Writing and virtual socializing in the middle of chaos

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Can I just say 2021 sucks?

I hate to make hasty generalizations, as my college professor Dr. Funkhouser would point out, from the story he read to us about the man with the beaver-skin hat.

But 2021 reeks.

This was supposed to be the redemption year, the recovery year, the year we bounced back from from that crap-ball of 2020.

Maybe it was the high expectation we all placed on it. <Delta variant laughs voraciously in the background>

Maybe we made unfair assumptions, that anything would be better than last year. <see earlier reference to Delta laughter>

Maybe we (and by we I mean I) assumed most of the tough stuff happened to other people, and it wasn’t coming my way–not because I’m better than anyone, but because it felt far off. You know, like how we were told to eat everything on our plate because there were starving children in the world. It didn’t seem real, it felt more like a tale.

I’m not going to detail my year to date, as I know people have had far worse. I can handle my disillusionment. Suffice it to say I’ve underestimated the effect other people’s lives have on mine. Seeing people I care soooo much about go through things I can’t help them with is rough. Of course not as rough as it is on them! But I’m a do-er. I want to do things. Fix what’s broken. Make them not break again. And I can’t. It seems as soon as the waters start to calm, some big swell shows up unexpected, uninvited, and unwelcomed.

Man oh man, can I sub out for a while?

One thing I think I’ve forgotten is how many people are out there that we can rely on. We haven’t be able hug people or pat them on the shoulder or even truly look them in the eye. At least, not without bleaching our hands and face afterwards.

The longer we are away from that human connection, the more we forget it’s there. That it’s real. And that we need it.

About six-eight months ago, I dropped off of social media because it’s so fake. It’s a humblebragfest, or flat-out bragfest, and it was irritating the heck out of me. Cold turkey, just stopped checking in. Deleted it from my phone. I felt so free! When I see people (you know who you are) on their phone easily 6-8 hours a day scrolling and posting, it breaks my heart they they aren’t living in the moment — they are choosing a false sense of OTHER PEOPLE’S reality instead of looking up and living their own. I find it sad. And I feel bad for their families. My family too.

But I’ve recently realized that social media can be a form of release, like writing. It can be healing, actually. Touching base with friends, having them touch base with you, and being part of a larger community is a wonderful thing. If you can find a way for it to not be all-consuming, it really can be a lifeline to the world that’s in the middle of a huge, swirling, poop storm.

I stopped seeing it for what I came there for–true connection across the miles. I joke that my husband is a “lurker” because he scrolls and scrolls but doesn’t post that much. It’s taken me this long to figure out it’s exactly how he is in real life: at a party (remember those? lol), for example, he’ll stroll by people interacting in conversation and really only engage when spoken to directly, or when it’s important enough for him to join in. Whereas I, as you can imagine, have always felt compelled to join every conversation at all times and if I don’t then I’m either about to miss something or already did. Exhausting, right? Maybe I don’t need to do that. Maybe I can let other people talk for a while, join in when I want to, and know whatever else is going on, is going on whether I’m there or not. But can I do that? With all that’s been going on, I might not have a choice. I need my people back.

I’ve started popping in a little more often, doing my best to prioritize who I check in with, and what I look for. I need those virtual hugs and pats on the back and those group zoom calls that offer eye contact. I miss cheering on my friends and applauding their fun posts. I miss them doing the same for me. And they can’t fill my cup if I’m not there holding it out. If I’m not with them (even virtually), I can’t share a laugh with them. I need some laughs!

My challenge is to not get sucked back in. There is a healthy medium in there somewhere. My challenge is to give back to the online community what it gives me….to thank those that care, to reach out to those in need, and to celebrate with those sharing happy news (even when my news isn’t). My challenge is also not to sit around bemoaning an empty cup. I need to go out and fill it, wall to wall if necessary. How else will you know I want to hear from you if I don’t tell you? Social media isn’t designed to sit and wait for people to contact to you, and get upset when they don’t. They have their own 2021 to deal with.

If there’s ever a time when we need support and back up, it’s now.

Speaking of which, can you join me in telling 2021 to kiss my…no, wait, let me rephrase.

Can you join me in politely asking the rest of 2021 to go easy on us? At least easier?

If not, I thank you in advance for having my back.

Growth Along the Writing Journey

As a panelist on the WriteOnCon session “We Were All New Writers Once: Growth on the Journey,” I spent some time reflecting, of course, on my own writing journey.

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Here’s the thing: I honestly never thought I’d be a writer.

My daughter disagrees. She says from what I’ve told her, at every turn I was a writer…from the boxes and boxes of saved handwritten letters (each one means I wrote to them first), to papers I claimed to have loved writing in school (including my dissertation), to comedy & theatre sketches, to the way I somehow always ended up writing at work whether it was news releases or ghostwritten technical papers or business plans. She even mentioned the mock Christmas newsletters I used to send out, like when I claimed she toured Europe in sold-out piano concertos (she was 7) and one son had unlocked the secret to the Dead Sea Scrolls (he was 5) and the other had been banned in the Midwest for his expert ninja skills (he was 3). [I guess I was always creative if nothing else.] Yes, I had stints as on-air and newspaper reporters too, but they came as a result of a corporate job where, to make a long story short, I ended up co-writing a syndicated newspaper column on a fluke.

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Or was it a fluke?

Did I unknowingly will it to happen? Have I always been a writer?

My daughter’s accusation, if you will, really caught me off guard. But OK. Maybe I really have always been a writer even if I didn’t realize it until this week. Maybe it’s that I never thought I’d be an author. But honestly, aren’t they really the same thing?

I realized I have always been drawn to — what…places? work?… — where writing plays a large role. What a great creative outlet! And you’re in control the whole time. Don’t like what you’ve written? Go back and fix it. Get feedback that what you’ve written isn’t right, or good? Well it’s not like math–right or wrong. It’s subjective. So you don’t have to like what I’ve written. I do! It’s the perfect loophole, lol.

Surely that “you can’t tell me it’s wrong” caveat gets tricky when it comes to being published. The other person HAS to like what you’re writing in order to publish it, unless you are self publishing. Even then, there are grammar rules, punctuation, etc. People have to like your writing in order to buy it. It’s not exactly a free-for-all. But as a writer, I am in control of everything! I write when I want. What I want. I certainly take what others say into consideration. I honor proper English and don’t go rogue on spelling or manuscript formatting or query protocol. I have several critique partners that I couldn’t live without. I definitely do my research, attend conferences, and listen to experts. I learn and adapt. I feel I improve a little every day. I don’t do it for anyone else, any more than someone who practices free shots in their driveway over and over does it for any one other than themselves. (Are they trying to impress the neighbors? Get an NBA contract? No. They just want to get better at free throws. They earn a sense of accomplishment, of work well done.)

My daughter had a point. Maybe my journey started before I even knew I was on board, and all that time I spent writing earlier in life helped land me where I am now.

And my journey isn’t over. Far from it.

Maybe your journey started years ago too. Maybe it’s starting right now. No matter when it began, your writing journey can go wherever you want it to! You are in control, my friend.

Your writing is yours. Only you can write what you write, from your perspective, with your voice, with your knowledge base. And so too is your writing journey. Only you can decide where and how to map it out. Only you decide how often you write, how often you edit, how seriously you take professional feedback and direction. It might be up to another person to say yes or no as far as a contract, but its up to you to get your work to the point where they simply can’t say no! Write once in a while? Great. Just don’t expect grand success if you’re not hammering away regularly. Even the best natural writers won’t succeed unless they–wait for it–SIT DOWN AND WRITE.

It takes time. Probably more time that you’re gonna want it to take. Other people will succeed before you. But that’s their journey, not yours. Keep at it. You might not have all the time in the world right now. No one does. It might be really hard to see how to get from point A to point B if you can’t even make it through the day. We’ve all been there! If you can only afford a few hours a week for now, that’s okay. Relish those few hours a week! Work smarter so those 20 minute a day can be even more productive than an open day where “let me just finish this last email” leads to three hours of wasted time. It’s your time, respect it. It doesn’t have to be strictly in front of your computer. Block off time on the calendar and temporarily cut off the internet. Eat lunch alone outside under a tree and speak your notes into your phone. Brainstorm while folding laundry. Find a pen-pal to swap ideas and manuscripts with (note: be upfront with what you are looking for: do you want ongoing positive reinforcement or true honest feedback?)(not that they are mutually exclusive!). Try to do one thing every day to move your path forward, even if it’s one tiny step…but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Or three.

Your journey can only move forward if you’re in motion!

Mainly: take yourself seriously. Allow yourself that daily distraction-free time, even if nothing immediately usable comes of it. Nothing creative is wasted anyway. You’ll reuse it in some form, either by learning from it (finding out it’s not a direction you want the story to go, for example, is great progress!) or from the positivity you just allowed yourself to embrace.

Don’t forget the “journey” part of the writing journey means it’s a process, not a one-time event. The journey might be spotty and frustrating at times, but it will also be rewarding and wonderful. Stick with it, even if it’s just for fun. Not everything we write has to have the ultimate goal of being published. Some of our best writings never have to be read by anyone but ourselves. We can be proud of our work no matter where it sits. The important thing is that we’re writing–present tense.

Never thought you’d BE A WRITER?

You already are.

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