During the past few months, I have received many questions as to how I have gone from an unknown writer to overcoming societyís adversarial thoughts on what writing should be and even become a well known writer. So today, I was inspired to write on this. Let me present a gist of my story. And like all stories, thereís always more depth.
When it comes to being judged by societyís belief of what good writing is, I thoroughly understand the pressure--been through that. For years I was a closet writer because the feedback I received from writing instructors (from various levels) was, "your writing is...is...is different and I'm not really qualified to comment." I took this to mean, "I was a lousy writer." So daily I quietly wrote, read them and agreed, and tossed them into a growing set of boxes.
Years and 72 boxes later, my insides were screaming. The screaming displayed itself in anger in everything I did and with everyone I touched. After my father died, I was fed up with life, society, and all the "shoulds" in my life. I knew I was angry at something but had no idea what it was at that time. With a full level of frustration and disgust, I decided to give up everything, take off a year, and travel to every writing conference, study anywhere I could, with anyone I could, and "really" learn to write. I had no idea what I was looking for at that time. Now I realize that I was looking for my personal voice and my writing voice.
After traveling, I returned home to Virginia not feeling that much better about my writing than when I started. I did notice that my skin was a little tougher but I was still angry, still embarrassed about my call to write. And as far as my skill level is, I didn't feel there was much improvement. The feedback I was receiving was similar to what I received before. One teacher at a workshop at Puget Sound Writing Conference, Washington State, told me, "If I kept working at it maybe (with a big voice emphasis at maybe) some day in 10 years or so, I will be good enough to release my writing."
Occasionally a light appeared in my tunnel. One time was when I was attending the International Writerís Guild (IWG) yearly retreat in Syracuse, New York. There were hundreds of women writers, all supportive, all different in so many ways. The positive energy was empowering. I took away from this that there wasn't any exact science to writing. Learning to trust my own womanhood at 52 was a completely new eye-opening experience for me. There was a shift in my writing voice.
A few weeks after my year, I woke up crying. Not a gentle sob but a wailing one. I was pissed. I was angry -- at the world, at myself, at the lamp shade, it didn't matter. I kicked shoes, took walks, and wrote pages in my journal trying to understand what was happening. There was a rage, an internal fight between their feedback and suggestions and with my internal dialogue. Later I realized the writer inside me was fighting to get out.
Afterwards, my pissed-off emotions led to, "screw everyone." I apologize for the language ladies and gents but I'm sharing my truth. I decided to just put it out there and let it land where it may, grammar mistakes, imperfections, whatever emerged. Let the commas be too many or too few.
The first time I had to let go, it took me a week of internal dialoguing and more edits than I'm willing to admit to, in order to let go. (Actually my first experience with over editing.) My emotions changed by the hour. My family ran for the hills and didn't know what to do with me. I didn't even know what to do with me.
The first time an English specialist sent me his suggestion that I might want to improve on my grammar first, mind you, they never were specific on where or even what they were reading, I would cry again. This would cause me to stop writing for the remainder of the day. The next day, I was back to a "what the he__" again (thank goodness).
Next, I wanted to tackle adding discipline to my writing. Boy 'o boy, that was easy to say yet hard to implement. I soon learned that I preferred cleaning the refrigerator, even visit the dentist rather than sitting down at a specific time to write. Since then and over time, I learned how this same avoidance rippled its way into other places in my life.
At no given time did I ever suffer from writer's block. I always felt comfortable writing on almost anything (a blessing and a curse). The curse being, I was spreading my focus too thinly. Yet, I was happy and having a ball and thatís why I kept on doing it that way. Looking back, now I can see how badly I needed to release all my bottled up emotions at that time.
Success at focusing in didn't come easy. But eventually the excuses ran out and the emotions balanced. It started to come naturally. When I learn to place my needs first, which also meant writing, anger never emerged. In fact, I was downright pleasant to be around the rest of the day. My discipline started with one hour of writing every morning and has evolved into a 5 to 8 morning experience and an hour in the evening reviewing my day's notes.
The more I wrote, the more outlet opportunities knocked on my door. I began three ezines, including a daily. Then I began writing for other professionals and Internet and Magazine articles.
When I began to allow my writings to go public, even one email about my English skills set me to tears and I couldn't write the rest of the day. Thank goodness it didn't last and the next morning I was writing again. At that moment, I realized the importance of a disciplined writing time.
Eventually, I began to receive feedback on how people loved what I wrote, liked my ideas, and bypassed the occasional grammar error. My name even found its place in a few local newspapers including the Washington Post. The positive feedback was far bigger than the "you need to do better" messages. They began with three pats to one scolding. Then moved to six pats to one. Then 30 pats to 1.
And the most amazing part -- I was happier than ever. You could find me starting my weekend day writing at McDonalds (the only place open at 6 am), by 10 at the bookstore, by 3 the library, by 6 returning home and satisfied. There were bum times on park benches especially in the spring, museums and shopping malls when the weather was nasty. At my frequent stops, employees or regulars stopped and asked what I was working on and they willingly share their thoughts and ideas on the topic. Some agreed, some didn't, but the magic was, my writing became richer because of them, because of the environmental switches.
My writing kept improving and what I produced tripled. Occasionally I would read something I previously wrote and sat numb, not believing, "I wrote, that!" My inner critic even stopped punching.
Now my pat-to-grammar-email ratio doesn't matter. I know thereís more to learn yet I'm so glad my writing is out in the public eye. I write every chance I can and make a space for it in my life. Topics don't matter nor does first quality matter. Just as long as itís on a page somewhere and safe.
A little while back, I began outlining (Mind Maps) before writing. Previously outlining wasn't my thing. I've also learned that if there I don't have a certain number of points, I don't begin to write. Yet even if I don't have enough to begin writing with, my mind is still tumbling and building and something better always appears -- Something that couldn't appear without the tossing first.
Over the years, my penmanship has gone from good to worse. What I have also realized is that my first draft is sometimes just me jumping and trying to find my way around on the topic. Almost like a maze. Afterwards, I highlight the good and usually find there is more than one topic to go with.
My advice to people who desire to write -- follow your heart. Trust that it will lead you to the right path. Trust todayís writing will always look different tomorrow and your writing will always improve and evolve the more you write. Not by any book you read, writing conference you attend, the best lessons are learned... It is by writing regularly.
One of my favorite quotes is, "Big things come from the smallest actions." The light will come after you have completed many small actions. The same as I did and the many who preceded me, there is light available in the tunnel and you will see changes within yourself that will transfer onto the pages. Writing will always be an evolving process, even after the Pulitzer.
Worry about the grammar until its time, not before. If you learn one writing tip a week and work it into your writing all week, it can't help but improve because thatís 52 improvements a year.
You don't need a lot, one word will do. For one year I wrote 394 articles from one word -- honor. Every time I completed one article the word was complete, another appeared. If I had thought I could write this many articles from one word before this experience, I would laugh at you. Eventually I called a truce. It was amazing to watch my bar as it kept getting higher. An experience that fuels my beliefs today, Whenever I began to write another "honor" story I was transitioned to age seven watching my Dad pitch the ball against the steel milk bottles, feeling like I just won the 1st prize teddy bear. Yes, the biggest one on the top shelf, the one that looks twice my size.
At times the thoughts were firing so rapidly it forced me to stop what I was doing and write what I could. Many times I had to pull off the road and get it down.
Even today there are times when my writing doesn't make sense but I know now that I can't get to the next point until I get rid of this stuff first. Like many writers, we all have a few boxes or stacks of these.
For everyone who feels a pull to write but hasn't written, let me quote Nike: "just do it." Let all the inhibitions go, they are nonsense until after all the editing. Let the commas fall where they may. Write without any attachment to the outcome. That comes later.
It took time for my writing to turn into a hundred thousand dollar business. Even a year ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible and would have just laughed at the thought. I am happier than ever. No crying, just writing. No kicking the shoes. No more doubting of my possibilities (okay, some but very small). Be free, write and let it lead you wherever it needs to go.
Nothing you or I write will ever be lost. Fight for your writerís life, itís worth the battle. Especially don't let anyone "should" all over you.
(c) Copyright Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.