A Good Clearing Out

In the cool mornings preceding the sunny dog days of August, I can sense a hint of autumn. This spurs me to give the house a good once over before school starts, before I find myself with hours of solitude for writing once again. Sometimes the mind needs a good clearing out as well. My brain is a jumble sale and this blog post represents a little pre-fall cleaning.

Gratitude is always a good start. I have a lot to feel grateful for from this summer. The large tumor discovered in my daughter was benign and despite the frightening time in the hospital, she has recovered enough to scare me with driver’s training. Friends and family came out of the woodwork to be supportive and kind as our family went through this.

canstockphoto32749113I am grateful to the friends who went on walks with me, exchanged emails, sent cards and in general, knew how to be comforting without being irritating. I am grateful to my writing group who kept me in the loop, even as I was frequently absent. I am grateful to my friends in the League of Women Voters who took up the slack of my volunteer activities when I couldn’t follow through. I am grateful to my friend and Army buddy who makes me regularly laugh during our Skype calls. I am grateful to my friend and life coach who offered to be there in any capacity, even as I had trouble processing coherent thoughts.

And thank you to the readers here, who offered kind words and empathy. And stuck around to read my messy, emotional posts.

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canstockphoto17270046The garden took a hit this year, but nature did its thing and the few moments I was actually at home, I enjoyed seeing the bees and butterflies flit through. A writing friend of mine attended a climate change leadership conference and asked to write about my bee-friendly yard. You can read that here. I had a mind-boggling conversation with my neighbor who acknowledged that lawn chemicals were not a good thing – while standing on his treated lawn. There is a serious amount of cognitive dissonance between our habits and the changes we need to make to ameliorate the damage we’ve done.

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My writing is beginning to ramp up to a period of productivity. Call it the autumn effect or the going-back-to-school effect. I’ve been experimenting with a few writing practices, as well as regularly submitting work. I picked up one of the practices from Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English. He suggested copying passages from great writers, or writers you admired. I was curious about this and when Toni Morrision died earlier this month, I pulled out my copy of Beloved. This is one of the novels that made me want to be a novelist. It’s the kind of book where you have to sit for an hour after reading the final page. It felt like a spell had been cast on me and it took awhile to shake it off.

6149I’ve begun copying a page a day and I see Mr. Dreyer’s point. The way we process language is much different when we write it, rather than when we read it. From the standpoint of writing, you start to feel the bones of the book when you write out each word, sounding it out in your head, acknowledging punctuation and phrasing. I’m finding it useful and improving my longhand writing while I’m at it.

I got rejected by a novel-writing group I applied to and I’ve decided to take it personally. Not really – just ran into some virulent genre writers. I write literary fiction which apparently is code for I write whatever the hell I want and is unappreciated by those who have staked a claim in sci-fi, romance, or mystery. Not to cast aspersions on those particular markets, but there is something easier about being able to say I’m this-kind-of-writer or that-kind-of-writer. You have lots of company. It must be comforting.

Rejection is my theme this year, but I’m glad of it. It means that I’m working at things, being more brave than I’ve been in the past, and pretty much living outside of my comfort zone. I’ve also applied to a writing mentorship program with slim odds. I’ve reached the point where being mentored instead of mentoring might be useful, at least in terms of getting through novel revisions and rewrites.

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canstockphoto4930986As I approach my eighth year of blogging, I think about the fact that it’s amazing we blog at all anymore. The instant pithiness that feeds some social media platforms has changed how we communicate, how we use the internet, and what we’ve come to accept in terms of context and nuance. I have a personal resistance to simplicity and am immediately suspicious of messages that are reductive.

It’s perhaps made me less vulnerable to worrying about stats and more concerned that what I write adds value. It’s added less value than I’d like, with so much self-referential writing and something I will be looking at moving forward. Of course, I think this same thought every year. And here I am. Still writing. Still blogging.

Trying Too Hard

I’m starting my third day on a focused work schedule, working on short stories and editing. Yesterday day was novel day and the day before I composed and scheduled my blog posts for the week ahead, as well as, and I blush as I write this, prepped a slate of Tweets for Twitter. That’s right – I have to write and edit them in advance – the equivalent of rehearsing a speech in the mirror. I tell myself that I’ll only have to do this until I get better at it, but I suspect the short, quippy, fleeting nature of Twitter is just not in my wheelhouse. I like full sentences. I hate emoticons. I refuse to put the app on my phone. I think about quitting it every time I use it.

GarbagcanpaperThis is not the post I had planned on posting. Inspired by the work of Rebecca Solnit on journalism, Dani Shapiro on personal truths, and an essay by Lu Hsun called “This Too Is Life”, I saw the threads of a post emerging about the responsibility of the storyteller. It was very high-minded and thought-provoking, with obscure references and some cutesy self-denigration, just so I wouldn’t seem like a literary snob.

So all those voices in my head were competing on the page. I had three, four, then five paragraphs. And it was a clunker. I was my high school writer self – all thoughts and finger-wagging and terrible structure. The output of trying too hard always looks like I’m trying too hard. There’s some authenticity in that, but no reason to impose it on a reader. You’re welcome.

Part of the paralysis and bad writing is borne out of my decision to be a “working writer”. Nothing is more damning than approaching the blank page with the weight of 51 years of rootless potential and desperate ambition. I keep missing the lesson that the things that I try least at seem to render the most reward. I put my nose back to the grindstone, flailing about with the most awkward and tiring efforts.

This is, in essence, the story of my life. I will work my ass off with little to no reward but that of having done the thing. Some days, it’s just not enough. But yay, I persist. When I was in high school, I ran track. I was slow. Very slow. So they put me in the 3200 meter run. You would score points for the team if you just finished, regardless of speed. For my senior year at the track awards banquet, I got the award for Best Effort. That’s going on my tombstone.

canstockphoto0404119I’m reading Angela Ducksworth’s Grit with a degree of irritation that comes when someone tells you something you’ve already rationalized for yourself. Yes, persistence and perseverance can win out over talent. But it can also be damned exhausting and demoralizing. I know I will always try, but maybe I wonder if need to dial it back a bit. I’m one of those people who’s always being told to relax. I respond to this in a laid-back and chill manner – bite me.

It occurs to me that if you put too much effort in, too much pressure on yourself, you’re bound to overshoot the mark. This would appear to have the same outcome as not trying at all, but I know there is a difference. Plotting and planning and working at my writing in any sort of methodical way is difficult right now. I’m too used to being a mood writer and I may as well plan on missing the mark for awhile. Discomfort is necessary for growth. 2019 is likely to be the most uncomfortable year ever.

Blogging in the New Year

When I have time, I go through the list of followers to see if there are new blogs that catch my interest. There is always an influx around this time of year – resolutions are in play and people have a little extra time on their hands. On a side note, I have always loathed the word “Follower”. It sounds like one is starting a cult. If I were to start a cult, it would be one where no one is allowed to make eye contact or conversation, hugs would be banned, and every book would be THE sacred book. Apparently my cult is a library. But that is neither here nor there. At least once a year, I like to do my version of a blogging advice post. So here it is for 2019:

There is no one-size-fits-all blogging advice. Have at it. Have fun. The End.

Just in case you were reading this post for ideas, I can only share what has worked for me, where I find value, and what my own resolutions are in terms of blogging. I’m soon entering my 8th year of blogging, which in digital terms makes me an old-timer. I’m just about to cross the threshold of 19K subscribers and while I recognize the imprecision of that stat, it’s still an indicator that I’ve attracted a little attention. Even if it’s only a cabal of spam bots.

The About Page

canstockphoto37956792Here’s what happens to me frequently. I see someone has followed the blog, I click on the link and it takes me to a template. I’m a little disappointed. I’m always interested in what people are writing and what they are about. But I get nothing.

If you really want to get things going, have that About page done. I know it’s tough. I’ve seen all varieties of About pages: the third person authorial page, lengthy explanations that gave my scrolling finger a cramp, the dating page (my likes are long walks down the hallway and pistachio-colored slippers), the abrupt “I write for me” scoff, and sometimes, awkwardly, pages that make me wonder if I should comment with a suicide hotline number. I go to the About page to find out what kind of writer you are, what topics you might be writing about, and if you care about your reader.

Caring about the Reader

Caring about the reader is considered a no-no for those writers who truck along on faerie dust and high-minded art mantras. I care about my reader in that I want to do my best work. I want my writing to be relatable and just smart enough so that the reader comes away with something to ponder. I care about my reader by using proper grammar – checking spellings and punctuation. I care about my reader by not spraying universal certainty and opinions. I recognize that my own shit is my own shit and may not apply to anyone else. I care about my reader, because those are the writers I want to read.

Tagging and Other Etymological Plot Points

canstockphoto45824701.jpgI originally wrote this section title as Tagging and Other Mumbo-Jumbo. Then I thought, where does the phrase “mumbo-jumbo” come from? From a language perspective, I began to wonder if it were another one of those racist phrases that came into popular use and that I needed to check. I did – and white people were at it again. It can be tracked back to 1738 when a European went to Africa and mispronounced and mischaracterized an African god and tribal language. A century later, it came to mean nonsense words. The linguist in me is both irritated and embarrassed.

The point of that little story is that blogging can be a learning experience. I don’t think that I’d have kept at it this long, if I didn’t learn something each and every time I wrote a post. There is some learning that is very useful up front. Learn how to write tags, how to add links, and how to link your Gravatar to your blog (so your comments are linked to your blog). These things will help your traffic right out of the gate. WordPress has a fairly good reference forum, but a simple search will dig up a lot of people who have written posts and even made videos explaining how to do those things. It’s a good investment of time.

Blogging as a Gateway Drug

One of my own intentions for 2019, is to write more frequently. I fell down the rabbit hole of comparison when I read about one blogger celebrating her 500th post in under two years. This post is my 471st post – in 7 years. Once I stopped hand-wringing over that, I reminded myself that we have to work at whatever pace we’re comfortable with – and for me, it’s simply a slower pace.

canstockphoto37956766What is different in 2019, is that I’ll be learning how to be a working writer with a schedule, deadlines, and actual submissions. So I’m going to up my game on social media as well – posting more frequently with potentially shorter pieces. It’s an experiment on my part – to balance between social media and offline writing that I’m submitting for publication consideration.

People blog for a lot of reasons. And those reasons can change over time. I started off just because I wanted to get over my fear of writing publicly. Then it was about the habit of writing. Now that I’ve fairly mastered both of those things, my next phase is learning how to keep doing this thing I like doing, while taking my work commitment to the next level. For you, it might forever and always be about wanting to get your thoughts out, or a lure for your YouTube channel, or just a connection to the world. And that’s just fine.

There is no one-size-fits-all blogging advice. Have at it. Have fun. The End.

Wishing You Happy Blogging in 2019!

Epiphanies at The Green Study

It’s been a productive week at The Green Study. Every surface is covered with books, files, and random Post-It notes. The white boards have hastily-scrawled notes and lists. After weeks of struggling with insomnia, I stopped struggling and sometimes I was up at 2:30 a.m. writing. It reset my brain to be up at odd times and ideas started pouring out. This post is a reflection of that – a little bit of everything.

It’s the Spirit of Intent

I spent a lot of time doing work for the League of Women Voters this week. Things are stepping up as we get closer to the midterms. I felt a strong desire to focus on these nonpartisan issues, even as I felt the dark cloud of partisan hackery above, preparing to rain down on all our heads.

canstockphoto13457331Some days it seems like too many ethically-challenged, bad people are gaining power and steam. I was lucky enough to come across the feed of writer, A.R. Moxon, who also has a blog. It was this thread that made me think about the spirit of each of the various tribes of people – what direction were they moving in? What future did they think awaited them? Who did they choose to follow? What was the intent, the outcome, the process? Who were they becoming in that process?

And what about the idea of bad people? Is it helpful? Politics is not a useful framework for defining our spirit. It is not Survivor or a team sport – there are no true winners if we cannot find common ground and serve the common good. And this is evident from all tribes – the fierceness, the words and memes meant to cut someone down to size. We are responsible for who we become as individuals. This week, I want to be like the women in my LWV chapter who have served the cause of voting rights for decades – dedicated, steadfast, deliberate, singular in purpose and thoughtful in words.

We get to choose which spirit we follow and embody.

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Book Talk

canstockphoto13243997I was contacted by JKS Communications, publicists who work with a writer I admire. They’d seen the blog and wondered if they could send me some of the books they were representing, in case I’d like to talk about them here.  This never happened to me before, but let’s just say I did a giddy little dance around the house. I believe at one point I picked up a book, stared at it lovingly, and whirled about belting out “the hills are alive…with books”. When I babbled excitedly to my husband and daughter, they both glanced warily about the study, as precarious stacks of lit magazines and books were everywhere.

I told the representative that I don’t write reviews. I just write about what I read. I waited for a response. And she was perfectly lovely about it. This is all to say that I’m going to read a couple of books and likely will tell you about them, but for the sake of integrity, felt compelled to be up front about it. Plus, I’m still a little giddy.

34462968One book that I didn’t get gratis, was by a blogger who I have been following for a couple of years. Dave Astor blogs at Dave Astor on Literature and I’ve enjoyed his wonderful posts, rambling through literary connections and themes. He has a nifty little tome called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia. My only complaint was that each chapter left me wanting more. Maybe next volume, Dave.

My One Thing

There was a Billy Crystal movie in 1991 called City Slickers. In a scene between Curly, a crusty old cowboy and Crystal’s character, Mitch, he talks about the meaning of life.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

I was 24 at the time so I sort of, kind of, understood, but not really. The characters in the movie were on the cusp of being middle-aged. As I move from the middle to just straight-up aged, I’ve been struggling with a sense of purpose. It feels like it’s been this way always – likely an innate part of the human condition. The challenge is getting out of my own way, cutting through the imperfect perfectionism and procrastination. I have awkwardly begun to do what I want to do.

canstockphoto43567403Dirty dishes sat on the counter, my daughter ran out of jeans, my family foraged for their own meals, and the cats scratched their own bellies. I was writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote, consequences be damned. I submitted a short story to a lit mag and didn’t throw up from anxiety. I came up with a plan for November’s National Novel Writing Month. This time I’m writing a big sociopolitical novel that I’m very excited about. The world did not stop spinning on its axis because I ignored my chores. My child did not need bail money. My husband was able to find things. Nothing happened except for one thing.

Life got easier. All the things that I’d been wrestling with, from feeling sort of useless as a human to getting enough exercise to my exhaustion from heavy social interaction. It all faded away to the background. I had finally brought the right thing into focus. My one thing. I brushed away the fleeting thought that I’d wasted a lot of time getting here. If you’re a writer, I rationalized, it’s all research and material, no matter what you’ve been doing.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo next month and want a writing buddy, you can find me on the site at MMJayne.

Gratitude

Thank you to the Writers’ Studio, a group of lovely and talented people I joined in September. Having that space to read, write, listen, and talk about writing has encouraged me to embrace my one thing.

Thanks also to Amy, who has bravely embarked on a nonfiction collaboration with me. I love that our connection has found new ways to expand and grow.

And last, but definitely not least, thank you for reading, subscribing, or commenting. As I canstockphoto31378283close in on this blog’s seventh anniversary, I marvel at how much the online world has changed since I began, but that I still enjoy writing here. With so many things grabbing our attention, it becomes harder to find community and connections. Anything we do to improve that, from connecting with bloggers on the other side of the planet to giving each other an encouraging Like or Hell, Yeah in the comments – these things do make a difference.

Building an Imposter’s Life

My intention has been, over the last few years, to build a writer’s life. I had to figure out what it meant to me, beyond all the myths I’d built up in my mind.  It is important to establish from the outset that I will never feel like what I’ve always imagined a writer to be.

canstockphoto2656709It occurred to me that how I feel about what it means to be a writer or not is completely irrelevant to what I do as a writer. The drill sergeant within says Write, dumbass. But writing is what I’ve been doing. How do I get beyond my computer? How do I improve my skills? How do I feel like writing is woven into my day?

Writing Out Loud

Over six years ago, I began to write blog posts. I felt sick to my stomach each time I hit “Publish”. I got over that, got hooked on and unhooked from Stats, and eventually hit a pace with which I was comfortable. I’ve spent hours writing and re-writing blog posts. The key lessons I’ve learned from that are:

  • Keep it in perspective. It’s an unpaid labor/writing practice and that is important to remember when setting writing priorities. As I have ambitions towards publication of a novel and short stories, writing blog posts cannot account for all my writing time. It seems logical, but it’s easy to rationalize any writing as being productive, regardless if it actually gets you closer to a personal goal or not.
  • canstockphoto56234840Building a community requires generosity, patience, and boundaries. I like to share links of other people’s work, but I generally don’t re-blog or write guest posts. Since I read other blogs because I like the writer’s voice, it sets the expectation that when I go to a blog, I’ll hear the writer’s voice. I also learned after the first year, that blog awards, while flattering, are chain letters with homework. The biggest lessons are that patience and courtesy are the name of the game – and don’t obsess about stats.
  • Review, re-commit, and sometimes, just take a break. Burnout is something I’ve experienced about 263 times in the last six years and a few times I considered giving up blogging altogether. But I’m still here. I regularly review why I blog (firm up that mission statement), recommit to better writing, or take a break. The first year, I took the summer off. Since then, I’ll take 2-4 weeks off at a time, with a notice on the blog of when I’ll return. Too many blogs drop off and never return – I’d like to stay on your reading list!

Taking Chances

canstockphoto15646582In my experience, there is no growth without fear, so I’ve been doing things I’m scared to do. I’m an introvert/perfectionist/procrastinator – so yeah, the things I’m scared to do as a writer comprises a very long list.

  • I wrote a novel over 5 years ago during NaNoWriMo, revised it over and over, and then let it go. I’ve started a second novel.
  • I went to a writer’s conference and pitched my first novel to agents.
  • I went to a book club. That really didn’t work out, so I’m trying to start an online one of my own.
  • Another writer/blogger contacted me, asking if I’d be willing to mentor her. Me? She had a great plan and caught me on a day when I was feeling confident. I said yes. Thinking about what she needs as a writer has reminded me that I know things, some of which are useful.
  • I submitted my first piece of work, despite making myself panicky-ill and mangling the submission. I’m not waiting 50 years until the next submission.
  • This month I’m applying for a highly competitive writing fellowship. My stomach tightens into a pit at the thought of it. My odds are slim, but they’d be zero if I didn’t apply.

Each step is practice for taking the next step. Failure is victory, because it means I’m doing something.

Improving Writing Skills

canstockphoto10374745I wanted to be a writer because of what I read, so it seems logical that if I wanted to elevate my writing, I needed to elevate my reading. I started digging into more challenging works and learned to take assiduous notes. I subscribe to World Literature Today which diversified my reading lists, as well as learning about translated works at Asymptote.

My reading is more directed and less whimsical. Sometimes it’s hard to read great writing and not get that sinking sense that I may as well be writing with a crayon in a dark corner somewhere. But that’s the nature of reading above one’s level of skill. Skip over the discouragement and the negative litany, right on over to practice, practice, practice.

The Absence of Motivation

I’m rarely ever inspired or motivated, in the moment, to do what I need to do. It’s this magical thing that other people apparently experience. Accepting this fact has been very useful. I can’t wait until I’m in the mood to write or exercise or until the stars have aligned to create a zen time and space for me to work.

Inspiration and motivation come in small ideas. This week, I’ve been thinking about the Mel Robbins TED talk I listened to – the idea that productive impulses are often overrun by autopilot because we don’t act on them right away and our habits take over.

canstockphoto6297403I’ve been practicing, acting on that annoying “should” dialogue. I am trying two things: 1) re-framing the should into a want. I should workout = I want to workout because I know it will make me feel better. 2) Practicing the five second rule. Positive impulse? 5-4-3-2-1…do it. I’m not giving myself time to stomp down that change in behavior, in favor of habit/autopilot.

The little habits are a great place to start. I should have herbal tea instead of coffee = I want to have herbal tea, because I’ll feel better with less caffeine. 5-4-3-2-1…grab an herbal teabag. It seems silly in the scheme of things, but as I’ve learned over the last year, the smallest components of a life, the minutiae at the margins, shape our lives and it is in those places that we have the greatest ability to make changes – to be what we’re pretending to be.

Fearless Friday: Renaissance People

It’s been a rough week at The Green Study. Its injured denizen (me) was extremely grumpy. Knee injuries take from 2-4 weeks to heal. I’m in week two and severely out of sorts. I broke my ceramic tea kettle and when trying to repair it, managed to Superglue a couple of fingers together. Limping and lumbering about also caused my Kindle to fall off a shelf and hit me in the head. It was like being taken over by the spirit of Mr. Bean.

I’m shaking it off and this week, the theme is Renaissance people – people who cultivate a wide range of interests and practice skills in multiple areas – people who will never utter the words I’m bored. Welcome to Fearless Friday.

Feacanstockphoto13410470rless Fridays are about lives lived in spite of our fears, living a life that is about curiosity, compassion, and courage. If you just got published, something wonderful happened to you, you witnessed an act of kindness, or you have someone in your life who amazes you, drop your story into my contact page or email it to TheGreenStudy (at) comcast (dot) net and I’ll run it on a Fearless Friday. If you’re a blogger, it’s an opportunity to advertise your blog, but this is open to anyone who would like to share.  These will be 100-300 word stories, subject to editing for clarity and space.

New Readers

When I have time, I go through this blog’s follower list and try to visit as many blogs as possible. I’m giving a shout out to a couple new readers this month who exemplify the theme of Fearless Friday.

canstockphoto1323495Jamison Hill at Jamison Writes. One of the things that will keep me reading a blog is the author’s voice. Jamison has a clear and authentic voice with a compelling personal narrative. I had to make myself stop reading his posts, because I wouldn’t have gotten anything else done today. Check out his Bio and Bylines for articles he’s written for a variety of publications.

canstockphoto46705839Cheryl Capaldo Traylor at Giving Voice to My Astonishment is a writer, yoga teacher, and gardener. She opens her page with an Annie Dillard quote that sets the tone for her blog. Her About page is what you’d expect from someone who cultivates curiosity just as much as she does her garden.

Karen has a concert card!

canstockphoto8525201She’s a neuroscientist, goes geocaching, plays the violin and viola, practices photography, writes, and juggles (I made that one up). K.L. Allendoerfer at A Thousand Finds is the perfect example of a Renaissance person. She writes about her music, geocaching, and neuroscience, as well as posting book reviews and photos she’s taken. You can read her music blog and bio at violinist.com.

Over ten years ago she began to play violin and then viola after many years of not playing. This is something that I connected with, the idea that it’s never too late to learn and to excel. You can see her playing with a quintet here. Despite all of her experiences and education, there was one thing she hadn’t done before – had her face associated with a concert. Congratulations, Karen – wishing you an appreciative audience and a stellar performance!AllendoerferConcertCardFlight of the Dilettante

canstockphoto10628495My resume and personal history reads like the life of someone who is very…confused. It wasn’t until I read Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul that I began to re-frame my aspirations. She defines a Renaissance soul as a person who thrives on a variety of interests and who redefines the accepted meaning of success.

I think that’s a very cool thing to think about. When you’re like me, a jack-of-many-trades, master of none, it’s easy to feel like a failure, because it’s hard to explain at the family holiday gathering that you gave up Chinese painting because now you’re learning Swahili and woodcarving. Flighty. Dilettante. Hobbyist.

Now I just say I’m a writer and call it research. And run away before they ask me about my work.

Have a wonderful weekend!