Thursday, September 5, 2019

Three Questions, Part 3

Why so quiet on the blog? Here are the answers to this final set of overarching questions I've been grappling with.

Last fall, I submitted an application for a creative arts grant that supports parents pursuing the arts. It was my second try, and I was motivated by the previous year's process as well as the encouraging feedback by the jurors included in the rejection email. The new rejection email came, and the feedback was less encouraging. I had submitted my first attempt at a short story as an adult. (I'd won a scholarship prize for a short story as a high school senior.)

It wasn't that I couldn't take criticism. It was that the criticism wasn't helpful. I didn't expect to win $5,000 by submitting my first attempt at a new writing endeavor, but it's what had occupied my time within the submission period, it had stretched me, and I saw it as a learning opportunity. The problem was I was presented with ways the plot didn't work without a clear path to correcting it. I wanted it to be better but didn't know how to make it so.

The letdown of this failed application experience sent widening ripples into the waters of my writing life. For the first time in a while, I wondered what in the world I was doing with my focus on rejections. Counting my way to 300 rejections had started as an upbeat way of turning getting rejected on its head. Creating this blog had been a form of self-accountability for finally showing up as the writer I wanted to be. And it had worked. Over the past five years I had amassed a lot of writing.

Now I saw that my focus on rejections was having the opposite effect. By keeping my focus on the rejections, I was manifesting more of the same. This shift felt significant. I wasn't the same writer. Like the power of water, the writing had changed my shape little by little over the past five years. A conversation with a new, wise friend helped me see that the 300 rejections blog had served its purpose, but that it was time to retire it.

With the new year, I opened up a new document “Page A Day 2019” and started writing with no outcome or particular submission in mind. It was time to reignite my daily writing practice. A month in I returned to my novel and quickly stalled out. 

My professor from the Summer Writers Institute six years before emailed me and asked me to consider registering for her class. I did, and then it was canceled for low attendance. But shortly thereafter, I was invited to join a writing group based on a book called Finishing School – The Happy Ending to That Writing Project That Never Seems to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton. Here in this circle of writers and makers, I found a way to work through some of the obstacles slowing my progress in finishing my novel. In the process of a month of meeting, I added another 10,000 words to the body of work. This felt like significant progress.

I remembered an author within another writing network who'd written a book for widows. I bought a copy and found that it was a great resource for adding authenticity to my character's experience as a newlywed-turned-widow. I sent a Facebook message to her and soon we were on the phone talking about my novel and writing in general. I focused on reading the book as research, and then I got overwhelmed with the heaviness of the topic I'd chosen to write about and set the project down. AGAIN.

Much of what I've written about on my blog in recent years has been my experience as a mother. I love sharing the stories about my daughter and the varied ways her little heart and mind are constant sources of learning and inspiration. But now the stories are changing. The lessons are bigger and deeper, but they are more her stories to tell. They feel outside my domain. I haven't felt as comfortable writing about them as I have in the past. How do I write about mothering without writing about my daughter? I didn't have a ready answer and so I hit the pause button on that part of my writing.

During these months, I also found a new creative outlet in collaboration with a fiber artist who designs and makes by hand,modern rag dolls and stuffed animals. My contribution is to take the rough outlines of a character's personality as the artist envisioned and create a story to accompany the doll. On Mother's Day, I took my daughter to the friend's booth at a local art fair. As I admired her inventory, I saw a row of woodland creatures dressed in vests and ties. They were a gentlemanly looking bunch. I stood with my friend and said, “A story about those creatures is taking shape. Would you mind if I ran with it?” My friend beamed and clapped her hands with excitement. Our latest collaboration was afoot and we both felt it. A few days later, the new story hatched. This didn't make it to the blog, but it was fuel to keep my writing fires burning.

Concurrently, I was growing weary of my participation on social media. I noticed that my anxiety levels lowered when I took the Facebook app off my phone. I checked in less frequently and never over the weekends, and found that I didn't miss it. My life felt richer without it. The more I read about the company's business practices, the less I wanted to be a part of it. But there was a snag. My blog isn't a household name. People don't just go to 300 rejections to see what I'm up to. They need a reminder and posting links to my blog on Facebook has been my primary source of traffic. I wondered how I could drive traffic to it without social media. This question sent the next ripple out in my writing waters. What if no one read my blog? Would I still write and post?

The waters calmed and the answers to everything I'd been pondering became clear. The muddiness of my musings over the past months had settled. I knew what my next steps were. I am a writer. It's what I do and whether I get an agent, get published, or have a readership does not change that. Posting my work on my blog is a joy and has been a personal chronicle to mark how far I have come. If others choose to read it, it is a privilege for me to share, but not a prerequisite or a determining factor for if I post or not.

I will continue to write about being a mom, but will be judicious about what I make public, and I will ask my daughter's permission before I hit submit. Motherhood has taught me that I am at my best when I pursue my own interests in tandem with being a mother. I know that by living my life gardening, doing yoga, writing, and whatever else crosses my path demonstrates for my daughter how to live healthfully in adulthood.

Here's what I'm committed to for the foreseeable future: I will post a new essay or reflection once a week. I will phase out posting my links on Facebook. If you are interested in reading, please bookmark my blog, and check in on Thursdays. The consistency and routine will be good for me while no longer feeling beholden to social media. You have been such an important part of my development as I writer, and I cherish the encouragement and cheerleading section you are for me. I hope you'll drop by.

A few short years ago I was gripped with fear about not knowing what the future had in store for me. Now I relish it. I don't have to know what the future holds to know that it will have its ups and downs, heartaches and triumphs. I know that it will all serve as material, and I can't wait to write my way into the unknown. A new season on this writing journey has begun.

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