Changing It Up

It’s nice to have a writing routine.

I try to write at 3:00 most afternoons, and I usually write in the same place: at my desk, which carves out a little study area for me in the corner of the living room. At 3:00, the house is generally quiet, and my thoughts have been churning energetically, and I usually have an idea forming of what I want to say and how I want to say it. Most days, I’m excited to sit at the keyboard and watch things take shape.

Routine is good. But even good things, done over and over, become stale. Last week I sat at my desk and had an overwhelming feeling of been here; done this: BORING.

And that day, I found this advice in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones:

Write in different places—for example, in a laundromat, and pick up the rhythm of the washing machines. Write at bus stops, in cafes. Write what is going on around you.

I thought I’d give it a shot. In fact, I thought I’d give it five shots. I set myself to write in these places:

  • Outside, on the patio, in the cool of the morning.
  • At a Starbucks coffee shop that is housed inside my supermarket, Kroger.
  • At a Panera bakery and café.
  • At my wonderful local library.
  • And then, just for something fun and different, I thought I’d see what it was like to write at the art museum here in town.

So, over the course of a Wednesday and Thursday, I took my laptop and spent at least 45 minutes, writing, in each of those places.

Here’s what I discovered.

  • Anyplace where people congregate is a great place for inspiration. I saw someone’s retirement party, and I saw elementary teachers trying to slow down their fast-disappearing summer break. I saw employees who clearly liked their jobs, and I saw people coming into one of my places who looked exhausted, worried, or angry. I saw children and teens and young folk; I saw middle agers and senior citizens. I saw all kinds of shades of skin and I heard accents and ways of slinging speech that I want to try to capture on paper.
  • Every place I went jogged memories. I thought about the first time I had a Reese’s cup cookie at a Starbucks; I thought about a young writers’ group my son attended for a year or so at a Panera. I thought about how different places honor their retirees differently, and I thought about straws and their effect on the environment, and the wonder of having summers off when I was a young teacher. I remembered a humiliating tumble I took in another art museum. Each different place churned up different memories and different trains of thoughts. I thought about the places themselves and the ways they serve our community.
  • Going with another person is dicey. I took my son, James, to the coffee shops with me. He promised, solemnly, not to say ONE WORD while I was typing. But he couldn’t stand it; something would inspire a thought, or a person would walk by who reminded him of something, and he’d say, “I just have to say this one thing…” And of course I would stop and listen. I concentrated better in the places I flew solo, although sometimes James gave me a nice unexpected perspective.
  • Some places offer distraction. Surprisingly, the library was the hardest place for me to work. It offered up a wonderful array for people-watching, but it also offered up all those books. I kept itching to stop writing and go browsing. The art museum, which I threw onto the list as a fun and funky fifth alternative, turned out to be a great place to write.
  • The new places freshened my point of view, and threw new colors, sounds, and characters at me.

So. I write this at my usual spot, at a time when the boyos have gone out and the house is quiet. I like this spot, and of course I will be tapping away here almost every day.

But I’m thinking that, every other week, I might go someplace unexpected and write, just for an hour or so. I’ll go back to the art museum, for sure. I might go to the mall. I just joined a gym, and I wonder what it would be like to do my morning workout, and then drag a chair to the corner and sit for 30 minutes, writing what I see. I think about going to the bus station or a college lobby, or to city hall.

Changing it up sweeps the cobwebs for me, and it knocks loose memories that were stuck in high, dark places. I come back to my cozy, safe desk, with new images, new sounds, new thoughts, tumbling in the mill of my mind.

Where do you write? And where might you go to write if you wanted to change things up?

Happy blogging, my friends!

Pam


Here’s a link to the blog post that resulted from this adventure. If you change it up, be sure to share your results, too…

https://pamkirstblog.wordpress.com/2018/07/14/words-in-five-places/


#creativewriting

#monthly

 

Good morning, friends! Have you…

Good morning, friends! Have you ever attended a blog party? It’s kind of an open-forum chance to meet other bloggers, follow blogs that interest you, and offer your blog to others who will probably enjoy it. It’s a good way to build your followers.

Here’s one taking place this weekend at Kayla Ann’s blog:

https://kaylaannauthor.wordpress.com/2018/06/29/blog-party-hosted-by-kaylaann/

I hope you’re having a great weekend. It’s warm here in Ohio!

A Muscular Comments Beats Begging, Every Time

“I like your blog!” read the comment. “Please come visit mine!”

There was a blog address and nothing else.

Another time, a fellow blogger left comments on my blog post for five days running.

“Visit my blog!”

“Visit my blog!”

“Visit my blog!”

“Visit my blog!”

“Visit my blog!”

I did, finally, visit both blogs, because I know what it is like to be new to the blogosphere, to want to reach lots of people, to look at the number of followers creeping up way too slowly, and to wish for more.

Neither blog, it turned out, talked about things that meshed with my interests, and I didn’t follow either one.


But I have followed other bloggers because they visited my pages and commented on my posts. Their comments made me realize we had something in common, and, unbidden, I went to visit their sites and liked, really liked, what I saw.

And I have discovered other sites and been energized and excited about what they have to say. I have commented on posts and seen the comments grow into discussion. And the discussion has led to me following their blog, and then sometimes, to their following mine.

Commenting can lead to connection, but there’s a more enticing way to do it than the examples I gave, above.


If we didn’t want people to read our stuff, we’d be putting it in a notebook or a private file. But the first thing we have to do is make sure it’s worth reading. Our posts should be planned and thoughtful. They should be complete, illustrated if warranted, and say what we want them to say. And they should align with the purpose of our blogs—what is it, after all, that we are addressing out here in the wilds of the Internet?

So our first job is to plan and organize, to get some posts up that we’re proud of and that really represent us. We need a plan to continue that trajectory, to keep on posting quality essays or photos or poetry or short stories…a continuous feed that represents us with creative integrity.

And then we can go looking for readers.

The exciting thing I learned about the blogosphere is that it’s not a monologue being received; it’s a dialogue being shared. So when I go looking, I look with my eyes toward others.


The first thing I want to do is target my audience. If I’m blogging about books, I’m not going to visit a popular blog about robotics just because they have 10,000 followers…unless, of course, robotics is just something I’m interested in. But other book bloggers might be interested in what I have to say, and so I will seek them out. WordPress provides wonderful search capacities, and I am sure other blogging engines do, too.

When I find a blog that looks promising, I read two or three posts—read them thoroughly, think about what they say and how they say it. If I am drawn to the blog, if I think I’d like to come back and read their stuff again and again, I leave a comment. I try very hard to have my comment show the blogger that I have read, considered, and appreciated what they wrote.

I might…

…copy a quote from their writing that really struck me and tell them why it hit home with me. So, when I have been thinking that I’ve been reading books that are light and fluffy, and that I really need to read things that make me work and think a little harder, a little more deeply, I find a blog that says something like this: Not all our reading should be easy and pleasant and give us a warm, contented feeling. Sometimes, our reading should demand our close attention, push us out of our comfort zones, make us turn off the TV and the phone and concentrate.

I paste that passage into my comment box, and I write, “Thank you for this. I have been feeling lately that I need to ramp it up, to get a little more muscular in my reading. You’ve described exactly where my hazy thoughts were going. And after reading your last post, I think I’m going to start with Cutting for Stone. Your description makes me want to read that book.”

Now the blogger knows I’ve read his work and really thought about it. I might get a response; it might just be, “Thank you!” But it might also be a thoughtful reply, a question, a recommendation, a personal anecdote. That invites a conversation, and that leads to new connections.

…relate the post I’ve just read to something happening right now in my life. “Your description of unread stacks of books really pinged with me! I have two stacks—a library stack, and an acquired book stack—and their looming presence saps away some of the enjoyment of reading for me. I’m going to return all the library books and limit myself to one a visit. I’m not sure what I’ll do about the books I own. Any suggestions?”

Again, I might just get a “Hey—good luck figuring it out!” response, or I might get a lengthier, more thoughtful reply.

…write my comment and then include a link to a post I made on a very similar topic. I might say something like, “I’ve been pondering this, too, and I recently wrote a review of two books on the topic. Here’s a link, if time allows a visit…”

Because the blogger is interested in that topic, and because you have taken the time to comment thoughtfully and demonstrate that you’ve read their blog, they may well pay you a visit.


Of course, making a thoughtful comment doesn’t guarantee anything. You might hear nothing or just get a breezy, one-word reply. Or you may open up a conversation that leads you to a blog you love to follow and leads that blogger to follow you.

If you are a WordPress blogger, there are free courses available to you that provide commenting activities and help you make connections. And you can search out wonderful bloggers who hold salons—places where you can share a link to your post and meet like-minded others. Again, I can’t paste my link and sit back and wait for responses. I need to read and respond to others; I need to share the salon link on my blog.

When I first started blogging, I had the hazy feeling that there were millions of people out there, waiting to read the sparkling bits of genius that only I could share. Ha! For most people, it’s a matter of, “So much to read; so little time.” If I want readers and followers, I need to make it worth their while to visit me. I need to pay them the same respect.

It’s work, meeting and cementing relationships with other bloggers. Reading their blogs demands time and attention and thoughtful, well-written comments. But it’s so worth it. Our followers grow, but the truly satisfying thing is that our relationships grow, too. We meet people from all over the world, and some of them become wonderful friends. And it often happens because we took the first step and left a comment that revealed our understanding.

I look forward to hearing about what you’ve been writing. Happy blogging, my friends!

#creativewriting

#monthly

BTW! I am not seeing a comment opportunity in my view, and there are posts here I’d very much like to comment on. Is anyone else having a similar issue?

We had the sad, sad duty of taking our sick and aging dog to the vet’s this week–her final trip. If you are a dog-lover, you may have shared this heart-breaking path. That’s the subject of my blog post this week:

https://pamkirstblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/the-last-days-of-greta-the-dog/

I hope you are well and blogging is going great!

Pam

An Argument for Blogging

How the world comes at another person, the irritations, jubilations, aches and pains, humorous flashes—these are the classic building materials of the personal essay.

Phillip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay

 I hate reading blogs. All that personal business—yuck.

My anonymous friend (let’s call her ‘Daisy’)

*********************

It kind of hurt when my friend Daisy said she hates reading blogs. “All those people spilling their guts!” she said. “Like anyone’s life is all that interesting.”

I had to think she was sending me a thinly veiled message about my own blog, which is, of course, pretty much all personal essays. I ended the conversation as gracefully and as quickly as I could, but it left me a little grumpy. And it nudged me to ponder the value of blogging and personal essays. It made me think about why I do it.

I started my blog three years ago…started it as a discipline. I was a couple years away from retirement, and I wanted, when I finished working, to approach writing in a more organized and professional way. I thought that committing to a weekly blog would be a very good exercise.

I wasn’t quite sure what I would write about. Maybe just the funny, quirky things that happen. Maybe a little bit about parenting an adult child with autism, and how the stigma attached to developmental disabilities and/or mental illness still lingers. Maybe I’d explore ending a long career and beginning what I fervently hope will be a long and rich retirement; I’d document the changes and discoveries I encounter.

Maybe, I’d write about cookies. Or coffee. Or chocolate.

I set myself a date and time—every Saturday morning at 6 AM—and I plunged in.


I DID develop a discipline (in three years, I’ve only missed posting once), but I also found something totally unexpected. The value of blogging, I think, is in the sharing of things that have some kind of universal meaning. And it’s in the feedback and response—in the community—that centers around the rich writing in the blogosphere.

“Every man has within himself the entire human condition,” Michel Montaigne said hundreds of years ago. His language was a little gender exclusionary, but his point was right on: the details and the setting may be vastly different, but under the surface, the things we experience are very, very much the same.

The stories we share have common themes—human fallibility, human relationships, human triumphs. It picks me up to read a fellow blogger’s account of the birth of a child, the birth of a book, or the start of an exciting new adventure. I remember—or I can imagine—the feelings of exhilaration.

I can relate to frustration too, when I read a post about feeling stuck, being unable to move forward, and not knowing why. Deep chords chime when I encounter someone’s account of the excitement of their first professional job; they also chime when people write of loss.

And sometimes I have to laugh out loud when I read about the string of disasters, told in a funny, self-deprecating style, that one person’s bad day can bring. “I know!” I think. “I know exactly what you mean!” Suddenly, my own disastrous day doesn’t seem that bad at all.

So reading other people’s personal essays reinforces what I feel and what I know. It makes me realize my reactions are shared. In the dark times, the reading reminds me I am not alone in inhabiting the darkness.

Reading personal blogs stretches me, too. I doubt I’ll ever see a jaguar in the wild, but I can read Josh’s blog and imagine what that’s like. I can understand, too, the value those magnificent cats add to our world, and why it would be disastrous to watch that species disappear. I can gain empathy with a young woman struggling with mental illness and the challenges and joys of parenting a toddler. I can learn what it’s like to be a student in India, a young wife in Paris, a single woman of a certain age in the United Kingdom.

People who struggle with serious illness. People on the autism spectrum. Scientists and mathematicians, expert knitters, clergypeople. People with lives as different from mine as…hmmm: as vinegar is from snowballs. And yet.

And yet their words sing off the pages, teach me, stretch my boundaries, make me realize the vastness and the beauty and the infinite richness of the human spirit.


One of the absolute requisites of a compelling personal essay, Phillip Lopate tells us in the introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay, is this: honesty. When we read about another’s life, and when they tell their story with transparency and without defenses, we are moved and we connect.

Most certainly, there is always a little bit of self-belief involved. We are pretty sure we have something interesting to say, or that what we’ve just encountered is something others may be interested in. We think we can tell the story in a way that engages. And what’s wrong with that? That is not vanity; it’s confidence and recognition. The writer is telling her own story, sure, but she’s thinking of the reader and reaching out to connect. He’s writing to share, not to boast or to pontificate.

Of course, there’s always the danger we might stumble on a blogger whose motive is just to let us know how supremely wonderful she is, or why he is a gift to the world. I confess to not having found those blogs, but if I did, there’s nothing that would compel me to keep reading them.

Instead, I will continue to read the wonderful blogs I’ve encountered—to watch the snow outside my window and then read about a blogging friend slogging through a tropical rainstorm, to contemplate the church I think I will probably attend while reading about the richness of another religion, the purity of a blogging friend’s belief. I’ll learn about birds and baking and loneliness and the rigors of raising a family of eight. My cultural knowledge will expand. I’ll remember what it was like to be terrified and 18, and I’ll read the book blog of an octogenarian buddy and know I have great things to look forward to. I’ll realize how things have changed, and I’ll appreciate what’s stayed the same, and I’ll contemplate the richness of our tapestried world..


So let Daisy avoid the blogosphere. I’ll keep my Saturday morning dates, and I’ll look forward to exploring the posts our blogging friends share. Maybe I’ll find a new recipe, learn something fascinating, or be moved to tears or shaken into laughter. Maybe I’ll connect with someone who becomes a lifelong blogging friend. Maybe all of those will happen in one reading, and it will be because someone had the courage to write a personal essay and put it out there in the blogosphere.

So let’s keep sharing our essays. Happy blogging, my friends!

#creativewriting

#monthly

Good morning from Ohio! Weird calendar this year–Easter on April Fool’s Day, Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s day—got me thinking about the value of sacrifice and the weight of rules learned, early on. Hence this week’s post.

I hope your weekend is great!

Happy blogging, friends…

Pam

https://pamkirstblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/17/valentines-in-the-violet-season/