Public and Private Writing

Today, on the morning of this second day of the new year and the last day of winter break, I’m drawn to write. This is nothing new. Writing is a big part of who I am. It always has been. I imagine it always will be.

Like many other writers, as I contemplate my thoughts and capture words that pass through me in this creative process, I recognize that different kinds of writing serve different¬†purposes in my life and that the audience for whom I write changes largely depending on the topic. I have public writing — this blog is an example, and everything I write on a regular basis for work. Social media has also filled in for some of that public “sharing” and expressing of ideas as well.

I also have private writing — usually it’s handwritten, sometimes typed. It’s writing that helps me process ideas, navigate challenges, and it’s a raw record of my journey. It’s writing that I both intend to keep private, but at the same time hope¬†will eventually be for others to read. ¬†Often I wish to share these ideas out immediately because I can write about things that are hard for me to speak of, the challenges I am working though, disappointments that I face, what some people might even call hardships. In a way it would be so much easier for me to share out these experiences in real time so that friends and family can know why I may not call as often as¬†I want to or why I am not as social as I’d like to be. Perhaps it’s my nature (as an introvert), or perhaps I’m socially conditioned, either way I don’t want to burden anyone with my troubles. So that writing all stays private.

The same has been true of my most celebrated and exciting moments in my life. I’ve kept many of them private as well. I think in the same way I don’t want to bother or burden anyone with troubles, I also don’t want to brag or boast.

The thing is, as a reader I know I benefit greatly when others share their experiences through tough times, and I love to read about celebrations and expressions of joy. I read through these accounts and they help me put my own experiences into perspective; they give my ideas for how to address my own circumstances and opportunities. I know in my heart that this kind of raw, experiential writing is the most powerful writing of all. It’s something that my public writing¬†has been lacking, and I’m afraid it’s been holding me back from becoming the writer that I’m meant to be.

This blog post itself, about public and private writing, feels very personal, very private to me. It makes me wonder if our public and private writing is merely an extension of our public and private selves, and if these are fixed or fluid.

Do we as writers, as artists, ultimately need to merge these two selves? Can we be successful in our craft if we keep them apart?

A dear friend recently shared with me that she wanted to be more proactive in this new year with accomplishing the goals she’s set for herself and asked me for advice for how to do it. I was taken aback a bit, because¬†it’s honestly something I think I need work on myself (and something I write, privately, about quite often). After reflecting¬†on her request, I realized that I¬†may appear proactive and productive to others because of the¬†public writing that I share. There is, however, so much more that I’d like to do and accomplish, so much that¬†I’ve kept safely guarded¬†in my private writing.

While I can’t make any promises, and this is not a resolution, I am going to try to be more mindful and intentional this year about my writing practice. I will¬†try to push myself out of comfort zone and tackle projects that I might have shied away from before. They may not all make it out to the “public” just yet, but I am going to work on better merging these two sides of my writing process in hopes of creating more meaningful and authentic work.

Happy new year and happy writing.

~Melissa

 

 

Sixty Books

ADVICE FROM LOTS OF STEPHENS
Back in October, I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing that had been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I was about to¬†be a passenger while my then-fianc√© drove three hours from New Jersey to Connecticut,¬†and I figured the trip would allot me some solid reading time. I had wanted to read King’s book for a while, but the real reason that I selected it on that particular morning was because the edition was a lightweight paperback — and honestly, I loved the way the grainy texture of the cover felt in my hands. There was no deep or major intellectual decision going on here.

Ah, how some of the most seemingly insignificant decisions we make can have the greatest impact!

Needless to say, the book is really amazing. King’s ability to write memoir and keep readers enthralled is excellent. He weaves his biographical experiences and insights in with advice and pointers for writerB00HxI8CUAA8t_1s.¬†I’m only sorry that it took me so long to take the book off of my shelf and start reading it. If anyone else is delinquent in reading this book, I encourage you to make haste and read it as soon as you can.

One of the most interesting writing tips that King gives is his advice to read — a lot. Okay, he isn’t the first writer to give that advice. We’ve all heard that same advice a million times. Other writers — and every great writing teacher I’ve ever had — all say that we must read a lot in order to write well. The thing that struck me when I read the advice this time, was that King gives a number. He says that he reads about sixty books a year.

Okay, Stephen King, maybe YOU have time to read sixty books a year. What about the rest of us?

(Personally, at the time I read this advice, I was busy working full-time, planning a wedding, and getting caught up in all the other day-to-day things that keep us busy. I didn’t see how I could possibly afford the time to read that many books in one year.)

Seeking validation for my skepticism I checked my Goodreads account, where I have been pretty consistent at logging the books I read for the¬†last few years, and I discovered that I had actually read about forty books the previous year and a similar number the years before. Still not¬†yet convinced that reading an additional twenty books a year¬†was even a plausibility for me, I noted Stephen King’s advice and gently¬†tucked¬†it aside in a corner of my mind for safe keeping.

At the same time I started On Writing, I had also been reading a book called¬†¬†Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics.¬†(I tend to do this, start and read multiple B0tWnWFIgAAxRXAbooks at once. There’s something kind of lonely to me about only having one book “in progress” at a time, but that is fodder for another post!) I had started reading right before I read¬†On Writing, and I finished it just after.

This was one of the most fun books I’ve read in a long time. I would say that I am generally an out-of-the-box thinker, and so I really appreciated the authors’ take on various topics and advice for looking at things and thinking differently. This book is an¬†excellent read¬†for anyone who is interested in finding ways to develop a stronger growth mindset or who feels like they just want a new perspective.

And wouldn’t you know, these authors also go¬†ahead and recommend the same advice about reading often, citing long lists of¬†successful leaders and business owners who do so. And, just like King, they quantify the number of books per year. In just two days’ time,¬†the notion of reading about sixty books per year — and the incredible value in doing so — was presented to me.

NOT JUST A COINCIDENCE
I know I couldn’t just consider it a coincidence — that in both of these books written by successful people about successful people that¬†there is a magic number of books we need to read each year — and then move on. I kept thinking about this number. I mean I’d been pretty close with about forty books a year, so maybe adding twenty more books wouldn’t be so tough. I struggled with figuring out how I could fit all of these books into my own schedule.

Then, two more things happened over the next few months to convince me that I had to find a way.

First, I came across this quote by Lisa See from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: ‚ÄúRead a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.‚ÄĚ I did a little math, and 1000 books divided by 60 books a year works out to almost 17 years. It hit really me then. (Like a big punch in the gut or a hard slap in the face, it hit me.) If I had been reading at the full pace of sixty books a year all along, perhaps writing would be a lot easier for me by now. Perhaps I would be finding and expressing my ideas a little more clearly. It struck me that I had some serious catching up to do on my reading.

UAAAAldEVYdGRhdGU6Y3JlYXRlADIwMTQtMTAtMjFUMDM6MTQ6NTAtMDc6MDBPKjBrAAAAJXRFWHRkYXRlOm1vZGlmeQAyMDE0LTEwLTE2VDIzOjIxOjQ2LTA3OjAwoct3agAAAABJRU5ErkJggg==I did a little more (quick) math, and 60 books a year divided by 52 weeks a year is just over 1 book a week. Broken down like that, I was just about convinced that I could do it, that I could read a book a week.

Then, the second thing happened which made it absolutely impossible for me not to commit to sixty books. I logged in to my Goodreads account in January and sure enough, there was the 2015 Reading Challenge, taunting me to set a reading goal for the year. Other Goodreads members had already set their goals. I saw that some had goals of thirty books, and some much higher goals of one hundred and fifty! I know myself pretty well as a reader, and I know that I like to read slowly and take notes and write in the margins of my books when I can. I figured, therefore, that anything over sixty year might be too much for me, so I decided to go ahead, listening to good advice, and set a reading goal of sixty books for the year. I was officially committed to my new goal.

CAN I KEEP IT UP?
As with any resolution set in the cold month of January, there is a chance that the motivation will taper off. There is a strong risk that our beginning-of-the-year good intentions will become waylaid by the hustle and bustle of our modern lives. We have short attention spans these days. We get easily distracted. We are fickle.

For all of those reasons, I have kept my goal of sixty books pretty¬†private¬†— until now. ¬†Today, I am happy to say that I have finished reading twenty-nine of the sixty books (which Goodreads informs me is one book ahead of schedule). I am also in the middle of reading three other books right now and just ordered two more for book club discussions. I’m feeling pretty confident that my goal of sixty books is not only plausible, but is probable, and possible¬†as well. (Especially with all of the wedding plans behind us now and summer vacation ahead, I think I might even surpass the goal this year!)

Future posts will be dedicated not only to accomplishing this goal of reading sixty books, but also what reading sixty books is helping me to accomplish.

Thank you, Stephen King, Steven Levitt, and Stephen Dubner. I am very, very thankful that I read your books.

WILL YOU JOIN ME IN READING #SixtyBooks? 
It is with experience-based confidence in my own ability to keep up the pace of sixty books that I offer the same challenge to all of you. Will you commit to reading sixty books? Do you already read sixty books a year? More? I’d love to know.

Leave your comments below or use #SixtyBooks on Twitter to keep the conversation going.

~Melissa

Readers and Writers Networking Sites…

In this constant struggle of mine to find (make) time for reading, writing, and discussion, I have joined a few sites online.  (As well as two book clubs which is a whole other story!)   I am not sure if these sites will help me find more time or less, but I guess that only time will tell!

Reading:
GoodReads  Рwww.goodreads.com  (keep track of the books you read, suggest books for others)

Writing:
New Jersey Writer’s Society ¬†– www.njwriters.org (local writer’s groups, online discussions)

Anyone have any other sites that they would like to share for reading or writing?

~Melissa ūüôā

Best writing advice

What has been the best writing advice you’ve received? ¬†Or, if you could pick one piece of advice to share with others, what would it be?

~Melissa ūüôā

Teaching the Personal Narrative

In the beginning of the school year, we always begin with teaching the students to write about their own lives. ¬†(They are the experts, after all!) ¬†I have taught units before where students write a small vignette (which I always feel is similar to a prose poem ‚Äď and actually kind of difficult for middle schoolers to do well) and units where they write an autobiography covering their entire (or most of their) life up to that moment.¬† They are two very different types of writing!¬† This year, our piece is a personal narrative, so I think that it falls somewhere between the two genres that I have taught before.¬† It is not as event-centered as a full autobiography, but is more like traditional prose writing than the vignette.¬† The samples of my own writing that I have used in the past aren’t quite what I want to model for my students this year.¬† I’m hoping that they will choose one or two aspects from their life to write in great detail about.¬† So, it is back to the drawing board (or back to the notebook!) for me.

I started writing a new piece today that I will model for my students.¬† I began, of course, with the first stage of the writing process (prewriting) and brainstormed what I could possibly write about.¬† I used listing, stream of consciousness (which to them I just call ‚Äúwriting what you are thinking‚ÄĚ), and outlining in my prewriting stage.¬† I came up right away with what I would write about. ¬†(See, following the process works!)

I continued on to the second stage (drafting) and quickly became aggravated at myself for ‚Äútelling‚ÄĚ a lot of the story rather than ‚Äúshowing‚ÄĚ it.¬† As I was drafting, I kept trying to ‚Äúshow‚ÄĚ but it was much easier and faster for me to ‚Äútell‚ÄĚ instead.¬† So, I gave in and got a lot of the narrative written out ‚Äď though I was very unhappy with the quality of the writing.¬† Then, I realized that this was actually a good thing because I can use this to model for my students how to truly utilize the next stage of the process (revising) and how sometimes it is ‚Äúradical surgery.‚ÄĚ ¬†

Next, I will go back and rewrite all of the ‚Äútelling‚ÄĚ so that it is actually ‚Äúshowing‚ÄĚ in a new draft and will make the narrative much more like what it is supposed to be.¬† This first draft (though not the type of writing I ultimately want my piece to be) is really important in the process because it is taking me to the next step.¬† I didn’t set out to have these things happen in the piece that I will model for my students, but I am very glad that they did! ¬†

Today is Day 9 of my 1,000 Word Pledge, and I have been at 1,000+ words each day.  It does feel really good to keep track of the progress.  This was a good idea.  How is everyone else doing?

~Melissa ūüôā

Why Do You Write?

Do you write because you want to say something or because you have something to say?  Do your write to communicate or to express an idea?  Do you have a story that just has to be told?  Do you like to talk, and continue to do so even when there is no one in the room to listen?  Do you have questions that you want to answer?  Do you write for therapy?  Do you write for yourself or for an audience?  Do you have an experience that will help others and want to share it?  Do you think you are funny?  Do you write to be remembered?  Do you hope to record a significant event or happening?  Do you write to stay in touch with others?  Do you write because it is required of you?  Do you write because you are good at it?

Writing is an essential way to communicate with others, especially in today’s world where so much communication occurs over text messages, email, and blogs.¬† ūüôā We can share important information, thoughts and other creative ideas through what we write.¬† We can express ourselves and help other people with things that we write.¬† In our daily lives, we all use writing at one point or the other (or at the very least, we read what someone else has written).¬† There are many reasons to write, and before a writer begins (and during the entire process), a writer must be able to answer why he or she is writing.

Everything we write must have a purpose.¬† We are answering one of the above questions (or any of the others that I left out) when we describe the purpose or intent behind a piece of writing.¬† Concentrating on your purpose will help your writing stay focused, and keep you from experiencing any of the dreaded ‚Äúwriter’s block‚ÄĚ that occurs when you let yourself forget.¬† Purpose driven writing is our best writing. ¬†

Have you ever thought about these questions before?  Are there several questions that apply to you?  (There probably are because we each write for a variety of reasons.)  Post a comment and let me know what you think as well as any other reasons you have (or know of) for writing.

~Melissa ūüôā

Grammar Girl and Spooky Story Contest

I have stumbled upon a great podcast called the ‚ÄúGrammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.‚Ä̬† This is the first (and only) podcast that I have subscribed to, but I wanted to make sure that I shared it with you.¬† (First blogging, now podcasts…what’s next?)

If you feel like you need a little extra help with your own grammar or usage, or you just happen love grammar as so many of us do, you should check it out.  The useful tips, which are easy to follow and remember, are explained and read by Mignon Fogarty.  There is also a recently published book by this author and a website if you would like more information:  http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/default.aspx. 

The last podcast was about the differences between ensure, insure, and assure.  At the end of the podcast, there was an announcement for a story contest from a bookstore in Reno, Nevada.  The contest is to write a spooky story in 250 words or less.  You can get more information about the contest by clicking this link: http://sundancebookstore.com/htdocs/Pages/spooky_fiction.html.  I think I will give it a try.  If nothing else it is a good exercise in being concise!  I may even encourage some of my students to enter a story.

Good luck!

~Melissa ūüôā