When Writers Shouldn’t Blog (a Farewell, for Now)

Image created at canva.com
Image created at canva.com

I’m taking a break from my blog. I love it, but that’s the problem: I love it a little too much. In this season of life (early motherhood, moving to a new state, The Love Dare), lost in my own learning curves, I’ve lost audience awareness; I’ve slipped into nearly moving my diary online.

But a blogger should write for an audience beyond herself.

The fact is, I don’t have the capacity to write for an audience right now. At least not a blog audience, because a blog audience needs continual attention, much like the husband I am trying to love better; the one-year-old son who needs me constantly; and my God, who hasn’t been hearing much from me lately. (Ouch.)

Since deciding to put my family first, and actually implementing plans to that effect, I haven’t had much free time—but what free time I have has gone to this blog. Consumed with blogging and blogging ideas, I’ve lost the intimate prayer life and the desire to read God’s Word that I had before having a child. So, with the help of Love Dare #23, it’s time to remove this “thing that is hindering my relationship[s], [this] addiction or influence that’s stealing [my] affections and turning [my] heart away from [my] spouse [and my Maker].” It’s time to get re-centered on what’s most important.

But for me not blogging doesn’t mean not writing. While away, I will continue to write. I need to keep writing, in fact, to cope with all the growth and change happening around and within me. I just need to write for awhile without an audience, except my Savior, so I can listen better to him instead of worrying about what readers will think, or how to package my thoughts under a catchy title, or what content will get the most “likes.” I need some quiet time to be raw and real, to pray and journal, and to get back to that “empty notebook” strategy and the “writing to my roots” approach that evoked the germ of this blog and my first memoir—the core message of which I still believe needs an audience. (I’m asking God right now if it’s the right time to revise that memoir yet again…)

In time, I believe I will hit upon another message that deserves an audience–an audience to include (most likely) new mothers, impatient wives, writers, and well-intentioned (but struggling) sons and daughters of God. For now, I am seeking wisdom again, in and for this new stage of life. For now, I need to listen more than I speak; I need to read more than I write; and I need to write more than I blog.

Farewell for now.

The Work in Progress Blog Tour—Take a Peek!

Here’s something a little fun and different. Fellow blogger and author Luanne Castle nominated me to participate in the Work in Progress Blog Tour, so today I have an excuse to give you a preview of my memoir.

The rules of the blog tour are:

  1. Link back to the nominating writer
  2. Post the first few lines of the first three chapters of the work in progress (I included my prologue, as well)
  3. Nominate a few other writers to do the same

Luanne began her blog, writersite.org, a few months before I began blogging in January 2013, and we have been following each other’s blogs for about that long. Not only does she blog, but she has a PhD and an MFA and has taught writing for fifteen years. Most recently, she published her first book, Doll God, which is a book of poetry. Luanne has been a delightful blogging colleague, and I look forward to one day reading her current work in progress, a memoir called Scrap.

My Work in Progress: All Things New: My Journey to Rebirth, Recovery, and a Relevant Faith

As for my own memoir, or work in progress, I have been resting from it since last August, when I queried a publisher who immediately asked to see the entire manuscript. In January, that publisher emailed to tell me they were still evaluating the work, and that “no news is good news in this case.” So I am hopefully awaiting more news!

Synopsis

From a young age, I decided that for faith to make sense, it had to make a difference in my life—a good difference. But when my childhood home gave way to an affair and other family secrets, our Christian beliefs had little to offer me. I fled to college desperate to shed my sad, secretive self. Unfortunately, at college my sadness only intensified; my thoughts turned suicidal. A college dropout, failed suicide attempt, and forty days in a mental hospital were my devastating launch pads into adulthood. They were also the beginnings of a decade-long search for a relevant God. Beginning with a blind date in Texas with a “nice Adventist boy,” a new family, and a secondary teaching job, and culminating with a life-changing prayer ministry, I finally found a Savior who suffered in every way I did, and then I shared him with other women who desperately needed a relevant faith, too.

Prologue

I can never tell, I thought from the back pew of a Texas church. What would they think of me if they knew what I was really like? A few months ago, I was the mysterious Minnesota girl who had showed up on Buc’s arm one Sabbath. Next, I became “Buc’s wife” and “Pastor Gendke’s daughter-in-law.” Buc and I had married in the quiet of my in-laws’ living room, with his father, the retired pastor of my new church, officiating. But we had not invited anyone. I had no wedding shower. There were no formal introductions.

Chapter 1

Playing the Game

1991

Bass notes, synthesizers, and Amy Grant’s alto voice drifted through the sheet that covered my doorway. I winced, pulled my blankets over my head, and rolled over. It was starting again. This was how every Saturday morning started. Just like light after complete blackness hurts the eyes, the drums from the cassette tape hurt my ears, drove me deeper beneath the four-deep pile of covers that substituted for central heating. Dad’s Sabbath music.

I smelled coffee, turkey bacon, and waffles. Dad’s cooking.

Suddenly I remembered: Mom was gone.

 Chapter 2

Home Life

1994

Mom’s bare feet made a sucking sound as she peeled them, one after the other, off the blood-red linoleum, muffin pan in hand. That morning she wore her gray cargo pants and Dad’s blue flannel coat as she served breakfast. We thought the paint would be dry this morning, but it hadn’t dried over night.

Chapter 3

Bombshell

1998

I had big dreams the year my life crumbled. Days before I turned fourteen, my family moved into a newer, nicer house just outside of town. I thought life could only get better from here.

I Nominate…

C.C. Yager–a fellow blogger and author who recently published a novel, Perceval’s Secret, the first installment in a developing series. Cinda has been a great online writing “colleague,” faithfully following and commenting on my blog and posting quality articles on the craft, process, and business of writing.

Trish Ryan–a favorite memoirist whom I hired as my book consultant and who helped me through two drafts of my project. I first discovered Trish and her memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, in my local library. Hers was one of the first quality Christian memoirs I had read, and her book and her feedback proved invaluable to me as I revised my manuscript.

Addie Zierman–another memoirist who has challenged Christians to overcome the many cliches we cling to. An MFA graduate and fellow Minnesotan, Addie has just finished her first draft of her  second memoir, which follows up her debut When We Were on FireI read her memoir to get another example of a Christian memoir, and I have continued to read her blog for her beautiful prose, bare honesty, and unique perspective.

Good luck to these writers, and all of you, who have a work in progress! 

Growing Pains of a Career Woman Turned Mother

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Here is one of the ways I’m trying to regain productivity in my life. So far, it’s not working.

I’m writing tonight about something I didn’t want to write about: my trouble adapting to motherhood, or my trouble adapting to a life that is family- rather than career-oriented. I’ve decided to post about it because, let’s face it, I can’t focus on anything else these days. What’s more, I’ve decided to type this post directly in WordPress (not on a word document that I will edit, and edit, and edit) because there is no way it will otherwise get posted.

Maybe I could post more often if I weren’t so worried about producing stellar writing…if I hadn’t been “tainted” by the successes of a career or a master’s degree or published writing. My blogging buddy, Kate, recently posted about how sometimes a bit of “fame,” such as being freshly pressed (which success I’ve also had), can hamper a writer’s voice. I wonder how much this has happened to me.

Ever since I became intent on publishing my memoir (which is maddeningly dormant right now), compounded with a growing blog following (especially after I was freshly pressed), my writing process has slowed down. I want my posts to be witty, clever, well thought out, and worth reading. When I began blogging, I told myself I didn’t just want to move my diary online. I tried not to spill my unfettered guts on the blog without first framing them in some (hopefully) amusing or enlightening way, or at least trying to make a larger application for my readers.

Blogging is tough these days because all I can seem to write about are those very mundane things comprising new motherhood: feeding troubles, sleeping woes, baby blues. And by the time I get a free moment to write, I don’t have energy to be clever about them. Do I feel these topics are too pedestrian to write about? Do I feel they are beneath me? Um, a little. Before this stage of my life, I prided myself on having more to talk about than just my family. Than just kids. I smirked (inwardly) at women who had nothing to boast of but children. Prided myself on my multiple degrees and teaching career.

But you know what? Not having kids, not having those “pedestrian” goings-on in my life, made it hard to talk to people. And graduate school made it even harder to swim in casual conversation with non graduate students. I found myself biting my tongue when I wanted to use big words–I didn’t want to  sound too nerdy. I fear I’ve often failed.

Now, my tendency to over-intellectualize has crossed over into motherhood. Whenever I discuss baby Sam with my sisters-in-law, one of my three mothers, or my girlfriends, I find myself saying things like, “Well, I read that babies should start to smile in the second month,” or, “According to my parenting books…” or “In my reading I discovered that….” When I hear myself saying such things, I am appalled. Motherhood is not an academic subject to be learned through books. And yet, that’s how I’ve approached it.

Yes, I confess: despite successes in a career, in graduate school, in writing, I find myself hopelessly fumbling with motherhood. I wish someone would give me a manual to study with clearcut answers. But there is no such manual to be found. As I’ve been telling everyone who asks how it’s going, “This is the toughest job I’ve ever had.”

To those ladies I judged as simpletons for having nothing to boast of but children, I apologize. I was wrong to judge you. Of course, it’s not the physical “having” of children that makes you awesome; it’s the adept raising of them. So far, I’m not adept. As for my strengths, those seem pretty weak right now, too.

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How’s this for unfettered? Me and Sam and no makeup. Yikes! But it’s a common sight at my house lately.

Just now, in fact, I’m fighting the urge to apologize for this incoherent and badly organized post…but it occurs to me: maybe an incoherent and badly organized post is another way, in addition to motherhood, that I can relate to my audience. Everyone goes through periods of uncomfortable growth and change–and this is one of mine.

Maybe I could post more often if I let go of some of my impossible standards.  Maybe I would find that readers even appreciate my unfettered guts, er, I mean, thoughts (how’s that sentence for nerdy?). Maybe I WILL start to make regular posts again (albeit bad and incoherent ones), and let you share this uncomfortable journey with me. Maybe we can all learn something new in the process. At the very least, we can laugh together…once I figure out how not to take myself so seriously.

Writing for an Audience

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Photo Credit: Auditorium by Ayla87

I started blogging because I needed an audience. After journaling for no one but myself for fourteen years, I needed to start thinking about writing for others, especially since I wanted to write and publish my memoir. I realized I had been self-centered, or writer-based, all those years. What’s more, I realized my previous education (even though I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English), had not helped me with the transition to writing for meaningful audiences. But now that I was serious about publishing a book, I had to become more reader-based.

If you’ve done any research on the publishing market, you know that being reader-based is essential to (traditional) publishing. If you’ve done that same research and you had an English education like mine, you might have concluded that many English teachers must not be writers—in the sense of trying to publish their writing.

Most of my English teachers gave me dead assignments, or what my thesis advisor called “orphaned texts” to write: papers that were not meant to go anywhere beyond their desk. My advisor also termed these assignments “autonomous texts”—texts that had no communicative element, no audience, and no purpose. This was in opposition to a superior type of writing situation: the rhetorical situation.

Last week I introduced my composition students to the rhetorical triangle—a way of thinking about writing that places a text in context of a specific speaker, audience, and topic. The major lesson is that if any element of the triangle changes, the text must also change.

Learning to think of writing this way—as a communicative act—has been changing my own writing dramatically. And it has tested me. First, on this blog, I have been forced to confront the self-pitying nature of so much of my past writing—and with that, the uselessness and counter-productivity of said writing. Considering my writing through the lens of a prospective audience has forced me to look in a mirror, as it were, and has helped me clear away the dross of my thoughts for current and future projects. The benefits of blogging have included even more healing for myself while looking in that “mirror,” and a push toward meeting my real goal of book publication.

Incidentally, I’ve just received my editor comments back on my memoir manuscript, which are further propelling me to write for an audience. I’m glad I had the training of eight months of blogging to prepare me to think about meeting the needs of book readers.

Trish Ryan’s assessment was great, pushing me to make some difficult changes I sensed I might need to make, but that I wasn’t emotionally ready to make earlier. I hope I am ready now. Time will tell as I enter the revision stage. Providentially, Trish told me I sent her the manuscript at just the right time to get feedback and intervention. I was glad to read that. I knew I wasn’t done with this project at first draft’s end, but I was at a point where I needed an experienced reader and writer to coach me to stretch limits for my intended audience.

Some of her best advice relating to audience was to lay out my story chronologically. Touché, as I had tried to bury or bypass some hard emotional scenes. I needed her to tell me that the audience needs more facts of my background to understand all the feelings I divulge throughout. She also urged me to err on the side of action versus reflection to keep things moving for readers. She said setting up a more complete background to my story in the beginning would help diminish the need for so much reflection later—readers would better understand my actions with the appropriate lead-up.

With her feedback, I am better equipped to revise my book for my audience, which will mean cutting out some material that was personally revelatory but not globally relevant. Though this may be hard, having  had an audience of one see and validate those parts of my story has heartened me to the task of cutting them from the final draft. (The tougher job now will be revisiting and writing those difficult parts of my past that need to be in the book).

So the final takeaway for this post? We writers, if we want to be published, and even if we just need to heal, need various audiences to push us to self-reflect on what we’re really accomplishing with our writing—and push us to take sometimes difficult steps. In the end, I believe writing for an audience is making me both a better person and a better writer, and it can do the same for you.

Fable of a Freelance Writer

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Once upon a time (three months ago, to be exact), a freelance writer developed a blog, some book chapters, and a guilt complex.

You see, this writer started out herself to please—to fulfill a dream, put her heart at ease. No more would she hate herself for putting it off—no longer would her naysayers scoff. 

And so writing a schedule–for she must have a plan–finally, she began:

January

Wake up at 6, breakfast, goodbye.

Then meet with the Lord, at 7 or so.

Eight was for exercise, don’t get flabby!

 Then 9 was for work—let the writing begin!

The plan was to write until 4 or more—

Her memoirs, her art, her triumphant score.

But alas, as soon as she began,

She got the email from the man

Who wanted revisions on his manuscript…

So she said, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”

Then April came…

She’d made no progress

On her own goals…but I digress.

 

April

As the writer looked back on the past three months, she realized she had not stuck to her guns. Besides some blogs and some personal slime, she had nothing to show for her time. Something had happened, but she was not sure what—had she just wasted time, sitting on her duff?

As she searched the memories of her mind, she discovered it was not that she hadn’t tried—it’s just that some stuff had come up inside.

The joy of Jan was followed by blues…somewhere in Feb, kids came up, too. Then, in March, she thought back to home, a topic deserving a fully-fledged tome. So maybe her story isn’t written yet, but perhaps just now its reaching denouement.

What has she learned, this freelancer babe? In three months of blogging, and burbling, and talk? Maybe she just needs to lay off the clock.

  • Sleep in sometimes, and let the mind rest.
  • Talk to a friend, get things off of her chest.
  • Relax, and take the stick out the rear.
  • Go for a run, the fog will clear.
  • Relax, be a wife, and a friend, and a person.
  • Those bad writing days? Well, you win some, you lose some.

As she thought on these lessons she’d learned over time, she decided her life was really quite fine. The dream was not lost, merely delayed—and even if slow going, it still with her stayed. Maybe, she thought, I’ve been under delusion—thinking my story needs a conclusion. Maybe, in fact, I’ve been all wrong—and I’ve been living the dream all along.

 

One Big Tangle: Thoughts on Blogging versus Book-writing

As you may know, Writing to my Roots is chronicling the writing and publication of my first memoir—or the progress toward my lifelong goal. In other words, I’m writing about writing, both about how it’s going as a writer, and also about what’s happening in the writing—what roots I’m uncovering. In other words, where is the writing taking my story, book-wise, and me, person-wise?

Trying to untangle all of the above is not an easy task. And tangled is the right word. I feel so tangled up right now with conflicting tasks in storytelling. I’m telling you a story about a story I’m telling—and I find myself worrying about telling both stories right.

Something tells me I’m going about this all wrong. At least the blog. A book should be carefully organized, but a blog is a place to be more free, right? We’ll go with that for today, so I can get on with writing about writing.

Book Progress and Problems Since October, 2012

For starters, I have penned (literally, written with a pen) around 350 pages of my book. This morning I think I may have even written the last scene and decided on my title. So the writing is going well. Indeed, I feel like I have all the component parts of my book recorded in some form or fashion. I’ve got most of the big themes and thoughts I want to include collected into those once-empty notebooks I told you about last week.

But now comes the hard part. Revising and organizing. Shaping this amorphous blob of memories and musings into something pretty. The other night my dad asked me how many chapters I had written, and I had to just shake my head and say, “Dad, it doesn’t work like that.” (He’s a radio-advertising salesman who occasionally writes copy for commercials. How could he understand the complexities of drafting, revising, and organizing a book-length manuscript?)

I told my dad that my first draft was just emerging through the recording of scenes and ideas as they came to me. I’ve just been trying to get it all out of me, and then worry about organizing it. But that’s not so easy to do these days. The organizing, I mean.

Some Concerns Faced by “Real” Writers (especially Memoirists)

If you read contemporary memoir, you know that stories don’t always unfold chronologically. “Real” writers (and I think I have a little pride about being one, even though I probably shouldn’t, being that I have not yet published a book) make difficult literary maneuvers such as

  • flashback
  • flash forward
  • magnification
  • compression

Writers also

  • make use of extended metaphors and symbols, sometimes all throughout the book
  • pay attention to pacing and placement of scenes
  • carefully select and balance important versus unimportant detail.*

(see chapter two of The Portable MFA in Creative Writing for more)

*For memoirists, specifically, this selection and balance of detail is particularly hard, because all the details are personal. Which ones do you share, and which ones do you shelve? Here, we have tangled up literary concerns with personal, and sometimes moral, ones. There is so much to think about!

These are just a few of the challenges I’m encountering as I progress through the writing of my book. And I’m nowhere near close to figuring them all out. But yesterday I did find hope for making sense of my thoughts—and bringing order to my writing…through reading the memoir Riding the Bus with my Sister by Rachel Simon.

Riding the Bus with my Sister: Inspiration for the Aspiring Memoirist

In a nutshell, Simon tells the story of what she learned through one year of riding city buses with her mentally handicapped sister, Beth. At the beginning of the book, I expected the story to revolve around this year of bus-riding—I thought that was the core story. But the further I got into the book, I realized that, with carefully chosen, carefully placed flashbacks, Simon was telling the story of her family’s breakup, and her broken heart. Ultimately, it was through riding the buses with Beth, by slowing down to enjoy life again, and by remembering her roots, that Simon found a great deal of healing by book’s end (there’s more to it, of course, but I’m compressing).

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Wow, I thought, teary-eyed by the closing scenes. That was a job well done. Not only was her literary execution great, but her story was worth telling. And she didn’t go overboard with her tale of woe. Indeed, I was shocked halfway through to read of the horrific things that happened in her teenage years—so that was why she has all these problems in her adult life…not getting close to people, overworking, lacking hobbies. Suddenly the journey described in the book became much deeper than just a year of bus-riding with her sister. It was a journey of healing for herself.

In both Simon’s writing and her story, I see visions of myself. The personal story is similar to mine, although without the handicapped sister; and the sum total of her book’s organization leaves the effect I want my own book to have. What a great story—and what a great way to tell it, I want my readers to think of my book (just like I thought of Simon’s).

So, for today, I will disentangle myself just a bit with this: at least if my blog is not pretty, I want my book to be. For today, I’m feeling grateful to Rachel Simon for her story—and hoping you’ll ride with me as I untangle the telling of my own.