When I was a teacher, I would always fantasize about a day when I would have the opportunity to write every day or almost every day. While teaching, I was often too exhausted at the end of the day to get motivated enough to work on my novel or write a short story or poem. When I did write, I would try to fit it in on the weekends, spending an hour or two here and there on writing new material or editing what I had previously written. That was my routine for about 5 years. When my daughter was born and I made the decision to stay home instead of going back to teaching, my goal was to work in a good amount of freelance writing to earn some extra income. Thankfully, I have found a decent amount of work writing web content. So, just as I once wished, I do write each and every day now, but the reality doesn’t look too much like my fantasy did.
When do I write now? Instead of taking advantage of quiet moments on the weekends, I now squeeze writing in whenever I can. Unlike before, I have deadlines now which often means staying up late, going on writing binges, and spending long hours staring at a computer screen. As taking care of my daughter is my top priority, the writing often happens at inconvenient times, times when I’m not inspired, and times when I honestly don’t feel like writing! So, in a way, I got forced into practicing some self-discipline with my writing which I never really did before. As with anything in life there are the pluses and the minuses. My writing life looks nothing like the dreamworld I created in my head 5 years ago, but that isn’t all bad. Here are my pros and cons of writing every day.
Sweet Tea Rings on the Coffee Table (2006)
Sweet tea, lazy
On an afternoon
Wrapped in the comforting
Embrace of the South.
I read of desires
For it was desire
That brought me here,
To my empty house
In Dixie, the dream.
I am exactly where they wanted,
So they send their furniture here,
To my home in the sun.
The Canadian frosts melt away
To reveal mom’s chair,
Dad’s sofa, and a low,
Worn coffee table.
Old ideas in a home
Of youthful desire, I
Rest my sweating glass
On the new old table,
It leaves a watery ring
On the faded wood, I
Let it lie. Mom preferred coasters,
Dad may not have minded.
Hot air filters through the window,
I dream of riverboats
Like Dad once dreamed of this.
My Thoughts Today:
I remember this one well. It was an assignment for a college poetry class. The instructions were to set my alarm clock for 3am and write about whatever dream I was in the midst of. And this was my dream. That I was drinking sweet tea in a home that I had just moved into and some handmade Canadian furniture was being delivered (it was sent by my parents). What I concluded from the dream was that I was thinking about my past and future all at once and I was finding it a bit overwhelming. It's not unlike the way I'm thinking/feeling now. Life happens in seasons and cycles. Its funny how every month, every season conjures up feelings of that same time in previous years. I'm acknowledging that today and focusing on it. How comforting is it to know that after every fall comes a winter, and after every winter comes a spring, and so on? I know I wrote this poem based on a dream I had, a very eventful but pleasant dream. I am longing for a peaceful sleep like that now, as I spend my nighttime hours comforting my 5-month-old. I will try to keep in mind, as I rock her and rock her for what seems like forever, that after this night, morning is sure to come.
"Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love - that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one's very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
How perfect is this quote from George Eliot about autumn? I always find myself so reflective during the month of October. It doesn't matter how many Octobers I've been through, I can't help but marvel at the changes that take place in the world around me. The cooling air, the smell of dying leaves, and the sound of acorns falling on pavement never cease to excite me year after year. Sometimes I just need to pause and take a minute to enjoy it all.
Shining through Half-Rain
Breaking through Half-Clouds
Breaking in the day.
Half-Sun you're all I need
To make it through
Which brings Half-Moon
World, see my Half-Smile
Living and loving
My Thoughts Today:
I decided to go WAY back today! As promised, I didn't edit this even though it pained me not to. I think this is one of the first poems I ever wrote. This poem is like a song that is always stuck in my head. It's funny that even though I wrote it years ago, I sometimes find the sing-song-y words going through my head. I choose this poem to post today because yesterday it found its way into my head as I was looking up at a beautiful half moon.
One thing I've always acknowledged as being a benefit of being a writer is that you get to have a physical record of memories even if those memories are just from an average day when nothing particularly special happened. I'm sure I just wrote this while sitting in my desk in some high school class while waiting for the bell to ring and I bet that, even at the time, I knew I was writing about a pretty average day. I'm glad that I have a record of that day, though. As it turns out, it was a very important day - the day I decided I wanted to do this thing called writing.
When I sat down to pen (with an actual pen, by the way), a writing assignment for my short fiction class at Notre Dame 8 short years ago, I didn't exactly know what I was getting myself into. I was given a writing prompt and, with it, I was to write a short story. At first, the prompt seemed impossible. I had no idea how to go about it. But, I sat down at my desk with my pen anyway and, suddenly, there he was - my protagonist!
At the time, I didn't know that this 5 page short story would slowly evolve into a complete, 50,000+ word novel. My protagonist and I have grown together throughout the process. We've been through thick and thin, we've dealt with periods of separation, and we've worked through countless struggles on the page and off. Now that I've finished fleshing out the story and I have put the black pen down in favor of the red, he and I don't seem as close as we once were. Editing is tedious and a bit dry. Through my editor's eyes, he is a particleboard cutout and I am sanding the edges. Through my writer's eyes, however, he was as real as any other human walking down the street.
The other night I found myself working through a problem in my head. I was frustrated, angry, and unable to make a decision. I looked at my weary face in the mirror and felt very alone. Just then, as suddenly as he entered my world for the first time, there he was once again, smiling, as if to say "Hello, my friend".
What would he do if he were in my shoes? I asked myself. If this were his problem and not mine, how would I, as an author, have him solve it?
Solutions, options, strategies became more clear to me. I was no longer angry and frustrated, but comforted, as if I really had been talking to a friend. I realized then the importance of the relationship between the author and the character. What makes a character compelling, complete, and intriguing to the reader? To me, I believe it is that very relationship. The fact that the author knows that character so very well that he or she can write them into existence, not just for themselves, but for the world.
I've been writing web content alongside my novel for the past five or so years. During that time, I've wrote, workshopped, and edited my novel while simultaneously cranking out articles and blog posts about everything from work boots to electric trains. As I continue to generate web content for modest amounts of pay, I've come to realize how much this venture has unexpectedly helped me with my fiction writing goals. So, here's my list of the top five ways writing web content has made me a better fiction writer:
1. It has forced me to think creatively and be a creative problem solver.
Sometimes I get an assignment that requires me to write about something I either a) know nothing about or b) am not interested in whatsoever. The reality is that I still have a deadline and, yes, I still have to complete the assignment. So, instead of whining about how tedious the task is, I try to find creative ways to flesh out the piece. I ask myself questions like, "how can I manipulate these keywords to write something that interests me?" or "how can I make this relatively dry topic something people would love to read about?" True creativity can really blossom when you're working with limitations. It's sort of like writing a sonnet or a sestina in poetry.
2. It makes me consider my audience.
When writing fiction it's so easy to get caught up in your own fantasy world that you've created. Sometimes, you become so immersed in this world that you forget about the real world, in other words, the world that your readers inhabit. Writing web content is all about creating content that real world people will want to read and share, so of course your audience is always on your mind while writing. When the end goal is to get published and sell your book, you would be wise to consider your readers while writing fiction, as well.
3. It taught me to be concise.
Web content needs to be written for the fast scroller, the multi-tasker, the reader with ten tabs open at once. For this reason, web content needs to get straight to the point or readers are going to drop off before getting to the final paragraph. This is important in fiction writing, too. When you start to get too long-winded, you put the audience to sleep...not good! This idea has helped me to clean up my longer than necessary descriptions and to cut out pointless dialogue.
4. It forces me to write every day.
Being a successful web content writer means working every day. There's always something to work on in the web content writing world and, the more you write, the more money you can earn. When no one's paying you, it's very very easy to take a day off, a week off, a month off, or even a year off of working on your fiction. What I've learned, however, is that these breaks do not serve me well. In fact, the more web content I write, the more efficient I get. It becomes second nature, I get inspired faster, I write faster and I write more quality content. My writing muscles get a workout so, as a writer, I get in shape. My mindset becomes this: I'm already writing every day for the web, so why not add a little fiction work to it? In other words, I'm already dressed for the workout, so why not run the extra mile?
5. It helps me to choose my words carefully.
Of course, I don't always get to choose the words. The keywords for SEO, anyway. But, that brings me to my point - the importance of individual words. Keywords are just that, key words. They are the words people search for, the words that catch a reader's attention and the words that come with the promise of information. In fiction, words can be just as powerful. They can convey a feeling, a smell, an image, etc. If a work of fiction is a castle, each individual word is a brick. I want to choose the strong ones, the attractive ones, the ones that are going to hold the most weight if I'm going to build a castle that is going to withstand the elements, and look good doing it.
So, maybe someday my fiction will take me somewhere. Until that happens, I'll be writing about skin creams, OSHA standards, and maybe even commercial kitchen equipment - and learning a ton in the process.
A while back I wrote a blog entry about my initial thoughts on Medium. Now that I've really gotten my feet wet over there, I've found that I only have more questions and more thoughts about it. It truly is a fascinating network. I found I'm not the only one who muses about Medium. In fact, many Medium users muse about Medium ON Medium and sometimes those are the most entertaining stories to read. They write about ways to improve the network, what stories should and shouldn't be posted, how to start conversations with other writers, how to get more views, how to get a bigger readership, and on and on and on.
As a writer of fiction and poetry, the question I've been asking now is is there a place for poetry on Medium?
It is a well-established home for fiction and non-fiction, of course, and I do occasionally see some poetry. But, does that poetry get read or just skipped over? Poetry is certainly a dying art and an art that is often under appreciated. I periodically post poetry on my blog, but I am reluctant to share it on Medium. In some ways it just seems out of place. Another reason, is that it is so deeply personal and close to my heart, much more so than any of my fiction writing. Do I want it out in the open like that?
What we really need is a community like Medium that is just for poets and their poetry. That way, we'd all understand each other at least on a basic level. We would know how hard it is sometimes to share a poem with the public, we could talk about getting poetry published and if it is even a worthwhile pursuit, we could talk about WHY we even write something that it seems no one even wants to read (because we HAVE to, of course), and on and on and on.
I guess the question I'm asking is not so much is there a place for poetry on Medium, but is there a place for a poetry anywhere in the world today at all?
Everyone knows that one of the perks of being a teacher is having the summer off. Of course, I look forward to my summer vacation every year but when the craziness of the last month of school is over and all of a sudden I have very little to do, it is sort of a strange transition. I actually have to get used to having a lot of free time. I have to admit it's nice to get the house clean, relax outside on the porch, work out on my own schedule and read books that I've been looking forward to reading all winter long. However, when the rest of world is working and carrying on with their normal lives, some summer days can just get boring and lonely.
So, when I'm not teaching and I'm not writing, I have to find some hobbies to occupy my time and keep my mind somewhat sharp.
This summer, I started creating a few succulent arrangements. I'm not good at taking care of house plants and most of the ones I've tried to grow just end up dying. The beauty of the succulent is that it is nearly impossible to kill and it requires very little water. So, if I forget to water it for several days or if I go out of town, I don't have to worry about killing my plants.
There is a wealth of information about succulent gardening online and I've gathered tons of information. What I've learned is that half of the fun of arranging succulents is finding unique containers for them to thrive in. I've been picking up glass and clay containers at thrift stores for as little as 25 cents. Another thing I've learned is that succulents can be easily propagated. I'm currently trying my hand at propagating succulents right now (you can see them in the photo on the left). Apparently all you have to do is break off some leaves and new roots and a new plant will begin to sprout. How cool is that? If all goes well, I should be growing enough to replant and arrange into containers so that I won't really have to purchase many more plants.
For the past week or so I've been getting to know medium.com, a new blogging platform designed for writers. When I first dove in, I had some pretty mixed feelings about the whole thing. However, as I have explored the site more and more, I've discovered what a useful and, honestly, entertaining tool it can be for a young writer.
If you don't already know, Medium allows users to share "stories". They can be about anything, any topic, in any style, in any form. There is no word or character limit like there is on Twitter, so you can write your heart out f you so choose. You write your "story", publish it, and it becomes visible to the other users who can choose to follow you, recommend you, and respond to your work.
My initial hesitation about using a site like this was that I immediately felt as though it was a place where writers were encouraged to just give their work away for free. And, in truth, when you publish a story on Medium you are giving it to the community for no monetary reward. Seems kind of disheartening, doesn't it? It may take hours, days, weeks, months, and so on to write a great short story or a great article. Shouldn't we writers get paid for our hard work? Of course my first instinct is to say "yes".
Then, I started reading the stories. Most are well-written, well-researched, and thought-provoking. They are written by writers who, you can tell, care very deeply about their craft. Sure, there are a few stories in the mix that aren't as strong, but, on the whole, the home page is a delicious buffet of intelligent content. Scrolling through and reading the stories on Medium doesn't feel as silly as browsing Buzzfeed, as intrusive as scrolling through the news feed on Facebook, or as random as checking Twitter. In fact, for a person with a true love of reading, it can be quite addicting!
All of a sudden, using Medium didn't seem to be about giving away my hard work for free. It was more about being a part of a community and contributing to something meaningful. For that reason, I've decided to continue to use it. As of now, I've only published one of my short stories on it, but I hope to post more soon. In the meantime, I will savor the words of of other writers, like myself, who have families and day jobs and other responsibilities, but still make the time to write.
Rachel Boury Baxter
Writer: web content by day, fiction by night.