writing

My Office Home

I have an office, a room in my house that I can arrange however I wish. Sometimes I tend the arrangement of my office space, making plans, moving things around, trying to balance the necessary things with the beautiful things and with the items which have drifted into my space because they don’t have anywhere else to belong yet. My office ends up being an eddy in the household. A place where random things come to rest. These things accumulate until the space is so cluttered as to be almost unusable. I sometimes tell myself that this is why I don’t use my office much. It is too cluttered.

I have a secondary office in the front room. It is a chair sitting next to a TV table piled with my laptop, my phone charging station, stacks of books I intend to read, notebooks I grab for writing thoughts down, and loose papers where I wrote notes when I couldn’t get to a notebook fast enough. This space is unlovely, but contained. I sit in it every day, seamlessly moving from household administration to creative work. All the other people in the household walk into this space and talk to me. They don’t intend to interrupt my work, but the space is public. It is where they come to eat and be social. On the third time I’m interrupted mid-written-sentence, I wonder why I don’t retreat to my office, to a space that is more private where they’ll think before intruding. But it feels dark down there in the basement, despite the cheerful yellow paint on the walls. Despite the art I selected and arranged. Despite the leaf trim I hand painted which adorns the top edge of the room. Lack of windows and natural light is another reason I give for not using my office.

I have a plan about my windowless office. I heard of a means to make a faux window. I bought the supplies from the light board to the curtains. All the pieces are sitting there among the other clutter. Waiting for me to move the dresser, so I can remove and re-space the shelves, which will let me reorganize the books, which will let me install the faux window, and create a cozy space that I will surely start using. I can put the cozy faux-fireplace space heater right under the window. That would be the same heater I bought to make the space feel cozy so that I would start using the space more. I keep trying to lure myself down there. It keeps not quite succeeding.

My desktop computer resides in my office. I sit at it to print postage, to do the weekly accounting, to work on layout and graphic design. I sit there several hours per week, sometimes as many as twenty or thirty hours per week depending on the shape and urgency of projects. I sit at the desk covered with stacks of paper intended to remind me of coming tasks, next to my arrangement of small artworks on the wall. Most of the art is small prints or originals purchased directly from artists at conventions. They make me happy when I remember to look at them instead of focusing on the work in front of me.

In the other corner is the rocking chair which used to live in my baby’s room. All four babies in turn were rocked in that chair, and then it was shuffled from corner to corner of the house after children no longer needed to be rocked. I supposed it makes sense that it ended up in my office when I wasn’t willing to let the chair go, even though all the babies had become adults. I sit in that chair every week for two hours while I attend an online writer’s date. My writer friends see this little corner with its library of books and the wooden carved mask which we bought on our trip to South Africa in 1999, another object that ended up in my office because it carried to much emotional freight for us to let it go, but for which we couldn’t find any other place in the house for it to belong.

So I guess I do use my office. I use it for specific tasks and to store specific things. Yet it feels like I don’t. It feels like I sit in the front room, in the sunshine, and in different clutter than my office clutter, trying to write where people will walk through and talk to me. And when they do, I wonder to myself why I don’t go sit in my office. I wonder, but I don’t get up and move.

I have a tertiary office. It is my bedroom, one corner of which I’ve turned into a Zoom space. I painted that corner of the room a different color from the rest and put up decorative shelves where they can be seen on camera. Carefully placed beautiful objects adorn the space. That little corner makes me happy to see when I look at it from my bed. It isn’t comfortable for working (hence sitting downstairs for my weekly writer dates), but it is perfect for attending Zoom meetings and virtual parties. I love my Zoom corner.

Sometimes I sit on my bed to write. I prop up all the pillows and open the blinds so that I can see out into my back garden with its trees. From that spot I can stare out the window, or look at my Zoom corner. It is a quiet space where people won’t interrupt me as easily. My use of this tertiary space lends credence to the theory that the problem with my office might actually be the lack of windows. I crave natural light, particularly in the winter months.

I imagine a hypothetical office someday. Perhaps when I can claim a bedroom back from one of my children after they leave home. I imagine an office which combines all the best parts of my current offices. With a designated shelf for books I intend to read, a desk specifically for letter writing and crafting, comfortable lounging spaces for writing, natural light streaming in the window, and art I selected for myself.

If I had this hypothetical office, would I use it all the time? Or is it something else that draws me to do so much work while sitting exactly where everyone can easily interrupt me? Perhaps I have a habit of always being available because I spent so many years being the on-call parent when my kids were small. Perhaps it is in response to the fact that Howard and I have a collaborative process made up of a dozen small creative meetings throughout the day where we round up the thoughts from the just-finished task and open up the thoughts for what comes next. Perhaps it is knowing that I have to catch my people in the moments when they are in between if I want to talk to them at all. So I lurk in the place they pass through.

I don’t actually have answers, I don’t need answers, but I find the behavioral observation of myself interesting. I have three office spaces, but all of them are some level of shared. I could retreat more often than I do, but I tend not to. I could claim spaces and set boundaries around them more firmly, but I don’t. Mostly it works. I’m able to create and think and administer. So my process may be scattered and strange, but It isn’t actually a problem. I guess I’ll keep flowing with it until the need for something else emerges.

Being Called Back to My Writer Self

I keep a notebook where I write down my tasks sorted by days. I don’t write down every single thing. For house tasks like laundry or dishes, I rely on physical reminders to prompt me to do the thing (laundry basket is full, sink is full) so I don’t write those down. But appointments, phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send; these all end up on my lists. Life has been feeling a lot busier since about mid-May. I wondered if that was actually true, or if all the thinking involved with shipping just made my brain tireder. I pulled out a notebook from six months ago, back then my lists were 3-5 tasks per day. Now I’m averaging 8-10. Demands on my time and attention have definitely increased, and the increase seems unlikely to subside on its own. The pandemic gifted me with uninterrupted hours and very few expectations. Now I’ve returned to a world where I must defend the space in my schedule.

This week I was visiting with a writer friend during a weekly Zoom date to get writing done. She asked after my creative projects. All the things I’d been working on were business or shipping related. She nodded and understood the urgency of my tasks, understood that over the next six months tasks directly linked to earning money were going to absorb much of my time and attention because my family needs income. She was kind and accepting, but the mere asking of the question was a tether which tugged me into remembering that, for my own long term emotional health, I can’t always prioritize the endless list of tasks. Sometimes I need to stake out a space for the work which will help me grow, or which will make the world better, or which just brings me joy. I have to defend that space from all the excuses I have to use that time for something “more productive.” I have to defend it from the impulse to just knock a few more tasks off the list. On Wednesday mornings, for two hours, I need to be a writer first.

Also this week I hosted one of my monthly online Creative Check-Ins with a small group of fellow creative people where we talk about our projects, how they progressed in the past month (or didn’t.) It is really helpful for each of us to talk about how our projects interact with our lives. Life affecting projects, projects affecting life. We’d almost reached the end of our time when one of my friends reminded me that in all the discussion, I hadn’t talked about my projects. Again I talked about shipping, and tasks, and business. I talked about why I allow these things to overrun my creative spaces, shoving to the edges anything that doesn’t bring income. Again I received nods and acceptance. Again, saying the things out loud prompted me to reach behind all the logic of how I arrange my days. To reach past the ways that the endless tide of tasks is important to support my long term life goals. I was surprised to find myself talking about a minor creative rejection which had a larger emotional footprint in my creative life than I’d realized. Because my friends were there, I was able to process that emotion in ways that help me clear the way for me to create again. Once per month for two hours I have a window of time to commiserate and rejoice with others about the creative projects in our lives.

A third thing which happened this week was an email from a writer friend with whom I’ve begun swapping critiques. She had a new manuscript for me to look at and re-iterated that she’d love to look at something I have ready. I have nothing ready. I meant to, but I got swept up in the tide of shipping, barely able to keep my head above water. That tide has ebbed, but it is so easy for me to dive into more tasks. To become accustomed to living by lists. In many ways lists are easier. They are far less emotionally risky that putting my heart into a creative work which might be rejected or ignored. Tasks are also satisfying. I check them off and they’re done. Each tiny completion has endorphins, which means that even while I complain about feeling busy, there is an attraction to accomplishing things and being productive. There is also the illusion that if I can complete this weeks set of lists, that will somehow reduce the number of tasks for next week. As if most of my life tasks weren’t repetitive and cyclical. Yet now there is this email, like a thin line cutting through the water, tugging me back to a place where I can get my feet under me and remember the writing work I want to be doing. For this critique I will read a book, and engage my writer brain. Periodically an email will nudge me toward the projects I want to send to my friend because I am reminded how much I want to hear what she has to say about the stories I’ve written.

Three times this week I’ve been gently tugged back to my writer self. Each time I was pulled by a connection I have to a writer community. Those connections are ones I have carefully acquired and maintained in during the past several years. For me the key has been finding people who ask how I’m doing and give me the space to ramble past the surface response into the deeper concerns. It was also in learning to trust that people actually wanted to hear my answer rather than them just being nice to me because they are nice people. I have a tendency to hide in plain sight, to turn conversations away from myself. I am far more comfortable talking about the concerns of others rather than my own. So this week is evidence of personal growth. At this point in my life, I’ve managed to build community connections that truly support me and call me back to myself when I get a little lost. This is a joy to discover in my life. It is a joy I want to share with others so they can have it too. Fortunately, that is exactly how mutually-supportive community connections work.

Now I need to heed the calls and get back to the writing I’m meant to be doing. Conveniently, this blog post is part of that work. 🙂

Writing in the Winter

Today I find myself missing my hammock. I brought it indoors and stowed it for the winter a few weeks ago when the weather turned cold. The patio with it’s fire pit is still available, but sitting out there is not ideal for writing. Typing with gloved hands doesn’t work well and the smell of wood smoke permeates handwritten pages in a way that lingers. I’m left seeking an indoor setting that invites me into a writing head space.

I began the work of setting up such a space late last winter when I acquired a faux-fireplace heater for a corner of my office. It does make the spot feel a little cozier, but the minute I photograph it, everything feels shabby, dated, cobbled together.

Even worse is what I’m looking at when I sit in that chair.

It is a jumble of clutter that needs to be cleaned up, remnants of completed projects, storage, and piles of to-do items. Considering the insights I gained while watching Stay Here on Netflix, I’m absolutely failing at creating a space where my writer self can enter and instantly feel welcomed.

So I have work to do and I have some limiting parameters for the project. My ideal writing space would be a room with a large window, flooded with natural light. It would be a room that is fully mine, no one else in my house would use it for anything. In the short term I have to work with what exists rather than wishing for what doesn’t. So, my options are: 1. The pictured basement office which is mostly mine, but has no windows and is a passage way for some family members. 2. My bedroom which has a window, but no room for a chair/desk and is shared with Howard whose work process often includes taking naps mid-day. 3. The front room which has a window, but which is in the middle of everything and people frequently wander in and start talking to me. Each of these options require compromises away from my ideal and other compromises so that I don’t cause problems for the other people living in my house. The best option to create a space for me to focus and be less interrupted is my basement office.

Having identified the work to do, and having written a blog post about intending to do it, I need to acknowledge that none of the above counts as actual writing of fiction. So for today I’m putting a pin in the project and going to my novel to try to remember what scene I was working on.

Making Space for Writing Again

You’d think that the cancellation of all out-of-the-house events would leave us creative types with long leisurely hours in which to create. The trouble is that fear tends to clog up the creative flow. We’re now three weeks (maybe four?) into self-isolating and the active fear of infection has waned. Logically we still know it is a risk, but the animal portion of our brains has calmed down. It can only stay alarmed for so long with nothing physically happening before it calms and goes back to sleep. For several weeks reading news reports was sufficient to re-activate that fear, now it appears I’m even acclimated to that somewhat. So now events are gone and terror has faded. Also we’re two weeks (three? time has gone very wibbly wobbly of late) into schooling from home. The routines of that have settled in. Mostly the routine is me reminding my son that schoolwork exists, him acknowledging that it does, then him ignoring it for the rest of the day. The point is we’ve fallen into patterns, I should have hours in which to create. But I’m not. Because also removed from my schedule are all of the activities where I get outside my box (house) and percolate new ideas. Any errands I have to run are done as efficiently and infection-free as possible rather than me wandering and thinking as I go.

I’ve seen all the memes. The ones which joke about thinking how creative they’d be if only they had time, only to now discover that time was never the problem. I’ve also seen the ones granting permission to not be creative or productive during a world wide pandemic. Neither of these memes nor a dozen more is what I need at this time. Instead, now that other things have fallen into rhythms, I need to look at the circumstances of my life and figure out how to adjust those rhythms to fit in fiction writing. The odds of any fiction I write ever seeing print are small, but the writing and the publishing are two separate endeavors. I can tackle publishing later. For now I need to figure out how to defend a space for fiction writing to live. Then I need to have patience if that space doesn’t immediately fill up with beautiful prose writing. This is a “if you build it they will come” moment. Once my creative brain trusts that the space will be there, it will learn to show up.

In one of my presentations I talk about willpower being a limited resource, and trying to build a creative life comes easier if you require as little willpower as possible to keep it running. What I’ve described in the last paragraph sounds like a space made out of force of will. And it is. I think that is where I have to start, but I also need to be seeking ways to build the creative space so that the rhythms of our lives just naturally flow around that space, leaving it open. It is an interesting challenge, and the first step is figuring out how to get my brain to want to engage with an interesting challenge instead of just hibernating watching Netflix and waiting for the pandemic to be over.

Dreaming Big

I’m on an email chain with a group of writers. Once per week one of us will send out an email with writing tips, inspiration, or encouragement. The email for this week invited all of us to recognize how often we limit ourselves to only imagining what we feel is realistic instead of dreaming big. We were all invited to respond with the writing dreams we have that feel really big, the ones which are unrealistic, the ones which we know aren’t actually in our control, but we want anyway. It took me some time to even find mine, because the email was correct. I do really tend to focus on making sure that my goals are concrete and within my control. And that is as it should be for goals. They should be measurable and attainable. But dreams are different. Dreams are how we know where to aim our goals. The are the lodestone which helps us pick a direction, even when we know that the terrain ahead is going to force us to change that direction dozens of times.

So I sat with myself and waited for the dreams to surface. These are the ones I found:
To be invited to give a keynote at a writer’s conference
To end up in the acknowledgements of other people’s books because I put in the time to help other writers develop their craft and survive this crazy ride of writing/publishing.
To revise my middle grade novel so I can start submitting it to agents by the end of this year.
To pay off my debts so that I have more head space to focus on creating the things which feel important with less concern about the things that make money.

In comparison with some of the other dreams in the thread, (be a best seller, have a book made into a movie, travel the world on book money) my dreams seem small. Perhaps they are. Perhaps I need to find the courage to dream even bigger. Yet for right now, these are the writing dreams that ring true to me. These are the ones that ring like true crystal when it is struck.

Interestingly, every single one of these dreams is served by the same goal: make time to write every day. I was working on a 500 word per day habit in November until holiday brain fry followed by wedding made focusing on anything else quite difficult. This past week I’ve cleared away the brain fog and have begun to make inroads on the physical mess. That means it is time for me to put 500 words per day back onto the calendar. Because, paths to big dreams are made out of small goals and it is time for me to get to work again.

Structuring a Writing Group to Promote Nurture In Addition to Critique

While I was on the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat I had the opportunity to talk to other writers about Writer’s Groups, how they can work brilliantly and how they can fail. I happened to mention the structure of a group I currently belong to, and other writers requested that I write it up in detail as a reference for others who might want to start a group that isn’t solely critique-based. This is that write up.

I am fascinated by the underlying structure of communities, the ways the stated goals and guidelines of a community shape what the community will become. Sometimes I see how a rule intended to bring a community together can unintentionally create divisiveness and competition. This is the reason I feel concerned that so many writer’s groups are formed around the core of exchanging critique. Critique is absolutely critical to writer development so we can learn to see our blind spots and develop good craft, and yet critique is inherently deconstructionist. It pulls apart the work to examine what is working and what is not. This process can be kind and careful, or actively destructive depending on how the tools of critique are wielded. This is why so many critique-based writer’s groups are carefully structured to build trust and to help their members navigate being critiqued. I’ve seen it done remarkably well and I know many writers who depend heavily on their critique-based groups to help them.

The thing that often gets missed when forming writer’s groups is that critique is not the only way that writers can help each other with their craft. I recently joined a group that is structured very differently than any group I’d heard of before. I’ve been fascinated by the ways that this group is specifically structured to nurture and build up the group members.

The group meets once per month for three hours at a time. We meet in person, but the same structures could be adapted to an online group. Portions could be dropped or added according to the needs of your group whether you meet in person or online.

Hour 1: Social Hour
We all bring food to share and we visit. It is a chance for us to catch up on each other’s lives, hear about current crises, or talk about recent experiences. Sometimes we talk about writing, sometimes we don’t. This time allows the group to bond. We learn to be friends and care about each other as people. The more outgoing group members take care to reach out and include the quieter members.

Hour 2: Education
One member of the group comes to the meeting with a presentation/lecture about a topic that they have prepared. Sometimes it is a topic they’re already expert in, other times the person had to research and learn. During the presentation members are encouraged to discuss the ideas being presented. The group has had lectures on pacing, marketing, character development, etc. This portion engages writer minds with new topics and helps us face the current problems we may be having with our work. Also by rotating who teaches, the group ends up with different perspectives. Additionally, putting in the work to present keeps members invested in the group.

Hour 3: Collaboration
The content of this hour is variable. Sometimes it is critique where a person has submitted work in advance so the members come ready to discuss it. Other times it is a brain storming session for a magic system. It could also be an encouragement session for a person who feels hopeless about where they are in their craft. The point of the time is to work collaboratively to meet the needs of the members whatever those needs happen to be. Not every member gets their work focused on each meeting, which is why if a member has an urgent collaboration need between meetings, email chains are encouraged.

Other structures around the group: There are shared google drive folders containing notes from previous lectures/presentations and also work that is submitted for critique. This allows members to catch up on anything they might have missed and smooths the way for members to share work with each other.

The group co-leaders take turns writing up a weekly email with a writing concept or word of encouragement. This keeps the group members engaged and in touch with each other during the weeks that we don’t meet.

Membership in the group is capped to keep things manageable. This is particularly important since we rotate meeting at various member’s houses and not everyone has space for a huge group. By taking turns hosting, we get to see each other’s homes and thus get a better understanding of each other. Some members don’t host because they don’t have enough space or they live too far away. Others don’t host because the thought makes them too anxious.

Membership is filtered because the group wants to make sure that new members understand that the primary goal of the group is to encourage and help each other. Ego and competition have no place in this group. We gain new members by existing members suggesting someone they think would be a good fit. The prospective member exchanges writing samples with the group leaders and then attends a meeting. If everyone agrees the fit is good, the new member is added to the google folders and email chain.

Members are dropped from the group if they can’t regularly attend or contribute to online exchanges. If someone’s life is too busy to participate, then the space goes to another writer who can. Former members can cycle back in when their life calms down and if there is a space open.

The largest criticism I’ve heard of this format is whether we’re too soft on each other, surely critiques need to be brutally honest in order to be useful. I agree that they need to be honest, but not that they need to be brutal. It is entirely possible to help a fellow writer see the flaws in what they have written while simultaneously leaving them feeling encouraged and excited to go fix those flaws. Which I believe is far better than leaving a fellow writer to go home and emotionally process a harsh critique.

Obviously, ymmv. Some writers may thrive on competition and harsh critique. I know that I don’t, and judging from the interest in the format of my group there are other writers out there looking for alternatives as well. There are as many ways to form writer’s groups as there are writers to form them.

Anxiety Before Traveling

This time next week I’ll be in Houston for the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat. We’ll have a few days on land and then we’ll be on a cruise ship for the remainder of the event. I’ve gone on these trips annually for the past four years, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity. They aren’t trips we ever would have been able to afford on our own, so we work hard as staff to make the event amazing and thus pay for our tickets with our efforts.

It does mean that I end up spending the week of the trip in something of a liminal space. I’m staff and therefore not able to blend in with the attendees. However I’m not one of the Writing Excuses podcast hosts or an invited guest instructor. I assist with the family programming for non-writers, helping them connect with each other and learn things about supporting their writers. I fit in that role since I am the life partner and enabler of a person with a creative career. However I’m also a writer myself, so I bounce into those spaces as well. Being not exactly one thing or another provides fertile ground for anxieties to grow. So this week I’m spending significant amounts of mental energy weeding anxieties out as soon as they pop up. The minute I realize I’m worried that I’ve disappointed attendees I remind myself that it isn’t possible for people to be disappointed by me when they barely know I exist or haven’t met me yet. When I have thoughts about how I probably shouldn’t speak up in conversations about writing, I remind myself that I have as much right to speak about my writing struggles as anyone else. Anxiety sprouts, I pull it out like a weed. Repeat.

This year I’m going on the trip with a specific writing project and goal. I’m eschewing shore excursions so that I have longer stretches to sit and write. I’m trying to refocus myself as a writer and remember that projects only get complete if I actually put in the time. I’m anxious about all of this as well. Writing is surrounded by a whole garden of anxiety weeds which have barbs like thistles They are thoughts that sting and hurt whenever I bump into them.
What is the point, it’ll never be published anyway.
What do you have to say that hasn’t already been said.
You don’t have the skill to do this.
Who do you think you’re fooling, if you were a real writer you’d… [fill in the blank]

And dozens more related thoughts. I already know the words to counteract these thoughts. I speak them regularly to students and friends. I teach them in classes. I believe them when I say them to others, yet somehow it is harder to accept that they also apply to me. Anxiety is like that. It is a lying liar who lies.
I write the counter argument here to remind myself: creation is always worthwhile even if the only one who is changed by it is the person who creates. I’m very good at nurturing the personal growth of others, and I need to turn some of that effort inward.

Along with the writer anxieties, I’m also dealing with anxieties about the things and people I need to leave behind while I travel. Also dealing with the inherent anxieties around the ways that travel can go wrong. Thus far the all the anxieties (travel, writerly, etc), while abundant, have been low level. More like background noise than something obtrusive. But the volume will increase the closer I get to departure. Writing this post is one of my ways to stare anxiety down and say “I see you. You don’t win.” It may be silly, but it works.

This week I’m at my house looking at damaged flooring, clutter, and bathrooms that need to be cleaned. Next week I’ll have vistas of caribbean water and white sand beaches. Yet I’ll be the same me in both spaces. I’ll carry anxieties with me on the trip and then back again, unless I can figure out how to shed them before I go. And if I want to feel calm, serene, happy I need to not wait until I’m surrounded by loveliness to cultivate those emotions, otherwise when I leave the lovely location I’ll also leave the emotions behind. Travel definitely provides an impetus for me to examine my internal landscape, but it is at home that the real work gets done.

On Breakfast Outings, Pokemon, and Writing

The morning began with a quest. I’d only been up for a few minutes when Howard wandered into the room and said “you want to go get crepes for breakfast?” The crepe place is down in the Riverwoods shopping area, which is full of Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms. This fact is relevant since our entire family has taken up Pokemon Go in the past month. So we gathered everyone who felt like questing and off we went.

The weather was lovely, the food was good, and most of the stores didn’t open for another hour or two. We wandered along the paths collecting Pokemon and spinning stops. Almost everything about Pokemon Go is designed to get people to leave their houses and walk to different locations. It has certainly worked that way for our family. We now have people randomly deciding to go for short walks, even though we’re walking the same paths over and over, it feels new because we never know what surprises the game will throw our way. Going outside to stare at our phones and play a game is healthier for us than staying at home to sit in a chair and play a game.

I posted the above picture on twitter, and multiple people commented on the snow-capped mountain in the corner of the frame. It is so easy for me to forget that not everyone has vertical landscape looming over them at all times. I so often fail to notice how beautiful Utah is. I need to pause and admire the mountains more.

On the return home, I still had almost a full day ahead of me. For once, the most pressing deadline was on a writing task. I have a short story due at the end of the month and it isn’t fully drafted yet. I’d so enjoyed being outdoors in the pleasant weather, that I decided to sit on my back porch in my red bistro chairs to find the right words to tell the story I had outlined. Milo saw me outside and was so forlorn that I put on his harness and brought him outside with me.

Writing is a strange process. After forming a scene in my head and then writing sentences to convey that scene, I hit a point where I don’t know what sentence comes next. That’s when I pause and open up twitter or do a quick stretch. I have to pull my brain away from the task at hand so that I can circle back around to it with renewed vigor. It is rather like getting a muscle cramp in my hand and taking a moment to shake it out and stretch.

During one of my twitter breaks, I had a series of thoughts about writing, happiness, and goals:

A thing I’m trying to make a habit: instead of focusing on the thing I want and can’t reach yet, focus on the thing I get to do today which may eventually help me to that goal.

My writing career may never make significant money nor have much audience, even though I’d like it to have both. But neither of those goals will ever happen unless I put in the work.

And doing the work is much easier when I learn to love the work for itself rather than treating it like a chore to get me someplace else.

Today I get to sit on my porch with green things all around (and a cat) while I write a short story. That is a beautiful thing to get to do, even if the story never sells and is never read.

I wish I could always cultivate that mindset instead of getting tangled up in grief and worry. Of course the realities of money and bills mean that many days I have to set aside my personal writing in order to do the tasks which actually earn money. Some day those two things may come into more alignment, which would be nice, but I’m also aware that it would change my relationship to the words and the process of making them. Having a dream job often means turning something you enjoy into work, and it isn’t always the best way to balance life. But all of that is in the future. For today I sneak time to do writing which I love and which pays for nothing. And I try to pause and recognize when I get to have a beautiful day full of breakfast quests, pokemon, and writing. No matter what comes next, it can’t take away that lovely day I had.

After an Unintended Silence

The number of blog entries that I partially write and then never finish is significant these days. It is increasingly hard to tease out stories I can tell on the internet from those that are too personal, too religious, too political, or simply not mine to tell. Would-be memoirists are told that they have to be bold and willing to give offense in telling their truths. I can see why when I read a memoir or blog and I am not given a full emotional picture because the writer has chosen to protect something. The words become vague rather than powerful when they are separated from full context. Yet there are relationships and duties that I prize more than I prize being a writer of raw truth. So I myself am intentionally vague at times. That likely limits my audience and reach. It also means that I will begin a post only to discover that the threads of thought are tangled up with something I choose not to share with the internet. So I leave the post fallow, incomplete.

I trust the internet less than I used to. In the past two years the level of anger and vitriol expressed on the internet has increased greatly. The algorithms of social media have had the unintended consequence of turning people I know to be good, into people who generalize and speak dismissively of others. I watch as people I used to enjoy interacting with either become unpleasant to read, or step away, drop out, vanish from the homes they used to inhabit online. I do not wish to vanish, but I have always been a person who falls silent when the conversation gets loud / vigorous / contentious. Yet on the internet to be silent is to vanish.

Every day on social media I see people shouting about causes that are important. Every moment has some emergency where I should signal boost, or send money, or lend my small weight toward swaying the choices of legislators. I could spend every penny and every minute on these causes. But then I would be in need of rescue. In scrambling to answer crises, I would have failed in doing the creative work which has the potential to heal on a larger scale. I am a teller of stories. I always have been. Stories are the most valuable piece of what I have to give to the world. Stories help us decide who we are as individuals. Shared stories are how we decide who to be as communities. So I measure out a portion of my time to crises, and a portion to daily maintenance, and a large share to the people who are mine to teach/serve/love directly, and a portion to the possibility of a brighter future. A brighter future that I help create by taking the time to craft words into stories which then move people, who then move society in better directions.

This is why I will come back to writing, even after a period of unintended silence. It is why, after dozens of abandoned blog posts, I will find the way to finish some.