A Blogger’s Voice

DSC00181When I was young and naive enough to believe I had a good shot at making a living as a free-lance writer, I attended lots of writer’s workshops.  They were always interesting, and some of the tips helped me place articles with local magazines and neighborhood newspapers.  I never did make a lot of money as a writer…my largest claim to fame was a short article in Bride’s magazine and the publication of one (count it, one) children’s book.  Still, I learned a lot in those workshops about writing, and especially about the delicate balance between giving an editor whatever he or she wants and developing my own unique “voice.”

The voice of an author is what distinguishes one writer’s work from everyone else’s.  It is what comes out when a writer taps into his or her deepest beliefs, inner-most fears, cherished dreams, etc.  It communicates the unique perspective of the world that each of us have and that writers share through their written words.  And for me, finding that voice was always a struggle.  I could figure out what my editor wanted and deliver exactly that, no problem.  But writing from my heart was a whole other matter and I never really managed to do it.

Fast forward to almost three years ago, when I started writing this blog.  At first I was terrified of putting my writing on a public forum where everyone and anyone could both read and comment on it.  My inner critic went into overdrive, and I poured over my posts before actually publishing them, searching for flaws and carefully deleting anything that I thought could be offensive or misinterpreted.  Luckily, my readers were a small but polite group who mostly offered encouragement and the expected criticism and rejection never materialized.

I gained more confidence with each post, slowly but surely learning to ignore my inner critic and to put my true thoughts and feelings on my blog without quite so much worry and angst.  I began to write about whatever subject was near to my heart, and I learned that honesty (as long as it is not also hateful or hurtful) is perfectly okay.  It took me a while to recognize it, but I had finally found my writing “voice.”  My blog has brought me many gifts, but that is by far the one I appreciate the most.

Even better, I have discovered that finding my writing voice has actually given me more confidence to speak my mind in person.  I am no longer nearly so inclined to tell others only what I know they want to hear.  When asked for my opinion, it has become almost natural for me to share my true thoughts and feelings, even when I know that others around me will probably disagree with what I have to say.  My old fear of rejection is fading fast, and that’s a very good thing.

I know that not everyone is a writer, but I do believe that everyone has a voice and that  their voice, like mine, deserves to be heard.  And I hope that one way or another, we each find a way to make that happen.

I’m A Writer

Yesterday, I was at a birthday party when a woman I had just met asked the inevitable question, “And what do you do?”  Without giving the matter a second’s thought, I simply answered, “I’m a writer.”  Now I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count, but that was the first time I ever answered it with those particular words.

Yes, I’ve been writing my whole life, or at least from the age that I could first pick up a pencil and carefully write down the words to a story.  But we live in a society that defines us by what we do for a living, and I have never earned a living through my writing.  Writing has always been something I did on the side, either while working at the rather tedious jobs I held when I worked full-time, or when I was a stay-at-home mom with my two children.  Sure, I sold some articles and even had a very short book published by an educational publisher, but a writing career was always a dream I pursued and never the reality I actually lived.

Which is why I was very surprised by the way I answered the question at the party.  The four children’s book manuscripts I have written are still sitting, unpublished, in my files.  My name is not, sadly, on the New York Times best-sellers list.  If you went to any library in the country and tried to find a book by Ann Coleman, you would fail to do so. (Unless there is another person by the same name out there who has had more publishing success than I have.  If there is, please don’t tell me, because I might be tempted to claim credit for her work when I’m having a bad day.)  Yes, I am now writing this blog, but it’s been going for eighteen months and I have only recently the 400-followers mark.  Advertisers are not exactly pounding on my door, wanting a piece of the action.

I think all that has changed is the way I have learned to think about myself.  When I was younger, I secretly defined myself as a writer, but believed that I had no right to publicly claim that title until I had appropriate validation from the publishing world.  I desperately wanted to sell books to a major publisher, not so much to see my work in print, but to feel as if I had finally earned permission to call myself a writer.  “Of course I’m an author,” I would be able to say, pointing casually at the shelf full of my published books as proof.

But now I realize that whether or not I can earn a living through my stories and essays isn’t what makes me a writer.  I have come to believe that if someone writes regularly (I do) and puts his or her writing out for others to read (I do), and works hard at  improving his or her writing skills (I do), then that person is, indeed, a writer.

Some of us are blessed to be able to earn a living doing what we love most, and that’s truly a wonderful thing.  But the rest of us don’t have to let ourselves be defined by how we pay our bills.  If we are doing what we love to do, whether it’s writing, gardening, painting, woodworking, or whatever, then I believe we have the right to define ourselves by our passion.  And we shouldn’t hesitate to share that definition with others when we are asked, as we always will be, “And what do you do?”

The Blank Page

IMG_1230For me, the hardest part about writing has always been coming up with an actual idea that I wanted to write about.  I really envy the writers who say they have dozens of ideas rattling around in their heads, and their only problem is finding enough time to do the actual writing, which they often regard as a chore.  I’m the exact opposite:  I love the process of writing, of experimenting with different words and phrases until I get it just right.  I even like editing my work, because I find that after taking a short break from the creative process, I can see so much more clearly where there is room for improvement.  For me, the problem is simply:  what in the world am I going to write about?

English was always my strongest subject in school, but once I got to the age where the teachers no longer assigned topics, I usually struggled with finding an idea for all those assigned essays.  It got to the point where I was searching for my topic while I was still reading the books, which definitely took the enjoyment out of reading.  Later, when I decided to try my hand at fiction, I had the same problem.  It took me forever to think of my plots, settings and characters.  Once I had those figured out, actually writing the books and short stories was easy.

Sadly, the same problem continues with my blog.  I have a self-imposed schedule of two blog postings a week, which means that I have to actually come up with two new ideas each and every week.  I spent about a month before I started this blog thinking of ideas for posts and even writing a few of them out, just to be prepared.  But I used those up a long time ago, now it is not uncommon for me to feel a bit of panic on the morning when I’m supposed to publish a blog post and I realize that I have absolutely no clue what I’m going to write about. (I am in awe of the people who post every day.  And I know I’ll never be one of them.)

I think the problem is mostly self-confidence.  Of course I have ideas, especially for this blog.  I have lots of things going on in my life, and lots of opinions about the world around me.  But I also have a nagging inner voice that counters most of my ideas with the discouraging words, “Who cares?  Who would want to read about that?”  I think that ultimately, my struggle isn’t with finding ideas or topics,  it’s with having the confidence to put my thoughts, ideas, and feelings out there with the assumption that anyone else is going to find them worth reading.  Because the bottom line is I write, just like most writers do, with the intention that someone else is actually going to read it.

In my fiction writing, things finally clicked when I learned to stop worrying about what an editor was going to think of my story and simply started writing the stories I truly wanted to write.  When that happened, the characters, the plots, and the settings came much more easily.  When writing for my blog, I am slowly learning to stop thinking about what my followers and readers want me to write, and to simply write about whatever topic is foremost in my mind at the moment.  I keep reminding myself that this isn’t an English class and I’m no longer trying to earn that perfect grade.

The blank page, or computer screen, will always be a little bit of a problem for me.  But with each blog post, with each story idea that I develop and write about, the process gets that much easier.  I’m learning to trust my own opinions and ideas, and I’m discovering just a little bit more about who I really am and finding the courage to share that person with others.  And that’s more than enough reason to keep writing.

One Year Later….

One year ago, I finally worked up the nerve to start writing a blog about coping with middle age.  I’d been feeling a bit lost for a while, struggling to adjust to all the changes middle age brings, while at the same time trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I wasn’t especially sad (although every time I look in the mirror and see the wrinkled skin on my sagging neck, I do feel like crying, just a little bit), but I did feel as if I was drifting in a strange new world that I didn’t really understand.  So it seemed like a good time to take a risk and start the blog I’d been thinking about writing for a long time, especially since I had a good friend who kept encouraging me to give it a shot.

When I wrote that first post, And Now I Really Feel Old, I was so clueless about blogging that I wasn’t even sure if the post was going to make it to the internet, but it did.  And friends and family, some of whom I hadn’t heard from in years, read it and were kind enough to tell me they enjoyed it.  That gave me the courage to keep going, even when I didn’t know how to change the format of my page, tag my posts, or any of the etiquette of interacting with other bloggers. But I kept trying, and with the help of other bloggers, I finally figured out most of what I need to know to write my blog.

My blog is not big or particularly successful.  I have only 192 followers, and the largest number of views of any of my posts is 239.  Still, I have felt rewarded for every single post I have ever written, because each one has brought a gift:  a new follower, a contact from an old friend, a reader who told me that the message in my post was exactly what they needed to hear that day, or a comment that was so funny it made me laugh out loud.  For me, that is the best kind of success.

IMG_0709Every new venture brings results we didn’t predict, and this blog is no exception.  It’s helped me reconnect with old friends and distant family.  It’s introduced me to a world of wonderful blogs written by smart, caring people who now feel like friends.  This blog has me writing regularly again, on a real schedule, which has reminded me that I truly am a writer, despite my file cabinet full of rejection letters.  Most of all, it’s taught me that, even in my late middle-age, I am not too old to try something new.  This blog has helped me find my way at a time in my life when I was just a little bit lost.

Last week I was nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award by Sandee M., who writes a great blog called the Forty-Something First Time Bride.  (Check it out, she’s a gifted writer who describes her adjustment to married life eloquently and honestly.)   As a nominee, I’m supposed to give advice to other bloggers, but I don’t think I have much to add to the advice that’s already out there, so I’ll just say this:  Do it. Take the plunge and start your blog.  Write even on the days when the words come hard, and the self-doubt creeps in.  Just keep writing, and in the end, it will absolutely be worth it.

 

When The Words Won’t Come

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but there are times when I just hate blogging.  Now don’t get me wrong, I usually love working on my blog.  I get to write down my thoughts and ideas, figure out a way to post a relevant photo or two, edit the post, edit it again, and finally, hit that magic “publish” button.  After that, I can count on a few kind souls to hit the “like” button and maybe also leave an encouraging comment on either my Facebook page or the blog page.  It’s great feeling to know that someone has actually read and appreciated what I’ve written, and trust me, that kind of validation doesn’t come often from traditional publishing venues.

The problem is my self-imposed schedule of publishing a new post every fourth day.  I know this doesn’t matter to anyone else, but when I started blogging I knew I had to have some sort of schedule to keep me on track  (I learned this from years of free-lance writing from home.  A writer who doesn’t have a strict writing schedule is often a writer who isn’t writing much.)  Usually my schedule works just fine, and I only miss when I’m sick or the fourth day falls on a holiday, as it did yesterday.  But sometimes the fourth day dawns and I realize I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to write about this time.  It’s not long before I begin to panic, thinking that I have, finally, completely run out of ideas and that I will never, ever write anything that anyone else could possibly want to read again.  I begin to believe that I simply don’t have what it takes to keep a blog going for the long term.

IMG_0383What I have learned to do when that panic hits is to sit my ample butt down at the computer, pull up a blank Word document and begin writing anyway.  It takes a while, with lots of false starts, plenty of deletions and lots of time spent staring at the computer screen, trying to hone in on a single idea that can be developed into a respectable blog post.  It’s hard, but I have found that if I keep trying, eventually I begin to understand what what I want to write and how I should write it, and I realize that maybe I can do this after all.  After a bit more work, I usually come up with a post I am satisfied with, and my former feelings of despair and failure are replaced with a small sense of accomplishment.

When I was young, I assumed that all successful writers had tons of great ideas whirling around in their heads, and all they had to do was sit down and write them out.  Now I suspect that success at writing isn’t so different from success in most other areas in life:  the willingness to work hard, day after day, even when you honestly believe you don’t have what it takes to get through the task in front of you.  It’s turning a deaf ear to that inner voice that tells you that you can’t do this.  It’s slowly learning to believe in yourself, even when it seems as if no one else does.

There are lots of reasons why I am glad I started this blog, from reconnecting with old friends, to finding the encouragement and support of the on-line blogging community, to simply rediscovering the joy of writing when everything finally comes together the  way I want it to.  But for me, (someone who has always been a bit too quick to quit when the going got tough)  the biggest reward has been seeing just how important it is not to give up, to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and to realize just how much I can accomplish as long as I am willing to keep on trying.

New Horizons

IMG_3601Ever since I started this blog, I’ve spent a little time each day reading other blogs.  It’s what bloggers do.  I’ve found some great ones on all kinds of subjects, but I spend most of my time searching for, and reading, blogs about being middle aged.  And I’ve noticed that there is a common theme among many of the blogs that focus on middle age.  Mixed in among the universal complaints of fading eyesight, empty nests, aging parents and way too much sagging skin, there is also a whole lot of hope.

Over and over, I read about people optimistically entering a new phase of their life, shedding the emotional baggage that has been holding them back and finally moving toward the life they really want to live.  The authors are a varied group: people launching new businesses, the newly divorced, those in the “sandwich generation,” recent empty-nesters, new grandparents, people who were moving across country or even to a whole new country.  But their perspective is the same: they feel they are moving, tentatively but hopefully, toward a better future.

As we all know, there are definite disadvantages to being middle aged, and often there is a nagging sense of loss as our family dynamics change and our bodies begin their inevitable decline.  But what these blogs made so very clear was that the negative aspects of middle age are far from the whole story.  Many of us are using this time of our lives to rethink our priorities, to listen to that inner voice that tells us who we really are and what we really want to do, and to finally find the courage to chase our most cherished dreams.

I have always known that I like to write.  As a child, I remember sitting at my father’s desk and using his old manual typewriter to write mystery books, even though I never made it much past the second chapter.  And it was no accident that I majored in English in college, and spent many years dabbling in a free-lance writing career.  But it still took me decades to accept the fact that writing is a fundamental part of who I am, and that I will never feel completely fulfilled when I am not writing.  That clarity was a gift of middle age.

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Yes, middle age is a time when we have accumulated some losses, and we do grieve for what, and whom, we have lost.  But it is also a time when we can look hopefully toward our future with a willingness to try new things, a more compassionate and forgiving outlook, and, most important of all, a much stronger sense of self than we have ever had before.  We are old enough to have learned a whole lot of life’s lessons, but also young enough to see that there is still a bright horizon ahead.  And that’s more than enough reason to be hopeful.

Half Way There!

I read somewhere that most people who start writing blogs abandon them within the first year.  Since I started this blog on December 3, 2014, I thought it worth noting that today marks my six-month anniversary as a blogger.  That means I’m halfway there to making it through my first year of blogging, and I have high hopes of keeping this blog going for a full year and beyond.

Before I started writing this post, I went back and re-read my first post:  And Now I Really Feel Old.  At the time, I was just proud of myself for figuring out how to actually publish a blog, and most of the details involved were still a mystery to me.  Since then, I’ve figured out a few more tricks, like how to add an archives and pictures, and how to use a photo from Sanibel as my header, but I still have so much to learn.  From what I can tell, blogs can be as detailed or as simple as we choose to make them, and I’m still struggling to find a balance that feels right to me.

It would be fun to say that I’ve got hundreds of followers and visitors to my blog page, but that would be a lie.  The last time I checked, I have exactly 60 followers, and surprisingly, not all of them are friends and family I’ve nagged into it.  In addition, each post averages about 50 visitors, but not all of those people are followers, and most followers don’t count as visitors, since they can just read my blog in their email.  I think.  But I do know that I’ve had readers from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, France, Mexico, Canada, Australia and Greece, which is pretty amazing to me, and means I can brag to everyone I know that I am an “international blogger.”

This blog has put me in touch with old friends I haven’t heard from in years, which is a tremendous gift all by itself.  Through WordPress, I’ve also connected with other bloggers who are thoughtful, interesting, and terrific writers.  I’m finally, in my middle age, back into the routine of writing regularly.  That may mean I’m even spacier than usual (I’m often thinking of what I want to say in my next post, even when I’m supposed to be paying attention to what I’m actually doing, like grocery shopping or carrying on a conversation), but I’m learning to cope with that, and so is my husband.

I’m just beginning to discover the true world of blogging, and sometimes I get frustrated by how much I still don’t know.  But I never, ever, regret starting this blog or think that it has not been worth the time and effort.  By my personal standards, my little blog has been a success and a joy to write.  And I have every confidence that in six months, I’ll be publishing my “I made it through my first year of blogging post,” and already starting to think of ideas for the post after that….

Still Writing After All These Years

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Honestly, I never really planned to become a blogger.  When I majored in English all those years ago, I just wanted to publish a few books for middle grade children and hoped that they would be successful enough to earn me a modest income.  I thought I liked the way the publishing world worked at the time:  I would spend long hours writing and editing my manuscript, then send it to publishers until I found one that accepted it, at which point it would be their job to handle the marketing and sales.  My job would be to receive the royalties and get started on my next book.  It seemed like a good plan at the time.

Sadly, things didn’t quite work out that way.  My articles sold, but my books didn’t—except for one young adult novel which was accepted by an educational publisher. The rejection letters just kept coming. It didn’t take long before I began to doubt my writing skills, especially when I went to bookstores and read the books that actually were being published.  Clearly, the books I wanted to write and the books the public wanted to read were two very different things.  As the years went by, I found myself spending much less time writing, and more time pursuing different interests that didn’t require coping with quite so much rejection.DSC00181

But then the blogging world exploded, and I couldn’t help but see that there might be some advantages to writing one.  I could choose what to write about without worrying whether or not a publisher thought it could be commercially successful. The downside was I wouldn’t get paid for writing, but hey, I was certainly used to that!  I’m naturally cautious and a bit of a procrastinator, so it took me a while (and the steady encouragement of a good friend) to work up the nerve to actually start the blog.  But finally, four months ago, I started “Muddling Through My Middle Age.”  (Did I mention that all the good titles were taken?)

And I’m so happy I did.  As a middle age woman, it gave me confidence to realize that I could still start something entirely new and stick with it.  And although there was just a little rejection involved (It did hurt a bit to realize that some of my friends had no interest in checking out my blog.   I mean, if they had opened a bakery, I would have bought at least one cake), I soon got over it.  The blog turned out to be a great way to connect with others who were also dealing with the trials and tribulations of being middle aged.  Friends and strangers have left positive and insightful comments both on the blog and on my Facebook page, which is the only place I advertise it.  My list of followers is growing slowly, but steadily.

For me, the most important thing is simply that I am writing again, and enjoying it.  I’m glad I finally realized that it was okay to let go of my old dream of publishing lots of children’s books and try a different form of writing instead.  I think all of us need to realize that sometimes we have to be flexible when chasing our dreams, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Just find a way to do what you know you are meant to do, and don’t sweat the details.  Trust me, it will work out.

It’s Not Always About The Numbers…..

I’m still not sure exactly what I expected when I started this blog.  I know I wanted to write about how it feels to realize that I am middle aged (something I still tend to forget until I pass a mirror and think, “Who IS that old broad?” and then immediately begin to wonder if I can afford a really good plastic surgeon), and to share that with others who were also wondering how middle age had managed to sneak up on them.  I wanted to write about the challenges of middle age, but also look for the positive so that the blog was more than just a boring series of complaints about my lost youth.

My intended audience was my friends and family, and maybe their friends and family who happened to be middle aged.  I’d read far too many online attacks to be interested in trying to build a huge readership, since they would mostly be strangers who might not be nice.   I figured that people who knew me, or knew someone who knew me, would be content to just think, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve read in a long time” after reading a post they didn’t like, rather than feel the need to actually write that in the comment section.  But WordPress is designed to connect bloggers who are writing on similar topics, so I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea of other bloggers reading my blog as well, and I follow some of theirs.  Still, mine will never be a blog with a large following, and that’s okay.

What I have discovered while writing this blog is how very glad I am that I am writing it.  For one thing, I really enjoy writing, and I especially enjoy writing when I don’t have to worry about an English professor grading my work or an editor rejecting it.  It feels good to finish an essay and hit that “Publish” link, even if there is no check coming in the mail afterwards.  I’ve also found that working on a blog post forces me to think about all the positive aspects of being middle aged:  becoming more comfortable in my own skin, obsessing less about my physical imperfections, discovering what is most important in my life and becoming intentional about living life as fully as I can.

But the best thing about writing this blog has been the responses of people who are reading it.  I’ve gotten terrific encouragement from good friends, received thought-provoking and funny comments from people I haven’t talked to in ages,  and had many people tell me that I am writing exactly what they are thinking and feeling.   I love being connected to people who are sharing the same struggles and are also finding creative ways to cope with middle age.  We may not number in the thousands, or even the hundreds, but who cares?  Sometimes good things really do come in small packages.