The Creative Benefits of Blogging

A couple of years ago, after almost a decade of happily blogging, I quit.

Although I loved to blog, I quit because it was time-consuming. A single post sometimes took as much as twenty hours in a week—a part-time job. I wanted to free up more time for writing novels, which at least—according to my marketing friends—had the potential of earning a living.

One of them asked me bluntly, “Do you want to be a blogger, or do you want to be a writer?” He told me that I was unlikely to succeed at both. If I wanted to make money blogging, I would have to research what others wanted to read. I would have to write what was popular, rather than what I cared about. I would also have to blog daily, maybe even hourly. But if I focused on fiction only, I might have a chance of earning a living at that. If I had to choose, the answer was clear: I wanted to be a novelist.

Quitting my blog did free up a lot of time. And I did finish a new novel. But I missed blogging. And even though I was writing more fiction than before, I was writing less overall—and enjoying less what I did write.

My reduced productivity surprised me. I had expected that if I quit my blog, I would spend all my freed-up time blazing through novel manuscripts, especially at night.

It was at night that I had learned to make use of stolen moments. I did most of my writing during the day, but after supper I would sneak in extra writing while watching television with my family. Whenever a show began to lag, I would draw out my Android phone and work, surreptitiously, on my blog.

Without a blog to write, I could instead use those stolen moments for writing my novels. Whenever the TV plot stalled or pointless explosions began, I could escape into my own imaginary world. I wagered that if I wrote on a novel every time a TV show became tedious, I could be as prolific as Isaac Asimov.

But there was a problem I had failed to consider. My stamina for writing in noisy rooms, though robust with blog posts, withered when writing novels.

Inventing stories demands more of me than blogging does. A novel requires me to live in a tumultuous world, constructed only from words, for hundreds of hours, but first I have to make it all up—the walls, the people, and even the floors that they stand on.

Then I have to lie about it all in an entertaining way. Furthermore, my lies must seem plausible, even though my readers already know that everything I say is outlandishly false.

Keeping my lies consistent demands focus bordering on the superhuman, which is hard to come by when I am fretting about getting “caught” in a plot hole, just as if no one knew beforehand that I was only going to make stuff up.

Blogging allows me to simply tell the truth. Plagiarizing from reality is infinitely easier than constructing the stable edifice of lies called storytelling. So, when I quit my blog, I stopped writing anything at night, and instead had to watch television without any recourse when a show became tedious.

But blogging does more than offer sanctuary from bad TV. When my energy for making stuff up is drained, blogging gives me a way to shift gears. I can keep writing—just on a different kind of project.

Instead of dreaming up worlds, I can blog about a memory, express a point of view, or enumerate the antics of my cat. Blogging flexes different creative muscles than writing fiction does—but in a way that hones my writing skills generally.

It also makes me more receptive to new ideas. When I stopped blogging, fewer ideas for stories and essays came to me.

This is unsurprising. I had told my brain to focus on a single project exclusively, so that even when dazzling new story ideas came to me, I swept them under the couch cushions with the cat fur and stray pennies. Exploring my new ideas risked diverting me from my “more important” writing.

By “setting” my mind to pay attention to new ideas—even if they are unrelated to my main project—blogging encourages creativity.

It also motivates me. Embarking on a short project, such as a flash fiction story or essay, lets me enjoy finishing it after only a short time—a day or a week, rather than months or years.  Completing short pieces, especially when I do it often, builds confidence. Quick bursts of success also give me the patience I need for the arduous marathon of writing a novel.

Blogging has another benefit. I often write what I need to read.

As a novelist I need to give myself constant pep talks. Writing is an intense psychological game that pits my ego against rough drafts that seem to mirror my deepest character flaws. Sometimes my writing is silly, self-pitying, biased, sententious, or sentimental, yet I have to look at my prose and say, “Yep. That came from me.”

It takes fortitude to face my Jungian shadow day after day, and to keep writing after my many embarrassing beginnings, which sometimes sound like the exuberant blather of a five-year-old.

In fact, many of my blogs have been discourses about why “blathering” is a necessary stage of the creative process, and why there is no reason to be ashamed of it at all; in a rough draft, anything goes.

Blogging is a way to remind myself of that. Whatever motivation or confidence issue I am facing on a given day has a remedy: I dig out a notebook and write a post about it.

When I stopped blogging, I found myself slipping into old habits of thought about how I might be losing my talent—the kind of thinking that never gets me anywhere.

Which brings me to an ironic bonus of blogging: sometimes I feel guilty for exploring my creative side ventures instead of working on my Big Important Potentially Lucrative Novel.

Whenever I feel any guilt about writing, I embrace it wholeheartedly as a sacred gift from the muse. Writing is at its most exhilarating when I feel like I am doing something forbidden. In contrast, whenever I feel like I should write, nothing is worse for my productivity. It only makes me want to take a brownie break.

So, instead of fighting guilt, I make friends with it. I use it as a source of energy. Naughty writing is prolific writing.

And despite what my guilt tells me, I do not have to decide between being a blogger and a novelist. I can be both. If I want to put novels first, I can still blog for short bursts while my coffee is boiling. Or I can just write a few paragraphs.

When I stopped blogging, I felt like something meaningful had vanished from my life. Blogging may not be necessary for a successful writing career, but when it was gone, I missed it. And I am glad to have it back.

How I Deal with My Fear of Confusing Readers

Creativity is not a rare talent bestowed on a gifted few. Everyone has original ideas, possibly all the time—like a current running underground.

But a prolific artist learns to pay attention to them, no matter how bizarre, silly, or vague they might be. Art requires honoring our weirdest ideas enough to test them. Usually, this means trying to build something from them, whether its is a story, a painting, or a poem.

Despite knowing this, I am sometimes afraid of going too far—of writing something so alien that it will just confuse everyone.

A few years ago, a proofreader amplified this fear. Whenever my writing baffled or offended him, he sneezed exclamatory punctuation marks all over my manuscript, with some question marks tossed in. Many of his edits looked like this: ?!?!?!?

These “incredulity bombs” always made me cringe—especially since he rarely explained them. My interpretation was, “You wrote something so grotesquely strange and confusing that words elude me.”

After bidding goodbye to my proofreader, I persisted in my strangeness; after all I was writing about bipedal cats that were enslaved by humans. I did however redouble my efforts to write more clearly. But seeking clarity—while generally a good idea—can become a crippling obsession if you let it.

Besides, preventing confusion is not always possible. Any communication risks miscommunication. The most pedestrian conversation can lead to epic misunderstandings. No matter how articulate you are, you are eventually going to confuse someone—and that goes triple if you are a writer.

If I let my fear of baffling people have its way, I would never write anything. To relax, I like to remind myself of an artist who thrived on confusing his audiences, rather than avoiding it.

He was not actually a writer like me, but a comedian named Andy Kaufman.

In the nineteen-eighties, Kaufman became known for comedy acts that made the audience wince rather than laugh. His skits and stand-up routines flouted basic rules of comedy etiquette such as “be funny,” leading to the charge that he was more of a performance artist than a comedian.

In one of his Saturday Night Live appearances, he broke out of character in the middle of a skit, alarming his fellow actors as he fulminated about the poorly written script. In another legendary stunt, he spent an entire stand-up routine reading The Great Gatsby to a bored and baffled audience, not stopping even when they began to boo him.

As an adolescent I was unaware of his shenanigans, so I was taken off guard when he struck. As I was watching one of his stand-up routines on Saturday Night Live, he was suddenly accosted by a heckler.

Grinning and swaggering, the man kept loudly interrupting his jokes and reciting the punchlines before Andy could get to them. This was done to prove that Kaufman was predictable and not funny anymore. The heckler further urged Andy to admit his comedic ineptitude and quit his career.

The taunts seemed to drive the comedian nearly to tears. Instead of counterattacking, Andy seemed to crumple like an abashed, stuttering child, unable or unwilling to defend himself.  

Riveted to the spectacle by horror and fury, I fully believed that the heckling of Kaufman was real. And as a previously bullied kid, I felt like I was enduring his humiliation along with him.

I went to bed that night tormented with worry, hoping that the disgraced comedian would quickly recover from the merciless tongue lashing that had apparently just shattered his comedy career.

It was many years later, after I had graduated from college, that someone informed me that the whole event had been staged—a prank on the audience. The heckler had been friends with Andy Kaufman. Together they had conspired to bamboozle the viewers. The news irked me. That heckling had haunted me for years, yet it had not even been real.

By the time I learned of the subterfuge, Andy Kaufman had died, and critics were hailing him as a comic genius—a brilliant performance artist, a courageous engineer of human emotion, a keen social observer who had revealed uncomfortable truths about society. R.E.M.—one of my favorite bands—even wrote a song about him.

What exactly had Andy done? During the heckling stunt, he had done what many creative people do. He had honored a weird, convention-crushing idea by putting it into practice to see where it would lead.

But he went further than most. He engineered confusion. He allowed his viewers to linger, riveted, in a state of worry. He feigned his own humiliation in a jarringly un-funny way.

He did all the things I am afraid of doing by accident, only he did them on purpose.

Despite my annoyance over the prank, I now use it as a source of comfort. Whenever I find myself worrying that I will be misunderstood, I remember how Andy Kaufman was feted for deliberately triggering confusion in pursuit of comic drama.

When I start to fret that my writing is too strange for anyone to understand, I remember how Kaufman inexplicably read The Great Gatsby to an audience that was expecting a vibrant comedy show.

I think, “If Andy did these things on purpose and the world remained intact, then I can stop being afraid to do them accidentally.”

I am still not sold on duplicity as an artistic device. And I am still mad at Andy Kaufman for subjecting my adolescent self to unnecessary turmoil.

But I do appreciate his bold willingness to deviate from the script, to push back against predictability.  The arts thrive on a confluence of audacity and skill. In the case of Andy, the audience, responding to his defiance of convention, became a dynamic part of his art.

His antics reassure me that bewildering an audience does not equal disaster. If my writing is misunderstood or deemed odd, well, okay.

I write first to make myself happy. It is only in the final stages of revision that I worry about communicating my ideas.

But art goes further than communicating: it tests the audience. While the viewers are looking at art, the art gazes back at them. It probes their memories and their feelings, and it nudges them to the surface.

And because everyone is unique, I will never be able—regardless of my skill—to completely control the way readers experience my stories.

But that is okay. Beyond conveying a message, artistic success depends on the feelings it stirs, the memories it evokes, and its ability to surprise.

Even if they were unintended.

How I Lost My Certainty and Found Curiosity

At fifteen years old, I decided that everything I had been taught about the world was wrong.

I had just freed myself from a depression – a three-year ordeal in which nightmares had jolted me from my sleep. I had a collection of tear-stained pillowcases, dampened by years of agonizing religious confusion.

A Bible teacher at my Christian school in South Carolina had done the confusing by warning my class that God heard our every thought. He further declared that God would someday broadcast these thoughts to the angels and everyone who had ever lived. “There will be tears in heaven, folks, even for the saved,” he had said. “Tears and remorse beyond anything you can imagine. Be careful what you think.”

At thirteen, I became convinced that my thoughts were offensive to God and that afterlife humiliation awaited me. I tried in vain to impede my “impure” thoughts; instead, I became neurotic and depressed.

My fear of my own mind began a three-year journey, starting when I was in seventh grade, of guilt, religious doubt, and tortured prayers. The summer after leaving ninth grade, my belief in God shattered.

I would have expected the loss of my belief system to fuel my despair. Instead, I was suddenly free of it – leaving me to wonder about the world in a way I never had.

If there is no God, I thought, how is anything here?

I entered my new public school the following fall bright-eyed with curiosity. Until that year, I had dozed through my science classes. But my new school encouraged critical thinking, a practice that my previous teachers would have deemed as sinful as stealing tithes to buy porn. The “new” educational philosophy dovetailed with my new habit of questioning everything. Nothing was too sacred for scrutiny anymore.

I fell in love with biology. Before taking the class, I had known that I was made of cells but I had never cared. Now I knew that I was cells, and suddenly they mattered. Was I actually a just colony of cells that mistakenly thought it was a single self? How did cells produce my consciousness?

I became so caught up in studying, I made no effort to make friends at my new school. My solitude led me to another realization: I could be happy with just my own company.

As a previously bullied kid, I had absorbed the message that hordes of friends were essential for happiness. That was untrue.

Although I had enjoyed some good friendships in my life, I could do without them. I missed least of all the gaggle of back-stabbing frenemies that had stampeded through my childhood.

Alone, burrowing down in my beanbag as I studied, I could follow my own interests without worrying about seeming weird.

But I did feel weird. I felt like an extraterrestrial that had been shipwrecked in my home town in South Carolina. Everything felt new, even my English literature classes. I had always read novels, but mainly for escapism. Suddenly fiction was about discovering who I was and even what it meant to be human.

Without a soul, I no longer knew what “human” meant. Were we really just animals with inflated opinions of ourselves?

I had once seen humans as soulful creatures supervised by an authoritarian yet loving father God. Now I saw the world as a planet of confused aliens desperately searching for their origins – which was how I felt personally.

Whenever, I studied, I felt like I was doing something more than homework. I was searching for some sort of cohesive world view to replace the religious one I had lost. The more I learned the more ignorant I felt, yet for the first time ever, I made straight A’s.

I gave up watching television. Suddenly, real life interested me more than fake people on a screen. I was made of tiny cells, I had a simian ancestral past, and I lived on a rock that was whirling around a star. Who needed sit coms?

I liked books better than television anyway. Books let me read minds, but because I was increasing my reading, I was also spending more time alone.

My mom, noticing this, said, “All you ever do is study. You need to go out more. Have some real experiences. Don’t you ever want to go shopping for new clothes?”

I answered by sinking deeper into my beanbag, peering at my novel through my curtain of long bangs, and wondering what it meant to have a “real” experience.

On one night, I wandered down the hall past the blaring television in the living room where my mom and brother were watching it. I entered the den, savoring its silence–-a welcome contrast to the clamor of the television.

Seeking further solace, I was drawn to a framed photographic print that had been hanging on the living room wall for years. It showed a canoe floating on a lake that was rendered orange by a sunset. I thought about what my mom had said, wondering why she thought shopping for clothes was a “real” experience but not reading about alleles in a beanbag or gazing at a photograph.

I conjectured that simply staring at a photograph of a place could be as satisfying as really being there if I fully absorbed the sight—instead of zoning out the way I usually did when I went places.

To test my theory, I meditated on the photograph and even tried to creatively project myself into the scene. I imagined myself floating on the orange lake with the boat rocking beneath me and a breeze stroking my nose.

I tried to summon the contemplative mood lakes sometimes engendered in me. Before long I felt so much like I was there that a feeling of euphoria settled over me.

I felt triumphant. Ever since letting go of dogma, I had felt like I was traveling without physically going anywhere–-a journey I had begun not in a boat or a car, but in my mind.

I had once assumed what my mom did—that to legitimately “experience” anything, I had to leave home and go someplace like a circus, a party, or a beach. But that was untrue. Every moment I took a breath was an experience.

I reviewed my bizarre year in my mind. I had spent it letting go of what I had been told all my life by adults, and my loss had turned out to be priceless.

By ejecting my childhood beliefs, I seemed to have entered an upside-down dimension—one in which looking at a photograph could be an adventure, where not having friends could free me to be myself, and where disbelief in God could be the most spiritual experience I had ever had.

Staring at my boat, I knew I would always remember that quiet, seemingly unimportant moment. Alone, unmoored, uncertain, and insecure, I was the happiest I had ever been.

How Time Bends My Perception of My Writing

No writing critic stirs such terrors in me as my Future Self.

I may think my brand-new story about peppery kittens is the best thing since the Iliad. I may soar on currents of self-congratulation,  but all the while Future Me is lying in wait to smother my zest.

That is because the delay between giddily finishing my first revision and returning to reread it somehow strips the sheen off my opus. The manuscript I re-evaluate after a hiatus is never the manuscript I remember. My clever metaphors seem too florid. What once seemed like eloquence has become bombast. “Once again, your ego has deceived you,” Future Me says. “Poorly executed and shoddily constructed. Start over.”

I have a name for this maddening phenomenon: temporal subjectivity. Everyone knows that writing is subjective from person to person. But writing is also subjective from moment to moment. I may hate at night a story I loved earlier in the day. Sometimes my attitude shift takes only hours. Maybe it is my bipolar disorder, but the writing process seems to lend itself to abrupt mood shifts,

I would be less crestfallen if my future self only denounced my rough drafts. I expect a rough draft to be rough. But the damning verdict from Future Me always occurs after I have painstakingly revised a written piece and mentaly declared it a success.

The difference of opinion between my present and future selves creates a dilemma. If Current Me loves my work but Future Me deems it blather, which self should I believe? The distinction is fateful. If I believe the grim denunciations of my future self, then I might have to scrap everything and start over. But if my past self was mistaken to love my work, I risk tossing a disheveled manuscript into a world already ailing from mediocrity.

Before I start razing walls of text, I have to think. The worst thing I can do is start making random, desperate changes. Frantic edits made to coddle a wounded ego are rarely good for stories. I might as well cut my hair by trial-and-error – which I have done with predictable results and would not recommend to anyone.

Nor is it a good idea to gaze at text in the hope of divining how to fix everything in a few facile strokes of a key. Staring at a wall of words only triggers frustration. The epiphany I am looking for is never going to come if all I do is wait.

It is better to go through a checklist of diagnostic questions, but first I do some the emotional screening. Could it be that my problem is not flawed text but a shift in my state of mind? Is a mood swing causing me to view my manuscript in a distorted way? Am I depressed? If so, it might not be the best time to revise a humor piece. Humor writing rarely strikes me the same way twice on my best days, much less when I am agonizing over the ephemeral nature of life or my inability to open a pickle jar.

On with my checklist. Do I have a migraine? Itchy toes? Are my pants too tight? What is going on in my life that could be affecting my perception? Do I feel hostile toward my manuscript because my cat just lost her kibble on the carpet? Or is it because when I called my pharmacist, she put me on hold and forced me to listen to gospel music for an hour only to hang up on me?

Anything that happens, no matter how trivial, can warp how I see my work. But if I finally decide that my mental state is fine and my prose is in fact culpable, I move on to forming a new plan.

I leave the screen and jot in a notepad what I think needs improving, basing my diagnosis on a quick impression. I ask questions, stating them positively when possible. Are my figures of speech fresh? It my story logical and well-structured? Are my characters consistent? Is my grammar solid? Is my tone the same throughout?

Detached analysis may not solve my problem right away, but at least it jolts me from helpless befuddlement and propels me toward clarity. Analyzing also encourages me by reminding me that any error in writing, no matter how egregious, can be changed.

But what if I solve all my writing problems and address all my concerns, only to later discover that I still hate my story without knowing why? Maybe statistics will help. I can say, “If I reread my story ten times and I love it at least seven of those times, then my story is a-go. Otherwise, I will revise it more.”

But this process is arbitrary and maddening. It propels my mood pendulum into violent motion. It triggers alternating periods of confidence and self-doubt. Nothing is more dispiriting than to believe you have written scintillating prose only to later find – again and again – that its luster was a mirage.

Worse, often I will reread my original revision only to find that of all my grinding rewrites, I like my original best. My first version crackles with spontaneity and freshness, I suddenly realize. Why did I ever think there was anything wrong with it? Past Me was correct after all. I have spent hours revising for nothing.

This absurd plight leads me to one other possibility for how to deal with Future Me: fire her.

Future Me is too fickle. She is not even me. She pretends to be a quality control expert, but she is really just a front for my control freak of an ego, which wants to micro-manage everything, so that I will always look good – an impossible task. If I have painstakingly revised my work and I have done my best and I love it, why is my single moment of approbation not enough?

Writing is relentlessly subjective no matter who is reading it — whether it is me or someone else. In fact, my inability to love my writing from one day to the next puts a whole new spin on the subjectivity of editors, publishers, teachers, and everyone else.

The world is brimming with potential readers who, like me, suffer from headaches, depression, sick cats, strict diets, messy houses, itchy toes, tight pants, leaky sinks and intransigent pickle jars – all of which affect perception. What does this mean? It means that trying to please anyone, including all my fickle future selves, is futile. I can do my best, but at some point, I have to let my work go.

Nothing I write will ever be beyond reproach. If I fully accept that, I can write whatever l like and have fun doing it. Freedom comes from accepting that writing to please anyone but myself – my present self – is unnecessary and possibly futile.  

I do not have to make all my future selves happy. If at some point in time, I thought that what I wrote would have made Homer rethink The Iliad, then I can rest easy, let go, and begin something new.

My Fantastical Fall from Cyberspace

Many months ago, I slipped off the edge of Cyberspace and plunged into the mysterious dimension called Reality.

Reality was as strange as everyone said it was. I discovered that I had something called a body, which I had to lug around everywhere I went. I had to spend all day pumping it full of air or it would stop moving.

I saw other natives hauling their bodies around, too, snorting air like fiends.

One of them claimed to be my brother. “Come off it,” he said. “Social media is not some other dimension and you are not your Gravitar! You always had a body. You were born here.”

Suspecting a prank, I made a mental note that Reality People like to play odd mind games.

I hit snags in communicating with the other natives too. Every time anyone said they felt hot or cold I became so excited that I could hardly speak. Since having a body was new to me, I found all mentions of heat and cold fascinating.

So, whenever anyone mentioned temperature, I would frantically start looking around for a “like” button, hoping one might suspend itself in front of me, allowing me show how much I approved of the topic.

When a “like” button failed to show, I became severely agitated. My palms would sweat, and my jaw would quiver until finally, in a fever, I would blurt, “I like your comment!”

At first when I did that, the Reality People smiled in a polite, puzzled way, but after a while they started to avoid me. They said I was impossible to talk to because I kept interrupting every sentence to praise them. With great regret, I stopped declaring my heartfelt approval and learned to merely smile and nod.

The strangeness marched on. Reality had an impossibly weird alien called a “cat” in it that ruled over everything. And something called ice cream. From what I could gather, ice cream is the best thing reality has going for it. 

My brother said, “You always loved ice cream. You were born here, in the solid world, not on some social media website. You do know that, right?”

Once again, I was dubious, but my “brother” seemed genuinely worried that I could not remember my previous life. He said I had something called a diploma with my name in it to prove I went to college. “If was a physical building, too, not some online course.” He further suggested that I also have clothes hamper full of socks with my DNA all over them. But that means nothing to me. Do Gravitars have DNA?

My “brother” theorized that during my Cyberspace sojourn, I must have forgotten my previous life altogether. He seemed so worried about me that I became concerned about him too. To humor him, I checked the identification that “Reality Me” had supposedly kept in her purse.

I felt guilty rummaging through her personal items, but I was shocked to find that the photograph on the license looked exactly like my Gravitar! My name was even printed on it.

I was astounded. I must have had a trans-dimensional twin! What other surprises awaited me?

I yearned to venture out and further explore this alien dimension called Reality, but someone told me that Reality was in the grip of a terrible virus, which I know something about because Cyberspace has them too.  I became terrified that the virus might delete all of Reality with me in it before I had a chance to safely return to my real home in Cyberspace.

Homesickness began to tug at me even more. I had a yen for pics and pixels. I missed updates and down votes. I missed the wordless beauty of emoticons and the jaunty thumbs-up graphic I used to express my wildest enthusiasms. There was simply no place like Cyberspace.

Strangely enough, I could not remember exactly how I had gotten to Cyberspace in the first place. It just seemed like I had always been there. Until I slipped that day.

I had read somewhere that when you wanted to go to space you needed a rocket ship so I asked a neighbor how I could build one. She told me it was too expensive to build a rocket ship; she said, all you need is the internet.

I began to worry then because I had heard nets were used to trap animals, and what if I got trapped between dimensions? But the neighbor assured me that crossing was easy; she did it all the time. She had such a soothing voice she finally convinced me. My fears evaporated and a thrill took their place. I was finally going home!

Now here I am, home at last. I now live in the part of Cyberspace called the Blogosphere. I am not sure what happened to my body, but it feels nice not to have one anymore.

It is a wonder I ever got anything done, having to inflate that wheezy gadget in my chest all day. I therefore plan to stay here for a while. But I may have to visit Reality again someday. Only because I miss the ice cream though. If the Blogosphere ever gets any ice cream, I will never have to leave again.

Unless, of course, I slip.

Can Video Games Capture Emotion?

I love exploring virtual space. Real space, at least on Earth, has too many boundaries: fences, locks, private roads, no trespassing signs. Videogames have those, too, but in games there are usually clever ways to get past locked doors or other barriers. Surmounting them is part of the gameplay. In a video game like Skyrim you can go anywhere, walk through castles without having to wait in line as you would as a tourist. In video games, freedom is almost absolute.

Other than unlimited freedom to wander, it is becoming harder to tell the difference between reality and virtual reality.

Since I first played Super Mario on the NES, gaming evolved rapidly from a flat side-scrolling world to three-dimensional landscapes.

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Easing the Emotional Risk of Sharing Stories

Years ago, I shattered a stubborn case of block by deciding not to heed writing advice anymore.

The trick to ignoring the “authorities” was to pretend I was ten — a time before I had learned to stutter out dry, self-conscious prose for teachers. I had never blocked as a child when I was penning exuberant stories featuring my dog as the hero. For a while I had fun flouting every rule I knew. I could now be silly, trite, or sentimental if I felt like it.

My new attitude quieted the voice of criticism inside me, and playfulness nudged its way back into my art.

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Why Drawing, Even Badly, is Worthwhile

Recently I told my brother I had been drawing a lot during the pandemic.

He said, “I envy you. I wish I could draw. I remember how much I enjoyed it as a kid. I’m too old now to really get good at it.”

I knew how he felt. I’ve spent much of my life talking myself out of fun activities by asking myself, “What’s the point in learning a new skill at this stage? To achieve the Ninja-like mastery I require, I would have needed to start as a three-year-old.’ Therefore, it’s not worth it to even begin.”

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Writing is Not a Jealous God

I was soaring. It was April 2019 and I’d just finished the draft of my new novel Prowl, which I’d painstakingly written three times, each time starting from scratch. I was eager to release something new, but I needed feedback before publishing it.

But before I could get any Beta readers, I suddenly found out I had to move. Two weeks after finishing my book in Florida, I found myself trundling across three state lines with a yowling cat.

That move was only the beginning.  I moved several times in a one-year period, bouncing from Florida to North Carolina and finally on to South Carolina.

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How Cat Logic Vanquishes Worry

When life gets too confusing, when petty worries seem profound, I rely on three ways to realign my perspective. 

One is to ask myself, “What difference will this make in a hundred years?” That can quiet my thoughts quickly. 

Another trick is to imagine I am standing on the moon looking down on Earth with all its boundaries erased by distance. From far above the stratosphere everything appears silent and serene.  

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