Monthly Archives: February 2016

On Turning 60

images (3)   Like the millions of other people born in 1956—at least those of us who’ve made it to 2016—I am  turning 60 this year.

Yes, I realize it’s “just a number,” with as much or as little significance as any other, except for the fact that maybe I’ll qualify for a few additional discounts on goods and services from here on in.

But attaching significance to our ages is pretty much a lifelong tradition, from the time we enter our “terrible twos” to our “sweet sixteen” (which was disappointingly not as romantic as advertised in song lyrics) to reaching “adulthood” at eighteen (hey, back then, we could vote and drink!).

Many of us reached age 30 wondering how we got there without meeting our own expectations as to whom or where we’d thought we be, and received black balloons and our first old age joke cards at 40.

So now I’m going to turn 60, and it just doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I mean that in a good way.

Sure, my body creaks and sags in places where it never used to, as I haven’t been keeping it in top-notch condition in recent years. And there isn’t a facial cream in the world that can erase the fine lines on my forehead, the crow’s feet that bracket my eyes, or the deeper crevasses that have formed at the corners of my mouth. At least not one that I’ve found yet.

It’s just that I thought 60 would look and feel older than it actually does.

A large part of that probably has to do with the generation that I’m a part of. Or maybe even the part of the generation I was born into, as I’m not sure my two older brothers felt the same way when they turned 60, six and eight years go. But because Baby Boomers began questioning, then testing, then breaking the rules that they saw as arbitrary or meaningless from the get-go, why wouldn’t we do the same regarding the aging process? Who says that 60 needs to look or feel a certain way? So there we go, rebelliously, as we march toward Medicare eligibility.

Perhaps, too, we’re aging differently than our parents because of all of the amazing advancements in health care, medicine and technology that’s  been developed, invented and made available to us that didn’t exist, in many cases, even 20 or 30 years ago—many of which resulted from the efforts and ingenuity of fellow boomers. We know so much more about the body and the brain now, which allows us to take better care of them if we so choose. We have better diagnostic tests, better information on nutrition, better meds. We have gyms and organic foods.  Smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and stores.

We also have better cosmetics and skin care products than our moms did. We have Rogaine and retinol. We even have Dr. Oz, who snuck into our generation in its final year.

But what I find most fascinating about turning 60 is how I feel mentally. I thought I would feel older, and I thought that feeling would not be a pleasant one. I now believe that is due in large part to looking into the weary eyes of my parents’ generation and thinking that would also be my destiny. My parents, who lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War, while us younger boomers skipped the war scene altogether—the Viet Nam conflict ended when my classmates and I turned 18. Small wonder that so many members prior generation looked, to me, bone tired. Looked older than I feel, now that I’m their age.

I guess that’s really it. Upon turning 60, I feel immensely grateful for being born and growing up when I did. Sure, my fellow 60 year-olds and I have also seen—and continue to see—our fair share of pain, hardship, loss, mankind’s seeming endless ways for treating each other inhumanely.  Indeed, I’m no Pollyanna.

But I also feel that, in many respects, some of which I’ve captured above, we grew up at an amazing time, a time full of miracles, of new ways for us learn and grow, to help, protect, serve and honor one another. And I believe that those of us who are fortunate enough to have reached 60 relatively unscathed have unprecedented opportunities to assist, encourage or even inspire those around us, across town, a time zone away or around the globe. The 60 year-olds of my youth had none of these.

There is so much more I can say about “growing up boomer,” experiences and insights I would like to share with those Gen-Xers, Ys and millennials who might be interested, or compare and contrast with others around my age. Maybe there’s a book to be written. Or more blog posts down the road.

I don’t know what the next life stage will bring. But what I do know is that, when I look in the mirror, those crow’s feet encrusted eyes of mine don’t reflect weariness or defeat. More often than not, I smile at my reflection, a smile springing from a pleasant memory, a joke I heard the day before, the outlook of meeting friends for lunch, or learning something new during the day ahead.

I smile because the Rogaine is working, and maybe, to some extent, so is the facial cream. The jury’s still out on that.

Yes, turning 60 isn’t at all what I expected. And that’s alright with me.

Writing Into Thin Air

images (2)  A significant part of my day job involves sending updates to our customer service area regarding new, events and customer mailings that may generate phone calls, changes in or reminders of department procedures, and initiatives taking place in other departments within our organization that might impact their jobs.

At first, the service staff said they were getting too many email communications, so we changed the format to two “daily news” email messages each day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, each containing a few updates.

But then they said they couldn’t easily go back and reference specific email messages, so I pitched the idea of creating a customer service blog to our department’s VP. She happily gave the green light and, for over a year now, I have been posting daily updates there, sprinkled with photos of staff celebrations and the occasional contributions from department management. I then send daily morning and afternoon digest emails to alert the staff of the latest posts.

Despite of all this, and the fact that the customer service employees know they should be reading these, I still receive fairly regular questions from them asking for the status of something I just wrote about within the last day or so. Or I get asked to remind the staff about an issue I very recently already reminded them about. And yes, the blog has a search box. And I also use tags and categories to guide them to whatever kind of information they’re looking for.

It sometimes makes me feel like I write these messages, send them, and poof!  They vanish into thin air, unread.

I guess all writing can feel like that sometimes, too, right?  You brainstorm topics or stories, write, rewrite, edit, proofread. You send queries to agents and editors, or you post to your own blog, and…nothing.  No comments.  No feedback. It can feel like you’re writing into thin air.

But of course, that’s not true.  I think about all of the articles, posts and books I’ve read over the years where it never even occurred to me to reach out to the author, thank him or her, or share my reaction to their work. Writers just don’t often get the kind of immediate and tangible reactions from their audiences that other professions do. That doesn’t at all mean we’re not appreciated.

Once published, your words remain out there indefinitely, unless you  choose to remove or change them.  They are there for anyone who happens to search for a topic you’ve written about, receives a link to your blog from a friend, finds your article in a magazine or your book on Amazon.

And once the words are published, they are there for you to revisit as well, to recycle or repurpose into another blog post, article or book chapter.  You can link back to them in your newer posts.  Add to them. Build upon them. Share them again with prospective readers who may have missed them the first few times around.

At my day job, I know there are customer service employees who do read and appreciate the daily updates I send to them.  Every once in a while, one of them even lets me know with a heartfelt thank you email, or a question or comment about a particular post.

No, our words don’t vanish once we send them out into the world. Every word we write, every post or page we publish, is then forever available for someone to discover, learn from, enjoy and maybe even share. And for us to build upon.

Instead they become a very part of the air, the content that fills the internet, libraries, bookstores and magazine racks, those places where people go to look for our work.

We’re appreciated more than we’ll ever know. And you know what? That’s okay.

The Curse of the Blinking Cursor

images (1) I’m in that space this morning where I just finished a blog post and am not sure how to start the next one.

The blinking cursor and white screen have been taunting me for nearly 20 minutes now, and I really should finish getting ready to go into work, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let them win this war of wills. I’m a writer. I’ll think of something to write about, even if it’s the struggle of coming up with something to write about.

I have long admired newspaper columnists, and now other bloggers, for conjuring up material week after week, sometimes multiple times a week, always on schedule. I admire not only their discipline, which has never been one of my strong suits, but also the consistent quality of their writing, and their ability to keep unearthing new things to write about or putting new spins on old topics, every week, every month, for years. Truly amazing.

Meanwhile, I’m just pleased as punch that I have made myself sit down at the keyboard and hammer out some words nearly every morning since the start of this year.

I guess even the greatest columnists and bloggers started somewhere—maybe even exactly where I am right now.

It’s not that I feel at all limited when it comes for things to write about. Every moment of every day presents an array of encounters, events, emotions and observations to dissect and explore. From interactions with family, friends and colleagues to keeping up with news, sports and weather, from fleeting wishes for life to be different to deep gratitude for things exactly as they are, life provides a constant stream of experiences from which writers can drink, whether in tiny sips or with huge gulps.

No, we are certainly furnished with enough raw material. It’s up to each of us to turn that into something that will entertain, educate, enlighten, provoke. inspire—whatever it is we want our readers to do or feel when they come across something we’ve written.

My guess is that the most stalwart of columnists and bloggers do what I’ll need to do if I want to keep this current blog of mine going more than a few months: they remain constantly alert, in the present moment, as much as possible; they envision potential stories in every snippet of conversation they overhear, scene they witness, movie or program they watch, and book, story or article they read.

And they capture them for later use and development. In a notebook. In a Word doc. On a recording device. They don’t let what they’ve seen, read or heard get away.

That’s actually the key to winning the battle with the blinking cursor, the blank screen—creating a treasure trove of ideas, thoughts, observations and topics from which to draw when nothing comes immediately to mind, and continually adding to it. This stash can prevent deadlines from being missed, blogs from stagnating and writers from abandoning their craft for months at a time. It can provide the inspiration we need when we think our writing wells have gone dry, the kick in the butt we need when we’re feeling less than motivated.

We also must to refer to this vault of ideas between stints at the keyboard.  Refresh our memories with what we’ve stored there. Mull over them. Let them percolate so that, when it comes time to sit down to write, the words seemingly just pour onto the page, fully brewed.

If you have an ideas folder, why not go there right now and open it up? Or start one right this very moment? That’s what I plan to do later today—I know I have ideas tucked away someplace. Time to take a fresh look at them, so that I pull up a blank screen tomorrow and, just perhaps, not become transfixed by the dreaded blinking cursor.


My Lifelong Writing Lesson

images   I’ve received a good deal of positive reinforcement over the years when it comes to my ability to write.

From winning the English Award as a senior in high school to getting an A in creative writing my freshman year of college; from snagging first place in a Christmas short story writing contest sponsored by my local newspaper to selling a handful of articles to small business publications; from feedback I’ve received on blog articles to ghost-blogging for others, I can pretty much say that my writing has received more than its fair share of validation.

And yet, I’ve walked away from writing time and time again, leaving a decades-long trail of unfinished short stories, novels, essays and blogs in my wake.

Now, as I approach my sixtieth birthday (how did that happen??  A topic for another post), having written my very first short story 50 years ago, I think I’ve finally figured out why I kept giving up on writing, only to keep returning to it.

Actually, I think there are a few reasons.

Mainly, though, I wanted my writing to support me financially, so I kept casting about for ways to accomplish that. I read dozens of books over the years on how to make money writing, and dabbled in everything from stringing for newspapers to attempting to write a romance novel (the first, while fun, paid pennies, and I found the latter to be some of the worst writing I ever did in my life).

I submitted article queries to magazines, back when writers waited weeks, even months, for snail mail replies, and while some of the rejection slips were encouraging, they still stung. And they didn’t make me any money.

I briefly considered writing song lyrics and greeting card verses, but never seriously pursued those avenues. I finished a couple of short stories, but those withered away in my file cabinet because I had no idea where to send them (remember, I only wanted to consider paying markets; non-paying literary magazines and honorable mentions  in contests were of no interest to me, and paying markets for short stories were rapidly drying up and therefore highly competitive…or was I simply afraid to compete?).

For a short period I even quit my day job and struck out on my own as a full-time freelancer. Armed with rolls of postage stamps, packages of large envelopes and photocopies of resumes and writing samples, I hawked my services to ad agencies, corporate communications departments and small businesses, looking every bit the unfocused and desperate amateur that I was. Miraculously, I even picked up a few assignments, which I woefully underpriced for fear of losing them.

It wasn’t all that long before I threw in the towel and scurried back to a steady paycheck and benefits.  I just didn’t like doing all that marketing for so little return, I reasoned. Freelance writing turned out to be 90 percent marketing and 10 percent writing, I lamented. Excuses, excuses.

Then came the advent of the internet. I marveled at the seemingly infinite new possibilities for writers to make money. The World Wide Web needed words; who better to feed this hungry giant, this global market, than those of us who excelled at stringing them together? Like a kid with a twenty dollar bill in a candy store, I gorged myself on learning about all of the ways writers could cash in on the ‘net.

Again I was all over the place, trying this and that, looking for that vein of gold, that oil deposit that could provide writers in general and myself in particular with an unending supply of riches…or at the very least a comfortably steady income. I bought courses that told me exactly what to do. I created a website and an ezine for writers, filled with content and affiliate links that most certainly would send rivers of cash my way.  I exchanged ads with other ezines and articles with other websites. I grew my subscriber list. Sold ad space. Bought more courses.

I made little, spent more and, after nearly a decade, gave up. I abandoned the ezine and eventually dismantled the website. Again, I threw in the towel.

For a time.

In recent years I’ve made some nice side money as a ghost-blogger, a pursuit that I daresay could produce (and most certainly does) a full-time income for writers who put their minds to it. I’ve written an ebook and dabbled with a few blogs of my own. Now I’ve started this one.

If you’ve been following my story and have gotten this far, you may already know why I’ve never been able to realize my dream as a self-sustaining freelance writer. Yet.

Believe it or not, I’ve only just recently realized the reasons myself.

  1. I never decided what kind of writer I truly wanted to be. Over the years, I flirted with all sorts of writing pursuits, and except for the website and ezine, never stuck with any of them long enough to develop any sort of traction. I was a writing jack of all trades, a fickle writer, a dilettante. Tough to admit. Writing has always been more faithful to me than I ever was to it.
  2. Similarly, I never committed to what I wanted my writing to Oh, I knew it when I produced pieces that felt genuine, that I could look back on proudly and say yes, I wrote that. Pieces I knew that wound their way into the hearts of those who read them as well. But I never stuck with that type of writing. It never seemed commercially viable, so what was the point?

The point was, of course, that I kept missing the point of what I loved most about being able to put thoughts into words and onto a page, then sending them out into the world. In my desperate attempts to make my writing pay off, I kept pimping it. Small wonder I kept losing interest in most the types of writing I attempted.

Small wonder that I kept coming back to the kind of writing my heart yearned to do.

See, I love writing about writing—the challenges, joy, possibilities and sense of fulfillment that writing evokes.

And I love writing to and for the creatives of the world—other writers, as well as artists, musicians and dream chasers of every ilk who were made to believe at a young age that what we loved to do most was worthless unless we learned how to make money doing it. Or that we never could make any sort of living doing it. That explains the real reason why I lovingly labored on the original WriteSuccess site and newsletter for nearly ten years. And why I’ve come back to it.

Last but indeed not least, I love writing about things that I feel, experience, notice or wonder about, in the hope that I can connect with at least one reader who has felt, experienced, noticed or wondered about the same thing. Or perhaps to help someone look at an old something in a new way.

I still want to show writers (and prove to myself) that we can generate decent incomes with our craft. Many writers do just that. But I think it begins with the lessons it took me decades to learn: deciding what kind of writer we want to be, and what it is we want our writing to do. Trying on different writing hats for the sole purpose of making a living just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t create a consistent income, and it certainly doesn’t bring out the best in our writing. At least it never did for me.

Will I still play and experiment with my writing now and then? Sure. But will I ever again abandon the kind of writing that I know and love?

I think we both know the answer to that.