Dragon slaying

I’m struggling again with writing, as you may have surmised from my absent blog posts this week. I’ve started second guessing my ideas: Who would want to read that? I’m worried about my tone: Sheesh! You sound like Pollyanna, always turning things into glib sunshine and rainbows. I lose my grasp on fleeting ideas: I just can’t think of anything interesting to write about. This old insecurities (explained in I am not a-mused) have flared up again.

I can’t let that happen.

So here I am, writing about the insecurities themselves. By giving them voice and then countering with the truth, I intend to put them to rest. I know I’ll likely have to do this many times and they may never be permanently defeated. Hopefully, though, each time will get easier and the process of cutting them down will become second nature.

It just takes practice, and to show I’m serious about slaying my dragons, I’m going to do it publicly.

  1. Who would want to read that? C’mon, T. You’ve said since Day One that you’re not writing for anyone else. Remember how you said that writing every day jumpstarted your creativity and helped you organize your thoughts? Yeah, you really said that. Why don’t you own it now? Write like you mean it.
  2. Sheesh! You sound like Pollyanna, always turning things into glib sunshine and rainbows. Life isn’t sunshine and rainbows, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to find the nuggets of wisdom in everyday situations. It doesn’t mean your life is perfect, T. Actually, you need to find those nuggets for yourself. (See item 1 in case you forgot your audience.) There are days when you feel like buckling under the weight of all that’s going on; it’s perfectly normal to look for ways to make sense of it. In fact, this exercise is vastly healthier than wallowing (at which you’re also quite accomplished).
  3. I just can’t think of anything interesting to write about. Jeez, T, you’ve always prided yourself on being able to make something out of nothing. How many times have you told people that’s what your blog posts reflect? After all, you just wrote a whole post on how you couldn’t write. Talk about turning nothing into something!

I doubt that I’ve slain the dragon of self-doubt, but hopefully I’ve beaten him back for a while so my body of work–my armaments–can grow.

So friends, here’s my formula for dealing with fear/self-doubt/whatever is holding you back: bring it into the light. Call it out; share it with someone else. Then present your counterarguments. If it helps, do it in third person. Pretend you’re counseling a friend or your daughter or someone important to you. Write them down, point by point, so you can SEE them. Then go do the thing that scares you. Your legs may be wobbly, but they’ll get stronger as you go. I promise.

I am not a-mused

I used to blog every day, or at least Monday through Friday. It was how I started my day, and the hours that followed were better for it. That creative jumpstart made me sharper, more expressive, and more aware for the rest of the day. I thrived on it and I didn’t care who read my words. The exercise was for me.

Then I lost my muse.

Well, that’s what I used to say. The truth is, I gave her up. I relinquished my outlet to forces I thought were beyond my control. I’m hoping that writing about it will be cathartic, that my muse will see I’m ready to take her back.

You see, I entered into a relationship that ultimately proved to be unhealthy for me. It felt wonderful at first, all sun and stars and rainbows and all that. I dove in headfirst, hungry for attention and desperate to love someone. It didn’t take long for cracks to appear, though I initially brushed them off as something we could fix later. No relationship is perfect right?

I started to feel watched. Everything I said and did was analyzed for hidden meaning, and this included my writing. Even though I often change the details of situations I recount so I won’t betray a confidence or hurt someone close to me—after all, this blog is mostly about finding meaning in the everyday situations around us, not the situations themselves—I underwent a level of scrutiny about who-what-when-where-why that eventually made me cower. My blog posts were only the start.

Instead of standing up for myself, I backed off. I thought it would make my life easier, but it didn’t, of course. It fanned the flame of presumption, like an implicit admission of guilt. It gave power to him and set a precedent of behavior: push me, make me unhappy, and I’ll back off to ease the pressure. Standing up for myself became too much work; it was easier to give in. I lost touch with friends, I performed poorly at work, I stopped being present. I became focused on keeping my day-to-day situation on an even keel, at the expense of everything else. Is it any surprise I couldn’t make the words flow anymore?

I almost—ALMOST—let someone take away the most important parts of my psyche just so I could fit into his idea of what I was supposed to be. I almost gave away my identity.

Thankfully, I realized I had to remain true to myself. I didn’t need or want to change who I am, so I left the relationship. (In case you’re wondering if he ever hurt me physically, the answer is a resounding NO.) As I look back, I realize I’ve learned some important lessons.

First and foremost, it’s way too easy to judge women who find/put themselves in situations in which YOU think they should leave but they don’t. Look, I had means (house, car, job, savings account), a supportive family and group of friends, and a strong will—and I still stayed. I consider myself enlightened and independent—and I still stayed. I would call BS on my friends or my daughter if they were in the same situation—and I still stayed. So many women don’t have all these things going for them, and we judge them. I would never stand for that, we say. Who knows? Maybe you would. I did—for a while. You don’t know what it’s like until you’re in it.

Second, I GAVE parts of myself away, thinking I would appease. I guess I assumed I’d reclaim them at some point, but that’s not how it works. I’ve learned which pieces are fundamental to my being; these are my SOUL. Now I guard them fiercely. The right person will cherish them, too.

Finally, I keep learning the lesson of forgiveness. For him, certainly, but also for me. I’m learning to let go of the choices I made and to accept responsibility for my part. I’m learning to adopt a live-and-learn posture and embrace the lessons that come with it.

I’m desperate to write again regularly. I have a log jam of words in my head and I need the relief of letting them flow. I want my blog back. I want to turn the threads of books I’ve hastily scrawled into the Notes app on my phone into actual chapters. I want to reclaim this part of myself.

This post, this long overdue admission, serves as a formal invitation for my muse to return:

Please come back. You are finally welcome here again.

Promises, promises

The last time I wrote here, I made a bunch of promises–including a promise to write about the things I promised. Well, if you thought I forgot about that, you were wrong. I’ve been busy, albeit sporadically, trying to make good on those IMG_2375[1]promises and learning lessons along the way. I’m going to break up my report into a series of posts so it’s easier to digest.

Before I dive in, let’s recap the promises.

  1. Go skiing with my son to honor his desire to spend time with me and show me what he loves.
  2. Focus on something other than myself. Look outward rather than inward.
  3. Write about the process.

That’s only three items; how hard could it be to check off that list, right?

Well, a quarter of a year has passed and I only have one definitive check mark. I’ve made progress on the other items, but as I described it in my original post, it’s more of a journey than a destination.

You have probably surmised from the photo that I made it to the ski slopes with my son. (Yay, me.) I’ve also spent a lot of time researching possibilities, evaluating opportunities, and trying some new things. My head is full of information that is begging to be mined for nuggets of wisdom.

It’s coming, my friends. Here’s what I’m going to share with you in my next several posts:

  1. There’s more than one way to conquer a mountain.
  2. Overthinking kills ambition.
  3. People who need help don’t want you to wait to get your ducks in a row. They don’t need them to be lined up; they just need ducks.
  4. My grocery cart looks a whole lot different to me now.
  5. Never, ever lose sight of the people.

Stay tuned.

On being personable

Humankind-Be-Both-Button-(0127)There’s an author I’ve been following since back in the early days of my own blog. I liked the way she wrote, and she had an amusing way of drawing people into her content by using suggestive titles that made me laugh. Heck, back in those days her blog was even called The Accidental Cootchie Mama.

One day she put a call to action in one of her posts, and I responded. I don’t even remember what it was–something about taking a few seconds out of my day to help her friend. It seemed easy enough, so I did it and commented accordingly. Lo and behold, this person–this author–responded. To little ol’ me. For some reason, that made me feel important.

Fast forward a few years, and The Accidental Cootchie Mama gave way to a real-life author blog. You see, my writer had PUBLISHED A BOOK! This was exciting for me, since I felt a kinship with her, this blogger-has-big-writing-dreams-and-starts-accomplishing-them person. I identified with the first half of that description, and her success gave me hope for the second half. I still follow her because she’s real to me.

Fast forward again, and now she’s three books in. I’m learning a lot about the grueling nature of a book tour and the only-glamorous-on-the-outside life of a published author. This woman works hard for everything she gets. She’s trying to eke out a living on the book circuit while she wrestles with a bunch of personal issues. But you know what, she’s transparent about it. She’s real, and I love that about her.

Yesterday I noticed a Facebook post that screamed for acknowledgement. Her energy and resolve were flagging, so I added a comment. Guess what.

Within seconds, she responded. It made my day.

What’s the point of this rambling post? I wasn’t entirely sure when I started writing; I just felt that there was something important in this incident. As I’ve worked this out on my keyboard, here’s what I think now.

Behind every facade, whether it’s a book cover, a marquee, an athletic jersey, a title, or a pasted-on smile, you’ll find a real person. Don’t ever forget that, and treat people accordingly.

And don’t forget that real people have ups and down, just like the rest of us real people. If it feels right, throw a word of encouragement their way. Or support. Or love. Or even just recognition of the fact that the person is a, well, person. Not an author or an actor or an athlete or an elected official or a teacher or a business mogul or a cab driver, but a person with hopes and dreams and trials and disappointments.

We’re all in this together. And words do matter.

P.S. If you get a chance, check out http://andrawatkins.com/blog/. Whether or not her writing ends up speaking to you, she’d surely appreciate your interest. After all, she’s a real person.

Baby shoes

Classic_baby_shoesSome years ago, I stumbled across a concept that still holds my fascination. It’s called six-word stories, and the idea is to tell a story in–you guessed it–exactly six words.

The idea supposedly originated with a bunch of writing cronies who got together and placed a bet about who could produce a short story that was only six words long. Or who could write the shortest story that could make someone cry. Or who could write the shortest story. The details are nebulous, if they’re true at all, but supposedly Ernest Hemingway won hands down with this:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

Pretty powerful stuff, those sentences.

Its origin notwithstanding, the idea fascinates me. It offers a clear illustration of the power of words, thoughtfully and carefully chosen–one of my favorite topics.

Six-word stories are tough to master; if you thought staying within Twitter’s 144-character limit was hard, it’s nothing compared to this. Succeed in six words, and you’ll feel like a genius. It’s a great brain exercise, and your “regular” writing will be better for it.

Here are a few of my favorites from sixwordstories.net*:

Painfully, he changed “is” to “was.”
—Icantusemyimgurname

Smoking my very last cigarette. Again.
—Seablood

Born a twin; graduated only child.
—kconz21

Sorry, soldier. Shoes sold in pairs.
—Independent

Amazing how six words can tell you all you need to know. Try it; I dare you. You’ll be better for it.

Every word matters; choose each thoughtfully.

*The sixwordstories.net website and its corresponding Facebook page haven’t shown any activity for more than a year. They’re still fun to poke around, though.

Special note to JHS, TJT, RDH, and CC: you wordsmith/writer types are on notice. I want to see what you can produce in six words. I promise, this will be better than the ice bucket challenge!

Greatness

IMG_1448It’s no big secret that I harbor a dream of writing a book. It’s also no big secret that I hate–I mean really hate–to fail.

I’m no dummy, but it took until today, more than four decades into my life to see that I’ve let the intertwining of those two concepts determine my current position on the matter: inactivity.

As I finished a book I had been reading, a thought popped into my head. I want to be a great writer.

That was no revelation, but the countering voice that followed it was: Sure you do, but on the first try.

Well, that’s enough to knock a girl on her butt.

To seal the deal, I recalled an interview I recently did with Sinbad, the comedian. He’s tried a lot of stuff: basketball, the military, comedy, acting, music. He’s not afraid to take a chance on something new because he knows he doesn’t have to get it right the first time. He told me, “People who are great didn’t start great.”

He remembers a piece of advice his dad gave him years ago. If you don’t mind being the worst person for a period of time, you can be the greatest.

Translation: nobody starts out great, and failure is the best teacher.

Those are humbling words for a perfectionist like me.

I finally started writing that book awhile ago, but it seems to have stalled out after a couple of chapters. Oh, I have tons of excuses: my kids won’t let me use the computer, no time, too tired, I’ll get to it when I have a good chunk of uninterrupted time, etc. I think the real reason, though, is this:

I want to be a great __________ (on the first try).

What’s hard for me to accept is that it’s the inevitable failure that will make it–or the next one–great. The criticism I receive from others. The parts that just don’t work. Phraseology that doesn’t connect with the audience. A dumb plot. Whatever.

Hearing that someone doesn’t like it and why will help me be a better writer–as long as I’m listening, of course.

And now another thought pops into my head. As my kids have lamented less-than-perfect scores on tests over the years, I always tell them the same thing. After verifying that they’ve tried their best, I remind them that they are in school to learn. If they got everything right on the first try, neither they nor their teachers would know what they still needed to learn. In that sense, failure becomes a roadmap to success.

Almost no one is great on the first try, nor often on the second nor the third nor the fourth. We all have a lot left to learn, and we have to pass through the crud to get there. Ultimately, it’s the crud that makes us great.

People who are great didn’t start great.

P.S. Here’s my Sinbad article, if you’re interested in reading it: Keeping It Real.

Fireflies

fireflyFor a long time–well over a year, for those of you keeping track–I didn’t think I had anything to write about. I froze up.

Oh sure, I’d jot down tidbits of ideas (just like always), and later I’d try to flesh them out (just like always).

But I froze up.

I couldn’t make those ideas turn into anything, until eventually they stopped coming at all. No matter how many stops and starts and excuses I made, I couldn’t figure out why. And then it hit me.

I had started worrying about my audience.

Who would read it? Friends? Coworkers? What would they think? Would someone be offended? Would what I wrote be interpreted correctly? After scores of questions like that, the tiny seed of self-doubt we all carry somewhere deep inside began to grow, until finally it full-out blossomed.

Not only could I not make sense out of my jotted tidbits, but I also stopped being able to find new ones. While I used to pull them out of the air like fireflies, I stopped even lifting my hand.

All because I forgot that I was writing for me–not for you. And even though I said right here in this blog that I would keep writing even if not a single person reads my ramblings. And even though I’ve really, really missed this visceral part of me.

A few weeks ago, a blogger/author I follow added a page to her site called Make a Memory. There’s apparently a whole movement behind it, but what really stuck with me were the words, “Turn ‘I wish I had’ into ‘I’m glad I did.'”

So I finally started that book I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve only knocked out a couple of chapters, but it feels good. Really good. And guess what!

I started seeing fireflies again.

I’ve even caught a few.

So here I am–right back where I started, writing because it’s my outlet, because it makes me whole. As much as I love my readers and hope that one of my fireflies will light up your life in some way, I’m doing this for me.

So let me ask you this: is worrying about your audience keeping you from doing something? Maybe it’s time to go catch some fireflies.

 

Sally forth

not an optionYou can never go back. Ever. If I had a dollar for every time I learned that lesson the hard way…well, you know the saying.

It’s true. It’s impossible to recapture a moment, to reverse a mistake, to revisit the past. And it’s almost as difficult to pick up something where you left off and go on as if there had been no break. You can never go back.

But you can make a new start.

I’ve struggled to make a series of life adjustments over the past year. Instead of finding a new world order and taking charge, I’ve come pretty close to letting it take charge of me. Among (many) other things, I haven’t been running, and the last post I made to this blog was too many months ago to count.

But I can’t go back.

So here’s the deal. I’m recommitting to writing, but I won’t just pick up where I left off. Since this is a new start, I’ve given the blog a new look and I plan to freshen up the content, too. I’m not sure how yet, but if I wait till I figure it out completely, Wordsmatter will remain dormant. So I’m forging ahead and pounding the keyboard. I’ll figure it out as I go along. Suggestions welcome.

In the meantime, sally forth!

P.S. If you think this post applies to more than writing, you might be right.

Road map

road mapFor days I’ve been struggling with a piece I’m writing. I just can’t make it work. I’m actually a bit flabbergasted by this because the subject matter is one I know better than almost anyone. Should be a piece of cake.

Today as I struggled with it, I found myself pondering whether to include this detail or that, in which direction I should take it, and WHY IS IT SO HARD?!

Light bulb.

It suddenly occurred to me that trying to decide which direction to go 300 words into the article was a huge red flag. No wonder I was having trouble: I hadn’t done my homework. I may have a vast repertoire of facts and anecdotes at my disposal, but where is my outline? Where is the pre-work that lays out my plan step by step? It’s like trying to put together one jigsaw puzzle using pieces from ten puzzles. I need to identify the correct pieces first and then try to put them together.

Now I’m up against a deadline, and I’m tempted to plow ahead anyway. After all, I’m almost halfway there; why stop now?

Thankfully, I know that from experience that is exactly the wrong approach. It will take me twice as long to write the article in this manner as it will to stop, organize my thoughts, make an outline, and begin again. I need a road map. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going,

…any road will take you there,

…you might end up somewhere else,

…you might not get there, or

…you can’t tell when you’ve arrived.

Write on – an apology

Thank you, faithful readers, for not giving up on me. The last few weeks have been filled with a frenzied workload, international travel, and a lingering (though not serious) illness. What started as an unintended day off from blogging to get some other things done somehow has turned into more weeks than I care to admit. I apologize.

Now all the words I’ve squelched are tangled up inside and need to be unknotted.

Look out. I’m back.