An Unexpected Lesson

Window_mugEarlier this week I unexpectedly spent an hour or so reviewing Elixir. In addition to searching for examples of my Flash Fiction to determine which of my ‘story shards’ I am unable to send to competitions (because many publications consider posting a piece on one’s personal blog  is ‘publication’), I found myself reading through random posts.

I think I’ve broken most of the rules of blogging. Elixir began with a specific focus but I deviated, after the first year, from sharing my research in Therapeutic Writing to writing posts on a range of issues including holidays, local weather events, my creative process and examples of my work. I don’t post regularly and I’m not good at looking after my readers (aka, I don’t often reply immediately to comments) and I regret to say I find connecting with other bloggers and nurturing my blogging network a challenge, mostly because of time constraints.

So my unplanned review taught me several things:

  1. Blogging is hard work, much harder than I imagined,
  2. Elixir has, at times, languished,
  3. I’ve announced, at least once, that I am going to quit blogging,
  4. I have created posts that are clear, evocative, logical and well written,
  5. It’s impossible to write a post that interests, inspires or engages everyone,
  6. Most posts have been important to me as an individual and as a writer.

In other words, quality is more important to me than quantity, which is why blogging has taught me a lot about being a writer.

I have decided starting Elixir was one of my better ideas and so I will continue to write unscheduled posts about the things that interest, excite, intrigue or annoy me. And I will be more relaxed about what I write, though not how. I’m looking forward to discovering what else Elixir has to offer me and my readers (bless you all).

Have you looked back over your previous blog posts? If so, what did you learn about yourself and your writing? If you have considered giving up, what prompted this thought? Why did you decide to continue blogging?Yeah

Footnote: Thanks to my friend Cate who pointed out today how much I enjoy communicating and connecting with friends through this blog and other social media, and who, therefore, inspired this post.

What about the Footnotes?

Notice the revised subtitle of this blog? Elixir is no longer about ‘Reflective and Creative Writing’, but ‘Footnotes from the Third Age’. What does that mean? Why footnotes?

Footnotes are important. (1) They are the tracings of other minds leading us to new information or supporting the author’s argument. Now days we talk about disappearing down the rabbit hole that is the internet, following link after link, creating our own tracings as we follow a chain of ideas, meeting minds more lucid, more adventurous than our own, or straying into savage, unseemly brambles.

Our mind is the seat or faculty of reason. It is also responsible for our thoughts and feelings, but it is also capricious, fickle and mercurial, which I believe is one of the best things about having a mind. Changing our mind often starts with questions like, ‘What if …? Maybe I should try …? Perhaps I’ll give it another …?’ Then a friend shares an insight, we exchange  ideas and what was an irritating, unanswered uncertainty becomes … a footnote?

I’m not saying the Third Age is a footnote to life; the Third Age is more important than that. But I’ve had footnotes take me on unimaginable adventures. Maybe a revived Elixir will be my footnote, my indelible nota bene for others to reference?

What do you think?


(1Footnotes and endnotes are both ways to add clarifying information into a document.  They provide important details with which the reader may be unfamiliar.

At the End there is a Beginning

This is Elixir’s last post. My decision to quit blogging comes from long consideration and  research into why people abandon their blogs. Like many others, I found the routine of writing a regular post onerous and I have also lost interest in my topic.

Blogging is a new genre with its own sub genres, literary styles and rules. The expectations of both readers and bloggers are different to the expectations of novelists or short story writers, and their readers. Authors usually encounter their readers through letters or emails, writing festivals or book launches and although most modern authors acknowledge the writer/reader relationship is more embodied and frequent than in the past, bloggers depend on ongoing, long term and immediate responses from their readers/subscribers.

I began this blog because I wanted to find such an audience – and, thanks to my subscribers I have – but blogging is a reciprocal art; a successful blogger is also an avid reader of other blogs, something I didn’t know before I started this blog. Networking is an extrovert’s idea of heaven but I’ve become more introverted in the last three years, so networking is my definition of hell. I’ve also discovered that the upside of the close and direct writer/reader relationship is immediate and honest feedback, while the downside is the temptation to write for the audience, instead of writing from the heart, or taking artistic and creative risks.

I also prefer reading books than blogs, and as I’ve only ever written one letter to a novelist (a friend of mine) I am not invested in contacting every writer I admire.  Keeping up with other blogs steals time I prefer to spend reading books, writing flash fiction and short stories and working on my novel.

I’ve been blogging for two and a half years, the recommended period for giving a blog a ‘good try’. I once looked forward to writing my  blog; I now find it a chore akin to driving to work or attending a meeting out of habit rather than necessity.

I will continue to write. As regular readers of Elixir know, I’ve written all my life, but only recently called myself a writer who spends her days writing. I am working on several short stories, a novel, two ideas for a play, and an essay. What I am working on may never find readers, but that’s not the point. At the risk of sounding pretentious – oh, what the heck, I don’t care if I sound pretentious – it’s the artistic endeavour I enjoy. I love the act of fitting words together, composing appealing sentences, and forming clear, resolute and provocative thoughts and ideas that excite me. Blogging no longer fulfils that need.

As the title of this post indicates, I don’t see starting and quitting this blog as a failure but an opportunity to grow and learn as a writer. I am moving on to a new phase of learning. I am not sure what that entails but I’m excited by the prospect.Tote

In this last blog I want to acknowledge my generous readers, particularly Cheryl over at Impromptu Promptlings and Peculiar Ponderings, my dear friend C who inspired this blog and my partner who encouraged me and edited my posts. You have challenged and inspired me; your friendships are like charming, pleasant and challenging sentences that give me pause and spur me on. I will forever cherish your support.

Thanks also to my other readers and to the bloggers whose posts I have read. I am sorry if I did not always respond to what you wrote but I have enjoyed your blogs and wish you joy with your writing.

 

 

 

 

Gateway

2017 is almost done. Some of us may already be preparing for Christmas, others will be looking forward to the holidays and warmer weather (here in the Southern Hemisphere anyway) and many of us will start to reflect on the achievements and lessons of 2017, and the promises and challenges of 2018.

Normally I spend the final days of December reflecting on the past year but I’m starting early.  It has been a good year, mostly because of the trip to Europe. Everything about where my partner and I went, what we did, who we met and the adventures and misadventures we experienced, was exceptional. I have suffered, however, middling health for most of the year. A cough I developed on the first of January lasted around eighty days. I hurt my back six weeks before we travelled to Europe and in recent weeks an as yet undiagnosed condition has dogged me. None of this dimmed the joy we experienced while away but for most of 2017 I’d have preferred to lie on a couch, read a good book or doze.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing, let alone had the energy to sit in front of a computer. Elixir, Concise, my novel-in-progress and numerous drafts of short stories have been ignored, apart from the odd moment when I lifted my head from my book, felt guilty about not having written anything then hastily turned the page and read on. This adds to my usual struggle with sticking to a writing routine so I decided, not long after we arrived home from the trip, to return to notebooks to jot down ideas, record my thoughts and even use coloured pens and pencils to highlight and illustrate my musings.

I went back to pen and paper because writing was no longer a pleasurable activity. Despite my best intentions, blogging became a process of second-guessing my readers and how they might judge what I write. In other words, I stopped writing from my heart. Going back to basics, writing by hand and playing with coloured pencils helped me rediscover the joy of writing. It seems that poor health was really a gateway to a under-developed creative path.

DSC_0177 (2)

What does this mean for Elixir and Concise? I cannot maintain two separate blogs, which is why Concise will be retired and the flash fiction stories from that blog will reappear on Elixir, on the page once labelled ‘Sparks’ and now relabelled ‘Concise.’ I will continue to post pieces of flash fiction but as an adjunct to Elixir.

Elixir itself has changed appearance and will be more of an occasional blog rather than something that must be attended to every two to three days.

I recently turned sixty-five, which in Australia was once the age when one officially retired from the paid workforce. I don’t feel old in heart or mind. The insecurities of youth and the challenges of maintaining harmonious relationships still hound me. I also play games with my granddaughter, which means getting down on the floor or kicking a ball with her in the backyard. This year my body has sent me several strong messages; instead of spending hours in front of a computer I need to exercise more, meditate and eat regularly, and get enough sleep. That way, after spending time with the people I love, I will have the energy to write.

###

What is your experience? Do you have a habit of reflecting on the past year? Is November or December the best time for you? How do you stay healthy so you can do what gives you joy?

Worth the Risk?

Four days ago I posted the last of twelve pieces of flash fiction on Elixir’s sister site, Concise. I enjoyed the exercise although I gleaned only a few more followers for Concise. Attracting more readers was not, however,  the point of the exercise. My purpose was to (re)establish a daily writing habit. Risk Writing01

The abiding theme of my life is my struggle to write on a regular basis. I understand what I need: willpower; a room of my own; the cognitive, emotional and psychological space needed to write; and the self-belief necessary to shut the door on my partner, my family and my friends. I also need to combine the above with imagination, knowledge of craft and technique, and a vast reading history – because good writers read for pleasure and to learn from other writers. It’s all about commitment, really, and to commit is to ‘join, practise, entrust,’ and to ‘expose to risk. ‘ (OED).

To write, particularly to write and publish (in whatever form) can be risky. Is it acceptable, for example, for writers risk their relationships when no one reads what they write or don’t like the writer’s work?

I wonder how many writers have lost sleep over that question?

On the other hand, I read, many years ago, that if writing is hard then not writing is harder. Writing, like any art, always carries with it a degree of difficulty. The hours can be long, the loneliness alienating, the editing debilitating and the lack of financial return demoralising. Writers are known for ignoring their loved ones, compromising their health, and agonizing over book sales or their blog’s statistics.

But the alternative – not writing – is to risk losing your soul.

I committed to writing late in life. I tried and failed for years to avoid the truth of my obsession with stringing words together. So, yes, writing and posting twelve short, short stories has been worthwhile, not only because it helped me re-establish a regular daily writing habit but because it helped me reflect, once more, on why I enjoy writing, and it has nothing to do with gathering vast numbers of readers or followers.

In writing, a ‘theme’ is the underlying significance of the story or novel, its relevance, how it relates to life in all its manifestations. I was wrong when I said, above, that the abiding theme of my life is my struggle to write on a regular basis. I understand now that the underlying theme of my life has been avoiding risk.

This reminds of my favourite quotation, one I’d print out and display in various office spaces I worked in over the last thirty years:

Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.

Katherine Mansfield
New Zealand author (1888 – 1923)

Mansfield’s quotation gradually helped me ignore my fears; I am a writer because I enjoy, most of the time, the complex and often troublesome task of communicating my ideas. I have also found that acting for myself is worth the risk. Risk Writing02

What is the ‘theme’ of your writing life? What do you give up in order to write?

Time to Share

I don’t normally share or reblog posts but today I want to encourage you to have a look at my friend and colleague, Ben Brooker’s, new blog, Kate’s Words, and then go over to Brevity and see what they’re up to.

Ben is a respected critic, essayist, playwright and author of many published short stories and poems. Several of his reviews are featured on his original blog, Marginalia. Given his interests, Ben’s writing style is invariably precise, rigorously researched, and intellectually subtle and balanced. In Kate’s Words,  Ben plans to slough off scholarly strictures and relax his writing muscles. I’m eager to see what his blog produces and very tempted to follow his lead. I also like the premise – have a friend send you a word and free write on the word to see what emerges.

Because I cannot find a definition of  ‘free writing’ in my normally trusty Oxford English Dictionary (Grrr, OED) I have to resort to Wikipedia, which defines free writing as

a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism. It is used mainly by prose writers and writing teachers.

This article gives you a deeper idea of what freewriting is and the angst often connected with trying to do it in the classroom. I admire Ben’s willingness to share his free writing because I am usually a bit ‘precious’ about what I write. As Peter Elbow writes in his article,

I’m a bit ambivalent about shared or public freewriting. On the one hand
I tend to avoid it in favor of private writing. For I find most people’s writing has suffered because they have been led to think of writing as something they must always share with a reader; thus we need more private writing. On the other hand I love the sharing of freewriting – for the community of it and for the learning it produces. It’s so reassuring to discover that unplanned, unstudied writing is worth sharing.

Peter Elbow
‘Toward a Phenomenology
of Freewriting’, p 52.

So, Ben, if you’re reading this, send me a word and I’ll try to be brave enough to share one piece of unplanned, unedited, raw work.

This allows me to segue into the second blog I wish to share, Brevity,favourite of mine because it features (carefully edited) short creative nonfiction, sometimes known as narrative nonfiction. Brevity recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and it’s currently running a series of fascinating blogs where, as Shane Borrowman the editor of The <750> Project explains, four authors

return to a previous publication and take on the task of either shortening their piece or expanding it.

Asking writers to modify a previous article is a bold move, and the writers are to be admired because of their willingness to do so publicly. It is also a brilliant way to help beginning writers, indeed all writers, improve and enhance their practice. I hope you take the time to check it out. The first example can be found here.

In the meantime, over at Elixir’s sister blog Concise, I have stuck to my routine of writing and posting a piece of flash fiction every two days. I’ve posted five stories and there’s two more to go; I cannot continue the project indefinitely because running two blogs and sending other pieces to competitions is about as much as I can handle at the moment.  I have, however, really enjoyed the exercise and I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories.

Your Comments:

What do you think of Ben’s method for loosening up his writing? What is your favourite writing prompt or activity? What do you think of Brevity’s <750> Project? Have you ever tried to shorten or lengthen a piece of writing? How did it feel and what did you learn?

handbook_Blank

To shilly-shally, or not to shilly-shally?

image What do you do when you need to make a decision, settle a question, find in favour of one thing or another, resolve an issue, influence the outcome (of a contest), pronounce judgement, come to a determination or resolution? (I couldn’t decide which definition to include.)

Some folk are decisive. Other folk (myself, as I demonstrated above, included), are politely known as irresolute or hesitant. We waver and equivocate, we shilly-shally (or dilly-dally) about until the need to decide is eliminated (‘Oh, dear, that movie finished its run this weekend, I guess I’ll see the other one’), or taken from us (‘We’re going to this movie,’ he said, ‘I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.’)

If the issue is trifling, such as going to a movie, and the consequences insignificant, then it’s okay to let others decide for us, or to defer the decision (‘The other movie is still showing after all! Let’s see it this weekend and the second movie next weekend’). As those of you who follow this blog know, one of its ongoing motifs is the character Goldilocks. She nails decision making: walk right in; eat this bowl of porridge; sit in this chair; sleep in this bed; bolt when you’re discovered.

Life changing decisions need more care and thought: which university (college) to attend, who to marry; whether to buy a house, accept or leave a job or have a baby. You could apply the Goldilocks decision making technique, consult an astrologer, toss the dice, or lay out Tarot cards to help you make these important choices. These methods are, however, dubious at best, although Tarot and astrology could provide light relief or insight, derived from the mythology that informs these traditions, into the choices before you. No, important decisions, usually the hard ones, need a hard head, otherwise known as the ability to list, analyse, understand and weigh the consequences of each choice. There is a little fortune telling involved though. Truly life altering decisions involve projecting yourself into the future: ‘If I choose A, my life might be like this … If I choose B then my life might be … Hmm, can I call a friend?’

Why, you may ask, is Janet writing about this? Good question.

Two minutes after I woke up this morning, I realised I had to make a decision. Either finish the chapter I mentioned in my last blog or write today’s post.

I promised my friend I’d send her my chapter by January or February this year. She assured me there was no hurry, so I put it off, relishing my retirement, catching up on reading, seeing friends, going to the movies, and writing posts for this blog. Since my ‘mini blogathon’ (a modest effort compared to the amazing Calensariel over at Impromptu Promptlings and Peculiar Ponderings), I’ve managed to post something every Wednesday and Sunday. I didn’t write yesterday’s post because I took my granddaughter to the ballet in the morning and in the afternoon I worked on the chapter.

Hence my challenge this morning. Work on the chapter or write my next post? Obviously, you’re reading the result of my decision, but the next question is, why has it taken me so long to modify a chapter of my thesis and send it off to my very patient friend?

The reason I started this blog was to share my ideas and research about therapeutic writing and to claim that writing is a legitimate therapeutic tool. What I’ve discovered, however, is revisiting my thesis is like ‘picking at a scar that’s puckered and still tender.’ Is this why I’m procrastinating or is there another reason? Maybe I no longer think of myself as just a ‘therapeutic writer?’

Starting this blog was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Yes, I want to contribute to my friend’s anthology. Yes, I hope what I write will not always be confined to this site. But blogging is writing. Sure, sometimes it’s a chore. Sometimes I have no idea what to write; sometimes the posts hit my personal ‘well written’ mark and sometimes they drop like lead. Either way, aimages most bloggers know, it’s not about the number of visits, followers, likes or comments. It’s about sitting in front of the computer, thinking through an idea and deciding how to present it. It’s about playing with words, finding the ‘just right’ combination, hitting ‘publish’ and sending those words out into the world – and not bolting if you’re discovered.

That’s not therapy, that’s pleasure, that’s being ‘astonished at nothing’, that’s ‘the answer to everything’.

It’s time I made lunch (what shall I have?) and then get to work on that chapter.   image

 

Tell me about the last time you had to make a decision. How did you decide and what were the consequences of your choice?

Blogging Challenges, Therapeutic Writing and Feminism

Blogging Challenges, Therapeutic Writing and Feminism? That’s quite a title isn’t it? I hope it didn’t put you off, but if you’ve read this far you’re willing to read more, though you are probably wondering if I can tie it all together.

First, here is a list of the things I’ve learned when I completed the Seven Posts in Seven Days challenge.

  • Blogging is simply another form of communication. It’s easy to assume, as we sit tickling our keyboards hoping something useful can come of it and scanning our computer monitors (or mobile phones) for typos, that blogging is about technology; the internet, phone lines, satellites and such. Far from it. I’m communicating with you right now and if you’re so inclined you’ll respond to this post either by reading it carefully, thinking about it and maybe incorporating some of the content into your life, or simply by writing a comment (or, as my father used to say, ‘Adding your two bob’s worth’). Only humans can do that. The medium might be the message but the message is there are sentient beings at both ends of the process. Like any other interaction in my life, the Seven Posts in Seven Days challenge has taught me that humans are invariably kind, generous, intelligent, supportive beings.
  • Blogging is giving; it’s about sharing ideas, opinions, domestic tips, recipes, images, poetry, music, goals, losses, hopes, dreams … and we’re back to the human element again. Bloggers share their lives with their readers and will do so for years to come. It’s a heady thought, but it’s also a responsibility. This leads to the next point …
  • Blogging is about honesty. I’ve learned that bloggers can spot a sham in less time than it takes to type supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. By honesty, I mean genuine self disclosure (which is not the same as sharing deep intimacies too soon). Genuine communication is sharing what we think is appropriate for the person and the situation. In other words honesty is, in this sense, meaningful and contextual. Maybe I’ve been lucky; the bloggers I’ve met since I started blogging last July, and in the last week, seem to have found the balance between healthy boundaries and honest communication.

I’ve learned more, of course, but I want to move on to therapeutic writing. The main reason for starting a blog was to share my research about therapeutic writing, but as my wonderful daughter-in-law said over lunch on Friday, the Seven Posts in Seven Days challenge revealed a less serious, less formal and, dare I say it, more human blogger. Blogging is a way to get my message about writing as healing across but I need to speak ‘to’ people, not ‘at them’, to make my message meaningful and to have fun in the process. This drive to inform people about therapeutic writing leads to the last part of today’s title: feminism.

Last night I realised the seeds of my interest in therapeutic writing were sown back in 1983 when I returned to university (for the first time, I have a habit of periodically drifting back into study, but that’s for another blog!) and enrolled in a Graduate Diploma in Women’s Education. My suspicions about patriarchy were very quickly confirmed as were my concerns about the status of women. The issue of women’s silence, of women being denied a voice in how they run their lives, became, and still is, important to me. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Audre Lorde wrote, ‘there are so many silences to be broken.’ My commitment to breaking those silences  has endured for over thirty years and culminated in research about the silence around women’s (and men’s) mental health problems.

Audre Lorde also wrote,

And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives. That we not hide behind the mockeries of separations that have been imposed upon us and which so often we accept as our own.

32951  There are still too many women who are forced to be silent. There are too many words spilled about women and not by women. If, by writing therapeutically I mean writing as woman about our needs, our desires, our losses, our heartbreak, our oppression, our fight for justice for every single person on the planet, our fight for the planet itself, then I will write therapeutically, and blog about therapeutic writing, for as long and as loud as I can.

This, along with the opportunity to connect with people from around the world, is for me the true power and joy of blogging.

Your Turn: What is the real reason you blog? Is there something from your past that you think has culminated in your blog? What have you learned about the world since you started blogging?

 

I want to say here that I don’t hate men. My father was a man, my two sons and my partner are all men. I like most men. Then again, why do I feel the need to say this? As I saw on Facebook the other day, why is it when women (not all women, but most) say they are feminists, they hasten to add they like men? Why is it necessary to bring men into a discussion about feminism? End of rant.

I don’t mean therapeutic writing and feminism are the same thing with the same goals. I do think, however, they can inform and enhance each other.