I read an excellent book by Stephen King: “On Writing”. It’s an interesting autobiographical exploration of the craft of writing that I found appealing and helpful. One recommendation Mr. King makes is to write every day. Anything. Just exercise your writing muscles every day. I started to write in mid-January. I decided to set up a website as a sort of repository for my “stuff”. I initially wrote about our new farm. Our experiences were so stimulating – and so often hilarious – that I felt inspired to tell the tales that might make people laugh. I wanted to write for myself – because I often sort out my thoughts just by trying to express them. I wanted to write for our kids – so there might be a record of the little stories that make life a delight, rather than just the major milestones that make the Christmas letter. I’ve always loved to write, and my dream is to write a book someday. I finally felt inspired by something. The farm.
My objective was not (and is not) to keep a diary. Instead, I wanted to capture the stuff that other people seem to enjoy hearing about when I go to work and talk to my friends or sit with my mom for a cup of coffee. I slowly started to invite others to read it, and found encouragement in that. When I linked the stuff to Facebook, I got a few more people to “click in”, many of them thinking I was writing on Facebook (although the link to my website was all that really posted). On days when I couldn’t think of a funny story to tell, I would write about a topic that was bumping around in my head. It poured out of me for a month or more. I would sometimes write two – or even three – stories a day. Note that I work full-time, and have a busy life after work, too, but I would burn the midnight oil writing because it was so enjoyable and quite easy. I would lose track of time, dragging to bed at 2AM feeling exhausted but great.
Then the material that was flying around in my head began to taper off. The thought occurred to me: That’s it. I’m running out of things to write about. My favorite stories have all been told. I was writing only two or three times a week. Some of my friends who were reading the stuff actually started to complain about the trickle. Whoa. I had a small handful of fans. Certainly that’s a really desirable outcome. But how will I keep this up? I’d better get some more animals… Maybe a pig.
Then one day I stumbled upon a reference to the “A-Z Challenge” on the blog site of one of my “followers”. (That sounded funny.) For the month of April, you were to write a post every day, using a theme inspired by a letter of the alphabet. One posting daily, six days a week, Sunday’s off. April 1 was “A” and so on. Twenty-six posts, and you could write about anything as long as the theme started with that day’s assigned letter. Perfect. This was the inspiration I needed. It would force me to exercise my writing muscles the way Stephen King recommended. And it might open up some new directions for my writing, beyond the farm and parenting.
It did. I found it to be a kick to explore all the possible topics. Sometimes I’d choose a topic, then find it boring and switch. (Like :”Drought”. I thought that would be huge for me, and I came up dry. Pun intended.) Sometimes a letter would remind me that I really wanted to write about a topic that matters to me, and I now had an excuse. Like “Zeitgeist” – a reflection on my oldest brother, 19 years my senior. Or “Elephants” about a my fantastic trip to Thailand several months ago with my dear friend. Such a cool experience, and it hadn’t come up yet.
Sometimes a letter would pop up at a perfect time for something happening that day. “Touring” was one such article, coinciding with the end of a two-week vacation with a pack of 12 in-laws. “Llama Drama” was another, as we had just then adopted the awkward old male llama to the dismay of our young female. “Hail” was a celebration. I was laughing so hard at my daughter’s story about the animal stampede in a hail storm, and I suddenly realized it was “H” day! I ran upstairs and captured it immediately.
I surprised myself while writing a few, too. “Fog” came out of nowhere, really. I panicked as soon as I published it because I suddenly realized I was confessing a deep fear that anyone could now read. My dear friend rescued me from my free fall that morning, and made me glad I let it loose. In fact, I got more heartfelt sympathy on that one – from friends and strangers alike – than any other post. I felt surprised at myself about “Weathered” for a different reason. When I finished that one, I felt like I’d been kinder to myself than ever before. I was my own best friend for a moment.
“V“, “X” and “Y” took me back to my growing up years, which seeped into “Z”, too. It was nice to write about a sliver of my youth, versus trying to tackle an autobiographical chronology. If I write more about my youth, I think I’ll continue to approach it that way. I enjoy thinking about moments and phases with more depth, rather than trying to make sweeping generalizations about all of those years.
So I learned some things and enjoyed myself. Nice. The most challenging part of the challenge was getting internet connectivity during the two weeks of April I was traveling internationally on a boat. I was so desperate to get connected to the Internet that I felt like a 16-year-old. I wanted to hit every deadline. I beat a few and I missed a few. Some days I would have two or three letters to post by the time I could get a connection. I did keep up, but you’ll have to trust me on that one. So A-Z is over and I’m out on my own again. I’m open to suggestions for inspiring a continuation of daily posts. I’m on a roll, and it’s been good for me. If you have ideas about patterns to follow, themes, sources for inspiration….please reply and let me know. I have a lot more growing to do….