Writing when everything is in upheaval

 

I’m a happy sort of writer. I write about parenting, puppies, chickens, family and the life lessons I learn.  For the most part I’m an optimist, I have always believed in the goodness of the world.

But these days it’s difficult to write happy when I’m so angry and discouraged.

Never have I felt so unsettled in my life. Never have I used some words with the frequency that I have in the past few months.  (Let’s just say that the Swear Jar my kids made as a joke right after the election is seeing a lot of action.)

This is not an anti-Trump rant (although I blame him for much of it) it’s an anti-world rant. The entire world is in upheaval. Governments are being taken over, attacks are being carried out, and people are dying because they are protesting. Heck, these days athletes are being called sons of bitches for protesting inequality.

Not only are the governments in upheaval, but the very earth itself is in upheaval. We’ve had 3 devastating hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. People have lost everything, they are waiting for help and not sure it is coming. Over in Puerto Rico the situation is critical, without power, food, and water, American lives are being lost.

I’m finding it hard to concentrate. I’m dreaming of escaping to places where there is no internet, no television, no more devastating news.

But then I feel guilty about trying to get away. What if I miss another outrage? What if my voice is not counted in protest?

I had a friend years ago who told me I was too empathetic and that I too easily absorbed the pain of others. She’s right. I even feel bad for the dead animals on the side of the road (aww, such a shame.) Although being able to feel pain is a good trait for a writer, not’s not such a good thing to have when you’re trying to sleep at night.

“Imagine a bubble of white light around you,” my friend advised. “Bright, white shining light that you can see through but that reflects the pain.” It’s not that she wanted me to become immune to pain, it’s that she wanted me to be in control of how much I wanted to let in.

These days I’m imagining an awful lot of bright light. If I want to continue as a write, I have to.

How about you? How are you able to concentrate on writing when things are in such upheaval? Does it bother you? Are you able to effectively unplug?

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

The difference one hour can make

It’s always been tough for me to write during the summer months when the kids are not in their regular school routine. With a houseful of people who have different work and sport schedules and also having an office that’s located right next to the front door of our house, I’m constantly interrupted.

“Hey mom, can you take me to…?”

“What are we having for dinner?”

“Do you know if we have any paper towels?”

“Mom, are you here?”

Writing is not something I can start and stop – just like that. I need uninterrupted time to think, to plan, to design.

I used to rage at the injustice – yelling to the Gods “what about me???”, but these days, I just sort of let it go. That’s because I have (finally) changed my thinking.

When summer first began, I made this small sign and put it on my desk.

One hour.

That was my goal for each day. That was it. Just one hour of writing. Everything else was considered gravy.

There were some days when I got a heck of a lot more than one hour of writing in, but that tended to be the exception rather than the rule.

And then there were the days when I needed to cobble some time together in between driving and sports events to even come up with that one hour.

But for the most part, I got an hour in each day. I reached my goal and I managed to get some work done during the summer.

On Tuesday, my youngest goes back to high school. Two of my other kids will be at college and the rest will be working jobs.

And you know what that means, right?

It means a quiet house where I’m going to have large chunks of time all to myself.

On the first day of school, along with my white pants, I’ll be packing my One Hour sign away. If I need it next summer, I’ll know where to find it.

But for now, look out. If I could still get work done writing one hour a day, just imagine what I can do with six!

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Every Six Months

Years ago, in a management class our instructor said that if you want to be a good manager/leader then you must constantly read new material on the subject. He told us that he had personally made it a point to read a new management book every six months.

Stack of Books

I’ve always thought that was good advice. And so I’ve tried to follow it in my life as a writer. If I want to be a good writer then I must constantly learn about the craft. (Try it for yourself, “If I want to be a good (fill in the blank) then I must constantly learn about the craft”- See? It works pretty well, right?)

It’s why I buy Writer’s Digest every month. And why I fork over big bucks to get a copy of the imported British magazine Writer’s Forum. I read both from cover to cover. But as good as they are, there comes a time when much of the information becomes rehashed old news.

For this post, I thought I’d use you, the readers to come up with a crowd-sourced list of good books, magazines, or publications for writers to read in order to learn more about the craft of writing. What are the ones that speak to you, that offer a new perspective, and that make you learn more about your craft?

May I also suggest that you then bookmark this post and return to it, oh say, every six months?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Writing about what you know

Ask a writer (any writer) for advice on the craft and chances are at some point you’ll hear the age-old adage “write about what you know.” In other words, write about what you (not someone else) have learned and experienced in your life.

It’s actually some of the best writing advice out there.

When you write about what you know, you bring a voice to the table. You present yourself as an expert on a craft, a journey, an experience. You get to teach people about something they may not previously know anything about. If you write from what you know, people trust you as “someone who’s been there.” You become credible and more importantly, your work becomes credible.

Writing from knowledge will not only engage your readers, but chances are you’ll be able to sell some of your work because what *you* know could be very, very interesting. After all no one else in the world has your exact point of view.

You are the only one who can tell your story.

But what are you qualified to write about?  Here’s a short list, if after reading an article or book you’ve said “I could’ve written this book” then you know about something enough to write about it.

If after reading something, you’ve thought, “Boy would I have liked to include information on …” then yeah, you know enough.

If you’ve taken a journey, had an adventure or have created an entire universe in your mind, then you know enough to write about it. Basically if you are alive you know enough about *something* to write about it.

And what you know constantly changes. Stay on top of it.

Here’s an example:

After years and years of being in chronic pain I decided to enroll in New Hampshire’ therapeutic cannabis program. I’m a middle-aged mother of 6, hardly your average cannabis user, but here I am taking gummies and vaping.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been given an opportunity to tell others about my journey into therapeutic cannabis.

I pitched an article to a magazine by saying that I had a first person story on the use of medical marijuana for chronic illness.

The editor accepted the pitch and the story got published. It’s right here if you want to see it.

I am the only person in the world who could have written that exact article.

I’m new to the world of therapeutic cannabis. I had authority to talk about my own personal experiences but had I tried to talk about dosages or equipment I would have been completely out of my league. An article on that would not have been authentic.

My article was only on what I know.

We’ve all read articles by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Usually they are filled with lots of quotes and descriptions, but very little substance. We end up turning the page pretty quickly.

So do yourself a favor. Take a look at your life – where you go and what you do. Write a list of topics that you know enough to write about.

And then choose one and follow the best advice out there and write about what you know.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Do all you possibly can

 

It’s that time of year for kids and young adults to graduate. In our family we have at one end – a college graduation  (and he goes right into the army from there) and at the other end, we also have one who will be entering her senior year in high school.

She’s not sure what she wants to study when she goes to college. She’s got a few options in mind but hasn’t come to a decision.

“What do you think, mom?” She asks.

“Take a bunch of classes,” I tell her. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field. Don’t make the mistake I did. I took English and writing classes, but because they were so easy, I didn’t think they counted. I thought that you had to really work at what you wanted to be and it had to hurt. It was the remnants of the no pain- no gain philosophy i was taught as a youth.  As a result it took me three years to figure out I didn’t want to be a Pharmacist.”

That’s a lot of wasted time.

I didn’t realize that part of the reason the English and writing classes were so easy was because I loved them. Journalism? Fantastic. Shakespeare and Melville? Out of this world. Learning about writers and how to work with words floated my boat. I loved reading. I loved writing. It took me far too long to figure out that it’s absolutely okay to work in a field that you absolutely love.

Love creates enthusiasm.

The same thing can be applied to what you write about. As an example, I’ve written white papers – far, far too many. I don’t like writing them, in fact I’d rather have my teeth pulled (and I hate the dentist) than write them, but I do it (always dragging my feet) because they pay the bills. White papers are a necessary evil to surviving as a writer.

Compare that to when I get to write about stories and lessons learned (the genre I feel most comfortable in.) The words virtually fly out of my fingertips. I hear the stories in my head, I know exactly where I am going. It’s like talking with old friends, we finish each other’s sentences.

And yet I don’t schedule enough time to write *my* stories because they don’t bring in the money., They are something that’s too easy and therefore I think not as valued.

Perhaps I should take my own advice. “Find out what subjects really get you excited. That’s going to be a clear indication of what field you will be most happy working in – and then do all you possibly can to make it so that you work in that field.”

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Dress the part so you can (maybe) act the part

 

Writers are rare birds. We like to separate ourselves from the rest of the flock when we do our work.  Solitude is our natural inclination.

We also like to be comfortable. So, so very comfortable.

When I was in college, I could only write if I was wearing my “writing shirt” – a grubby, hole-filled, but incredibly soft and heavy shirt. It kept me warm. It anchored me – a security blanket across my shoulders. It wasn’t meant for others to see, it was only meant for me.

These days I don’t have the luxury of wearing “comfortable” (read – not appropriate for public viewing) clothing. My office is on the first floor and it’s me who has to get up to answer the door. I’m there when the kids come home from school and work.

I don’t wear pajamas. I don’t wear sweats and I’ve long lost that beautiful (to me anyway) writing shirt.

That doesn’t mean I’m not comfortable, of course I am. Discomfort takes away from creativity.

But it does mean that I am a little more put together than I was in earlier writing days.

And guess what? My writing is a little more put together as well.

Co-incidence? Maturity? Experience? Who knows.

But here’s a suggestion. If you have a  comfortable uniform that you wear when you write, and you find that your writing may be getting a little sloppy, a little too relaxed – try mixing things up a bit.

Put on a button down shirt.

Wear shoes instead of slippers.

A cardigan instead of a stained sweatshirt.

Even consider upgrading your writing utensils to something a little more polished.

We’ve all heard the advice to “dress for success. In this case”, why not try to dress the part of a successful writer? Updating your outfit may turn out to be nothing. It may not change your writing one bit,  but then again maybe, just maybe it might jump start some creative spark.

You’ll never know until you try.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.