Tag Archives: writing

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.

 

 

 

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.

Blog Attempt, Take Six

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I want to be a prolific blogger. I really do.

I want to write posts that inspire, motivate, inform, provoke, amuse and entertain. Make a difference with my writing, even if it’s only in someone’s moment.

But here’s the thing. I have always had this love-hate thing with writing. Some days I absolutely love sitting down and stringing words together across a blank screen. Other days, I would rather lie on a bed of nails.

Plus, I’d rather read than write. After all, it’s a lot easier to scroll through Facebook posts, catch up on back issues of AARP and Smithsonian magazines and keep somewhat abreast of daily news stories than it is to come up with things to write about–and then to actually sit down and do the actual writing. Blogging is hard work.

It’s also a lot safer (as in cowardly) to read and admire the work of other writers than to risk exposing myself as someone who just might not be all that talented or skillful with words. Not to mention being audacious enough to put my ideas, opinions, thoughts and feelings out there for others to skim, ridicule or ignore.  Blogging is not for sissies.

I have started and abandoned five blogs over the past several years. When I revisit them, months after the last post, I can honestly say I don’t really regret anything I’d shared on them. I don’t regret what I named them or tried to accomplish through them. I only truly regret leaving them behind, like so many cast-offs, until the purpose with which I started them just doesn’t seem to fit anymore.

But why do I stop posting to them in the first place? Why can’t I commit to them? Why do I always get to the point where I start avoiding the act of writing altogether, sometimes for months at a time, just so I don’t have to return to that latest blog and try to pick up where I left off?

And—more importantly—is it a pattern I can break with this, my sixth attempt at launching a blog and sticking to it on a consistent basis?

Beats me.

All I know is, I keep coming back to writing. I always have. I can avoid it, ignore it, discount it, say that I hate it. But I always come back to it. Always.

I wanted to name this blog “Take Six,” but the dot com URL was taken (it’s up for sale, but I’m not about to pay ransom for it). So instead, I have decided to name this blog after the original ezine and website I launched shortly after getting online over 15 years ago, a labor of love that I stayed true to for nearly a decade.

WriteSuccess. My first website. My Twitter handle. And now, my blog.

Here goes.