About a month ago, I set a goal to increase my blogging. At first, I thought I’d attempt to post every day for a month, but then I thought, “BURN OUT”. So I scaled it back to five times a week for four weeks. Each entry would be at least five hundred words on one topic.
Yesterday was my twentieth post in this little mini-streak.
I’m quite proud of myself.
I’ve mentioned here before that I went to graduate school to earn an MFA in writing with a focus on creative nonfiction. (Yes, if your first thought was that “creative nonfiction” is an oxymoron, you are not alone. We write about things that are true but we weren’t studying journalism. Think: memoir, essays, movie and book reviews, “think pieces”, even blog posts. Op-Ed’s and opinion pieces would be considered “creative nonfiction.” As with these types of things, there’s often a little bluriness between the categories, so these are pretty rough rules, if one can even call them that.)
This process of starting a blog, writing in it, and here now setting — and accomplishing — this goal of writing twenty posts in a month was, as it turns out, a necessary sort of recovery from my MFA program. Ironic, I know: that I would have to write in order to heal from my years in a writing program. There are plenty of people who come out of a writing program with their relationship to writing intact or, it would seem, even stronger than when they went into the program. For me, the program left me shaky and unsure of myself. It was at Columbia University, in New York City. It wasn’t the first time I’d been at a prestigious institute of higher learning. I’d gone to high school at Sidwell Friends, in DC, where a few presidents have sent their kids alongside numerous senators and representatives.
A few years ago, Stephen King wrote a novel called The Institute, in which kids are taken from their homes and placed in a hospital-like facility where experiments are run on them. It has something to do with psychological warfare of a sort and the plot had sort of vague shades of “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. The details of the plot are neither here nor there. I’m merely bringing this up because being a student in these prestigious institute felt to me, in retrospect, a bit like being in something like The Institute.
It’s possible that I just wasn’t a very good student at either Sidwell or Columbia. But I don’t think it was that.
I’ve mentioned here before that I a few times I had interactions with professors that left me feeling as though my writing was a frustration, or bit of a disappointment to them, and that these shortcomings on my part were somehow personally upsetting to them. A sort of feeling of, “Can’t you just do better?” One professor told me, upon my departure, that I wasn’t ready for an agent. A few years later, when I signed with an agent who then dropped me not long after, his opinion was confirmed.
This, understandably (I think, anyway) led a reluctance to write (much less try to publish) on my part. Somewhere unconsciously, I’ve felt as though my writing would disappoint people. Or that it would be a waste of their time. Frankly, I needed to just get over it.
Setting a writing goal and following through has helped me do that. It’s been liberating to hold myself to this one daily (or nearly so) practice of writing at least 500 words. It’s allowed me to not fear quite so much that I will be judged … or that somehow my words would disappoint people or cause them to feel they had wasted their time.
Part of this whole process has also been to pare it down, to a certain degree. The goal has been to simply write. If I have an image handy to go with it, then great. But if not, that’s fine too. And I’ve even stopped including tags and categories and comments. I needed to focus on the words alone, not on the extraneous aspects of blogging. Just the words.
To some degree, this has all worked. I’m writing regularly. I’m actually, sometimes, looking forward to blogging each day. I have ideas for blogs floating around in my head and in a few notebooks but I’ve also started to learn that I don’t even really need to take notes through the day or jot down ideas or phrases for fear that they will be lost if I don’t. Writing is what I do. And I’m free to write.