Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

I started writing regularly a mere six months ago. I jumped in with eyes wide shut.

I’ve had a love affair with words for as long as I can remember. Grade school spelling bees, “word of the day” e-mails, trying out new ones, being affected by them, affecting others. The “novel” I (hand)wrote on loose leaf paper when I was 10—about a young girl with Leukemia—still sits crumpled in the back of one of my drawers, its tattered pages hole-punched and bound by fraying yellow yarn.

As a litigator, my greatest pleasure came from drafting. Briefs, motions, even research memos and client summary letters. I once savored the opportunity to write a Third Circuit appellate brief, pouring my heart and soul into crafting its cogent, meticulous arguments.

Then, one November morning, as I was readying the boys for day care, having digested more than my fair share of Huffington Post Parents articles that week, I had a thought I couldn’t shake:  Why not me?

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I did some, but probably not enough, research into choosing a blog name. (In fact, I’m thinking of shortening it to simply “Common Things” and would welcome your thoughts!) I wrote and I pitched and I published…and so it began. Now I’m hooked. I don’t know where it will all lead, but I’m (uncharacteristically) at peace with that.

After each of my sons was born, I always went back to work, full of reflection and reminiscence, when they were six months old. So it feels somehow appropriate to pause and process what I’ve learned so far, six months in:

1. FIND YOUR PEOPLE.

Find your role models, those you admire—whose words touch your soul. Each and every time. You will read their writing and the ache of recognition will cut so deep, it hurts. These are your writer crushes. I have several. When you find those people, don’t let them go. Follow them, visit their blogs—often, engage with their words. Allow them to inspire you, to make you want to be better, dig deeper. Hopefully they find you back—but don’t make too much of it if they don’t.

You may find yourself in a circle of people who are all referring back to each other, and it may feel like you’ve crashed their middle school lunch table. You probably have. So what? Pull up a chair; I bet they’ll scooch over to make a little room for you.

Find others who are just starting out, like you, so you can stumble together. They’re not as visible, and so harder to find. I’m still looking.

2. EMBRACE, BUT TEMPER, YOUR TWITTER ADDICTION.

On the one hand, it will lead you to strange and wonderful places. Tapping into a community of writers online has already added a richness and complexity to my life in a way I never would have thought possible. In ways I’m just beginning to understand. (I swear my husband will lose it if I tell him one more thing about “this writer I follow on Twitter.”)

On the other, it can be all-consuming, greedy with your time and attention, and take you away from being present, from living deliberately—which is truly why we write in the first place. To capture elusive moments in time and grasp them tightly, so as to live them over and over again and share them with the world.

You simply can’t keep up with everyone, all the time, so don’t even try. It’s impossible, and it will drain you. There will be nothing left of you, for you. For your thoughts. For your words to fill their space—at first awkwardly, but then with strength and purpose. With honesty and heart.

3. MAKE LISTS IN TWITTER.

Once I was following several hundred people, my time on Twitter began to feel disorganized, hectic, and directionless. I needed a way to cut through the noise. I created a (private) list of my favorite writers, and then when that grew too large, I subdivided that list into categories such as “Not To Be Missed” and “Humor.”

Follow back generously, but then narrow your focus. Life, and your Twitter feed, moves too fast for you to spend your time trying to keep up with every single tweet.

4. DISCOVER YOURSELF.

This is the hardest work of all. Finding your voice. Figuring out who you are all over again. Discovering who you want to be on the page. Making sure those are one and the same.

I can be snarky, funny even…more so in writing than in person, I’m told. But I’ve realized that for the most part, I’d rather leave regular humor posts to those who are really, truly funny—like all the time, without even trying. I feel much more comfortable in my own skin when I’m writing a sentimental piece about my children’s fleeting youth or how we, as mothers, as people, can be there for each other.

Write what you know. Write what feels good. Your natural voice will be apparent to your readers; they will be drawn in by your authenticity.

5. DEVELOP A THICK SKIN.

The comments section, the rejections from publications, your own self-criticism…it can do you in, if you let it. Don’t. It’s not worth it to stifle your voice because of occasional disapproval—from yourself or others. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep your chin up and carry on.

You will stumble. You will fall. You will write something that’s a total piece of crap—but you’ll publish it anyway. You’ll write something you’ve edited for weeks and you’re convinced is pure gold and…crickets. You’ll spew something onto the page in under an hour and it’ll go viral. It may feel unfair what generates mass appeal—what garners the most “likes” or “shares.” Like when the title track of an album becomes a radio sensation, but it’s often the lesser-known songs tucked away elsewhere that are far more beautiful. So…

6. (TRY TO) IGNORE THE NUMBERS.

Quality is more important than quantity—I’m trying to internalize this. Why am I so concerned with my number of Twitter followers ticking up if what really matters is that people I admire and respect are listening in? Or that I’ve affected even *one person* with my words–made them think, or smile? Or (better yet) nod with profound understanding?

Don’t get caught up in who follows you back or how many blog views you get (easier said than done); just keep forging ahead. Write for you. Not solely to be read. Sometimes I imagine a world in which we wouldn’t see how many “followers” someone has at all.

7. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SING SOMEONE’S PRAISES.

Loudly. Who doesn’t love a compliment? We all like to be read. Putting yourself out there to proclaim your love for a post or its author is often met with genuine gratitude—and perhaps even some reciprocal praise. Or better yet, the start of a true online friendship.

8. DON’T MISS OUT ON YOUR LIFE.

At times, I’ve been tempted to pass on an outing or social opportunity—a lunch with an old friend or a walk in the park with my kids—to finish a piece or get something onto the page. But inevitably, every time I push myself to get out, I end up inspired with an idea for a new post. You never know where your next story will come from. If you have a thought about something you want to come back to later, just jot yourself a few notes (apps like Simplenote are great & very user-friendly), and be on your way.

Be open to the world and curious about others. Live your life. The words will come. Writing about the world around you demands living within it.

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IN SHORT:

Be you. Write. Follow those who move you, day in and day out. Read and write in equal measure. Find what you love and love it hard. Give it your all.

Find the raw reflections within you that inevitably resonate with others, put them on the page, send them out into the world, and bring us together.

I’m still finding my way…what advice would you give to burgeoning bloggers/writers? (I’ll be listening!)

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16 thoughts on “Reflections of a Rookie Writer

  1. Oh, WOW. First of all, every single word you write resonates. And that last picture literally made me gasp out loud. Yes, yes, and yes. Find your people. Support them. Interact with them. Keep writing. It will come … at least that’s what I’m told. I’ve been blogging for almost 7 years and am still learning many of these things. I love the name “Common Things” and think that would be a great name here, by the way. xoxox

    1. Oh Lindsey, you have no idea how much your gorgeous, soulful writing and generous support have already impacted me and my direction. Or you probably do, because with each post or exchange, I’ve come to feel like you totally “get it” – and me. Thank you for being such a gracious writer crush, and making some room for me at your table. I will be forever grateful. xoxo

  2. Brian says:

    Hey Rook – I’m reserving my extended thoughts for another time but my vote is to keep the original blog title. Keep ’em coming!

    All the best,
    British Knights

    1. Thanks for weighing in, BK! Stay tuned for more on the possible blog name change…and I WILL be taking you up on an opportunity to hear more of your thoughts! Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. George says:

    My tip for good writing is this: rewrite. Often when writing something, it’s good to put it aside for a day or so. It’s amazing when one comes back to something s(he) had written earlier, how easy it is to spot opportunities for editing, expanding on an idea, removing something that is repetitive or trite, or even moving the main and best thoughts from the bottom of the piece to the top. I should put this aside and think about it later but, nah…here it is for what it’s worth.

    As for the title, if you decide to change it, consider “Commonplace.” This is a perhaps an archaic term but it fits. I keep a book of Commonplace on my computer, a collection of quotes and ideas that contain wisdom and meaning…much like your writing. And keep those pictures coming…they are worth a thousand words or more.

    1. Yes! Truthfully, I may even prefer editing to writing! I love when that difficult first draft is behind me, and I can return to a piece with fresh, early morning eyes, ready and anxious to make it better. I re-read and comb through what I write an almost absurd amount of times (to the point where WordPress gives up on counting my number of revisions)…I relish the challenge of conceiving just the right word for the thought, although I admit, structure has always been a struggle…

      And oh how I LOVE the “Commonplace” suggestion! I read your comment just before a long walk home and mulled it over the entire way. For many reasons, I think it fits perfectly, and I am so grateful to you for the thoughtful suggestion. Stay tuned…with heartfelt thanks…

      1. I’m late to this party but glad for this post, and I agree so much of it, especially with your comment (and often say it to others) that I might prefer editing to writing.

  4. M. Champion says:

    I’m brand spanking new to blogging. How did you find courage to publish under your own name? I’m afraid to publish such personal things with my real name and decided I should use a pen name. But I keep revisiting this decision. What advice do you have?

    1. Thanks for writing! You raise a great question, and while I admit it feels a bit like the blind leading the blind around here ;), I’m happy to give you my thoughts. I briefly considered writing under a pen name too, but then I realized (after more thought & in talking with other writers) that so much of writing is being vulnerable, authentic–putting your real, true self on the page and hoping others relate, connect with your words. Or not, and that’s ok too. But once I decided to do this writing thing, I wanted to do it as me…come what may. My rule of thumb is before ever hitting “publish,” I think to myself, “Is this something I would be ok with anyone I’ve ever known, anyone in the world reading?”

      If there are others who would like to weigh in & give advice on this, please do! Whatever you choose, I wish you much luck with your writing–I’ll be sure to check out your blog! Thanks so much for visiting. xoxo

      1. M. Champion says:

        Thanks, Dina! — Melanie

  5. Nina Badzin says:

    Hi Dina! These are ALL great tips! I agree with every one. I LOVE Twitter but I have to take breaks or I would really forget to live. Absolutely be YOU. I have been trying to think of a good blog name for my blog for 3.5 years. I’ve settled on . . . wait for it . . . Nina Badzin’s Blog. I write about too many random things. That’s my way of telling you that I don’t feel qualified to comment on blog names. 😉

    And yes to Twitter lists. I used to write the Twitter column for Writer Unboxed and I was always pushing people to make lists. I couldn’t use twitter without them. Would be too noisy.

    1. Thanks for reading & commenting, Nina! I’m laughing out loud at your inventive blog-naming skills. Hey, at least you’ll never be accused of misrepresentation! And “Nina Badzin’s Blog” has a great ring to it–I’m always a sucker for some alliteration 😉 Thanks again for adding your thoughts–looking forward to continuing to follow each other!

  6. Lara says:

    I have had this page open on my desktop for over a day now because I keep wanting to come back to it. I was going to point out specific passages but in the end there were too many. Everything you’ve written here resonates with me. #4 is totally me as well. I’ve been told that I can write humorously and I’m funnier (and snarkier) on the page than in person, but I don’t often flex that humor muscle unless it comes about organically.
    And Lindsey Mead was my very first writer crush who made a little room for me at the table. She’s such a generous soul, that one.

    1. I’m so glad you stopped by & could relate to this post. Your kind words mean so much, Lara, so thank you for them! I’m happy to have found you in this wild writing world. You’ve been at this longer than me, but maybe, just maybe, we can stumble together? At the very least, know that there is someone out there who’s got your back. I’ll be sharing your words & singing your praises.

      Those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of checking out Lara’s blog, you really should: http://joylovelyjoy.wordpress.com. Her writing is gorgeous.

  7. Laurie Tompkins says:

    I really can’t understand how someone can happily write a legal memo or brief. It is pure torture from start to finish for me. But, you are a very good writer, so it must come easy to you,

  8. Jessica says:

    #4, all day long. I’ve noticed that if I try to blog for mass appeal, it gets a reasonable response. When I write from the heart, the response is overwhelming. This list is a bookmarker for when I need to be reminded.

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Jena Schwartz

The blog formerly known as Bullseye, Baby! Visit www.jenaschwartz.com to stay in touch!

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