Let’s take a trip in the Way-Back Machine, shall we?
Cast your mind back to 1994, back in the dark days before the internet. That was the summer I’d run out of excuses for deciding what to do with my life.
After aborted careers in both dance and academia, I felt hopelessly lost. When my boyfriend and I got engaged in November of ’93, I latched onto our impending nuptials as a seven-month reprieve from having to make a decision about what to do with my life, and threw myself into wedding plans.
But now the wedding was over, and it was time to fish or cut bait.
After halfheartedly looking around for a job in the publishing industry, I realized it wasn’t publishing I was interested in; it was writing. So I decided I’d be a writer.
Somebody had to write those articles for magazines, it occurred to me, so why not me? I’d gotten good grades on my college essays — surely I could write articles!
And it couldn’t be too much of a leap from that to the fiction writing I fantasized myself doing. This should be a snap, right?
Except that it wasn’t. Writing was hard.
Trying to come up with a decent sentence felt like pulling teeth. Fifteen minutes at my Macintosh computer felt like six hours.
It all felt so painfully obvious: Clearly I just wasn’t any good at this thing. Clearly I was not a writer.
So I quit.
Now let’s jump forward to 2010.
Sixteen years after declaring that I was not a writer, I started this blog, and suddenly I couldn’t stop writing.
Aha, I thought. Maybe my massive fail back in ’94 wasn’t because I sucked at writing, but simply because I hadn’t found my genre. Maybe I still sucked at writing fiction, but blogging was my thing! I might not be a writer, but I was a blogger.
Now I know that the only massive fail back in ’94 was my belief that I should quit.
Maybe I was crappy, maybe I wasn’t: the point is that writing is hard. Doing anything well is hard, at least until you get good at it. And getting good at it takes practice.
You’ve got to do it.
What was I thinking, with this notion that I should be instantly good at this thing??
Now, thankfully, I know that producing crappy work is how you learn to produce not-so-crappy work, and eventually even really good work. We need the crap to fertilize the good stuff!! (Click to tweet.)
And now, thankfully, I know that it isn’t other people’s assessment of you that determines whether you’re a writer (or artist, or dancer, or singer, or whatever); if you write (or make art, or dance, or sing), you are one by definition. All you have to do is embrace it.
Twenty years ago I desperately wanted to be a writer. In fact, I already was one; it just took me a decade and a half to understand this.
It’s a Blog Hop!
I’ve been thinking about all of this lately since my friend Suzee asked me to participate in a blog hop, in which writers answer four questions about their process, and invite three fellow bloggers to answer the same questions the following week.
My answers to the questions are below. Next week Lisa Fisher, Laureen Marchand, and Tangerine Meg will join in the fun. You can read their bios and check out their blogs below.
Now on with the questions!
1) What am I working on/writing?
Because I’m a passion pluralite, with irons in lots of creative fires, asking me what I’m working on can open up a very long conversation!
As far as “straight-ahead writing” is concerned, these days my primary focus is writing for my own blog and for other blogs, mostly around topics related to living the creative life of your dreams. In addition, I’ve got a really big goal of finishing my book—really a love letter to the me of twenty years ago, sharing everything I know now and wish I knew then about living a big, bold, creative life. It’s a daunting project, but I make time to “touch the project” (in the words of Jen Louden) at least a little bit every day.
A little bit every day is also my approach with another project I’m in the middle of: 3x5x365. This is a year-long challenge I set myself, to fill a 3×5 card every day to a one-word prompt. I take a picture of the card with my iPhone and post it here.
When I started Project 3x5x365, I had a secret hope that it would turn me into a poet. Alas, this has not happened, though a few of the cards have pleased me. Most of them have not felt so successful, but that was part of my initial goal, too; I wanted to desensitize myself to the terror of sharing stuff that isn’t perfect, and may very well be mediocre or even downright sucky.
After all, we need the crap to fertilize the good stuff!
Honestly, I’ve often felt like quitting, but I’m sticking with it, if only to prove to myself that I can keep a year-long commitment.
In addition to my “straight-ahead writing,” I also write songs, and I started playing around the other day with a new holiday song idea, just for fun. We’ll see where it goes!
Sometimes writing extends to my visual art, as well. I have a daily painting practice, and often incorporate calligraphy into my canvases, or type from my manual typewriter.
My newest creative passion is improv, and though no physical writing takes place when I perform improv, I create scenes and songs on the fly with my fellow improvisers, which is, one could argue, a form of writing. It’s ridiculously challenging and fun, and I’m working on learning to do this better!
2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
I’m not sure I have enough awareness of my work compared to other people’s work to adequately answer this question. I am conscious of wanting to share “behind the curtain,” as it were—not just the highlight reel, but the messy parts and the mistakes along the way. This kind of transparency is part and parcel of my writing.
Also, I think the very fact of my having so many different creative expressions informs my writing. And of course the uniqueness of my life experience, and my writing voice, makes it different from anything else out there.
Confession: I don’t always like my writing voice.
I often wish I could write like my heroes, but I’ve learned to love my voice even when I don’t like it very much. This is true for all of my creative expressions, and I find the more I’m able to love and embrace my voice in all its imperfection, the easier it is to find things to like about it.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I write in order to clarify my own thinking, and to touch other people.
I’ve learned that making a difference is one of the pillars that my happiness rests on, and writing is one way that I attempt to do that. I want to empower others to feed their own creative hungers, so that they, too, are living lives they love.
I imagine a world in which everyone had the permission and resources to follow the callings inside them. The world would be a more peaceful, joyful place. This vision keeps me going.
4) How does my writing process work?
I used to squeeze my writing in wherever it fit. Often I’d journal in bed in the morning, then dash out a blog post in a mad rush when I realized I hadn’t published one in awhile.
I loved the idea of a regular writing practice, but I just knew I was allergic to schedules, so my practice was pretty haphazard.
Since starting Finishing Blitz, however, I’ve been sticking with a regular morning writing schedule, and I’ve discovered the joys of a consistent daily practice!
The three hours between 9:00am to 12:00pm are cordoned off as my sacred creating time. I dedicate at least fifteen minutes of that time (and often an hour or more) to painting—what I refer to as “playing in the Creative Sandbox”—then I “touch the book” for at least a few minutes, and then I focus on whatever blog post or article I’m working on.
To my great surprise, I’ve found that this daily commitment, rather than making me feel caged, makes me feel free.
I look forward to my three hour creative work sessions with the same kind of giddy anticipation I remember feeling during my single days, when I had a date coming up.
My mornings are my date with my art.
When I’m in the middle of working on a piece of writing, I tend to jump back and forth between drafting and editing. Some people spill out an entire piece and then go back and edit. I’m constantly editing as I go.
I keep my Keys to Creative Flow always in view for when I hit those inevitable blocks, and my Imperfectionist Manifesto helps keep me from dropping into perfectionist paralysis.
I spent too much of my life trying, desperately, to be perfect, which was a losing battle and only succeeded in leaving me feeling perpetually unworthy. Now I find that the more I can allow myself to be imperfect, the more worthy I feel.
This is why I now have no qualms about calling myself a writer, an artist, a singer, a songwriter. When the bar was perfection, those titles were perpetually out of reach. I’m still continually in pursuit of mastery, but thankfully I’ve learned to enjoy the journey along the way.
Check Out My Blogging Buddies:
These women are all amazing. I feel blessed to know them. Check out their blogs and be inspired!
Lynne and Suzee are sisters, the two youngest of five siblings. They share their “art and soul,” creative expressions, personal inspirations, thoughts and dreams at Two Poppies.
Lynne is a mom of four who bounces all over the country with her Air Force pilot hubby. She loves discovering new places to travel and adventure. Capturing real life with her camera (morning walks, road trips, and the baby squirrels they fostered) is her idea of a good time.
Suzee lives in Orange County, California (her entire life!) and has two lovely beach- and animal-loving girls. She is married to her fellow entrepreneurial husband and enjoys being active, creative, adventurous, and living with a sense of curiosity, awe, and wonder.
They combined their talents (bilingual teacher and graphic designer) in a joint venture, Multicultural Kids, where you’ll find all kinds of products that encourage children to discover and appreciate the amazing world and all of its people. They are in the process of producing their first book, A Beautiful Rainbow World, a children’s photography book with photos from around the globe which will be out in June and is available for pre-order.
Lisa Fisher guides human beings from conflict to common ground. A martial artist, she believes that true peace begins with mastering yourself.
Lisa coaches individuals and trains small groups to navigate difficult conversations more skillfully, remain calmer and more focused in tense situations, and manage their emotional hot buttons better. Lisa also works as a private diplomat to help improve ongoing family and business relationships, or to avoid or end litigation.
She speaks at business gatherings, retreats and conferences on how to address conflicts with more respect, confidence and creativity. She writes about peaceful conflict resolution at blackbeltmediation.com.
Laureen Marchand is an artist, the owner of Grasslands Gallery in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, Canada and an artist mentor who helps artists navigate through all kinds of stuckness and find the next direction in their artistic careers. From her home near Grasslands National Park in one of Canada’s most remote and beautiful regions, Laureen brings over 25 years and the experience of dozens of exhibitions to her practice.
Laureen can be found at www.grasslandsgallery.com and www.laureenmarchand.com.
Hi! I’m Tangerine Meg: quirky artist, upside down yogini, wild gardener and more.
My Bold Art invites your Bold Soul to savour the vibrancy and pure delight of every day moments – and to share the joy with your family and friends. Let’s play!
If you’d like a little keepsake, feel welcome to grab my downloadable bookmarks! 🙂
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
Laureen Marchand says
Melissa, so glad to be a part of your creative world! Thanks for making it possible.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
You’re so welcome, Laureen! Thanks for jumping on the blog hop! I’m a big fan of both your art and your writing, and am so happy to share your work with others. 🙂
I can so relate to your writing story Melissa. After I gave up on both journalism and fiction writing I’m finding my blog to be a new exciting writing journey. I’m glad you’ve found your way back to writing because I certainly enjoy reading your stories!
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Thanks, Rebekah. And I’m so happy you found your way back to writing via your blog, too! 🙂
Tangerine Meg says
Thanks for including me in the hop, Melissa 🙂
So delicious to hear about your morning artist dates! I Make Things first these days too, but without a consistant time container like you use. M x o
Melissa Dinwiddie says
I was so delighted to include you, Meg! And I’m so glad to hear you’re Making Things first! 🙂
Thank you for being you! I love this sentence the most; “I write in order to clarify my own thinking, and to touch other people.”
I’m writing a book right now (which I start to see as a ongoing relationship that continues to grow) and before I started I always said to myself; “but why should I write” I felt it had to be a big very perfect goal. Now I started writing because I decided “I need to speak, and that will touch other people”.
I’m at the very beginning of starting my own business in selling my artwork (drawings) and after listening to you and Cory I made my website (it’s not finished yet!) and feel very strongly: I’ve worked hard for other people many years, now it’s time to work hard for myself!!
I do need to create a community of people that can be supportive and whom I can talk to, and since we have the internet 😉 I’m not bound by the place I live. I hope that can find some support here…….right now I’m on my own.
Have a great day and hope to speak to you again!
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Aw, Emunah, thanks so much! Good for you for writing your book — I went through the same “why should I write this?” doubts. It can be hard to see the value in our own work, can’t it?
I love that you’ve decided it’s time to work hard for yourself! Hooray and YES! I am cheering you on. 🙂
Thank you Melissa! That’s so good to hear ;-). I’m not sure if I heard it form you, but it’s certainly true that you get used to your own work and are at risk of not seeing the value.
I’ve studied Art therapy (I actually remember that someone asked me a question: “how do you see yourself as a therapist or as a artist?” My answer was, as a therapist! Now i would say; as an artist) and what we used to do was to show all our work together and have a talk about it. It was very interesting to see other people respond to your work and also their feedback.
It’s very important. It’s so different to SEE the reaction of people (not only to your work but also to your feelings) you can’t deny that reality, while when you get an indirect response your gremlins can get to you.
You made a very interesting point to say; you where affected by other people getting hurt (rejected) and that had a great impact on you, I truly never thought of that. I always looked at it from the perspective of being the one that was hurt, without realizing that being a witness can be equally difficult. Thanks for your cheers!!
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Yes, it’s so often so hard to see the value in our own work! It’s too familiar, too close, and we are so painfully aware of how it differs from what we *wanted* it to be!
I also agree that seeing people’s reactions is so, so, so powerful! And yes, seeing other people get hurt (in any way) can absolutely be as traumatizing as being hurt yourself. (I was horribly traumatized seeing a childhood friend’s art be torn in half by a terroristic teacher; twenty years later my friend didn’t even remember the incident.)
I feel safe to say that we are on the same page 😉
I want to share something, I started (last week) with painting on canvas, something I haven’t done in a long time, and when I did, it was in the context of classes where a teacher would give an assignment. So, I never really painted without having to worry about judgement.
Except for now!! I managed to break through my own barriers of fear and judgement, and started to paint in the same way that I draw; I sketch lines and see images emerge, slowly I let them come out on the paper. So it’s a very natural free way of creating. I managed to do the same yesterday with my painting! And I’m so excited about it that I wanted to share. I will show you a picture when it’s finished, if you like…
Have a great day!