Writing My Way into the Day

 

My life has rarely been structured or disciplined. I’ve lived most of my life by the seat of my pants, doing things my own way and making plenty of mistakes in the process. I usually choose to learn things the hard way. As I get older, I’ve learned the value of learning from other people who are experts in their field. The best way to learn to be successful is from doing the things that successful people do. Successful writers write. They write a lot.
So, I am sure that when I first encountered the idea of a daily word count, I scoffed at the idea, thinking it ridiculous. Not only did I not see the purpose in it, I didn’t think it was possible to maintain a high count nor was I sure it was even a good idea. It all seemed like a waste of time to me.
I have learned so much by writing every day. Setting a target to reach for every day really helps to keep me on track. Plus, when I hold myself accountable for a daily word count, I always get more writing done than without one. I push myself, even when I don’t feel like it and am always surprised that my writing is usually just as good as when I am inspired.
There is something about writing every day that is more spiritual than anything. It tends to open a person to the creative force of the universe. It creates a new level that wasn’t there before and doesn’t tend to exist unless you dedicate the time to maintain it. Writing every day opens the mind’s eye to new things and even silently encourages from the sidelines. It helps the writer pay close attention and get down to the nitty-gritty details.
When the daily word count is added in, it raises the bar on the overall writing. My dad, who is a photographer, once told me that you must take lots of okay pictures to get the good ones. I think it is the same with writing. We might write pages to get that one sentence. We might write years to finish that one book and it’s always worth it.
I’ve never been a morning person, however, since making a commitment to a daily word count, I find myself up before sunrise, writing my way into the day. I get more done and all before I would normally even climb out of bed. My writing life has changed the way I live. I don’t have time for things without a soul. I no longer allow myself to waste time on things that won’t help me to grow. I want to do the things successful writers do.

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The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Something Magical

Last year I made one specific decision that changed my life forever. I decided to quit talking about being a writer and become one. I made the commitment to write every single day. I wanted to become not just a writer but the best storyteller I could possibly be. I dived into book after book on the topic of writing and read numerous articles. I filled notebook after notebook and tried new things with my writing that I never tried before. Not simply with the way I string words together but weaving in emotion, direction, and vitality. It felt like I was making magic.

I’ve made life changes over a handful of decades with varying degrees of success. The idea of hard work comes easily to me but learning to combine that with dedication, consistency, and discipline is quite another. To add weight to my decision, I threw in the idea of finishing things, which has never been my strong suit. I figured I might as well work on all my weakest links if I wanted to succeed at this. The one thing I didn’t prepare myself for was the genuine change that change itself brings.

I usually finish off my years disappointed that I didn’t accomplish anything and dwell negatively on all that, but this year was different. The first thing I finished was the Nanowrimo, writing just over 50,000 words on a novel during the month of November. I completed this challenge by finishing the first draft of a novel that I have been working on for close to a decade. The second thing was completing the writing challenge called #52essays2017 where I posted a blog every week, forcing me to display my work to the public. The third thing was to write every day for a solid year (I missed two days, close enough). I also met some of my random writing goals by going out into the world to meet and write with other writers. I honestly don’t think I could ever catalog all the things I have learned by doing all this.

During my research, I’ve read or watched interviews of creative people, where they talked about the depressive emotions and great turbulence that follows behind the completion a project. I didn’t feel I was included in that exclusive club. Because it had never happened to me, it was completely out of my range of experience. I assumed that I must be either flawed or not as creative as I once thought.

So, in the middle of January, I was completely shocked when I was hit with a warped sense of creative depression. It came out of nowhere and barreled into me without warning. There were mornings I didn’t know if I could even bother to tie my shoe. I felt like a four-year-old lost in the woods. I couldn’t figure out what happened. I experienced an overwhelming confusion until I remembered what my creative mentors had stated. I was included after all!

This realization didn’t bring me joy but instead gave me an understanding. I have allowed myself to dink around, mucking through this feeling by reading, cleaning, toying with things, taking naps, all to move through this stage as peacefully as possible. The whole process is not at all what I thought it would be. Perhaps it is dampened by the fact that most of what I have been working on will never truly be done.

However, now that I have traveled through it a little, I understand it’s nature and will be able to navigate it better in the future. I even developed a plan for next time (part of this plan involves pumping my mind with positive TED videos and taking brisk walks). While I don’t think I will ever welcome the feeling, it feels good to know it is there waiting for me with consoling arms for the mourning of the next project I finish. I have not experienced much success in my life and I am still learning what to do when it strikes. I suppose that is part of the process too. Writing is becoming an alchemy of sorts to me. I take one thing and turn it into something else, something bigger than it was before, something magical.

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Personal Essay #52

It was about this same time last year I had made up my mind I was going to do it. I wasn’t sure if I could, I had never tried anything like this before. It was a whole new experience and a whole year of it as well. I was excited, I was nervous, I was hesitant even. But just like that, I made up my mind to do it, to write and post one personal essay a week for every week of the year. It was my writer friend Julia who suggested it. I admire Julia’s writing prowess and decided she put it in my path for a reason. The final result isn’t just this last essay but an experience that brought so much to my life. So, as we get ready to enter 2018, here is essay #52 for the project #52essays2017.

So, first off I would like to say a quick thanks to anyone and everyone who has followed me along this bumpy journey. There is so much about this I will miss. Second off, I would like to apologize for not following standard protocol regarding things like technicality and style or even expected structure for that matter. Technically my pieces are not “personal essay’s” as far as format goes. I have always written this way to figure my own thoughts out, never really thinking that structure was needed for things like sticky feelings. Well, this challenge has sent me into a heavy-handed era of learning in my writing life and I know that my pieces here haven’t met those expectations but I am okay with it. I stuck to my initial vision while I focused instead on learning more about the actual craft of writing. Thereby using this as almost a personal journal at times.

I also realize that it was highly uncreative of me to never actually name my pieces, even though the numbering seemed effective enough. I struggle with that and am working on it along with all my other weak spots. I also didn’t always write from the heart. Sometimes it was just about getting through it and getting it done. Out of all 52 pieces, there are probably only 15 that I truly love and am proud of. But I committed to this and I wanted to finish, no matter what. I learned how to be brave by sharing my words with the world. I am grateful that no one bashed me for following my own path and that some of you might have actually gotten something out of this too. I don’t think I’ve never grown more in one year as I have because of writing these.

This challenge had some unexpected results. I found my voice. I finally found it. It’s eluded me for decades and I am so happy to have stumbled over it as I was focusing on other things, like learning the actual craft of writing. My writing voice still needs work and I will continue to give it a daily workout even though I won’t be writing these anymore. I considered it but I have a long list of writing goals for this upcoming year. I will still be writing essays but now they will be fully developed and I will take my time with them until they shine. It sure was nice to color outside the lines though.

This year I’ve done so much more with writing than I ever have and more than I ever thought I could or would. This was the year I didn’t quit. Oh, there were points I wanted to. About half-way I think. I hit a wall and thought that I couldn’t go on. But I did. I pushed through that wall like the Kool-Aid man and I came out the other side the happier for it. I learned how to persevere. I learned how to follow through. I learned how to push myself even when I didn’t want to. I learned not to let life get in the way of my writing. I learned that I can always do more than I think I can if I just keep going. I learned not to give up. I am a better person and writer for it all.

I want to thank Vanessa Martir for creating this challenge and giving so many of us a chance to walk through this wordy jungle and add something unique to our writing lives. This was just the recipe I needed. I got something indescribable out of it. Something that changed me forever. Perhaps someone reading this will decide to give it a shot for a year and it will change their lives as well. I personally am walking into 2018 with a little more confidence, a lot more knowledge, experience, and my writer’s voice. I am ready for the next leg in this journey. Farewell, my friends.

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Personal Essay #51

About ten years ago, tucked away in a box of keepsakes, I found a poem my son wrote about me in elementary school. It was a beautiful creation and he decorated it with a rainbow and a thundercloud. I don’t remember the exact verbiage but it was something along the lines of…”When my mom is happy she’s like a rainbow when she is mad she is like a storm.” I began to question myself after that, “Was I really mad like a storm?” After some self-reflection, the accurate statement bit into my senses.

I wish I understood my anger. I’ve tried to figure it out, subdue it, let it rage, vent it, sooth it, hold it in. I’ve read books and taken classes. While there have been improvements over time, I am ashamed to admit that it still has a hold of me. I am still a slave to it when it rears its ugly head. I experience yet again the unpleasant failure and its consequences.

So what do I experience? I am filled with what I can only describe as an intense anxiety fueled “fight or flight” energy that courses through my entire body. My hands shake and my palms sweat. Perhaps it’s an adrenaline rush or a chemical reaction caused by my past, either way, sometimes I can soothe it away quickly and sometimes I can’t. I am painfully aware of the interpersonal communication challenges this has created in my life and I wish to rid myself of this reaction.

I wish I hadn’t been brought up in a household of explosive anger because it has followed me for decades. At least it’s the last real shackle I have left to break. I can see how I have improved my control of it over the years. I also know that those feelings are mostly non-existent unless I am around certain people and then the anger tends to rise to the surface. I try to steer clear of anyone who literally brings out the worst in me.

It gets sticky when it involves another person. All the lashing out, apologizing, the trying to make things make sense. It’s even tougher when there are two heated points of view. Toes get stepped on. Any relationship is like a sheet of paper, once it’s been crumpled it can never be smooth and blemish free again.

Sometimes this energy is so strong in my gut and even in my soul that I usually know there is often a deeper issue at play, just waiting for my recognition and attention. Therefore, this anger has a purpose as it brings to light the growth I crave. I still hate that this feeling goes hand and hand with my anxiety and my expectations though.

I would like to rid myself of this “character flaw” for good. I know that there are changes I have made that have improved my quality of life and diminished this flaw (slowly like wearing down a rock). One is just being grateful for all the good in my life. I also work on not taking things personally (unless a negative intention is evident). However, the best way I have found to combat this anger is by turning it into something positive. This is where I shift my focus to my creative writing and focus on learning new skills instead of circling around in the negative space in my head.

I guess mastering this monster is going to have to be one of my goals for the upcoming year. I think I will be happier if I can master my anger. Yet I can’t help but wonder, without a little anger and outrage, how do we know what needs changing in our world?

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Personal Essay #50

Over the years I have written hundreds of pages but 2018 is coming and this is the year I finally submit. I have had numerous pen pals, exchanging thick handwritten letters on a regular basis. Of course, there were plenty of papers and homework from high school through college. Then there were the personal journal rants and venting essays as well as the occasional but wandering attempts at short stories and juvenile poems. I have literally only submitted my work a couple of times and that was decades ago. Whether the lack of submitting my work has been out of fear or reluctance, who is to say? Either way, I know that by not submitting my work, I am undermining my own credibility and stunting my learning.

Everyone’s heard the old phrase about how you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play? Well, it is the same with writing. Whether my writing is good or bad, it’s not going anywhere if I don’t send it on its way. I am the only one in control of that outcome and the only one who can change it. And like anything else in my life, if I don’t do something with one of my written pieces, it will end up underdeveloped and quickly forgotten. Since writing and sharing are cornerstones of human growth, it is my duty to not allow this to happen.

Now, mind you, I feel I’ve made great strides this year even though I still have a long way to go. I am especially proud of myself for publishing this weekly blog consistently (I’m on 50 of 52) for the writing project #52essays2017. Accomplishing that in itself is a small miracle for me. The fact that people read it and actually comment in a positive way still blows my mind. Even though to me this is barely considered publishing— it’s still a great first step out of my comfort zone.

I’ve been studying submission heavily over the last few months and feel fairly prepared. I’ve studied it before but this time it is like watching a flower bloom in a fast-forward video. I am learning so much about starting this very scary process. This is my next big step on the road to improvement. The act of submitting starts to connect the dots and helps to paint a larger more encompassing picture of the entire writing process.

So yes, 2018 will be my year of submission. I will find good homes for my best and most well-polished pieces. I will take my time developing beautiful art. I will even submit to the painful process of naming my pieces, which is one of the hardest parts for me. While on this next leg of the journey, I will also continue to submit to my learning while I grow as a writer. I am ready for this final step in the writing process, the completing of the cycle, the bringing of my love of writing full circle. 2018 will be the year I submit myself fully to the entire writing process. I’ve never been more ready to dive right in.

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Personal Essay #49

Are you coming into middle age? Welcome to gray hairs that have minds of their own and skin that seems to hang a little looser than it used to. Welcome to noisy joints and slower moving muscles. Welcome to a mind full of experiences, knowledge, and perceptions, yet still able to learn new information, making middle age the most fertile ground since infancy—only now mixed with the largest number of possibilities. It’s also a time for re-evaluation and making life-altering directional changes. So, settle into the middle part of your life’s story and see what more you want to write.

When we hear the phrase ‘coming of age’ we usually think of the ages between 13-21 depending on various factors. But I never hear anyone talk about the ‘second’ coming-of-age, (the stage that happens between ages 40-60) other than the overused negative phrase ‘mid-life crisis’. I believe instead that this is a mystical and magical time in ones’ life, this middle life, this second chance that not everyone makes it to. For me, I personally feel like I am coming into middle life like a toddler who is learning to run, but I simply keep propelling myself forward as fast as I can, in order to keep from falling flat on my own face.

So, what does this next section of life feel like (other than the aches and pains)? Well, hopefully by middle age, most of us have enough life experience built up and are brimming full of knowledge and wisdom. Yet at this point, most of us are still young enough to use that wisdom as a tool while still being young enough to try new things and to push ourselves to new limits. Many of us also now have grown or almost grown children giving us a huge portion of our time back and with this new found freedom a second childhood or second attempt at creating the life we truly want.

This can also be a time for stepping out of comfort zones, trying things that have sat on the back-burner while we raised families or even the secret longings forgot since our own childhood. Perhaps this step is fueled by the sands of time sliding past the narrow neck of the hourglass, by the knowledge, that time is absolutely running out. There’s so much life still left to live, we are at the halfway point, looking at our future with the fuzzy vision of declining eyesight. Unfortunately, it’s also common for potentially fatal health issues crop or pop up, disrupting any and all of our plans. As my granny used to say, “When you have your health, you have everything.” Life has no quality to it when you no longer have good health.

In this next stage of the adventure, we continue on with everything we have left. It’s the time to make a difference in the world–if we can. The perfect opportunity to figure out what else we can bring to the table of life. The focus is often on overall improvement and trying to make good on things we might have gotten wrong earlier in life. It’s a time for enjoying the years left ahead of us to the fullest as well as accomplishing things that have merely been dreams. Some say it’s all downhill from here and perhaps that is true but it’s more enjoyable than that. I feel middle life comes with a unique freedom that other stages of life are lacking. What will you do with this precious stage of your life? What dreams do you have left unfulfilled? If you are lucky, you still have plenty of time to find out.

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