Tag Archives: blogging

Blank pages waiting to be written on

a blank notebook page

A blank piece of paper is an empty canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings.

Every time I go to a Dollar Tree or a Big Lots or somewhere like that, I have to buy a spiral-bound notebook. It’s a compulsion.

It’s even gotten to where I have to avoid the school supplies aisle in the supermarket. I always end up with a Spiderman or Hello Kitty notebook in my cart, and then I have a hard time making eye contact with the cashier during checkout.

I’d probably feel less embarrassed buying Preparation H.

And heaven forbid I spot an Office Depot or a Staples along the highway. That’d be like an alcoholic stumbling onto a Budweiser warehouse. If I do see an office-supply store, I have to swerve the car Steve McQueen-style and speed down a side street.

I feel like Mel Gibson in that movie Conspiracy Theory, where he’s programmed to buy endless copies of Catcher in the Rye.

Maybe I was once a CIA operative whose memory was erased, and instead of having covert-ops skills, I was a voracious note-taker. If they made a movie about me, it would be Tom Cruise (or Will Ferrell; whoever’s available) dropping into the dense jungles of some war-torn foreign country. Flexing his gargantuan biceps, he’d flip open his tattered journal and start scribbling furiously with a leaky pen. (I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a pain getting ink smeared on your gargantuan biceps.)

I threw out a bunch of notebooks the other day, because it was clear I didn’t really need them. Each one was half-filled with half-baked ideas, blog posts that went nowhere, and stories I started but didn’t really want to finish.

That’s not to say they were a waste, though. After all, a rose that blossoms and wilts prematurely is prettier than a rose that never blooms at all. I’d rather scrawl down an idea and throw it away later than to have it flicker through my mind and never have a record of it. I’ve lost a lot of great ideas that way. (Well, I’d like to think they were great, but I might be biased.)

I like to buy notebooks because I love to write. All those blank pages are a canvas just waiting to be filled with a writer’s wonderful prose.

When I see a blank notebook, I’m not seeing the book itself. Rather, I’m seeing all of its imaginative potential. A blank notebook can be a novel, a compilation of essays, a collection of ideas. You can doodle in it, jot down an observation on the fly, record a snippet of a conversation you overheard on the bus.

A notebook isn’t just a stack of blank, lined paper. It’s a potential tapestry of unfettered human thought.

In his introduction to The Gunslinger, the first book in his Dark Tower series, Stephen King wrote how the whole novel came about because of yellow paper. He worked in a college library with his future wife, Tabitha, and they each got a package of colored paper.

To him, that ream of paper was a blank canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings. He took it home, put a sheet in the typewriter, and dashed out the first sentence to what would become not only a novel, but a best-selling series.

I feel the same way about blank paper, which is why I love notebooks. They make me want to create – to write.

It may sound weird, but the mere sight of a blank notebook excites me. My imagination starts going in several different directions, and I start daydreaming about how I could fill all those pages with chapters of the Great American Novel. (Or fart jokes; whichever leaps to mind first.)

To me, a notebook is a blank canvas. And I think all of us have our own version of a blank canvas – something we do that brings joy to others and enriches our everyday existence.

For a gardener, a planter of topsoil is a blank canvas.

For a decorator, an empty room is a blank canvas.

For a landscaper, a patch of weeds is a blank canvas.

For a painter, a blank canvas is … well, a blank canvas.

We all have our own version of a blank canvas. What’s yours? 

Going the distance – albeit with short bursts of speed

man jogging down path

Because priorities.

I’m more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner.

Actually, let me clarify. When it comes to track, my preferred position is spectator.

But if you were to drag me back in time to high school, re-enroll me in my sophomore year, and force me to fulfill my physical-education requirement by taking a semester of track (you heartless time-traveling bastard, you) —  then yes, I’d be more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner.

My dad’s the same way. We work best with short bursts of energy, and not prolonged periods of continual exertion.

Case in point: I can’t write every day.

I’ve tried, but it’s a goal I’ve struggled to keep … sort of like my New Year’s resolution to jog each evening. (Come to find out, binge-watching Top Chef at night puts a damper on my daily exercise regimen.)

I know writing every day would be good for me. And it’s something I’d like to do. After all, the most successful writers are the ones that train themselves to make writing a habit. They treat it like a job.

Although I suppose I treat writing like a job, too – only it’s one that involves a shovel, a pile of cow dung, and knee-high wading boots.

That is to say, it’s not only an unenjoyable job – it’s often downright excruciating.

Part of that is my penchant for perfection. Rewriting and editing are important parts of the process, but it’s easy to wring the heart from a piece through rigorous revision. That’s a problem I know all too well.

There’s a vein of creativity that runs through the mind, and my best work emerges when I can tap into it and transcribe the thoughts that stream effortlessly through my fingertips.

On the other hand, striving for technical precision suffocates the life from my writing, leaving me with a series of grammatically accurate sentences that collectively lack a soul.

Another issue I have is writer’s block. There are so many days when I sit down to write and nothing’s there. It feels like I’m wearing concrete boots and slogging through a mental cavern of thick cobwebs. (Unfortunately, today is one of those days.)

Other days, I’ll feel clear-headed and energetic, and I’ll dash out two or three blog posts in one sitting.

It’s weird, but apparently, it’s how I work.

I still try to write every day, but if nothing’s there, I’m not too hard on myself.

I also remind myself to have fun. If I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, then likely no one else will enjoy reading it.

I also remind myself that perfection is an illusion, and striving for it will suck the life from my writing. When it comes to creativity, good enough is truly good enough.

So if you see me on the track, just know I won’t be running the mile full-steam. I’ll dash forward, walk for a while, then dash forward until I run out of oomph.

Again, it’s how I work.

And maybe that’s OK. Because whether I’m sprinting or walking, I’m still going the distance. I’ll get to the finish line eventually.

It’s just that it’ll be on my own terms — and, apparently, in my own sweet time.

An essay of epic proportions

man standing alone in barren desert

Funny thing, but I enjoy writing more when I don’t take it so seriously. Who would have thought?

I sat down to write a blog post the other day, and this overwhelming sense of exhaustion draped over me.

The idea of piecing together a coherent essay – complete with a gripping lede, a compelling thesis, and a succinct conclusion to tie it all up – seemed daunting and not worth the strain. I was tired from a full day of work, and I couldn’t summon the strength to compose a compelling journalistic masterpiece.

I sighed and rested my head in my hands.

Why do I even keep a blog? I thought to myself. It’s all work and no play. It’s not fun anymore.

And right on cue, as if to reaffirm a lesson I already knew, a scene from the 1996 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus started playing in my mind.

In the film, Richard Dreyfuss stars as a high-school music teacher. It’s not his dream job — he’d much rather be at home, working on his own compositions — but throughout the movie he enriches the lives of generations of students by instilling in them a love for music.

There’s a part where a girl is staying after class to practice the clarinet, but she keeps hitting a sour note. She gets frustrated and wants to give up.

So Dreyfuss puts a record on the turntable. It’s “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. He tells the girl that even though the music is simple and really not that good technically, he loves it.

He loves it, he says, because music is supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be torture and drudgery and endless hours of frustration. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.

And he’s right. The music that touches people comes from the heart. It may not be technically precise, but it’s got soul – and soul is what resonates. It reaches people on a deeper level and evokes all sorts of emotions.

Essentially, Dreyfuss was telling the girl to lighten up. By treating her practice sessions as excruciating struggles toward perfection, she was forgetting why she wanted to play music in the first place. Her determination to be perfect was draining all the joy from what should have been a pleasurable pastime.

No one decides to become a musician – or, for that matter, a writer – with the hope that the challenges will be agonizing and impossible to overcome.

They decide to do it because they want to express themselves – and because they derive enjoyment from pursuing their craft.

And that was my issue. Like the girl in the movie, I was treating my hobby as if it were strenuous toil. There was no fun in it anymore because I was taking it too seriously.

In my unyielding determination to succeed, I had forgotten why I started blogging in the first place.

I realized, too, that blog posts aren’t high-school essays. They don’t have to have an outline, or a thesis, body, and conclusion. There’s no strict headmistress looking over my shoulder, ready to rap my knuckles with a ruler if I split an infinitive or misplace a modifier.

Blog posts can be whatever we want. There’s no structure required.  Mental wanderings are perfectly acceptable, if that’s your thing. You don’t have to write an essay of epic proportions.

Like music, writing should be fun. Fun writing flows from the fingertips, while strict writing requires endless tinkering and unwavering deliberation.

So like the girl in the movie, I’m going to try to loosen up and enjoy myself. After all, I’m here to have fun.

And just as technical precision doesn’t infuse a piece with heart, a single sour note doesn’t deprive it of its soul.

Sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all 

Writer's block

This is a question I’ve been asking my entire life.

I was sitting slumped over the keyboard, cradling my head in my hands, when Vanessa walked into the room.

“What are you doing?” she asked, frowning.

“Blogging,” I said.

“It looks like you’re sitting there with your head in your hands.”

“This is what I look like when I’m blogging.”

Vanessa approached me and looked over my shoulder. “You haven’t even written anything yet.”

I sighed. “That’s because I don’t have anything to say.”

“So let me get this straight,” Vanessa said. “You told me you started blogging because you had so much you wanted to say.”

“That’s right.”

“And now you’re telling me you don’t have anything to say?”

“Exactly.”

“OK.” Vanessa frowned again. “I’m not sure I follow.”

“I have a lot I want to say,” I said. “The problem is, when I sit down to write, I’m not sure how to say what it is I want to say.”

“So you know what you want to say,” Vanessa said. “You just don’t know how to say what you want to say?”

“Exactly.”

Vanessa shrugged. “So why not just say what you want to say and get it over with?” Keep reading…

The top 60 Tweets of a pretentious English student 

young man studying on laptop in college campus library

Yeah, I went to school with people like this…

Even graduate students studying ecocentric literature can be social-media superstars!

Bio: I express my artistry through emotional meditations and lowercase letters. My heart is pure; my poetry, self-published.

1. If there’s a sock on the door, don’t come in. I’m busy reading Vonnegut.

2. If my beret doesn’t give away my artistic tendencies, then I’m sure the Apple logo on my laptop will.

3. A sublime exhalation of youthful exuberance, in a premature outpouring of passion. (But give me 10 minutes, and I’ll try again.)

4. I’m not arrogant. I just don’t need to take writing advice from the dude who wrote “Charlotte’s Web.”

5. Yeah, well, how many literary-fiction journals have *you* been featured in, buddy?

6. Is that a Bukowski in your book bag, or are you just happy to see me?

7. Personally, I find the em-dash more progressive than the semicolon.

8. How endearing. I went through my own period of rugged Hemingway terseness back in 201.

9. We haven’t truly lived until we’ve written in the first-person-plural.

10. I’ll trade you three gently used issues of Glimmer Train for your annotated copy of “Burning Down the House.”

11. I’m not in it for the monetary compensation; I’m in it to bare my soul through the written word. (Besides, Mom pays my tuition.)

12. My tattered journal contains the scribblings of my soul. Plus, my Econ notes from yesterday’s class.

13. She left my emotional core stinging from the lash of rejection. (It also stings when I pee.)

14. I see you consistently get “it’s” and “its” confused. You need a bib to catch all the drool?

15. [Literary flirting] “So, you want to get coffee sometime? We could discuss whether Truman Capote wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.” Keep reading…

I didn’t think I was destroyed, but that’s what the search engines say 

cat looking at camera

My downstairs neighbor, Dave, often comes over to give me advice on my blog — as well as to drink any beer I might have in the fridge. “People like pictures of cats,” he says, “even if it’s a only meme with a stupid subtitle that has nothing to do with the cat itself. That’ll get you readers for sure.”

Dave the Downstairs Neighbor popped into my apartment on Saturday afternoon.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Nothing much. Just wanted to see what you were up to.”

“You’re out of beer, aren’t you?”

“Not necessarily,” Dave said. “I often come by just to say hi.”

“Then you won’t mind if I drink this beer in front of you without offering you one?”

Dave licked his lips. “Do you think you could maybe, like … spare one?”

“You came over here for a beer, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes!” Dave said, throwing his arms wide and yelling. “Yes! I came over for a beer.”

“No problem. Help yourself. There’s beer in the fridge.”

“Great — thanks,” Dave said, tromping into my kitchen and wrenching open the refrigerator. He pulled out a bottle and pried off the lid with an opener.

“You got lime?” he called.

“Bottom bin,” I said.

Dave cut himself a lime and slid it into his bottle.

“Now was that so hard?” he asked, walking back into the living room. “It’s like you want me to feel like a freeloader. Say, you got some chips?”

I handed him the bag of Tostitos that was sitting on the coffee table. “So get this.”

“What’s that?” Dave asked, sitting on the couch and resting his feet on the coffee table.

“I was working on my blog this morning, and it’s got a dashboard where you can see the number of visitors you get and stuff like that.”

“Do you get any visitors?”

“I … well, I’m more interested in the quality of reader as opposed to the quantity, you know.”

Dave crunched on some chips. “So you’re still not getting any visitors?”  Keep reading…

Using social media to get more blog followers 

social media meme

The good news is that by harnessing the power of social media, you can drive more traffic to your blog. (The bad news is that you apparently have to engage with other people. I thought technology was supposed to make our lives easier?)

I wanted to get more followers on my blog, so I called my old friend, Sally the Social Media Guru.

“I want to get more followers on my blog,” I told her.

“Oh, good,” she said. “That’s my speciality. Are you looking for active reader engagement?”

“I just want a bunch of followers,” I said.

“But are you looking for quality readership over quantity? Are you tailoring your content to target a specific demographic — one that demonstrates brand loyalty through repeated visits?”

“I really just want a bunch of followers,” I said. “Like, thousands or millions.”

“What’s your goal in building your audience? Are you looking to monetize your content?”

“If that means getting more followers, then yeah.” Keep reading…

Long periods of harsh drought

hand holding penI recently watched a biography about Woody Allen, in which the comedic legend said that throughout his career, he’s never suffered from writer’s block.

No kidding. In addition to his numerous essays and plays, Allen’s been writing and directing a movie a year since the 1970s. His voluminous output makes Shakespeare look like a literary lightweight.

Unlike Allen, I suffer from writer’s block pretty much all the time. I don’t know why. I used to write a lot more when I was younger, but in those days my writing was more careless and less structured. I just jotted down whatever thoughts popped into my head and called it good.

So interestingly, when I took courses to improve my writing, they made me not want to write anymore. I focused more on structural perfection than interesting content. Instead of jotting down all those frenzied ideas, I was too busy rewriting the opening sentence until it was grammatically sound. And then I’d get so frustrated that I’d rip up my writing.

So I think perfectionism plays a role in my chronic affliction. You can’t dam a flow without compromising the stream. But unlike a reservoir, those ideas don’t pool up and swell. Unless they’re unleashed, they dry up and vanish.

And where there once gushed a river, all that’s left is a tricking stream. And not only is it shallow, but it’s also murky and stagnant. Keep reading…

‘State of Play’ and the state of journalism

Author’s Note: This piece originally appeared on my now-defunct blog, The Barren Regions. I wanted to include it here because it brought back memories of when I worked at a newspaper (and when I could still refer to myself as a “twenty-something”).

I recently rented the Russell Crowe suspense flick, State of Play. I wanted to watch it because the title intrigued me. I wish I could say the same for the plot.

State of Play

Just kidding. Actually, the movie was OK, although unrealistic. Crowe plays a hard-nosed newspaper reporter who becomes ensnared in a D.C. murder mystery. He risks his life to uncover the truth — all in the name of getting the full story and informing the public.

That was the part I found unrealistic. I mean, c’mon, a journalist who actually works for a living? Get real. The most hustling you’ll see in a newsroom happens when someone accidentally leaves a box of doughnuts in the break area.

Other parts were all too real. Ben Affleck plays a conniving congressman. Helen Mirren plays a desk-pounding editor who hollers about deadlines and corporate responsibility and sits in a big office. Rachel McAdams plays an underpaid blogger who works at the same paper as Crowe.

In one scene, Crowe and Mirren sneer at how McAdams churns out gobs of copy for little pay while Crowe dawdles on his stories and earns twice as much. As a twenty-something budding journalist, I appreciate the realism (though truth be told, I don’t churn out tons of copy; I’m too busy eating doughnuts in the break room). Keep reading…