Rinse and Repeat

I like being around people talking about writing but when I am I feel like a freak.

Everyone is writing a book. The book is making them crazy. They’ve been trying to finish the book for ten years but this year they’re getting back to it.

Attention turns to me and I tell folks I write short pieces, the shorter the better. I like writing a short essay in one ridiculously long, run-on sentence. I love a 48-word story challenge. I tell them the most I ever write is 1,500 words and they nod politely. But when I tell them I write for my blog, they start filing their nails.

It gets worse when I mention I just published a compilation of conversations between my two, now dead, dogs. Are you a serious person? I feel their strained tolerance. Who let her in? Only kidding. Writers are never mean to other writers. Dismissive sometimes but not mean.

So then the tiny competitive part of me (well, maybe not so tiny) wants to start presenting my bona fides, like a little girl on the playground, “I can too swing on the swing standing up!” after the it girl catches her making mud pies in the sandbox. The set-up is that writing a book or intending to write a book or being neurotic about writing a book makes someone more of a writer than a blogger who writes every day, exposes herself to the world, and has actual readers.

I overstate. As is a blogger’s habit, just to get attention, don’t you know. That immediate gratification thing is no joke, ask my Publish button. And here again, I feel like I need a hyperlink to my Publications page, to my evidence vault, to show that I’m a serious person, that I am a writer.

But this here is my evidence. This post and the one before that and the one before that. This is my writing. This is my art. This is my vault. And I’m just one of many writers whose publishing vehicle is a blog. Amazing, prolific poets, fascinating travel writers, crafters of flash fiction, memorists and cause writers who give strangers hope and inspiration. We’re serious people who love to put words on a screen for people anywhere in the world to read. We’re writers. We can swing on a swing standing up with the best of them.

Advent 2: Self Improvement Plan

I don’t really have one.

In the morning I think I’m a dysfunctional wreck. By noon, I’m slaying dragons. Or the other way around. I don’t have a consistent view of myself, my purpose, my utility, or my place in the world.

I read somewhere that Stacey Abrams has maintained a spreadsheet of her goals since she was in college. This must work for her since she is quite accomplished although she didn’t meet her goal of being governor of Georgia so I guess that’s still on her spreadsheet.

What I have is not a spreadsheet but a disheveled heap of projects and endeavors that share the quality of having been good ideas at the time. They often cease being good ideas before I put a period at the end of the sentence, my fickleness is that acute. I can turn on an idea before it’s even out of my mouth, heaven forbid it comes out of anyone else’s mouth.

My accommodation to my fickleness is to stop telling people I’m going to do something. I used to think that announcing my intentions would establish a public goal and that I would feel some kind of accountability. I did that with a couple of my 100 blog posts in a row ventures in which I invariably got weak and dispirited around post #5 although I finished the hundred all three times but in a row became not in a daily row, exactly, but more of a sequential row if you get my drift.

So I am thinking about my blog in 2020 when it will be ten years old. In 2019, I made a promise to do no republishing of old posts – something my husband called reruns – so all the content on the blog this year has been new and this has been a bit of a bitch to be truthful. I turned against that idea almost immediately but the prospect of my husband rolling his eyes when he opened his Red’s Wrap email in the morning kept me at it.

I have a blogging goal for 2020 but it’s a secret. Therefore, it could change six times before January 1st when I will lock it in as they say. Yes, I am going to lock in a 2020 blogging goal. For real. You wait and see.

Photo by HENCE THE BOOM on Unsplash

9 Things I Know After 9 Years of Blogging

June will mark nine years since I started Red’s Wrap. But because someone asked me yesterday how long I had been blogging and I said “nine years,” it occurred to me that now would be a good time to blog about blogging. Even if it is only April. Here’s my advice from nine years of blogging.

  1. Write who you are. I can tell real from not real in about five words. I have no patience for pretenders or posturers. Say who you are. If you are stuck about that, use Hemingway’s advice: write one true sentence. And then go from there.
  2. But keep yourself to yourself. I don’t want to know your every pore. I’m fine with a few drops of blood, leaving the rest to my imagination, but I will leave if the blood is gushing and continues, day to day, week to week. Don’t give readers your core. That’s yours. But hint at it, show glimpses, that will be enough.
  3. Have courage. Unless you’re doing recipes, blogging is about exposure and risk. Change lanes! Write about things that make you uncomfortable, make yourself think about foreign ideas, get out of your kitchen or office or front yard. Be bigger than you are. And try different formats. Write a poem. Write a post that is entirely dialogue or one that is mostly photos. Scramble your words. Surprise me.
  4. No cheese without bread. My cousin, Joan, had six kids and this cheese rule was one of her mainstays. I reinterpret it for blogging to say no blogging without a photo. Us readers? We can’t have just cheese. It’s too much. Too dense. And for the writer, a blog without a photo is too hard, too expensive wordwise. Make the words go farther, post some bread.
  5. Make your blog beautiful. A blog that is clean and readable, easy to navigate, welcoming, ah, that’s a blog to follow. One with a lot of extras, ads, pitches, artsy font, and other varied indulgences tells me to click on and click off.
  6. Consider yourself a writer. If you are posting pieces of substance on your blog, you are a writer. You are a writer who blogs. So act like one. First order of business is making sure what you post is literate. Second is constantly seeking to improve as a writer. That takes practice (frequent posting), education (learning new things from experts), and feedback (putting your writing on the table for criticism).
  7. Push the damn button. Don’t suffer the contemplation of whether you should post something you’ve written. If you like it, push the button. If you don’t, ditch it. There are always more words. You will never write the last words. The longer you wait to post something you’ve written, the more scared and tentative you’ll get. You only need your own approval.
  8. Assume your readers are strangers. Most of them will be. The internet is an enormous cavernous place populated by people you wouldn’t meet in a thousand years. So think of those as your readers. Don’t think of your mother, your ex, or your business colleagues as readers because, even though they are quite likely to read your blog, thinking that will cramp your style so don’t.
  9. Be proud of your work. For years, I would run away from my work, disown it like an unpopular potato salad at a potluck. “Who brought that?” I would shrug. But not anymore. Red’s Wrap belongs to me and, while there are posts that are silly or over the top, there are pieces that are so clear and ring so true that I can’t believe I wrote them. I’d hang them like jewels around my neck if I could, I love them that much. It is grand to be proud of oneself. Very grand.

My Writing Armistice

I’ve come to this conclusion: if the wars in your head ever stop, you’re done for.

There have been a couple of wars going on in my head lately. One of them is about this blog.

Do I write every day and suffer the not infrequent dread of it being 11:30 p.m. and having to come up with words? Or do I write when I am so moved which is, if I’m honest, rarely. The muse doesn’t chase me around the table while I play hard to get, it heads straight out the door to take up with more willing partners.

I want to say that I have been of two minds about writing every day. Mostly I want to say it because it has to be one of the most descriptive phrases ever.

My not-writing everyday mind says I should save myself for great essays, that all the words I use here could be better used in a longer essay that some journal publishes after I’ve shopped it around for a year or I publish myself in a book that won’t be finished until I’m eating pureed peach cobbler from a spoon held by a stranger.

My writing every day mind says I risk becoming a depressed mess, a triple knot in a cheap necklace if I run around mute all the time. If the adage, ‘I don’t know what I think until I write it down’ is as true as I’ve always said it is, then I will be perpetually bewildered unless I get my daily writing act together.

Plus daily writing encourages observation and analysis, greater presence, and discipline which I really need right now, having lived a long life of obligation and expectation, and now refashioning that into a new persona, a new way of being. I can either become slack from having all the external demands removed or reconstruct myself from the inside out as a tougher, more insightful, and more skilled person.

So I am back to writing every day – unless, unless – but it will be an intention rather than a bar room bet. Long, short, pretty good, not so hot, there will be something in this space until, you know, the war starts up again.

Wrestling with the Concept of Brand

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“What is your brand?”

“You need to define your brand.”

When I first heard about the pressing need to define one’s brand two years ago at the Type-A Parent conference in Atlanta, I pushed the concept aside. I wasn’t interested in monetizing my blog, would never seek paid advertisements, didn’t want any junk on my sidebar interfering with my aesthetic. (That I say that is laughable, as if I’m some great graphic artist.)

Moreover, I resisted writing in a niche, which I presumed was the prerequisite of effective branding. Was I an old mommy blogger, an angry feminist, a deaf person? Or all of the above? I wanted to be niche-less. I wanted to write about whatever I felt like writing about without thinking I had an obligation to some brand. “Oh my God, what is that old mommy blogger doing writing about Donald Trump?”

So I meandered around, not worrying about branding, just doing my thing. And after a while, I started thinking that my thing or things, as it were, had gradually become my brand. And then I realized that my brand was something to nurture and develop. It surprised me that the whole notion of having a brand no longer felt foreign or contrived. It didn’t seem like acting or pretending.

The biggest surprise was that the brand for my blog, Red’s Wrap, was me.

The beauty of this is that writing my blog has helped me define myself during periods of great difficulty and transition. In the manner of Joan Didion’s famous comment, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down,” blogging settled me when my thoughts were chaotic and disabling. I would try to do what Hemingway recommended: “Just write one true sentence.” And often that gave way to writing many true sentences that revealed to me who I was at that moment. Not who I wished I could be or wanted others to believe I was, not a construction or fiction, just the realest truest me. Writing my blog revealed to me who I really was as a person.

And it is that exercise, even more than the result, that I consider to be my brand.

When people take the time to read my blog, I want to deliver content that is true to my brand. It makes me think twice about what I write, puts some things out of bounds, brings others surprisingly in bounds. Having a sense of brand makes me careful but it also makes me brave.

When I read others’ blogs, I can tell which bloggers have developed their brand (knowingly or not). They have a confidence and comfort with themselves that is obvious and attractive. It’s as if they are saying “stay with me, I know what I’m doing.”

How do you get to the place where you recognize and embrace your brand?

Just write one true sentence and go from there.

___________

The Daily Post: Voice

 

Note to New Bloggers: What to Write About

Comparison is both the fuel and the death of creativity.

Knowing that, I read just a few other blogs. Not all of them are terrific but they all have something unique. Artwork, humor, insight, style. Comparing my blog to theirs and to others highlighted by Discover, a curated site operated by WordPress, helps me position myself in terms of other writers. How do I measure up?

But as in the rest of life – brains, looks, charm – the comparison game quickly sours. That’s when I know that if I persist, I’ll get depressed. And because much of my life is about mood management, I am loathe to continue down a road headed for a cliff with rocks and thorny cactus below. Self-preservation outweighs my attraction to the creativity of others. I have a pretty high opinion of myself but it needs constant protection. Too much information about the glory of others is not helpful.

I think this is a valuable tidbit for new bloggers. Manage your exposure to other bloggers for a while. This is another way of saying manage the intimidation you feel. Just write what you write and let things unfold. I talked about this yesterday. Be glad that no one reads your blog when you are starting out; there’s protection in being ignored. Revel in it for a while until you get your bearings.

So what do you write about when you’re starting out?

Write about the smallest big thing that happened to you today.

Be a laser beam.

Find the tiniest stitch.

Paint the untied shoe.

Love the one thing.

This is so hard for people who have been driven to writing a blog because they have a lot to say. But let me tell you this, don’t say all you have to say. First of all, you won’t do your experience justice in one blog post. Secondly, you can’t convey true heart with too big a picture. Third, the tiny and beautiful draws people to you.

It takes discipline to find the smallest big thing. And the discipline has to do with not thinking about what other people will think is the smallest big thing.

It has to be entirely yours.

I will tell you about the smallest big thing that happened to me once. It was the day this picture was taken.

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This was the moment that one of my grandsons took a shell from the hand of a stranger at the coffee shop. I wrote about that moment and what I thought it meant. I’m not saying this is the world’s greatest blog post. It’s just an example of zeroing in on a moment in time. And then realizing what the moment told me: my daughter, these boys’ mother, is raising them to be happy and friendly. I loved that about her and about this moment in time and so that’s what I wrote about.

So that’s what I encourage people who are just starting out to do: write about the smallest big thing. Make it your precious moment. Unique and glowing.

And then share it.

 

The Coward’s Guide to Starting a Blog

 

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You’re not really a coward if you want to start a blog but are afraid to do it. I just said that to get your attention.

I started my blog, Red’s Wrap, because I wanted to write about adoption, specifically from the perspective of an older mom of young adult adopted children. It was to be sort of a ‘this is how it turns out’ blog.

I already blogged on my business website  and the blog posts were often very personal even though they ostensibly dealt with community planning and research topics. My personal views, especially about issues of feminism and racism frequently bled through and I started to think that a separate, personal, blog might be a more appropriate vehicle.

Before I started my blog, I’d taken a couple of writing classes. Not with the intention of writing a blog, I just took the classes because it seemed like a good idea. From the class, I got this takeaway. If I were to get a tattoo, this is what it would say: the most important thing about writing is having something to say.

The technical aspects of putting together a blog have pretty much been minimized by the great utility of WordPress. Basically, any fool can put up a WordPress blog in about an hour. The biggest sticking points will be the theme, the look, the colors. WordPress makes it easy, like shopping at Target. It’s amazingly plug and play.

So where does the cowardice, or let’s say, hesitation, come in?  Right here. Get ready for it. It’s your worst fear.

Being judged.

If you write something and publish it on the internet, someone is going to read it. It might be your mother who loves you or it might be a stranger living in Australia. You have no way of knowing. If you write it and publish it, it exists. And you have to be able to take that risk. You have to take the risk that people won’t like it, your mother won’t like it, the person in Australia won’t like it.

Worse. You have to take the risk that you will be ignored.

It’s deflating to try to write something meaningful and get no response. I know. I have a whole string of posts I wrote when I first started my blog in 2010 that got no response. I read them now and think, gee, this is a pretty good piece, why didn’t anyone like it?

At the time, though, I didn’t dwell on the lack of response. Actually, I think part of me was glad that there as no response. It was a classic sorry/not sorry situation or, more aptly put, I’m a writer/I’m not a writer situation. In other words, I was both proud and embarrassed about my writing. So I was glad I had my blog and pretty happy with what I’d written but hanging back in the ownership department. It’s a paradox but a pretty common one.

I see it now as a necessary transition. The fact that everyone in the world was ignoring me was a blessing. It allowed me to write what I thought was important (remember that the most important thing about writing is having something to say) without worrying about people’s reactions. Gradually, as I got my footing and felt more confident, I got more readers. And getting more readers didn’t scare me. It was fun.

Blogging is enormous fun, tremendously rewarding and educational in a way a thousand writing classes couldn’t be. The synergy of writing, publishing, reflecting and improving is powerful, electric. I would wish it for anyone who wants to write and be read. So how to begin?

If I were to sum up my coward’s guide to starting a blog, it would be with one word. You know what it is. No mystery about it, it’s not complex or difficult. Here it is.

Start.