My Identity as a Writer
Writing is an essential part of my life. I spend a large portion of my work day doing technical writing. I plod through my day producing cookie cutter after cookie cutter document. I despise this portion of my day and look forward to the evenings when I can get creative and let loose. I am a dreamer, a hopeless romantic, I have a vivid imagination and I am a borderline insomniac. All of these traits, qualities or quirks contribute to how easy I find it to write creatively. That’s not to say that writing isn’t occasionally emotionally or physically draining. Over the past year, I have had to write two of the hardest things I have ever written, the obituaries for my father in law and my mother. These are dwarfed only by having to write and deliver my father's eulogy in 2008.
I would rather not be writing memorial pieces for passed loved ones. I would prefer to be writing poetry or historical fiction. I enjoy reading the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, James Joyce and Patrick O'Brian. Tolkien and Lewis' works have religious undertones without being glaringly obvious about it. I admire their ability to weave into the tapestry of a story a deeply Christian message. O'Brian's work on the Aubrey-Maturin series is an incredible example of historical fiction. O'Brian paints a vivid picture of life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. I would love to be able to write a piece that subtly delivers a message while letting the reader become lost and engrossed in the story.
I believe we all have a message to deliver in our writing. Sometimes we confuse what we want to say with what we need to say. I am currently involved in a love hate relationship with social media and what I want to say to a couple of my relatives is that life is not about the number of likes you get on a post or the number of retweets you get. People do not care that you cooked the perfect steak on the grill last night and that you don't want to work tomorrow. News flash, nobody wants to go to work tomorrow. Stop posting so many selfies, you're a 40-something balding man who passed his prime 28 years ago, and your posts come across as really creepy. I wouldn't leave you alone in a room with my teenage daughters creepy. Social media has given people an outlet, and instead of it being a positive outlet it's turned into the internet's version of a sad reality tv show. Want I want to say is let’s try and bring back common sense, tact, and decency. But what I feel like I need to say is think before you post, have some courtesy, and show some respect.
Every time I sit down to write I have to set my environment up for it. Spotify has to be launched and the right playlist selected for my mood. A mug of coffee, a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a bourbon poured and standing by to help with the thirst I work up or provide a little stimulation. The challenging part is putting the words on paper. Not paper, my handwriting is horrible, picture a five-year-old writing with oversized crayons while wearing boxing gloves, absolutely terrible. My handwriting makes doctor’s notes look like typeset. I have a process I follow on the computer. I type everything up in Notepad and once satisfied I copy it over to Word.
I like to begin every document by free writing for a few minutes just to see what comes out. I do this for a good 15 to 20 minutes, and then I either get up and stretch for a few minutes or take a sip of my beverage and listen to the music. I circle back to the blurb on the screen and try to make sense of it. I formulate an outline and work through the document section by section until I can tolerate it. I read what I have written out loud to my dogs. Usually, they ignore me completely, but at times they feign interest. I suspect their real interest in me reading aloud is snack based. Dogs actually make terrible critics. I am self-conscious enough about my writing and do not need some overly judgmental dog pandering to me in hopes of scoring a Scooby Snack.
Snack breaks are an essential part of the process. We all face a little bit of writer's block or typist constipation once in a while. Taking that break to grab a snack or take the dogs for a short walk always frees things up and gets ideas flowing again. Some of my best lines have come to me while slicing some pepperoni or freshening up a drink. I know it is just the act of getting up and clearing my head that allows those backed up words to flow again. Taking a break to adjust your perspective can be applied to more than just writing.
I tend to develop tunnel vision when I’m writing or working on a problem. Have you ever been so focused on something that you have forgotten to eat or drink anything for a couple of days? I once skipped meals for four days straight while working on a restoration project. I was nearing the completion of this restoration and was excited to get it done. I took time off from work to wrap it up and iron out a few minor issues. I worked on that car for four days straight and only took a couple of breaks to power nap. I face planted on the 4th day. Like a scene out of a bad comedy sketch, I climbed out from under the car stood up and face planted. I was so weak from not eating that I had made myself sick.
Nothing in life is worth making yourself sick over. Not writing and most certainly not a car. Being invested in a project is one thing, but crossing the line and becoming obsessive is not healthy. There comes a point where you need to step back and take a deep breath. Try looking at things from a different angle. I think in general people tend not to accept criticism well. Not from others and certainly surprisingly not from ourselves. I am my own worst critic. When receiving criticism from others, my initial reaction is usually anger followed by followed by denial and concluding with self-doubt. When I am critiquing myself, I conduct an inner dialogue that would make a drill instructor blush. I realize there is no benefit from this and all I am doing is poisoning myself but, I do it anyways. I think we all do to some degree. I can receive criticism from others now without feeling the overwhelming urge to throat punch someone. Perhaps it is my age or that I suspect that prison snacks will not be as tasty as the snacks I make. As for my self-criticism, that is something I am still working on.
Lately, I have been considering adopting my dog's attitude towards life: If you don’t like something pee on it, walk away and forget it existed; bark less and wag more.