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?

Communication: Why I love to Write, Part 3

I love to write because I am fascinated by the process of communication.

Some of us are born communicators: for these folk, starting a conversation with a stranger is easy and listening to a friend’s woes comes naturally. I learned to communicate when I trained as a junior primary (elementary) teacher, because my job meant I would have to walk into a classroom, ‘engage the learner’ and, in the process, teach that learner how to communicate via both the spoken and written word. But that doesn’t mean communicating with others is easy for me, it’s just a skill I acquired.

I was told communication is made up of three basic components: the Sender, the Receiver and the Message. Several years later, at a communication workshop, I discovered it’s not that simple. There are many things that interfere with the clear, harmonious exchange of information, ideas and feelings:

  • The Sender’s intent, mood, attitude, education, language skills and even their appearance,
  • The Receiver’s willingness to hear the message, their  mood, attitude, education, command of language, their appearance and relationship with the sender,
  • How the Message is sent, whether verbally or via a letter, text, email, photograph or emoji,
  • How skillfully, or otherwise, the Message is composed; its content, tone and the style of language used. In the case of written messages, the quality of the grammar and punctuation is crucial. In one-to-one verbal communication the receiver and sender’s ‘non-verbal’ language, what we used to call ‘body language,’ is a major part of the message exchange, which is why it has been replaced, in texts and emails, by emojis.
Given these variables, it is a wonder we manage to communicate with each other at all.

What has this got to do with writing, creative or otherwise? I am always aware, as I write, that I want to communicate something; an idea, a feeling, an image, an incident. I spend much of my writing time ensuring my message is ‘clear’ and easily understood. I realise this sometimes gets in the way of ‘art’ and I should forget about the receiver (my ‘ideal’ reader) and remain true to the creative impulse, to what compels me to write, to the act of creation …

… I’m writing at my dining table. The morning sun pours in but it’s nevertheless a cool winter’s day. I am anxious to finish this blog because I am meeting a friend for lunch. The palm outside the window casts spear shaped shadows across the batik table cloth. The spears distract me, irritate me. Looking through the glass I see the window is dirty, a cobweb defaces the upper right corner of the frame. When am I going to find the time to clean the windows and tidy the garden before we head to Europe? Yes, we’re going to Europe at the end of the month. I don’t like flying and I’m steeling myself for the flight. We’re visiting six countries in seven weeks; the longest time we’ll spend in one place is Ireland. Thrill and agitation sit at my shoulder as I prepare for this trip, as I am arrested by the burnished blue jewel that is my winter sky; friends tell me the first thing I’ll notice when I arrive in Glasgow is the quality of light. In less than a month, I will walk beneath northern skies. In France, Italy and Greece I will not possess any words, my messages will dissolve, I will hallucinate before each indecipherable sign. Who will I be if I cannot communicate …?

… I know I will learn. I trust I will find a way to communicate, just as I do every time I sit at my computer and write.

 

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.