SLOW DOWN HAROLD!!!
That is pretty great advice for everyone and especially for me or so it seems.
Last night around 9:30, I had finished reading over half of Deep Work by Cal Newport and kicked back in my lazy bastid chair to let the brain relax a little.
While Newport’s writing style is a good read, it still smacks of academia. In other words, I have to pay attention and take notes to ensure that I understand the information he is providing, and after reading for two hours I had had enough. The topic is interesting, but I had a lot of information to digest and think about.
While I was sitting starting the mental digestion process, I got to thinking about one of the notes that I took:
My issue isn’t that I don’t enjoy writing or write well because I do and can. It is more that I don’t get to go deep enough into the Muses’ mind to get to where I can write uninterrupted for hours at a time, without distractions. Social media, talking, dog barking, etc. I don’t have a space where I can go away into the work and not be anywhere else.Harold Shaw – Notes
All that is true and brings my writing down, but I knew something else was bothering me about my writing other than focusing deeply on what I am writing. Newport’s book was making me think, but I couldn’t figure out what it was attempting to tell me.
So after fruitless minutes of trying to figure it out, I gave up attempting to relax and fired up the laptop. I looked to see what articles were open in the browser and had 5-6 waiting to be read. A couple sounded interesting and I settled in to read. The second one I opened was Terri Windling’s blog post Stories with mischief in their blood.
Windling opened with a Ben Okri quote that smacked me upside the head to get my attention:
“Stories are very personal things. They drift about quietly in your soul. They never shout their most dangerous warnings. They sometimes lend amplification to the promptings of conscience, but their effect is more pervasive. They infect your dreams. They infect your perceptions. They are always successful in their occupation of your spirit. And stories always have mischief in their blood. Stories, as can be seen from my choice of associate images, are living things; and their real life begins when they start to live in you. Then they never stop living, or growing, or mutating, or feeding the groundswell of imagination, sensibility, and character.”Ben Okri from Terri Windling’s Blog
and when I got to the part where Terri provided a quote from Ursula Le Guin, (you can read it on her site), I had a good idea about what was eluding me.
Focusing on telling a story is what has been missing from my writing. Looking back, I was concentrating too much on what the “experts” believe others should write, which is not how I always write.
I was also reverting back to that technical writer that I used to be when I wrote instructions, notices, letters that interpreted rules and regulations.
I was telling, not sharing.
That is not the kind of writing that I want to do. I want to share my story, not tell others how to do anything. What they do with the story and information in it are their choices.
So I re-read Terri’s post a couple more times and struggled with the ideas that it brought to the surface. When I get in that kind of thinking mode, it doesn’t do any good to do other things, because I keep circling back to it. So I shut down the laptop and went to bed. Where I kept rehashing the article and how it related to my own writing. That tossing and turning kind of can’t sleep stuff we all do, because I was thinking too much.
Around 5:00 this morning I woke up and got right back on the same train I had been on before I had gone to sleep. In my mind, I wrote and rewrote this post at least four times, each time trying different perspectives and ideas.
I laid there tossing, turning until 7:15, thinking about…writing, blogging, where I have been and the direction that I need/want to go with everything and figured out a bunch of things:
For awhile now I have said that I am not interested in going pro and while I do some things that may make some think I am moving in that direction, it is more that I want to improve my writing skills than anything else.
Backing-off worrying so much about my writing mechanics. While I do want to improve my writing skills, I don’t need to do it all this week or month – it is a process that takes time and practice.
I can see where over the past few years, I have moved too much away from storytelling. My focus recently was too much on how experts believe we should write and I was losing my own voice and style. It was becoming bland, computer-generated words on a screen that sounded like I was writing a how-to manual or a simplistic writing style that lacked soul and meant to reach a certain grade level that wasn’t my writing.
There are so many conflicting ideas on how to write better, that figuring out what works best for me takes more than a little trial and error along with time. Read more here.
Another biggie was going back to the blog being Harold being Harold. When you can’t remember the new name of your blog while you are out walking the dog, you have to take that as a hint from the Muse that something is not right.
Posting every day is not necessary. 2-3 times a week is plenty and will increase both the quality of ideas for posts and the finished product. I don’t usually take the time to let my ideas or writing simmer for a bit, before hitting publish and that is something that I will work on.
What did I learn?
I have known for a while something was different, missing, and not quite right with my writing. Although I couldn’t put my finger on what “it” actually was until I was about halfway through reading Terri’s post last night.
It was one of those “aha” moments, but I needed to sleep on my thoughts about Terri Windling’s post and where they took me. When I crawled out of bed this morning, I had figured out most of this stuff and had a pretty good idea of the directions I would be taking on everything but the name of the blog. Even that decision resolved itself as soon as I walked Bennie.
Instead of focusing on writing for a niche like living well or attempting to be something I am not. My blogging niche and blog is writing about Harold being Harold, not anything else. I get to tell stories about my adventures, things I learn, mundane things that I do, my odd or eclectic interests and even those crazy-arse things that seem to happen all too often in my life and make TheWife go mmmmmm, but are things that I believe will lead to me living a life well-lived.
I know that I need to get back to telling my story, in my own words and style. Then worry about incorporating “improvements” that the experts recommend over time, not just this week. So bear with me while I continue to experiment on what works for me.
It’s time to do the work and just be Harold, but I also have to slow down and work on creating a life that is well-lived.
“Backing-off worrying so much about my writing mechanics” …a struggle I only recently came across. When I shared my writing, I was met with an onslaught of, “Should do, why didn’t you, change this to…” I found it stripping me of my authentic voice. Must I conform to “make it”? Is it worth it? I think Harold being Harold is great advice. JUST BE YOU!
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Thank you, yeah it wasn’t other bloggesr or online groups, my problem was I got lazy and developed bad habits and I have been re-reading the Trivium, One Writing, Writing Tools and some online blogs about writing better. I just need to get back to writing for me and letting the words take care of themselves. Don’t ever conform, if you are not being paid for your writing, no one can tell you what or how to write. You get to make the choices and my advice is to have fun with it. That is the direction I am headed and I am smiling because I can.
Harold, I absolutely LOVE you post, “Getting Out of My Writing Death Spiral”. I have been trying to comment on it but cannot locate the “Leave a Reply” box. May be a glitch? Just wanted to let you know.
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Thank you, I will take a look to see what is going on. I had my allow comments set to for 4 days, I have changed it, so if you would like to post there it should not be an issue now. Thank you so much for pointing that out.
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Deep Work is one of three books in the last two years I have put down because of the “academia” style of writing. Too formal, too much science and I can’t keep up (I need to work on it because I want to learn, I want to be better, but it is hard). Running is My Therapy by Scott Douglass, and Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker are the other two.
Having the time or the space to write is something I struggle with as well, especially now that I work from home and my space to do my writing/be creative is also where I work and it is hard to spend all of my time there. Have you read any Austin Kleon? In one of his books (Keep Going) he talks about building a Bliss Station, a space and, just as importantly, a time to work. I need to make an effort to build both.
Happy learning, happy writing and, when you are healthy, happy running.
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You can see my reading list for 2020, I have been reading a lot lately. I loved Steal Like an Artist by AK, and I follow him on Twitter. I will have to look at Keep Going. I am reading some of Mark Manson’s stuff now. Running will happen again when the ribs heal, it just takes time. For now my writing is getting better and now that I figured a couple things out that I will start having fun again with it. 🙂
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