When You Start to Sound Like Charlie Brown’s Teacher

canstockphoto0187967As a parent, I often tire of the sound of my own voice. My daughter would pipe up with “me, too!”, but her voice is muffled under the duct tape. Parents spend literally hours saying “Don’t eat that! Pick up your dirty dishes! Do your homework! What are you wearing? What is that blue stuff on the side of your face?” I fall silent when, in my head, I hear Charlie Brown’s teacher.

The same thing happens with writing and blogging. I’ve reached a point where, when I review a post I’ve written, I think “shut up, already!” I asked a friend if she had any ideas on how to renew and strengthen my writer’s voice. She said I should write from someone elses’ perspective. I think that’s a great idea for writing fiction, but would have a tough time applying it to a personal blog.

One of the real joys of writing is when I’ve created something that I really like. It’s always delightful when others like it, too, but the crux of the issue is that I must like it first. I’ve had a few weeks where I posted just to retain a presence, when I wasn’t proud of the work, when I knew it wasn’t my best. In fact, some of my posts strike me as downright whiny. I’ve lost my sense of perspective.

One’s writing is often a reflection of what is happening in the offline life and I have to cut myself a little slack in the month of February. In Minnesota, after a good 4 months of winter, February seems to be a tipping point for myself and many of my friends. Spring is a mere two months away. Like knowing a job is ending, everything becomes more irritating, feeding into an attitude of discontent and frustration.

I’m struggling with putting the joy back in writing and blogging. Something indefinable is missing for me and I’ve pondered taking a long break from things to see if it would make a difference. I’m not sure it would and I wonder that something would be lost in not working through this time.

Writing is lovely when it flows and you experience that joy of creation, but there is something to be said for fighting banality and habit in order to, in the words of Jim Morrison, “Break on through (to the other side)”. I don’t know what’s on the other side. I am hoping it is not more of the “mwah, mwah, mwah” I’ve been hearing when I write, but I won’t know until I try.

46 Comments on “When You Start to Sound Like Charlie Brown’s Teacher

  1. I’ve felt this way, ummmm, yesterday.

    I find I can entertain myself (which is part of the reason we do it, right?) by, not changing voice, but tone or style: satire, criticism, confessional, silly, stream of consciousness; snarky, light, angry, biting. It’s like, still me, just multiple personalities. Probably confusing as hell for readers, though. Have any good writing books to inspire you?

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    • I’m currently re-reading Zinser’s book “On Writing Well”. You make a good point about tone or style, though and that’s something I need to think about. I have switched tone on occasion, when I felt inspired to write about politics or contemporary culture. There may be some lack of inspiration going on that can only be fed by getting outside my brain. I have other non-writing related reading I’m doing that may provide some fertilizer. Sometimes a good philosophy or history book gets the brain going. On the other hand, I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein and while enjoyable, I came away with no new writing material. The irony hurts!

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  2. I can’t speak for you, obviously, but for me the blah’s have a lot to do with the weather. My post today is about SAD; and while I am not depressed, I do drag myself around in winter. I need light and I need sunshine. Maybe you do, as well. Maybe your ‘joy’ will come back now that the days are getting longer. And soon we will be able to shed all the layers of heavy clothing we have to carry on our weary bodies every time we go outside. As for posting ‘something’ just to maintain a presence, I am guilty of that as well. I think everyone is. Frankly, even journalists who get paid to write. I notice it with writers I follow in our daily newspaper. Some of their stories are better than others. Same thing with TV shows Realistically, it is damn near impossible to be ‘on’ every single day, or episode after episode, year after year. No one has that kind of talent. Not every one of Picasso’s paintings was a masterpiece. Or any other artist’s, for that matter. You’re writing about how you feel. It’s authentic. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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    • I think weather has a great deal to do with it and it does lighten the spirits, once it’s still daylight through dinner time. While I can convince myself to be okay with ho-hum writing, I still feel the desire to improve. Good point about writers (and TV writers as well). It is hard to be “on” all the time. I think, though, that it’s important to recognize it and try to rally the quality before it sets in as habit. I was really feeling so discouraged that I actually thought about throwing in the towel, but that’s not my nature, so I’m going to get back on the horse and try to re-apply myself. That’s about all any of us can do, short of quitting altogether!

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      • We should Never settle for mediocrity, from ourselves or anyone else. But I read your blog and can tell you, honestly, there is nothing mediocre about your writing. I am no therapist, but I’m going out on a limb and suggesting something else is bugging you, not satisfying you; and you are telling yourself it’s your writing that is disappointing you. I think you are going through a questioning life and purpose period. We all go through it. I do it regularly. I think it’s a good thing. But it is difficult. It is being expressed in some of your content, which is not unusual. It happens to artists all the time. Look at all the different ‘periods’ reflected in Picasso’s work; and most famous artists and writers. It’s our outlet. It’s cathartic. Half the time we don’t even know we’re doing it. This really has nothing to do with your writing. At least I don’t think so. So keep writing.

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        • Thanks, Fransi, for your kind words and encouragement. If I were truly honest, restlessness and discontent tend to be part of my nature, as much as I try to fight it. Easier to roll with it and let it pass than resist and have that sense stick around longer. I have, at best, learned to use those feelings to try new things and push myself just a little harder.

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        • That’s all you can do. Find the positive in it and make it work for you.

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        • I know. It’s kinda nice, though. It’s like being the only one awake in the house. Free to wander around, uninterrupted for a while.

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  3. My style is to just not post unless I have something I feel worth posting. And, since my father’s death, I’ve been very absent online. I haven’t even painted for about three months! Sometimes, you just have to be patient with yourself. This malaise will pass. (I lived in MN and I don’t recall spring arriving in April. 😉 )

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    • I live in the metro area, so pollution warms us up a little faster!
      I think it really depends on the purpose of your art/writing. For me, since I’m trying to establish myself as a writer, I fear giving into malaise and not learning how to work through it. I am trying to treat it more like a job, so I don’t give into my moodiness, but it’s a challenge!

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      • I get you. I’ll be whining about it myself in about a week or so probably, and you will mock me by saying Work Through It…you know what to do.

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        • I’m trying to be positive about it and see it as a skill-building exercise. The better I get at working through it, the less likely I’ll get hung up next time.

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  4. I’ve been having this conversation with myself this week. I want to vent on something, but I don’t want to post a whiny rant so I muddle through until I can come up with something else to post, which in turn makes my blog dull and boring. I’m blaming my mood on many things, weather among them. Personally, I think your blog is awesome, so I’m sure your other writing is also. Just keep writing. You’ll break through, eventually.

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    • Thanks, Cheryl for your encouragement and kind words. You bring up one of the things I struggle with, too, in regards to rants. There’s a couple of aspects that I have to look at: 1) Do I have a point? 2) How fiercely do I want to defend it when people disagree? (As in, do I have time for this?). If I tone it down, you’re right, it makes things dull and perhaps inauthentic because I’m modifying what I’m writing to appease an audience. Tough questions, but good ones!

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  5. Wow, you’ve thought so much about all this…and here I am… Half a person who isn’t even a person at times, just tapping fingers on the keyboard and typing my thoughts at random till they make some basic sense to justify hitting the “Publish” button…and with no definite timing or intervals between my posts. (Of course, I am NOT a writer, so I shouldn’t be comparing our situations!) But I guess what I am trying to say is, you’ve got it clear, you’ve got it right: it IS more important for you like your writing first! so if it doesn’t bring you joy, may be you should wait for the joy to return, coz it will. Your happiness, that is all…and that is all you owe yourself! 🙂
    P.S: whiny or not, I enjoy reading your posts!

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting! I think it’s because I’m really making a go at this writing life, that when I encounter obstacles, I have to figure out how to get around them. I have a sneaking suspicion that breaks might start to become longer and longer – this is the “craft” part of writing that I need to learn.

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  6. I am probably pretty firmly in the “press on through” camp – but that’s because that is what works for me. I usually have a bit of the doldrums in the winter trying to find things to shoot (I shoot everyday) and am typically shooting still life in the spare room by this time of the year. It’s a struggle to be fresh. But this year I have been more experimental and tried things I doubted could work and I am finding my vision expanding – I’m in a pretty good creative place for a change this winter. Not sure if this has any relevance at all.

    From my end I guess I don’t hear the whining because it is not the voice I have given you in my mind.

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    • You’re still reading with the Fargo voice, right?

      You bring up a very good point. Maybe getting fed up with the “mwah, mwah., mwah” can be used as an impetus to try new approaches or ideas. I think I’m just about there, because really, when I start complaining about public transportation policy and holidays, I feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel!

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  7. SIX MONTHS OF WINTER?!? No wonder you are in a bit of a rut. We have maybe four months of slightly coolish weather and it rends my very soul – I spend it perched in front of heaters, moaning and accomplishing very little.

    If you can still formulate words at all after six months of frigid chill, you have my reverence. 🙂

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    • On the up side…oh hell, who am I kidding? I’m not seeing the up side until I see the first spring flower pop its head through the snow!
      I am a cold weather person, but it does tend to wear on you after a few months.

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  8. Living in Wisconsin, I understand that you can be a cold weather person and still be pulled down by the bleak and often dark days of winter. Take some extra vitamin D and keep on plugging away at it. I have given myself permission not to feel pressured to post everyday. It was getting too much with working full time and teaching a class. When I resented my own blog, I knew I had hit a wall. That said, I love reading along with the Fargo voice on whatever you want to share. Take care.

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    • Resenting the blog – that’s a very good way of putting it on some days. It does take a lot of effort and time. I always have to be careful to balance it out with offline writing.
      I experienced sunshine today – wheeeeeeee!

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  9. Ah yes. It happens. I find the thing that makes me write better is when I write crap. It makes me determined to not do that again. And I don’t. Well, until the next time!

    Good luck!

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  10. Cabin fever and lack of daylight. I have the reverse problem in that I get cranky in summer when it’s 110 outside and getting into the car after work wearing dangly metal earrings will put a serious burn on your neck. It will pass.

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    • I am not fond of the extreme heat, either. I lived in northern California for a year in 60-70 degree temps and that was about perfect, but I grew up in the Midwest and having distinct seasons really mattered to me. People always complain about the weather here – I think it’s part of the state’s culture!

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    • You just need the fashion sense of an ice fisherman and several layers of body fat, which are not hard to attain between the hibernation and the holidays.

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      • I’ve been enjoying the 2 winters I’ve had here in France, but I have to qualify – in the SOUTH of France where it is definitely milder and shorter! We spent 5 months last year (April to August) in the north of France, and it did nothing but rain almost the entire time! That drove us absolutely crazy so we escaped back here to the south where, despite the temps being a bit colder than we are used to, we at least still get plenty of sunshine! Rugging up is still a novelty to me (I think I’ve developed a coat and gloves obsession, objects I will hardly get to use back in Western Australia) and I know I have a lovely long warm period coming up 😀

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  11. I just read something amy poehler said about writing that I found helpful – that you have to keep doing it for the muscle memory. That most of the time it’s not great, but that you are learning the whole time about how to express ideas, so that when you do have something important to say, the muscle memory will kick in and you’ll know how to write it. (I’m paraphrasing, of course!) I found the idea that writing is like riding a bike (you never forget how to do it) to be encouraging.

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    • I’ve found it necessary to take a few days off from writing, but I’m digging into some reading which is inspiring. Sometimes ideas just need a little time to simmer before being regurgitated on paper <- this is why I need a break, I've started using cooking/barfing metaphors in the same sentence!

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      • Oh, I agree that it’s necessary to take breaks, too! Especially in your case – you get so much done on a weekly basis! I’m just encouraged by the idea that there is no such thing as pointless writing, even when we feel uninspired. Every time we write (or read) we’re learning how to do better.

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        • You’re right about that. When writing is not inspired, then it’s time to turn to focusing on craft, sentence construction and word usage. Always more to learn!

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  12. I’ve had times like this with blogging. Feel down and not bothered about posting anything. I hope you get your mojo back and any Doors quote wins me over 🙂

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    • I’ve been having a lot more up and downs lately and wonder if it’s just not part of the cyclical nature of blogging. I wonder if this is why many bloggers start to drop off. I’ve been doing this for a little over a year and I know from a personal perspective, I’m tapped out. On the other hand, I can take it on as a challenge and work through it, in the hopes of developing stronger skills that can withstand the fickleness of mood.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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      • No problem. Apparently, the majority of bloggers pack it in before their first year is complete. I hit the one year mark last October and thought about packing it in. Glad I didn’t 🙂

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