My Writing Process

One of my favorite bloggers Rudri at Being Rudri tagged me some time ago in this meme about the writing process. I have mentioned Rudri and her wonderful blog before. She writes thoughtful and reflective posts on the process of growing, healing, and finding joy. Her words are compelling because they come from a place of loss. She also writes regularly for The First Day, a quarterly print journal and on-line magazine about the spiritual journeys taken by people from all faiths and cultural backgrounds. Thanks so much for including me in this exercise, Rudri.

What am I working on as a writer?

I’m in a gap period in my writing. I’ve enrolled in writing courses over the last few years and worked on some personal essays for publication. Then I realized that I was suffering from a huge gap as a want-to-be writer: I wasn’t reading enough. A former classmate advised me to “learn from the masters” and so for the last couple of years I’ve been trying to return to the classics as well as familiarize myself with contemporary writers. I’m trying to figure out which voices and styles resonate with me most. I continue to write in my blog and last year began writing about books as well.

I would actually like to write a short story. For years I thought I would write a memoir but I struggled about privacy. Fiction, however, made me feel inauthentic. But I think blog writing has helped to release much of my pent-up emotions. I can comfortably try my hand at fiction now, as soon as I feel confident enough to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). For some reason I feel terrified about doing this.

I am also interested in poetry. I actually signed up for a free on-line poetry writing course that started while I was still traveling. I have a few course emails waiting for me so I need to get on that. But talk about a reading gap – I definitely need to read more poetry!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know if I can say that my writing belongs to a genre and, if it does, if I can say that it differs from others. I’ll just say that in general my writing tends very much to be on the personal side, and sometimes that applies to my book reviews too. I usually like to incorporate a personal voice into my posts.

Why do I write what I do?

I often get very personal in my writing, as my readers know. I’ve asked myself many times why I do this, when clearly I’m the only one among my (non-blogging) friends who reveals so much. I’ve come to the conclusion that I do it because I’d led a life of secrets. I come from a culture in which the most human conditions are seen as shameful flaws: hardship, injury, illness, failure, misfortune. I’ve been made to swear more than once to not utter a word to anyone about [something completely normal]. I also grew up in a home in which emotions were not acknowledged let alone discussed. This could work for some people, but I’m expressive and sensitive by nature. I see and interpret the world through words and feelings. Not allowing an expressive person to communicate is like forbidding an athlete from moving. I’ve had to write the most personal in order to heal and to find a healthy way to exist. I also do this in the hopes of making others (who may have grappled with similar issues) feel less alone. Being personal has helped me connect with readers, and I love and appreciate my small community here.

How does my writing process look?

I only sit down to write (blog) about two to four times a week (usually write 2x and edit 2x). I do, however, go about my days alert for possible topics. It might be a feeling that I have watching my son do something, or it might be something that my husband or friend brings up in conversation. Does that incident or comment reveal something larger about what many of us go through? I look for those moments and sometimes I talk them through with my husband. I store my ideas away mentally and on my phone and then get on my laptop the day before I want to publish the post. I try to write in the early mornings, and will postpone (non-urgent) work if necessary to get a post done. I write it all out in one sitting and then go back and edit small parts here and there. My most authentic posts get written the most quickly. For me personally, if I am in writing mode but the words are not coming to me easily, it’s a signal to me that I am not really writing what I’m feeling but writing because I feel pressured to churn something out. (The pressure is all internal, of course.)

Regarding my book reviews, I keep a small notebook of notable quotes to trigger memories of my biggest take-aways. More often than not I rely on memory. I’m not sure if this is the best tactic, though, given my no-longer-so-young-brain, so I think I need to start taking more notes!

Do you write? What is your writing process like?

On Self-Consciousness, the Fear of Being Judged, and Struggling to Write

I’ve been having a hard time over the last couple of weeks mustering up the energy to write. The struggle is not new; I get hit by this every so often.

Emotional and physical fatigue is my biggest culprit. I experienced extreme highs and lows over the last couple of weeks that included a death in the family. I don’t sleep as much as I should on normal days, so the last couple of weeks have taken a bit out of me.

The other block is a renewed self-consciousness. I’ve received only support and encouragement ever since I posted about my experiences with anxiety, and friends are now even forwarding articles to me on being good to myself. But in the aftermath of those personal posts are the uncomfortable feelings of having said too much. Do my friends look at me differently now, even though my achievements have not changed? When I meet people, are they smiling at me out of pity or judgment? One friend confessed quietly that she had suffered from depression as well, but added, “But I’m not about to go around telling everyone about it.” Though she was speaking only of herself, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was also making a statement about my choice.

How do writers balance authenticity and vulnerability?

There are two sides in me, constantly, that either fuel or drain my motivations to write. There’s the side that expects the best in others – their open-mindedness, their compassion, their acceptance, their lack of judgment. And then there’s the side in me that fears the worst. My culture has instilled in me the importance of keeping secrets and keeping face; the reality of my life has shown me the toxicity of holding everything in. Since I started writing almost five years ago I’ve been gaining strength in my internal battle against the needless shame of being human. I had made the decision that having a voice outweighs the fear of being judged. It’s a seesaw I ride on every week that I write, and I hope that in time the nobler side wins.

Image courtesy http://www.ynaija.com

 

 

 

Happy new year!

I prepared Christmas Eve dinner and loved how it felt to give the gift of food to family. My brother was fully expecting me to defrost a pre-made dinner from the market.

I prepared Christmas Eve dinner and loved how it felt to give the gift of food to family. My brother was fully expecting me to defrost a pre-made dinner from the market.

I’m so eager to read all the year-end book and recap posts that I’m seeing in my reader, and I also want to post my own lists of favorite books and other 2013 reflections. Alas, I think I’m going to have to wait a few more days. I didn’t realize just how much solitude reading and writing required until school let out for my son and my brother flew in for a visit. I spend my early mornings working for clients and I’m too tired at night to write. So right now I’m craving creative time while simultaneously savoring the presence of my family, a happy kind of tension, and a privilege to have the possibility of both.

I hope that whatever you are doing this holiday, you are enjoying your own good balance of solitude and time with loved ones. I am so incredibly grateful to all the friends whom I have either met or reconnected with through this blog. My experience reading and writing this year has been a powerful affirmation that words and stories are important – both in reading them and in sharing them (to feel connected and to heal). Thank you so much for reading and for giving me a reason to write each week. I wish you a memorable new year full of all the things that make you happiest!

Cecilia

Thoughts on blogging by an ordinary blogger

My blog is four years old today (!). That’s four years longer than any plant I’ve ever owned, a little less than half my son’s lifetime, and a third of the life of my marriage.

I’m not putting myself down when I call myself “ordinary.” By ordinary I am referring to clout and status in the blogosphere. It’s not unlike money and status in the off-line world. By both accounts I am ordinary. But do I think I am a good person who lives authentically? Yes, in both worlds, I do. I don’t have tips here on how to get big and successful, but if you want validation, you might find some here today.

I started blogging because I was interested in writing again. I could’ve simply written in a private journal, but maybe what I wanted was to speak up and be heard, by somebody. When I began looking back after a couple of years, it became clearer and clearer to me that I wanted to write because I had spent most of my life silenced. For many different reasons, not the least of which was growing up in a culture of shame, I had been trained to shut my voice down and to take up less space. We all have a voice, and it is a matter of whether or not we want to activate it. After all those years I wanted to activate mine.

And so I started, with many false starts. I had different blogs with different themes and names and nothing stuck until Only You. I named Only You for my son, then five years old. I liked having him be a part of this new life, and partly for that reason I have never considered abandoning this blog, even during stretches when I had lost motivation and confidence to continue.

But Only You was also me, because after having been consumed by motherhood those previous five years, I felt my identity fading out once Fred entered his own world of school and friends. And yet there was no previous self that still existed that I could go back to. Blogging helped me to re-draw the outline of who I was and to fill it in again.

So below are some thoughts, looking back on my four years of blogging:

On motivation

I was never a prolific blogger, and I have gone through peaks and valleys in terms of posting. For me the biggest motivation drainers are lack of physical energy, low writer self-esteem, and perfectionistic tendencies.

I’m going to sound a bit self-pitying here but in the name of honesty I’m just going to come right out and say it: I used to be inconsistent in part because I wasn’t sure if anybody cared. Writing to an audience of busy mothers I’d felt apologetic for my long and heavy posts. And when I found it hard to write – and I have gone as long as two or even three months without writing – I also didn’t explain my absences because I’d assumed that no one would notice if I disappeared for a while.

Of course, what I’ve learned is that 1) as a blogger you need to take a leap of faith and start from there; and 2) creating a community will help lessen that fear of “Who’s going to care?”. It’s a catch-22 because the less you write, the less likely it is you will gain a community and the less accountable you will feel about showing up. For a long time I was caught in exactly that negative cycle.

I also decided to follow my heart in adapting my blog. I was losing a bit of steam writing about motherhood, most likely because my world had shifted. Since the summer, books were becoming a greater part of my life, and I really wanted to start writing about reading. So I took a chance and added books as another blogging theme. I was a bit nervous about changing my blog but being able to write about my passion has refueled my motivation to write.

Finally, I’ve learned to not care as much. I used to approach writing each post almost as if I were drafting an essay for publication. That kind of pressure is what it takes to kill any chance of getting a blog off the ground. I’m still struggling to find my voice after all these years, to write more the way I talk, but I realize that won’t come unless I keep writing and keep practicing.

On community

I’m not going to say the predictable just yet. Instead, I want to say that it took me a while to get the hang of community, the on-line kind. I started out as a “mom blogger,” and soon learned that there is a whole subculture in the world of mom bloggers. There are the big players and you can choose to be a part of that whole scene or not. I’ve strung along to see what the fuss was all about, but I often ended up feeling more alienated and alone than anything else, like being back in my freshman year in college when I was struggling to find my niche. Any social situation that reminds me of those adolescent times is a sign that I need to move away. And so I did.

I also took things a little too personally in the beginning sometimes, feeling hurt if, for example, someone I followed didn’t follow me back. I’ve long let go of that need for tit-for-tat commenting and visiting, because the truth is I often can’t follow back the same people who follow me. Trying to keep up on-line is overwhelming and I understand that everyone else is going through what I go through. It’s not personal. There’s huge freedom in being able to visit a blog simply because you enjoy it, and not worrying about obligation of any kind.

And now I’ll say the predictable: I love my community. It is hard to talk about this without sounding trite or resorting to cliches. I blogged last Friday about the things that bring me down. Well, the people I’ve met through blogging are what bring me up. It is not better or worse than having friends off-line, but there is a certain amount of ease in building relationships on-line. Our first impressions are made not through appearance but through the most intimate parts of a blogger: her words. We can know quickly if we click or not, and with each post we feel we’ve gotten to know the other person a little better. Words are my favorite medium for bonding, and so I love being able to build authentic connection through that.

On validation and vulnerability

Like most bloggers I’ve done my fair share of obsessing over statistics, followers, comments, and shares. Are people reading my posts? What do they think about what I’ve said? Why did I just lose a follower? I never had any goal to amass a huge following, but still, I probably spend more time than I need to checking on my stats.

A few times I got syndicated on larger sites, and it was like small midwestern town girl meets the Big City. My stats skyrocketed during those brief periods of exposure, and it was there, in the scary streets of Blogher and Mamapedia, that I also encountered my first trolls. It was kind of a surreal experience, being told I was an incompetent mother who needed therapy or at least a few good self-help books, all because I’d written about the regrets I’d felt and the lessons I’ve learned from fighting with my husband in front of my child. Since then I’ve had little motivation to put my words out there again, in such public venues. It’s not so much that I’ve allowed myself to be intimidated into silence as it is my lack of desire to share myself with so many people whom I don’t know. It’s like I’ve decided I like my small town better than living in Los Angeles. My goal isn’t to make the big time.

Putting yourself out there and being vulnerable to judgment as both a person and a writer is one of the hardest things you can do. It’s impossible not to be self-critical and to fill yourself with doubt, honestly paralyzing doubt that makes you question if there aren’t easier and safer things to do with your free, unpaid time. So if nothing else – even if I don’t have a ton of followers or page views to show for my four years of blogging – I can say that I’ve shown up, year after year.

Do you blog? If so, what’s helped you stay in the game? As a reader, what keeps you coming back to a blog?

In search of the perfect work space…

This is where I work: on an espresso wood computer desk, overlooking a landscape of trees, in a nook in our bedroom right next to our bed.

desk

I arrived here earlier this spring after years of in-house migration. Seriously, next to finding affordable health insurance, figuring out the best place to work is the next biggest challenge for the work-from-home-self-employed (or at least that’s true for us).

We’d bought our house several years ago, already knowing that we would be running a business from home. So we chose the house we’re in now, which has not only an extra bedroom but also a family/bonus room that is sort of sectioned off from the rest of the house. We knew that we could use one of them for our home office, and the other as a guest room. Over the last few years we have tried both.

Extra bedroom: Sunny and bright, with easy access to our then-still-little child. We often worked at night, so we liked the fact that we could hear him easily if he suddenly woke up crying. However, this room is pretty small, especially for an office for two people, and we soon wanted more space for our printer, books, files, etc.

Family room: Roomy – really, more room than we needed. Unfortunately, only after spending our days there did we realize how dark it is during waking hours. The forest of trees right outside the windows formed a fortress against the sun (as well as heat during winters), as if I needed any more reason not to report to work.

So, running out of ideas and rooms (I vetoed Max’s suggestion to create an office in the kitchen), I’m breaking all my rules of securing proper boundaries by moving my office into our bedroom. How many times have magazines warned “The bedroom is for sleep and sex only!”? Yes, in an ideal world that would be the case for all of us, wouldn’t it? But during my quest to find the best work spot I came to the conclusion that securing work/life balance is not as easy as dividing my life up into rooms. All I have to do to even think of work is to see the top of my laptop, or my iPhone. And yet, how much else of my life is in there? My family photos and videos, my Facebook and Goodreads accounts, my favorite blogs, my journal, my personal e-mails, my recipes…During any given work period I’m toggling between client documents and e-mails and Facebook and blogs. So, given our limitations, I decided that more important than finding a place for our business is finding a place for myself.

The place for myself is a spot that is drenched in sunlight and is private. It also has to be neat, which has required a lifestyle change on my part. My major accomplishment this summer had been to simply take (and keep) the clothes off of my chair and to make the surface of my desk visible. I bought a faux antique file organizer from Marshalls and I have a couple of decorative containers from Japan that currently hold my pens and sleeping pills (Nature Made sleep aids; I swear I don’t abuse these). I also have on my desk the two books that I’m currently reading, a bottle of mango scented lotion, a gargantuan bottle of Advil, a little clay dish and a gold origami crane that Fred had made for me, lip balm, my glasses, and my iPhone. None of this is for decorative effect, but I suppose it says something about what I consider essential to have at my fingertips. I don’t know what else I’d do with this space (maybe light scented candles or put up some photos?), but I will settle for clutter-free as my decor for the time being. I don’t care if I’m working with a client, writing a blog post, or shopping for shoes, as long as I feel at peace while doing it. After all, I am all of my jobs and activities – consultant, business owner, mother, friend, writer, reader – and by designating my work life to one room, I realized that I was dividing my life into Enjoyable and Not Enjoyable. I feel I need to find a way to both manage my boundaries while welcoming my work into my life as something that enriches rather drains.

windowMy view, not that I usually even remember to look out the window (I usually have the blinds down), is lovely when I do. I’m surrounded by a landscape of trees, obstructed by nothing. Aside from my four years on a picturesque New England college campus, this view is the most serene I’ve ever had. I’ve otherwise faced my share of garbage pick ups, parking lots, and buildings.

My work days, which take place during the hours Fred is in school and occasionally at night, are quiet, interrupted occasionally by the sound of the telephone (which I virtually never answer) and brief (work-related) visits by Max (who is now working out of our extra bedroom-turned-guest room (until there is a guest)). Over the eight years that we’ve had our business, I’ve gotten happily used to the absence of office politics and overly chatty co-workers. Over the last five years since Fred has started school I’ve gotten accustomed to longer stretches of time to concentrate without needing to juggle feedings, play time and potty supervision. I’ve gotten used to toggling over to Facebook when I feel like chatting or meeting Max in the kitchen when I want a coffee break. Once in a while I schedule a lunch or breakfast with a girlfriend or two. Is this work life isolating? Sometimes. Too quiet? Occasionally. Would I change anything about it? After almost two decades of working in large cities and spending 70% of my waking hours in bustling offices, nah. The privacy and the tranquility suit the introverted person I’ve returned to, and I can finally hear myself think.view

Where do you do your quiet work when you’re at home? And what constitutes an ideal work space for you?