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

 

 

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 🙂

Grammar Girl and Spooky Story Contest

I have stumbled upon a great podcast called the “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”  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 🙂

“Experience is what you get…”

Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.

Dan Stanford

Got that?  I know that you may be very busy wallowing in your own self-pity or reliving that disappointment over and over again in your mind, and in your heart (and I am certainly talking to myself on this one as well), but there is no reason to.  Stop right now!  

Even though you didn’t get what you wanted, you got SOMETHING.  Granted, it may not seem like very much, you may want to toss it out of the window (figuratively), and you would gladly give it away to the first person who would take it (literally), but it’s yours.  Like it or not.  

Every broken heart, closed door, missed opportunity, disappointing news, application denied, offer rejected, broken promise, and so on that we encounter in our lives is there for a reason.  Each of these heartaches is a chance to learn, to build character, to grow as a person, and to heal.  Though extremely painful, they are each equally as important as the good things, and actually help to make us appreciate the good things even more.  Focus on those good things!  Find the good things in your life and focus on all that you have, even if it is not what you want.  I know that it is hard (believe me, I know it is hard!), but it is the only way.  If you are so focused on the “what you wanted” you may miss out on new opportunities you could create, or what else may come your way on its own.

A recent situation that helped me to somewhat frame a (much larger, much more difficult, and very painful) current disappointment came from something that happened a few years ago.  I had made a custom piece of jewelry and it came out really great!  I was so excited with how perfect the bracelet was – exactly what the customer ordered – and wanted them to see it right away, that I sent it to them before I took a photo of it for my portfolio.  It was a really beautiful bracelet and I just could never recreate it exactly, though I certainly tried.  I was so disappointed with myself for having forgotten to take the picture.  Though I didn’t have the picture (what I wanted), I gained the “experience” of learning from my mistake and never making the same mistake again.  I take pictures of everything I make now, even the pieces that I don’t like so much!  Well, trying to make this long story shorter – that same customer from a few years ago just called the other day and asked if I could add on to that piece and they are sending it to me so that I can work on it.  I’m getting the bracelet back and can finally take the picture!  Okay, now I know that isn’t the best example and pales in comparison to some of the disappointments we face in our lives (my own included) – but, the point is that it all works out in the end.  It always does.  

Be calm.  Be positive.  Have patience.  Have faith.  

~Melissa 🙂

There is no such thing as writer’s block!

My students hear me say all the time that, “There is no such thing as writer’s block!”  There is no excuse for not having something written after a period of freewriting or when a writing assignment is due.  It may not be your best work, you may not want to share it, you may not love it or even like it at all, but if you let yourself freeze when you try to write, then you let yourself become an old car that no one drives anymore, or an athlete that forgets to stretch before a big game. The best way to get good at something is to practice and keep yourself in shape, and writing is no exception.  If you don’t get into the habit of writing something down, you won’t give yourself the chance to revise it into a brilliant piece later on.

This post was originally posted on the blog I started last year to use with my students, www.missmorrisblog.wordpress.com. The link to the blog is in my blogroll on this page now too.  If you are interested, please feel free to visit that blog and see the original post as well as some of their comments.  I posted this advice, and as a homework assignment, and my students’ job was to respond with a way that they get around “writer’s block” both as a reminder that they already have at least one good trick of their own, and as a way to share strategies with each other.  I have actually incorporated some of their ideas into this post.  

Tips that will help you get “unstuck” when writing:

 

Be organic!

– Your best writing is what comes most naturally to you…if you are stuck for a topic or don’t like what you are writing…change it. You may come back to your original idea anyway.

– If you don’t know what to write at all…then write that! It is okay to get started with a list, or other brainstorming activities. Sometimes those things turn in to the best pieces.

– Draw or doodle for a few minutes – you can always write about your drawing if you still can’t think of anything else.

 

Use your resources:

– “Interview” friends and family about your topic – react in your writing to what they said or run with the new ideas and see where they take you.

– Search your subject, genre, or idea online – see what others have already written about it.

– Look up words you have already written in the dictionary and discuss their meanings.

– Pick up the novel you are currently reading, listen your iPod, and if you positively, absolutely think that you must, turn on the TV for inspiration (just don’t watch for too long).

 

Go back to previous writing-

-Use your seed entries in your writer’s notebook or other pieces that you wrote, finished or not.

-Re-examine lists and topics that you have worked on before and see if they inspire new ideas.

-Revise something – you may change it so radically that it becomes an entirely new piece.

-Change your angle – write about a subject you have written on before and look at it a different way.

– Lift a line from what you just wrote and make it the first line on a new page and see where it takes you!

– Don’t get rid of anything. If you don’t like something you have written, just put a line through it and move on. You may change your mind later and find it useful.

 

Change your state or your scenery.

-Been sitting a while?  Stand up!

-Inside all day?  Go out for a walk!

-In front of a blank computer screen?  Pick up your pencil and notebook…

-Tired?  Take a nap.

 

Any other ideas? Please share a comment!  ~Melissa 🙂

Read Often!

When I’ve asked for advice on how to become a better writer, and searched for tips to teach my own students, the one thing that comes up all the time is that writers need to read, and read often!  

To some extent what we read isn’t really as important as how much.  We should simply be reading all of the time.  Many people who enjoy writing and are constantly trying to improve their craft are also avid readers.  The two things go hand in hand.  Exposing ourselves to language through books (or essays, short stories, articles, etc.) is a great way to develop our own vocabulary and determine which writing styles we like best, which ones match our own, or which ones we may want to try to emulate.  Reading can also help spark new ideas for settings, characters, plots, or research.  For those of you who suffer and get “stuck” from writer’s block, reading is a great way to get “unstuck.”

I say that what we read isn’t always the most important thing because we should read a variety of things, for a variety of reasons.  Two main reasons that we read are to learn and to be entertained.  An article or book that teaches us something important may or may not be entertaining to us, just as something that we find entertaining may not teach us very much.  We have to read a variety of things so that we are continuously extracting new knowledge, ideas, vocabulary, and techniques from what we read so we can apply them to our own writing.

Now, what we read does matter if we are trying to develop a certain area of writing.  If, for example, you are trying to write a mystery novel, then grab and read every mystery novel you can find!  Read them and decide what works and what doesn’t work.  How do the successful authors develop the setting and the plot?  What makes the book suspenseful, and so on.  If you want to write poetry, read poetry.  If you want to write non-fiction, read non-fiction.  If you are trying to develop your characterization, then read stories from authors who have developed great characters.  

Read something every single day and reflect on it.  Ask yourself if you can somehow use something that you read in what you want to write.  

Happy reading!

~Melissa  🙂