Just Do It

I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember.  It was my favorite class in elementary school, and  by the time I reached college I just had to major in English, never mind the fact that jobs for English majors were few and far between.  I remember sitting at my father’s desk as a child, happily typing my stories even though I knew no one but me was ever going to read them.  The joy was in creating the story, and readers were just the icing on the cake.

To this day, I find it much easier to express myself in the written word than by actually speaking.  In fact, when I do have to talk, I often find myself a bit tongue-tied and nervous, searching desperately for the right words.  The result is not pretty, and I rarely manage to get my point across in any meaningful way.  Hours later, when I replay the scene in my head, I think, “I should have said this.  Or I wish I had said that.”  But in the heat of the moment, the words I wanted so desperately just didn’t appear.

So on those rare occasions when I find it difficult to write, I don’t quite know how to handle it.  When it’s time for another blog post, I sit at the computer and try to concentrate on just exactly what I want to say.  Usually, it takes no more than five minutes for me to come up with a topic, and get started.  Admittedly, these days it takes an additional ten minutes or so to remember how to work Word Press’ new Block Editor so that I can actually type my post, but that’s a minor inconvenience that I’ve managed to solve……so far.  Still, once I get going, the writing flows and I usually feel satisfied with the result by the time I hit the “publish” button.

But then there are the days when that doesn’t happen.  The days when I know it’s time for another blog post, but no topic comes to mind that I think anyone could possibly find interesting.   There are times when I honestly feel that I have nothing of value to share, no new insights to offer, and no spiffy phrases that will entertain.  Those are the times when I type a first sentence, read it, and delete it over and over again, and when I begin to think that maybe six years is a long enough run for my blog, and maybe it’s time to call it a day and do something more useful with my time….you know, like learning Latin or reorganizing my junk drawer.

But the thing is, once I give myself permission to step back a bit, and maybe not write if I really don’t feel like it, my attitude begins to change.  Just subtly at first, as I type out a few rough drafts whose quality makes me eternally grateful for the “delete” button.  Yet I persevere, because I know that if I just go through the motions enough times, I’ll find my groove again.  And I’ll rediscover the joy of writing, of communicating my thoughts and feelings in a way that I hope others will relate to and find helpful, and that I’ll once again find the courage to not only string together a whole bunch of words in a way that finally feels right, but that I’ll manage to hit that “publish” button when I’m done.  Because when all is said and done, what writers do is write.  And half the battle is just doing it.

A New Idea

When I first started blogging, coming up with an idea to write about was the least of my concerns.  I had lots of things to say about being a “middle-aged” woman (a title I still cling to despite being sixty-one, partly because I don’t want to be called a senior citizen and partly because it’s too much trouble to change the name of this blog), and I actually had a backlog of posts already written, just waiting for me to hit the “publish” button.

But that was almost five years ago, and there’s only so much anyone can say about sagging skin, aching joints, the empty-nest syndrome, struggling to find clothes that are designed for someone my age, failing eyesight, etc.  And I’ve basically covered most of the positive aspects of aging, such as becoming a grandparent, growing more accepting and comfortable with who I really am, and having more time to pursue my own interests.

It doesn’t help that I have a terrible memory, and am sometimes halfway through writing a post before I realize that I’ve already written the exact same post.  Then I briefly toy with the idea of posting it anyway, in the hopes that no one would notice, but I always end up hitting the “delete” button and starting over on some other topic.

So the sad fact is that even though I now post only once a week or so, there are still times when I struggle to come up with something new and interesting to say.   Part of the problem stems from the nature of blogging.  Mine is a public blog, which means that anyone who wants to read it is welcome.  But that also means that I can’t write about certain personal topics without giving up my privacy, and I can’t write about some relationship issues without hurting the feelings of the people who would recognize themselves in my posts.  I never want to use my blog as a way to attack or hurt anyone else.

More importantly, I firmly believe that if someone is going to take the time to read my writing, they have every right to expect something in return.  I see far too many new bloggers who invite their readers to “come along with me as I write down all the crazy, random thoughts in my head,” and my gut reaction is always, “why would I want to do that?”  A writer should always have something of value to offer their readers, whether it’s entertainment, information, understanding, inspiration, a call to action, affirmation, or even just a temporary diversion from their everyday life.

The upshot is there are a whole lot of legitimate reasons as to why I’m encountering a bit of writer’s block these days, at least when it comes to my blog.  I toyed briefly with the idea of quitting, but I quickly realized that I’d miss my blogging community (which includes both other bloggers and old friends I’ve reconnected with through this blog) far too much to do that.  I’d also miss the creative outlet that this blog provides, and I believe I need that in my life, now more than ever.

So for now, I’ll keep on blogging, even when it’s just a little bit hard.  I may venture off topic now and then, and I’m quite sure the day will come when my rotten memory means I won’t realize that my wonderful “new” post is really just a repeat of one I’ve already written.  I only hope that my readers will either be forgiving or also a bit short in the memory department.

I’ve come to realize that blogging, like so many things in my life that I consider important and worthwhile, isn’t always going to be easy.  But for now, at least, it’s worth the effort.

Like Me

A couple of years ago, I was at a party when one of my friends introduced me to a woman she’d known for years.  At first the woman was quite friendly as we exchanged the kind of pleasantries that people do when they first meet.  But as our conversation continued,  she became cool, and then almost hostile, and I had no idea why.  Later, I went over our conversation several times in my head, but I still wasn’t sure just exactly what I said that turned her off so completely.  I’m not going to lie, the encounter kind of bothered me for several days afterwards.

More recently, I loaned a book by one of my favorite authors to a good friend, thinking she would enjoy it as much as I did.  But she gave it back a few weeks later, saying that she found the book so boring that she didn’t even manage to finish it.  I was surprised by her response, and I admit, a little bit hurt.

It’s so easy to say that we don’t care what other people think about us, but at times it is so very hard to really and truly not care.  Especially when we’re trying our best to be nice, or offering up something that we really value for someone else’s opinion.  A friend who taught art classes at a local college once told me the hardest part of her job was getting her students past the paralyzing fear of putting their best work “out there” for other people to see and judge.  My guess is almost all creative people can relate to that particular fear.

Personally, I have always struggled with my need for the approval of others.  Sadly, social media doesn’t help, with it’s little “like” button that lets us know just exactly how many others approve of whatever we’ve been brave enough to share.  And the only downside to blogging is the stat page, which makes it all too easy to judge how well we wrote a particular post by the number of views it received on any given day.  So I have to be intentional about trusting my own judgement and not falling into the trap of thinking that whatever (and whomever) happens to be the most popular is automatically the best.

We are all individuals with our own tastes, our own opinions and our own unique way of looking at the world.  That means we aren’t always going to get the encouragement and the positive affirmations from other people that we would like, even when we are offering the very best we have to give.   And in order to be truly happy, we have to learn to live with that.

I honestly think that the one of the most important lessons we can learn in this life is to trust ourselves to know what is, and isn’t, best for us.  Because the important thing isn’t how many people “like” us or our work.  The important thing is whether or not we like ourselves.

Sing Your Own Song

IMG_0354During our recent trip to Ireland, my husband and I went into an Irish pub in hopes of hearing some authentic Irish music.  And while the pub did have a young man singing that night, he didn’t play the traditional Irish music we had hoped to hear.  Instead, he played a wide variety of familiar songs, and at one point he even launched into a medley of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits.  At first, I was annoyed that he wasn’t singing the songs I wanted to hear, but after a while I just relaxed and enjoyed the music.  He played a mean guitar and had a beautiful voice, and eventually I realized that what he was doing was singing exactly the songs he wanted to sing, and singing them very well.

Maybe it was the two glasses of wine, but I began to think that there might be a lesson for all of us in that pub.  The young man could have played it safe and served up exactly the sort of music that most tourists want to hear when they enter an Irish pub, but he choose not to do that.  Maybe he wasn’t good at performing traditional Irish music, or maybe he simply didn’t care for it very much.  Maybe he knew that the city of Galway is full of pubs that cater to its many tourists, and felt that he would stand out from the crowd more if he performed a different kind of music.  I didn’t ask him, so I’ll never know.  But I got the sense that he was pouring his heart into the music he chose to sing, and because of that his performance was so good that my husband and I stayed and listened to him much longer than we had intended.

Not all of us can sing or play an instrument, but I believe that each and every one of us has something unique to offer.  We each have our own individual perspective on things, our own unique gifts and our own special way of viewing the world around us.  I have gone to several of those popular painting classes where the teacher shows everyone (no painting talent needed, thank goodness) how to paint a particular picture.  And even though we are led through the process step-by-step, I am always amazed at how different our finished pictures look.  Even with the same subject, the same paint colors and the same teacher, we all come up with something just a little bit different, and that is uniquely ours.

There will never be any shortage of people in our lives who want to tell us exactly how to act, what to believe, and how we should use our creative gifts.  And sometimes its very tempting to listen to them in order to feel the acceptance and validation that we all tend to crave.  But when we do that, when we ignore our own truths and mimic someone else’s, or when we paint the picture, write the story, or sing the song that someone else wants us to, we are turning our backs on the essence of what makes each of us a unique and worthwhile individual.

I think it’s important to trust our own perceptions, to believe in our own visions and to stand in our own truths, and to share those with others, even when we’re not so sure how they will be received.  One way or another, we all need to “sing our own song” with courage and conviction.  Even if that means belting out a Johnny Cash medley in a traditional Irish pub.

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.