My Happy Place as a Writer

...ok, I didn't buy it.

For a long time I searched for my Happy Place as a writer and I didn’t find it. The reason I couldn’t find it was because I needed to create it. I needed to understand what this place is made up of. Most of all, I needed to identify the core of my motivation.

Writing can be a lonely, thankless venture. For about five years I have been in the process of establishing myself as a writer and I admit I am still far from where I plan to be. But I am exactly where I want to be right now because this is the place from which I move forward.

Right now I have a great deal of experience, raw material, writing resources, ideas, and visions of possibilities for the future. With each day that passes I accumulate more writing aids and grist for the mill. This is a good place to be. 

Five years ago I quit my job and began to work diligently on my writing. At that time I gained a lot of momentum as a writer. However, a year later I went back to work at two consecutive jobs. All the while I kept having a gnawing feeling that I was to focus on my writing. Finally I submitted my resignation. (I don’t recommend quitting your job unless you are convinced in your heart that this is what you are to do.)

The past two years have been riddled with doubt and confusion as I vacillated back and forth between staying at home on a reduced income and going back to work again. After repeated rejections from agents and editors I contemplated giving up fiction writing altogether. I over-analyzed and second-guessed myself after numerous blog posts with virtually no reader response.

I admit I have yet to regain the momentum I had during the first year before I went back to work. However, the time in between has not been wasted and I have gained many valuable insights.

Little has changed around me, but something has changed inside me. I have embraced the messiness and the beauty of where I am today. I have accepted what I have, and even what I don’t have.

I made two decisions which are moving me forward.

One, I am motivated by love. I write because I love people. I want to inspire, encourage and entertain people.

Two, I want to write.

I can write anywhere and on any subject. I may write comments on social media, or messages and emails to friends, or notes on birthday cards, or I may write in my journal. The success of my writing does not need to be measured in terms of financial profit. I write because I love people and because I love to write.

I am truly grateful for each writing resource I have studied, each note I have taken, each creative line I have written. I am grateful for all that has brought me to this place where I am today and all that will influence my tomorrows to come.

If there is one thing the past months and years have taught me it is this: Writing is a struggle and it will always be a struggle. That is why it is so critical to know why I am writing and who I am writing for.

My future success may not come in the form of a published book. In fact my future may look much like my past. I’m OK with that. I now see intrinsic value in what I am doing from day to day. I am in my Happy Place.

 

Getting Past the Fear

Last night, at 4:00 a.m. I finally pressed ‘Send’ and submitted my first ten pages to the Oregon Christian Writes Manuscript Submission program. For $5.00 you can have an editor or agent look at your first ten pages when you attend the conference. They may or may not want to meet with you and possibly ask for your complete manuscript.

Before I go on, I’ll just give you a brief summary of what has happened since I dropped off the scene for awhile. I hope we can be the kind of friends who can pick up where we left off because that’s the kind of friends I mostly have. We are in this for the long haul and know there will be interruptions for various reasons.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the direction of my life and during the last three years I took two different admin assistant jobs. Previously when I was blogging regularly (2012) I was between jobs and very focused on moving ahead with my writing.

Working at these jobs made me realize that I have a very strong admin gift, as I have been told, but that my passion is not so much in the area of keeping a machine running as it is in connecting with people and finding ways to make meaningful contributions. I like to contribute in many ways. Hosting a meal, planning a birthday party, interacting with children and seniors, finding and sharing significant information, decorating my home, creating beautiful paintings, taking photos, building memories with loved ones, problem solving, and enriching my marriage.

While I was working I kept thinking that I was wasting my time. I know I wasn’t actually wasting my time, but maybe I was missing opportunities. I felt I was missing the things that only I could do. However, I had to counter-balance this with the fact that I was helping others on my job reach their goals and that is very significant to me. I love to help others in this way.

But now I feel the time has come for me to start my own business, in a sense. This is the second go I am having at building a writing career and to tell the truth it scares me. I could have pressed ‘Send’ at 10:00 p.m.yesterday but I had a fear of putting my work out there. When you are younger, I think, your mind doesn’t go so many places and consider so many possibilities before making a decision. In other words, you basically just think, if I mail this, then I might get a publishing contract. What could be more exciting?

But me, I was sitting in bed thinking, is this really how I want to be perceived? Is my novel saying what I want it to say? Am I being true to my characters? Would I be embarrassed if so and so read this? If so, why?

I have a lovely friend, a published author, who is nudging me along with my writing. She even came over this week and helped me sort out my first ten pages. I was completely stuck. I have spent a very long time trying to find out where my novel starts, how much is back story. After sending her several different chapters, because my book is mostly complete, she finally said, “That’s it! That’s where your book starts!” I was so relieved, until I tried to figure out how to move ahead from there and suddenly it looked like none of the rest of the book fit. Thankfully she was able to help me out with that too.

It’s an understatement to say I’ve learned a lot in this process. But one thing I do know. I keep getting excited about sharing what I have learned with my readers, right here, on this blog. It is what I have finally discovered to be one of the things I love the most. As I said before, I love sharing significant information. So, I am keeping this thought in the back of my mind and trying to figure out the best way to do this.

Back to last night. With those questions rolling around in my mind I took another look at my writing, and specifically my last page, because I felt uncomfortable with it. My friend, Gail Sattler (check out her novels-she writes humor), had helped with my edits on these ten pages and really improved my writing. She has a lot of experience and knows how to put the feeling on the page, unlike me. But, as I looked at the last page I saw it wasn’t me. I had to take out the things I loved that she had suggested and turn it into my writing. When I finally did that, then I was able to press ‘Send.’ Incidentally, she is also the kind of friend who says, “I’ll mail yours with mine.” I wonder why?

Writers can relate to the fear of putting ourselves out there. There are so many ways to fail. My plot might be weak, my middle story might lose the reader’s interest, my writing style might be boring, or I realize I can never write like so and so.

Nobody in my family is a writer. I am breaking new territory. I admit I am afraid of what people will think of me, of my writing. I want to be seen as a thoughtful intellectual, but maybe I am just a hopeless romantic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and that is confirmed by book sales. I am just trying to find the courage to put myself out there, whatever it is.

I read something helpful today in Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain.

Don’t try to be all things to all men. Universality of appeal is a myth….Quit wasting your time pretending that it doesn’t exist, or that there’s some esoteric way around it….You can’t change yourself at will to suit a given public. You must accept yourself the way you are. Then, seek out an audience that sees the world the same way you do. Can you be sure that such an audience exists? You can. Individual you are indeed; and different. But not that different, for you’re human also (p.117-118).

“You must accept yourself the way you are.” Haven’t we all heard that a million times before.

I didn’t want to hurt Gail’s feelings by taking out those really good bits, or re-wording them. But the writing process is about helping the writer become the best they can be and that means the best THEY can be. Gail gets this. She’s awesome.

I truly hope that I will be able to write here with some consistency over the next months. But, one of the best things that I have learned this past year is that this is a dialogue. It may look like the conversation has ended when bloggers stop posting for awhile. Maybe for some it is. But others just need to re-group, decide what they want, figure out the best way to move forward, and trust the timing. The break may be exactly what was needed.

 

Why do you write?

Recently I had someone ask me why people blog. I explored a few blogs to see what other writers are saying. If I were to sum it all up I would say we write for two reasons: ourselves and others–we want to give something to others and we want them to give something back to us.

We want to share ourselves and have others do the same. You tell me your story. I’ll tell you mine. We are looking for subjects that resonate with us and we are looking for people who get it, or get us.

I enjoy creating and discovering meaningful dialogue. I feel rewarded and even excited when I read a blog where someone expresses a thought succinctly or uses language in a way I would never have thought to express myself.

It happens in comments too. I don’t think we give comments enough credit, not only from the reader’s perspective, but also as writers who comment. A good comment can be as skillfully crafted and insightful as the blog itself. Comments are reflective responses that allow us to see how readers received what the author of the blog wrote. They are also an opportunity for creative dialogue.

I guess I am just plain fascinated by how people think and communicate. Some are all compassion and understanding; others are aloof and intellectual; still others are agitated and insulting. Why? What is it in their experience that makes them react this way?

I was facilitating a discussion group this weekend and had an amazing opportunity to watch in person how people interact with each other. One of the participants started out by clarifying that she is a “thinker” and not “emotional.” She didn’t like to be “told”…. Another participant immediately revealed something very personal, hurt from the past, and shared how he was willing to risk being vulnerable. I appreciated both of their openness. But I noticed that the other people in the group were more responsive to a third person, a song writer and performing artist. I think years of experience had taught her how to anticipate the kind of response her words would generate.

In blogging we are looking for a response. How do we get people to talk about what matters to them? Of course, we want to talk about what matters to us, but if we are not tuned in to others we can actually impede communication, as happened with the two examples I gave.

Some bloggers are naturals. They have discovered not only what others want to talk about, but how to get them talking. We love to read their blogs. They are the writers that tend to get picked up by publishers.

I love this writing journey. I love the blend of experience and thought and communication that makes each blogger unique. I think this joy of discovery is the reason I blog. Why do you blog?

A look at blog titles and focus

Michael Hyatt just drew my attention to a couple of important issues for bloggers in his articles, Why I Stopped Reading Your Blogs, and Do You Make These 10 Mistakes When You Blog?

Two things that stood out for me relating to blogging were

  • the importance of catchy headlines, and
  • the need for focus.

    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


    Hyatt suggests putting as much time into choosing a title for your blog as you invest in writing it. Well, I admit I don’t and probably won’t do that. There is just something in me that resists putting a disproportionate amount of time into a six word title.

    But I’ve realized recently that it is not enough for blogs to merely reflect their content in their titles, like news articles. Blogs are like storefronts. The more interesting the display the more likely people will be drawn in.

    If we are just reporting news, we can get away with a title that is just a summary. But if we are writing a feature article we are competing for attention and need to be creative. My articles on this site fall somewhere in between and this may be why I don’t feel compelled to wow people with my headlines. My blog is more of a resource and, as my husband pointed out, people need to find key words in my title. So, I probably won’t write something as attention getting as “You Got Me at Hello.”

    Hyatt also nailed a problem I have with one of my blogs. My blog Writing for Life lacks focus. Referring to blogs like mine, Hyatt says he gets “lost in the forest of [our] eclectic interests.” Ouch!

    Image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    I know it’s true. I feel it myself and I’ve known it for sometime. Now, to figure out what to do about it.

    Believe it or not, we all love blogs where we know exactly what to expect. We keep returning to them, like a faithful friend. You know the kind of blogs I am talking about. They may be blogs on knitting, or traveling, or jumping for joy, and it sounds very narrow, but this is what we want.

    The best comparison I can think of is the dining out experience. I may want Chinese, or Mexican, or Italian, but I don’t want everything served at one place. I have a special Pho place where I like to go for soup. There is a Thai restaurant where I get my favorite–Chicken Rama in Peanut Sauce.

    We like specialty shops and brand names that define a product. And our readers, surprisingly, want consistency and predictability.

    I have a few focused blogs and I notice that, even as a writer, there is a security in knowing what goes where. Although I really like the freedom of “sharing the journey,” I admit that I hesitate to write, because I keep on asking myself, “Why this?”

    I can see I need to do a little soul searching. Maybe I can find a single theme that will represent what I want to share on my currently eclectic blog. Or I may need to lay out my “wide-ranging, broad-based, extensive, comprehensive, encyclopedic; varied, diverse, catholic, all-embracing, multifaceted, multifarious, heterogeneous, miscellaneous, assorted” (Thesaurus) interests and pick a couple and create a few specific spaces.

  • When they don’t like you

    Recently I was on a blogger’s site where another blogger posted, in no uncertain terms, that he did not want this blogger to follow him. There was a lot of outrage in the following comments, but then I saw a comment that I thought was very appropriate. It went like this:

    Wow, (blogger). Sorry (this person) came at you like that. You’re correct to say it’s counter-productive for anyone to attack their supporters. It’s not in their best interest. Both on my blog and on Twitter, I have people following me I have disagreements with politically, morally, and spiritually. But anyone willing to lend me an ear or extend me a hand of friendship will receive mutual respect. There are people I interact with I struggle to understand on a host of levels, but does that close me off from them? Heck no. Every once in a while, someone with an opposing or different viewpoint shares something with me that impacts me a great deal.

    This was by News Burp (used with permission =)).

    The blogger who was “attacked” responded by saying that he liked discussion and even a good argument but that he brushed off hostility. He chose instead to focus on improving his art with the hope that next time the reader’s response would be different.

    In my last blog on “stars” I mentioned the sensitivity of some authors towards reviewers who give them ratings of less than five stars. We may disagree with our reviewers, but, before we criticize them, let’s remember that they are also our readers, our audience. We may not understand why they respond to our writing as they do, but let’s consider that their experience of our writing is a valid one, maybe even one that merits our careful attention.

    Please like me. Please follow me.

    Last week I took Gretchen Rubin’s  Quiz: Do You Make Other People Happy? | LinkedIn. For those of you who don’t want to go to her site, here is the quiz:

    • Do people seem to feel comfortable confiding in you?
    • Do people seem to drift toward you? Join a conversation that you’re having, sit down next to you at a meeting?
    • Do people whom you hardly remember go out of their way to greet you warmly? Say, the friend of your old roommate, or a former co-worker?
    • Do people seem to want to connect with you — by making plans or by emailing, calling, or texting?
    • Do people seem energized by you? Do they smile and laugh in your presence?

    Mixed in with the above questions she has the following:

    • Do people follow your recommendations?
    • Are you a source of material comfort or security for someone else?
    • Do people whom you’ve introduced often go on to have a continuing relationship?
    • Have you recently been involved in the improvement or growth of an organization, group, or process that involves many other people?
    • Are you providing opportunities for other people – job leads, blind dates, contacts in a new city?

    Notice the difference between the two? The first group is about how people respond to you, while the second is about contributions you have made. Perhaps by combining the two Rubin was trying to show that people will be attracted to you if they perceive you are making a positive contribution.

    As writers we will be regarded for our contribution. Whether or not we have a magnetic personality may make little difference in book sales if our book or blog is loved by its audience.

    However, I have noticed that people who are open and engaging do tend to have more “follows” and “likes” on their blogs. Of course this does not mean that those without this level of recognition are less attractive or personable. Perhaps they have not been discovered.

    There is a lot to learn about the art of blogging. Recently I have discovered a strategy for gaining popularity that has less to do with one’s contribution as a writer or having a likeable personality, and more to do with effective marketing. Those who take time to consistently “like” and “follow” others, tend to reap the rewards of their labour in gaining followers themselves. While nobody is forcing anybody to follow them, there seems to be a sort of unspoken expectation to reciprocate the compliment.

    I love to spend time reading the blogs of others and find that if I am not careful my writing will be neglected in favour of reading. Reading what others are writing is important in order to keep up with information, to learn to write better, and, I believe, also to support other writers.

    In the blogging world, however, I have begun to wonder if  “follows” and “likes” are beginning to be distributed like business cards. I spoke with an author at a writers conference who told me she drops most of the cards she collects in the garbage before she leaves, along with all the others that are trashed. How sincere are we in our “likes” and “follows?”

    Like everyone else out there, I am saying, “pick me, pick me.” Please like me, please follow me. And if you are just “liking” me or “following” me to direct me to your site that’s OK. It will give me the pleasure of meeting you. Who knows, I might even “like” and “follow” you back.

    Boundaries? What’s that?

    I am very poor at setting boundaries. Not in every area, but when it comes to my time.

    There are things I really need to say no to, so that I can say yes to what is important, like my writing, for instance. But I have this tendency to bend, to be flexible, to allow myself to be talked into things. I go over my time limit, because I am trying to be sensitive. After all, I want other people to be sensitive to my needs. Do unto others…as the saying goes.

    I also feel guilty about things I shouldn’t feel guilty about. Like saying No!

    Today was an example. I had said no to something on Friday, and today I was pressured to yield. It was almost impossible for me to be firm. Oh, this will only take a few minutes. I’ll just send this email. I’ll notify this person. I should probably follow this through….and so on. My husband, who, incidentally, knows how to set boundaries, finally told me how to do it. Tell them you are no longer in charge, he told me. It seemed so clear and simple to him. To me it felt like moving a mountain. It was literally as though I could feel all of this resistance.

    Well, I did as he told me. And I haven’t yet checked my emails, because, to tell the truth, I’m thinking I’ll get sucked in again.

    This blog is about writing

    This blog is about writing, in case you didn’t notice. I mean, what could give you a clue? Dewdrops on green leaves, maybe?

    This is my main site, and I’m so proud of getting my own name as the domain name. Well, pride isn’t really a factor, because it was merely a matter of availability, but I’m pleased none the less.

    This is about writing and finishing my novel, to publication. It is also about finding other things to write about, and places to publish what I write.

    I have this sense that I will have to change the appearance of this site in some way, so that it at least gives people a bit of a heads up. I’m taking some time to think about that. Unfortunately I am one of those people who often needs quite a bit of time to think. It’s well worth it if I come up with something. But it can also be a real waste of time.

    But, basically, I like the look of this site as it is. And it does say, “My Novel” up top in the “pages” section.

    My other blogs are actual writing, about my life, and of course my photography. My home page, as I call this, is currently devoted to writing about writing, the process. So, you can see, there is truly a bit of a focus here.

    A few more snags

    I’m trying to put widgets on my sites, but the ones I’ve imported are frozen. It happened when I tried to link to Facebook. They won’t open and they won’t move. I feel rather helpless, but maybe this will eventually sort itself out. I closed everything down and now I’ll see if it makes a difference.

    I’ve posted on all of my blogs today. This is the last one. I’m trying to decide how much time I can afford to spend on my blogs. Will I have to delete any of them? It is good writing practice, but my novel is sitting forlornly on the sidelines, waiting to be edited.

    Of course, once I can get the sites properly set up then I won’t be wasting so much time with technicalities. I am really looking forward to having time to check out other people’s blogs. I’ve put this pleasure on hold for now, except for two people who liked my site. =) This is definitely starting off with a bang.

    One of my “likes” has a fantastic photography blog and you may see me following him in the future. He has pictures of hiking the West Coast Trail. But I won’t be following the other one, I can tell you right now. I am not interested in porn photos and was actually disappointed that wordpress hosts this site. I thought I read something in their agreement about certain standards for posting. Will women please wake up and realize that if we want to be respected we have to stop taking all of our clothes off in public?!!!

    I’m done with my rant….now back to my blog. I was also unsuccessful in trying to learn how to put the “read more” tags on my posts. I have worked with blogspot and I think in some ways blogspot is easier to navigate than wordpress.

    I look forward to more trial and error until I get the hang of this. At some point I’ll tell my friends about my blogs. I admit I never did so when I was on blogspot. Well, there was one exception, and after I told her I deleted them all. But Facebook has made me a little braver, I think.

    Moving along…

    I just deleted the Mr. WordPress “comment” and now this is beginning to look like a for real web page. I’ll warn you, though, it is still under construction.

    Yesterday I did a lot of work here. When my husband came home I was still in my housecoat. Not true. It was his housecoat. He thought I was ready for bed. It was that late. I get really obsessive sometimes and when I get that way, stay out of my way! Don’t worry. I am clothed and of sound mind today.

    I realized that “pages” were not what I thought they were and they were not going to serve my purpose. So, I started some new blogs. I guess what I wanted was something like a host page for blogs.

    I am experiencing a steep learning curve. I love learning. What I don’t like is running into things that don’t work. It’s especially discouraging when you’re learning, because you keep doing something over and over, thinking the mistake must be your own. I finally gave up on one of the themes I tried for a blog because it wouldn’t post my photo and text or it would cut it off.  It’s the one with the six columns, I’ll warn you.

    Today I will make a few posts, and hopefully learn how to put links to my blogs on my other websites. I also need to start using tags. I’ll be posting an interesting development on My Novel in a minute.