For The Love Of Writing

The creative process

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, which is a silly notion. How can you want to be something you already are?

Writing became me. It is intrinsic to how I live my life. I am a scribbler, an anthropologist, a curator of words.

Writing is my religion. It’s as close to God as I can get. When I write, I reach a meditative state known as “getting in the zone,” where I allow my mind to wander and find my creative sweet spot.

To stop writing because you think your work sucks or don’t know what to write about contradicts the writing process. Yes, we’re told to have a focus for our writing, to know our audience. But, writing isn’t like the movie “Field of Dreams” — write the post, and they will come. If you write for others and not for yourself, squandering the passion that compels you to write, your writing loses its shine.

Over the past year, I’ve been questioning my writing focus. Instead of embracing spontaneity and writing in raw form — dumping thoughts onto the page, an essential step in the creative process — I embraced perfectionism, which doesn’t exist, and mitigates the impact of a word.

If you stop to edit while you write, you drop out of “the zone” and lose your creative edge. Your writing becomes dull.

The other word destroyer, overwriting — not knowing when to stop revising a draft — muddies the qualities that make your writing unique.

If you’re stuck on a sentence, stop revising it and walk away. Let your unconscious mind take the wheel. You will likely find the answer you seek while emptying the dishwasher or performing another mundane task.

Don’t obsess over changing a word you think is too simple. Sometimes a fifth-grade level word is a better choice than a college level word. The simple word expresses the rawness of your feelings during an emotional purge.

Venting your frustrations in rough form is a visceral response to an impulsive emotional thought. You wrote it because it came from the heart. Wrote it for yourself, not for a publisher, or agent or target audience.

Sure, it’s rewarding when your work elicits a positive response from a reader. But, to write for validation or praise shouldn’t be what drives a writer to write.

A writer must be passionate about the process. Enjoy the discovery of words and how they sound when read aloud. It’s the pleasant torture of word wrangling during a revision, and knowing when to stop, which comes with experience.

Over the past year, I discovered that I write because I enjoy the writing process — the words, the sounds of vowels and consonants, the joy of creating something out of nothing.

If I allow outside or inside critics to distract or deter me from writing, then shame on me. It’s time to shut out the noise and refocus on the passion. I don’t write for the accolades or validation of others, I write for myself.

Do inside/outside influences distract you from writing? 

My Existential Blogging Crisis

Door Closed

Blogger, Writer, Tech Support

I stop by my blog every now and then to dust off the dashboard.“Why am I here?” I ask, waiting for divine intervention. But, all I got was spam.

Other times, I return to the dashboard after receiving a bad news email from a security plugin that’s a bit of a drama queen.

“Stop what you’re doing and get over here!” It said in a panic. “I found a virus in a WordPress file.”

My instinct was to ignore it. But if I did, the plugin would just send ten more emails, screaming in all caps, “IF YOU DON’T GET RID OF THE VIRUS, I’M CALLING THE CDC.”

To avoid ending up as a hot spot on the government’s map of diseases, I logged into the dashboard and wasted an hour trying to fix the problem while food deprived and cranky from working all day. Clearly, I was in no condition to tackle a WordPress pandemic of this magnitude.

I called BlueHost tech support who couldn’t help me. Thirty minutes on the phone with them resulted in a support ticket and “Good luck with that,” which galvanized me to fix the problem as I scarfed down a snack at my computer.

Technical issues are one of the hazards of running a self-hosted WordPress blog. I was clueless about 404 pages, plugins, and widgets before I made the transition from Blogger to WordPress — a birthday gift from my parents while I was unemployed. Though the last thing I needed was more stress in my life at the time.

The Blogging Conundrum

When I started blogging over eight years ago, I wrote about the pitfalls of having an open-ended schedule while looking for work and then keeping the work I had found. As I told my husband who thought that writing meant goofing off, “Blogging is my therapy. There are just so many hours in a day in which I can look for a job or hold onto one.”

Blogging kept me as sane as I could possibly be. As a creative thinker, one hundred percent sanity is a condition I try to avoid.

In 2010, after I became a member of the underemployment club and started working four days a week, I published fewer and fewer blog posts. Until a year ago, my blogging screeched to a stop and skidded into a ditch. I didn’t know what to write about. My creative GPS was directionless. She kept telling me to “Make an illegal U-turn if at all possible.” But I couldn’t, because I was stuck in a rut after getting lost from all the confusing signs along the Internet highway.

Signs like…

“You need to have a direction for your blog.”

“You need to know your audience and write for them.”

“If you cover too many topics, you’ll confuse your readers.”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

“My readers?” I said. “You mean the trolls who leave spam comments and thrive on chaos? I don’t want to encourage them.”

Confusion Is Confusing

But, I was still confused. I stood in the ditch watching the traffic light turn from red to green while others, who knew where they were going, whooshed on past me.

Then a thought approached me from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” it said. “Maybe confusion should be the focus of your blog.”

“Isn’t that crazy?” I asked. “Confusion would be too confusing, unless…” And at that moment, I realized that the thought was right. I should write about my journey to find a focus for my blog and my writing, collateral damage from being stuck, as well as the distractions that drove me into a ditch. Confusion will be my hook.

Today, I embrace chaos.

That Awkward Moment – Writing A Blog Post Then Promoting It.

PERFECTION IS A FANTASY

Once you finish writing a blog post and then publish it, you panic.

You see a word or two you want to change, a sentence that could be phrased differently.

And you think. Who would want to read this? It’s crap! It needs another revision. You backslide into “this isn’t good enough syndrome,” and get stuck in the weeds.

Literally and figuratively.

Writing IS like weeding. You’ll always find something you want to pull and toss.

Stop oppressive gardeningAfter bagging hundreds of dandelions you caught choking the life from your somewhat greenish lawn, you’re ready to drag the bag to the curb. You grab it, then stop.

You spot a dandelion at two o’clock. It taunts you. “Come and get me, plucker!”

“Me, too!” another one screams.

“And me!” laughs Dandelion #3.

You drop to your knees and continue yanking and bagging. Every time you think you’re done, more dandelions appear.

The same is true with writing. You’ll always find a weedy word you want to extricate from the page.

But don’t let your proclivity for perfection paralyze you.

Your post may not be perfect. But, Damn it! It’s close enough.

Restrain the obsessive beast in your brain by setting a deadline before you start to write. When you reach the deadline, stop and say, “I’m done! Really done. Now, what?”

It’s time to promote your post.

CLIMB OUT OF YOUR SHELF

The brain

The brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does a writer reprogram their brain from writing to promoting?

For a writer who’s thrilled when anyone reads her work, the thought of promoting it can be terrifying.

But don’t give in to your fears. Push past that fluttery feeling in your gut and seek out other like-minded souls on the Internet.

Join Twitter, FacebookPinterest and other social media sites.

Find your tribe: people you want to hangout with. Join a writer’s group on Facebook.

After you find your tribe, don’t bore them by only talking about your writing. Join the conversation.

Just like at a cocktail party, if you meet someone who talks at you, not with you, you make excuses and walk away. You avoid self-absorbed people who tell you how great they are. The same is true with social media.

Don’t monopolize your tribe mate’s time by promoting your work. Promotion is NOT one-sided. Promotion IS interactive. Make friends. Say hello. Share a post. Ask them about their day.

Then something amazing happens. Your tribemate cracks a joke. You LOL. And someone shares your post.

The more you meet people and engage them, the more comfortable you’ll become with social media. After a while it will be fun… maybe too much fun, maybe a bit addictive. That’s when you need to take a breath.

Learn to manage your time, so you don’t stay online for hours, or days, and lose focus of your passion. Take a break. Quit the Internet. Reboot your brain and write!

 

This post is based upon the recent Twitter chat, “How to Overcome Self-Promotion Anxiety As A Writer,” hosted by Amanda Chiu of Atomic Reach #AtomicChat.

Thanks again for inviting me to be a guest on the last chat of the year.

You Don’t Know Jack Schmidt!

Jack W. Schmidt was born on September 19, 1927 and died on July 25, 2015 at age 88.

The world seems a bit off without him in it… this Jack of all trades who was an actor, writer, cryptologist and a financial analyst for the aerospace industry.

In Jack’s career as an actor, he appeared on Broadway in a short-lived musical spoof of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” and off-Broadway in “Little Shop of Horrors” as well as “The Fantasticks.” In film, he was an extra in the bank heist scene in Woody Allen’s “Take the Money & Run.”

A two-time winner of the “Bad Hemingway Contest” with wife Liz, Jack also won the hearts of the writers in the Ridgefield Writers Guild, a group he was a member of for 12 plus years.w-OBT-Schmidt

Jack was a formidable man, in spirit and stature. He was tall, but thin and frail in recent years and walked with a cane. His frailties were the antitheses of the strength he wielded in his voice and stories. The timbre of his voice resonated in a room when he read aloud and commanded the attention of those who had the pleasure of hearing him speak.

The stories Jack wrote were as much about his life and travels as they were about the people in his stories who shared his experiences. From his time spent in Mexico with literary peers, to witnessing H-Bomb blasts in the New Mexico desert, which he chronicled for the Air Force, and then later wrote about in story form — I was there with him, a passenger on his journeys, seeing the world as he did through his eyes and his words.

Jack was a gentle giant of a man and had a heart as large as Mexico. He was an inspiration to our writing group and always supportive. His talent and kindness will forever remain in our hearts.

In July, we lost an elegant writer, speaker and friend. A selfless man who lived big and dreamed bigger.

Carpe diem. Seize the day -Love Jack, he wrote in a 2009 email, a phrase that captures the way in which he lived his life.

We miss you, Jack!

RIP…

What Kind Of Thinker Are You?

 

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking about thinking a lot and the different ways people use their brains, or don’t use them.

I recently wrote a post about the subject at Huffington Post and would like to expand upon it here.

As an “outside the lines” thinker, I’ve been listening to this thought rattle around in my head:

Can a “within the lines” thinker let his mind wander beyond the perimeter outside conventional thought?

Specifically speaking, can a rigid-thinking mathematician who values the orderly nature of numbers use his thoughts as a flotation device? — In one-tenth percent of a moment, can he disavow digits and embrace escape?

I think Mr. Numbers can if he’d be willing to take his thoughts out for a spin on the far side — a magical place to visit whenever life broadsides your brain.

Just two words can take you there: “What if?” A game writers love to play.

“What if my house is really a spaceship that landed in my yard while I was asleep in a coma tube?”

“What if the universe is really a diorama in an alien museum?”

Try to prove or disprove that theory my “within the lines” thinking friend.

Perhaps, rigid thinkers, like Mr. Numbers, are a necessity for those of us who landed on Earth in a coma tube. We need practical thinkers to counteract wily thinkers like us.

Rigid types create structure that prevents wily thought travelers from disappearing into a virtual vortex of vex.

Perhaps, one structural creation device is a pharma helper called Concerta for attention drifters whose thought migration patterns follow the sparkles in shiny things.

As an attention drifter myself, Concerta helps me travel round trip from left-brain to right. Now when I clock in at work, my mind clocks in, too. Concerta keeps my thoughts on a leash inside the perimeter in which I sit. If I’m not busy, I find work to occupy my time to prevent my thoughts from taking a sudden trip to Imagination Island.

Mr. Numbers has a problem that’s 180-degrees from mine. He’s a “within the lines thinker” and could benefit from a pharma helper with a psychedelic twist. Not that I condone taking “under the counter” drugs. I don’t. In many cases, even “over the counter” drugs aren’t the best way to fix an anomaly in the brain.

Let’s take the natural route, instead, and ask Mr. Numbers to try meditating once a day without clutching his calculator.

I only use a calculator when adding or subtracting, which consumes most of the focus in my focus meds.

By the time I get home, my mind is in a hibernation state. All I’m capable of is staring at the brain-suck box in my living room. It whites out lingering dark figures that prowl the corridors in my head searching for answers to sum up their existence.

I wonder if things ever add up for them.

What sums up the kind of thinker you are?

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of Concerta. I am no fan of pharmaceutical ads and their side-effect warnings — especially, the latest ad on Shingles that shows gruesome pictures without a warning beforehand of the PTSD side effects of viewing red oozing back sores. Somebody please get Shingle ads off my TV.

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