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.

 

 

 

Money, Money, Money, Money–Money!

Author’s Note: My website was down for a week, which delayed this post. Welcome back, blog take six! 🙂 

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The recent record-breaking Powerball lottery—along with all of the discussions both online and off regarding what someone would do for or with a billion dollars—brought to my mind several thoughts and observations.

You can look at the event from the downside, in that the brisk ticket sales and media frenzy portrayed millions of Americans, and some neighboring Canadians, as collectively dissatisfied with their lives and somehow believing that an obscene amount of money would provide a cure for that.

Or perhaps, in a more positive light, it meant that people saw that influx of cash as a way to help their families, their communities, and their favorite causes in a big way.

It definitely captured a sort of endearing sense of optimism in that, despite the tremendous odds against winning, ticket buyers who might otherwise hold cynical outlooks on life still believed in possibilities—that their dollar had as much chance as everyone else’s to claim the golden ticket.

Facebook, of course, became riddled with “what would you do if…” discussions. I was somewhat bemused by the number of people who said they’d buy their own island if they won. Personally, I think that living on a small island would be a pain in the ass. I mean, every time you need groceries or prescription refills, you’d have to take a boat to the mainland, right? How about getting your mail? OK, you can have them brought to you, but still…

What about internet access? A life with no movies, no downloadable books, no seeing your friends and relatives and adorable cat videos online? Unh-uh, not me.  I’ve grown terribly fond of having a world of information, news and entertainment at my fingertips.

Besides, I’m much too social a bring to seclude myself on an otherwise unpopulated chunk of land.

Then there were the inane surveys: what body part would you give up for big bucks, or what criminal, immoral or simply stupid act would you commit in order to become instantly, insanely rich? I found some of the responses, as well as the percentages of respondents who concurred, somewhat troubling to say the least. One local radio disc jockey who claimed he would give up a pinky finger made me think, though. I suppose I could live a full and complete (not to mention insanely rich) life without a baby toe. I’m only half kidding.

Yes, I admit I did purchase Powerball tickets myself, before one of the drawings, helping to push the jackpot over the billion dollar mark. I really don’t know why,  as I never play other lotteries, only occasionally buy scratch off  tickets, and don’t really like casinos all that much. Maybe I wanted to be a part of the news story, the historic jackpot. Maybe I liked toying with the idea of going to Ireland with my sister, buying that beach house for me and John, giving generously to small, struggling charities doing great things, and making sure that my siblings, nephews, nieces and close friends never had to worry about finances again.

But would I really want the weighty responsibility of managing that much money, had I won?  I can’t imagine the impact such an enormous windfall would have on my life, my relationships. I can’t imagine that all of the impacts would be good.

Which I guess is a good thing. No, strike that—I know it is. It means I’m not so dissatisfied with my life as it is right now after all. I like most of it just fine, as a matter of fact. And the parts I’d like to change don’t require a billion dollars.

What a wonderful realization.

Want to start your own online writing business? My colleague, Yuwanda Black, has been successfully doing that for years. To get a copy of her blueprint, click Here!

Writing, The Kaizen Way

images (2)    Last weekend, I picked up a book I’d begun reading a while ago, about Kaizen. Kaizen is a philosophy, an approach to creating changes in one’s life and beyond that’s so basic, so obvious, that you might be tempted to dismiss it at first.

As I did, the first time I began reading about it.

In a nutshell, the Kaizen method espouses taking small, doable steps in order to create significant change. The practice, while ancient, gained widespread popularity in the United States when it was introduced to improve organizational productivity in American factories during World War II.  After the war, Japanese manufacturers enthusiastically embraced the methodology in rebuilding their own beleaguered nation, giving the philosophy it’s Kaizen name.

In his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way
Dr. Robert Maurer brings Kaizen from an organizational methodology to an individual practice.  As opposed to attempting drastic lifestyle changes such as crash diets or impulsively quitting one’s job, Maurer  promotes practicing Kaizen to achieve a desired state, accomplish a goal or realize a dream by implementing small, seemingly insignificant daily actions.

It makes total sense, actually, and explains why most people abandon New Year’s resolutions within the first few weeks; we vow to transform our bodies with rigorous exercise routines and our personalities with radical shifts in our approaches to life, love and the pursuit of happiness, only to meet up with stiff resistance from the bodies and personalities we’ve built up over years of repetitive behaviors.

Small wonder that most of us surrender within a short period of time and slip back into the comfortable and familiar. Who really wants to conduct a daily war with oneself?

Conversely, why not give our self-esteems a boost by setting goals that are entirely achievable?

Without even knowing I was doing so, I began practicing Kaizen with my writing at the beginning of the 2016, by putting in at least 15 to 20 minutes every morning at my keyboard before I get ready for work. Rather than skimming through Facebook posts or my email inbox as I usually did that time of day, I either start with a blank Word page or open a document I’d started on a previous day, and coax thoughts, ideas and words from my brain or heart onto the screen.

As of today, January 16, I have only missed two days so far—one because I overslept, and the second because I wanted to track down the name and phone number of someone who offered last year to help out in my partner’s business, which took longer than I thought it would.

And you know what? It feels pretty darn good so far. If I had vowed to write for an hour a day, I know I would have faltered early.

Here’s another fact. According to Dr. Mauer (and even Running Magazine), running an hour a day does not counteract the ill effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. We office workers, writers and couch potatoes—even runners–would be doing our bodies a much greater service if we stood up and stretched at regular intervals, or took short walks every 30 minutes or so.

I mean, who couldn’t accomplish that? (On that note I just stood up and stretched.)

Anyway, I’m not done reading the book yet, and I’m just have two weeks under my belt writing-wise, so it’s still too soon to tell whether or not I’ll remain committed, or what changes will result from this and other small, positive practices I implement. I guess it’s sort of like planting seeds and nurturing them.

It’ll be neat to see what springs from them over time.