or do in school?
A: Sometimes I think that in high school, classes are very structured. There is not much space for creativity of expression or exploration. English essays are mostly analytical and formal, rarely offering the opportunity for imagination or art.
Q: Should high school students begin shifting their focus to opportunities beyond traditional high school in order to develop their passions? Do high school students have a lot of potential that they, as well as school, aren't tapping into?
A: I completely agree that students should go beyond a school setting to discover and develop their interests. School clubs and activities are great, but they are still understandably confined by conventional rules and systems. It would be good to think about what you like doing, just for the fun of it, and pursue opportunities outside of familiar settings. How to determine what kind of activity is your “passion”: a) when you’re doing the activity, you don’t ever think to look at the time and several hours pass before you know it; b) you experience a feeling of fulfillment from doing the activity that has nothing to do with meeting other people’s expectations of you or wanting to receive admiration for your success; c) hypothetically, if on a lazy Sunday afternoon you have a couple hours of free time, you immediately turn to the activity because you want to work on it.
Q: Any future plans?
A: My future plans are not very certain. I will probably continue writing just because I like it. Also, hopefully, I get into college somewhere. I guess that would be good.
Q: If you could create any class at Saint Francis, what would it be?
A: Create a brainstorming class at Saint Francis. Fill the curriculum with creativity exercises and change the mindset with which we approach problems. Instill a slightly rebellious spirit in students because that is critical in every solution to an intellectual challenge. As an introductory activity, how many unique uses for a paper clip can you think up in two minutes?
Check out Muted Mind on Amazon!