Keep it short?

I recently skimmed through an old copy of Writer’s Market, where a section described blogging as best when the posts are short. It occurs to me that I don’t always approach my own blog posts that way, yet as a reader, I am rather grateful when one of my WordPress buddies posts something short because I rarely have a lot of time to read blog posts.

It feels like a good goal to explore what is possible with shorter posts, and I wonder if I would post more often if I didn’t conceive of the post as a form of essay.

How short is short, I wonder? Should I stop now? (Yes, you say. Nice try, I reply.)

I wanted to add this thought that came to me. Shorter posts make me think of what happens on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes called micro-blogs. Those spaces feel to me like highways, constantly in motion with the benefits of speed as well as the dangers. This WordPress blog feels more like a pasture. Quiet, almost peaceful. There is less to see unless I take time to notice what’s around me, to be open to what the day brings.

Ask again another time.

You asked me to tell you what I believe, and I thought I knew exactly what I would say. I believe in kindness, or some might call it empathy/compassion. Not necessarily the so-called random acts of kindness, which feel like a fad diet or a New Year’s resolution, too brief to hold meaning, too spurious to value, but rather the deepest type of kindness based on the expectation that everyone on this planet has intrinsic value and deserves to be treated with kindness. Don’t get me wrong—some individuals may deserve to be limited/constrained, or at the very least, experience a few consequences for their actions, but it should still be grounded in kindness.

But then I got tired or cranky or short-tempered, and I didn’t feel like a person who should be writing about kindness. Besides, is that what I believe or what I want to believe? Is belief something solid or something aspirational? Can belief be defended, given weight and texture, or must it always be ephemeral, something that shouldn’t be scrutinized too closely?

I’ve noticed when someone else believes something fiercely, in particular those who with strong religious beliefs and, on the other hand, absolute atheists, I move in the opposite direction. Yet, if you asked, I would have said that I’m the type to try to make sense of what someone is telling me rather than immediately opposing it. I am, perhaps, an unreliable narrator of my own life.

I realize that I don’t believe in absolute truths, but I appear to believe in heuristics, ideas that are mostly true except when they are not. Be kind to others is a heuristic because most of us can think of a time when our attempts at kindness backfired or led us to feel taken advantage of. Yet kindness is still generally a good idea. So here are a few others: Be honest with others and yourself. Celebrate the ways in which the world, life, and the people you meet are sources of wonder and joy. Reading/writing is a way of life. Democracy is a kind of life blood, as essential as air or water. Find ways to make meaning out of your life. No matter your age, keep learning, keep working, keep playing.

Now that I can call these heuristics rather than beliefs, I know I could compose an endless list. But what I believe? I feel like a magic 8 ball because you will get a different answer every time you ask, some the opposite of the last.

This post is part of a group blogging activity hosted by Bill, the blogger of A Silly Place. Here’s the link to the full collection of posts on the topic of What do you believe? https://billswritingplace.wordpress.com/2021/08/04/things-we-believe-in/#more-12108

The process log

I thought today I might write about a strategy that has been very beneficial for me in terms of writing, or really, almost any endeavor: the process log. It’s not that far afield from journaling, which I already find so helpful. But a process log is a bit more focused than journaling. I suppose it’s a akin to a daily log that some people keep, which is a record of what they actually accomplished during the day. If I am working on a novel, a process log is where I jot down what I’ve done that day to develop the novel.

Sometimes, I note what is working and/or what isn’t. It’s very metacognitive, I suppose, if you like that kind of word. The process log sometimes works as a self-coaching process, where I unpack what I’m doing, kvetch if needed, and consider possible changes. But my log doesn’t always have to be that elaborate, just a record of what I did, such as “revised chapter 4, brainstormed chapter 5.”

This approach gives me comfort because when I don’t keep some kind of notes (and I don’t always do so), a week later I struggle to recall what, if anything, I actually did because there is not always a direct path between time spent writing and producing a final product. I was writing, I was thinking, I was creating, but more than that I can’t say. The trees get lost in the forest, I suppose.

As I said, I don’t always remember to use a process log, but I’ve always valued it when I do. As I have a bit more time to work this summer, I have several process logs underway, one per project or goal, which, by the way, is another perk of the process log because it helps me get back up to speed when I shift between projects.

As I peek at some fellow writers’ blog posts, I definitely see elements of process logs in those posts, which is probably one of the reasons I so enjoy the blog community. It’s nice to have some company as we coach ourselves along.

A blog without moss

It’s day 2357 of the pandemic. (Just kidding, who’s counting?) My teens ask me where their father is.

There are several likely answers. Putting in more time on a major volunteer project or grocery shopping again because he’s eagerly embraced the hunter/gatherer role during the months when we feared All Things Indoor. His age placed him at higher risk, but oh the heady freedom of leaving the house to get groceries. Now that we’re all vaccinated (phew), we all leave the house more often, even to go Indoors Elsewhere, almost as if that’s a normal thing to do.

Instead, I say, “Your father gathers no moss.”

Blank stares, a few blinks.

“He’s a rolling stone that gathers no moss,” I explain.

“That means nothing,” says one teen.

“What?” says another.

“You know, he can’t be pinned down. He’s always on the move.” Since he bore the role of full-time father for the eternity that was early childhood, this statement is not without some irony.

“Why can’t you just say that?” another teen says, shaking her head.

“Nobody says that,” the first says.

My teens aren’t fans of proverbs and cliches, I guess. In their defense, it is not necessarily one of the more helpful analogies. I mean, stones rarely roll. Sure, there’s probably an avalanche now and then. And I’m certain none of those rocks are gathering moss during that short span of time. But then again, a lot of rocks that don’t move don’t gather moss, either.

Still, I’m a fan of such sayings, just as I have moments when I love words like epistemology. I know it’s annoying when the word or phrase is unknown. But once you get your head around them, it’s a nice shortcut rather than explaining the whole history behind it (which, if you are curious about the history of the rolling stone proverb, there are helpful explanations on Wikipedia and the free dictionary that are probably accurate).

All this to say, I always feel a bit apologetic when I post on my blog because it’s so random when I do (not to mention what I write). Sometimes I post regularly. Sometimes I post on predictable topics. Sometimes, not so much. Now technically, I think my blog gathers tons of moss. On the one hand, like cobwebs when I neglect it for months on end. On the other hand, I’ve apparently posted 146 times on my blog. That’s about five times more than I would have guessed. So by one reading of the proverb, this blog is taking root. The one who is not gathering moss is me, the blogger, because I regret to inform you that I have no idea what you might see appear on this page. I have a little time this summer and the desire (perhaps) to blog more often. I have a growing list of ideas and fragments to post. Is there a guiding theme or platform at work here? Nope. I’ve never been one to pick one idea or topic and stick with it, though a few tend to come up more often for me (time management, writing, democratic values, reading, my favorite tech, for example). But don’t hold me to it. I’m not sure that saying this helps anyone who stumbles upon my blog at random. I guess I’m mostly saying sorry, not sorry. I’m just a rolling stone…

“Stop it,” the kids say.

Okay.

typewriter

#am (almost) writing

Every now and then, I think about trying to be more consistent and predictable in my choice of topics for my blog. A day may come when I succeed, but that day is not this day.

I have been struggling with some doubt and disappointment related to my writing, not to mention skepticism about investing time and energy in the pursuit of publication. One result is that I realize how much I like this blog as a way to share my words among what feels like a supportive and small circle of readers. I like being writer, editor, and publisher on this space, including the chance to go back and edit or even delete as my thinking changes. Traditional publication is like a snapshot of a world that is always in flux, a historical artifact as soon as it is created. Blogging as a form of publication allows for movement.

So I think I will start blogging more often. At the same time, I love writing novels, so I have been journaling lately about how to recommit to this long process that may not, in the end, lead anywhere but still brings my life so much value and meaning.

One thing I have done is reviewed some affirmations that were meaningful for me over the years, and I thought it might make sense to share some of them on the blog. Some make more sense than others, so no telling where this will lead.

Today in blogging…

So my morning was packed with appointments around town, which tends to undermine my ability to stick to any writing routine. I dictated some blog ideas onto my voice memos app as I drove around, which made me feel productive, even though I did not feel inspired later to transfer those ideas to a blog post later. The topic was too large for a quick blog post, so I will have to be more deliberative, perhaps, slowly teasing out what I really want to say. Or perhaps, what I should say.

The rest of the day passed in a blur, an odd mix of productivity and not-so-much, plus a few more errands for my family. So now it is the end of the day, and I am pondering my goal to write a blog post “first thing” each day with the goals to “be brief” and “be specific.” It hasn’t been happening the way I hoped, and perhaps it shouldn’t. My “first thing” writing time is pretty special to me, and I want to channel it to my top priorities, which are coming into focus. It’s time to dive fully into my SF novel. I’ve been dabbling with it, which has been good, gathering ideas and notes. There was that character chart. All good. But I want to boost it to top priority now. And second priority each day will be to work on a revision (better described as a re-vision) of my time management book.

So I will move the blog to a new location on my (mostly imaginary) daily writing schedule—end-of-the-day. I can still read/reflect on important articles and books. I can use the blog as an accountability partner and process log. I can even talk more about apps I like (way more than you want to hear, I bet!). But not first. Working on the blog will be a reward once I’ve gotten some work done on my top priorities. Okay, new day, new plan. Cross your fingers for me.

Meta-blog

Today I have the urge to work on a blog post first thing, a kind of morning page, perhaps, a la Julia Cameron. It could become a new writing routine that also honors my goal to post on the blog daily (or almost daily :)).

Before beginning, I reviewed my growing list of possible blog topics, and I glumly realized that many should have been tackled when the idea was fresh. It makes me flash back to my teen years, or even my pre-teens, when I would get struck by what I was sure were great ideas, often before I fell asleep for the night. What I almost never did, and stop me if this sounds familiar to you, was write any of them down. I loved to be seized by inspiration. I just couldn’t seem to capture my thoughts in the moment.

Granted, there were usually a few obstacles in my way, such as the absence of a notebook nearby or other system to capture the idea. Or worse, I was always hampered by the awareness that ideas are far more perfect in my head than on paper (or screen, as the case may be).

Over time… too much time… I developed systems to capture ideas, which helped a little. What helped more was to write regardless of inspiration. I will sometimes have those heady moments of writing on fire, the ideas flowing to the page so quickly I start to understand what people used to mean by a muse, or when writers struggled to take full credit for what they have done, feeling more as if they were mere go-betweens between some divine source and the words on the page. (Note: I take more than full credit for all the things I get wrong, sigh.) But those moments of writing-on-fire arise from writing routines, not from inspiration, at least for me.

Still, it feels as if I have some time right now (knock on wood) to launch new projects and start new writing routines. Capturing my ideas when they arise is not a new goal; I have indulged more than I should in various digital gizmos and paper products to make it possible. But what if I strive to make it a habit?

I suppose I have a few other goals for my blogging life. I want to find ways to be more specific, to provide telling details, as part of each piece. While that is a wise goal for writing in general, it is even more challenging when I feel a general discomfort on how much is safe to post on the internet. At any rate, it will be a goal to keep in mind.

That, and to remind myself to be brief. Starting now.

A new page

I have met almost all of my revision goals for my novel, except perhaps for the part where my writing becomes flawless. Ha. Okay, that wasn’t actually my goal, but it would have been nice.

So I am ready to start new writing projects while I explore next steps for my completed novel. It is a great feeling. No matter what happens, I am satisfied that I met my own goal to engage with the very troubled history of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot and that I, well, wrote a novel. Or something that resembles a novel. 

This may sound familiar, but my new goal is to post daily on this blog. Or close to daily. Until I don’t want to. A firm goal, right?

I have many topics I would like to explore, plus I always enjoy using the blog as a kind of process journal as I tackle various projects. As usual, I anticipate a variety ahead. I don’t know how anyone can stick with one platform for a blog. Is it really possible to focus one’s attention on the same general topic every day? This may be why the robots will win some day. Hmm. I skimmed some NPR reports on the ways technology may start to enhance our capacities both physically and mentally—maybe technology will enable us to stick to one subject? An unsettling thought.

At any rate, I’m back and ready to return to blogging. I look forward to peeking in at some of my buddies on here to see what’s new for you, too.

Hydra Head

While I keep gathering ideas for blog posts, I have prioritized my writing time for the novel revision (#2,345), not the blog. I am not sure if that has resulted in more time on the revision, but perhaps it’s some kind of superstition, similar to ones attributed to sports players.

Still, I thought it might be wise to post something today, just to remind myself I have a blog. I finished my revision of the point of view for the novel, at least a rough version. I then planned to review how different plot points and hints fit together and to look for what was missing. There is a light mystery tying the book together, and I’ve been kicking around how to make it as believable and seamless as possible. I decided keeping it simple might be best for what I’m doing. Then I reread the full report on the Wilmington Race Riot. This is perhaps a sad commentary, but the first time, I was so upset and angry by what I read that I had to take breaks frequently. Since then, we had the 2016 election, and I also just recently read the biographies of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, and now it all just feels so d#$% familiar.

Anyway, reading it completely made me see more that I should or could add, so much so that I realize that writing a novel can be a bit of a Hydra head experience. You fix one part, and suddenly there are five more areas that need attention.

The Power of Practice

I feel most comfortable as a writer when I see the work as practice. Writing warm-ups. Journal reflections. Writing exercises. First drafts. The attempt to say what I want to say without the pressure of getting it right the first, or second, or millionth time.

Yesterday it occurred to me that what I am doing with my blog is practice. My occasional anemic tweets are practice.

Stating these activities in those terms is a relief. As much as I would like to believe in my ability to craft a blog post or tweet worth reading, I don’t think I have it in me to see each one as a polished final draft. And polished to reach what goal? I am exploring what I might say. Surrounded by ongoing conversations, I lose time wondering what can I add and what should I avoid? Sometimes I am not yet ready to put my thoughts or reactions into words.

In the face of so much uncertainty combined with the challenge of what it takes to write well, I benefit from calling it all practice. Practice helps me move forward.