Wisconsin Union Directorate Publications hosted Lit Fest April 10 through 12, to celebrate writing and literature through panels and workshops. The theme of Lit Fest was simply to celebrate writing that sparks joy and creativity.

Michelle Thomas, the associate director of programming for WUD Publications, said Lit Fest started around 2013. The festival is focused on art, politics, music, travel, food, creative writing, fashion and lifestyle, social justice and culture, she said.

“I believe that LitFest is an opportunity for our magazines to share their work and make their presence known to the campus, while creating fun events for the campus community to participate in,” Thomas said.

The series hosted multiple events, one including a keynote speech from author Lucy Tan, who spoke at Union South April 11.

Tan wrote the book “What We Were Promised,” and is a current fellow and masters of fine arts graduate at the University of Wisconsin.

As Tan gave her speech, it was like she was telling a story. The vignettes of her life connected together to lead to her strong passion for creative writing.

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Growing up with Chinese immigrant parents gave Tan a different upbringing, she said. Tan said she believes all parents have the same general values when raising their kids, but they have different ways of teaching those values.

Tan often felt lonely and separated from her community as an only child and with two parents who worked full-time. Tan said it’s not that her parents didn’t want her to have a social life, rather that they didn’t understand American social norms, like play dates.

To entertain herself, Tan read books and started writing herself.

“When I wrote I wasn’t lonely anymore,” Tan said.  

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She became obsessed with traveling to new lands in her imagination and to new settings. Eventually, Tan started thinking about the people who wrote those books. She’s now one of those people herself.

And as a teacher, she often finds her students wondering when they’ll receive the external confirmation that they’ve become a “real writer.” Tan said that confirmation never comes.

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Just as characters in books evolve, our experiences and life choices are always influencing who we are. She said that the career you have now doesn’t matter as much as you might think, but she understands that the decisions students make in college can be stressful, regardless of future plans.

With a mathematician for a father, Tan said her parents were comfortable with “safe careers,” or those in majors like engineering, pre-law and pre-med. As an English and East Asian studies double major, Tan felt like she didn’t have a safe career ahead of her.

She said she understood the pressure parents put on their children to enroll in majors that lead to safe careers because there’s always a “plan B,” or a fallback if that student’s first career choice doesn’t work out. With writing, however, there’s always a fear of failure for financial purposes.

Tan said writing can offer a change if you need it. There are very few tools needed to become a writer, and it’s easy to practice.

“Writing will always be there for you when you need it,” Tan said.

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Tan always looked toward writing, even when she was in a different field of study. For example, after working in China for two years, Tan left to work in product management in New York City for three years, where she was traveling to conventions and organizing meetings.

During this time, Tan found herself scheduling her meetings with 30-minute time slots in between, which she would use to write. She decided that she didn’t want to give the best part of her day and time to a job she felt was secondary to her true passion — creative writing.

She decided she couldn’t be obsessed with anything as much as she is obsessed with writing. Eventually Tan applied to graduate school programs, which led her to UW.

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She recalled long days sitting in College Library trying to write her now published novel. As developing writing skills takes time and exploration, so does writing itself. She said it’s important to work just a little bit at a time.

Tan said she had to get lost before she got to the end of the journey. To those looking to write for a career, Tan said to not give up, even though writing can be hard. She confessed she only has a few hours a day of pure creative writing ability, but even after that, her brain is still processing her stories and evolving them, even if it’s subconsciously.  

When her mom emigrated to the U.S., she found it difficult to only speak English, and at one point, her mom screamed her native tongue into a pillow. Tan said writing can feel like this sometimes. And that sometimes you just need to scream into that pillow. The first draft will always be the worst, though, Tan said, so just keep writing.