When I was in elementary school, my parents would check my homework each night. Math problems, language arts, all of it. They’d point out errors (before there was a thing called typos) and make me go back and fix it, until I had a clean assignment to turn in. While it would sometimes frustrate me, it taught me early on the importance of attention to detail. At that time, I was rushing through things quickly because it wasn’t much of a challenge, and I just wanted to be done with my homework so I could read. My dad impressed upon me as early as age six that sloppy work doesn’t cut it, whether it was in my homework assignment, while completing a chore, or playing sports. It definitely made an impact – I am a self-acknowledged neat freak, I once organized my CDs and books by genre and artist/author, and I have a solid membership in the grammar snob squad.
In January, I had the privilege of meeting an author of a historical fiction series about the Civil War. I read her first four books when I was about 12 years old, when she used a pen name and the series had a different name. A year or so ago, I discovered she had started the series again, under her original name, but with a new title. I saw that she engaged with her readers directly on Facebook, which is quite uncommon. She responds to people via email or social media more frequently and promptly than some of my friends or family. Anyway, as luck would have it, she was traveling to San Diego for a few days, and on a whim, I asked if she would be “around,” thinking we could meet. She suggested breakfast, and a few days later we spent two hours talking about reading, writing, growing up in the South, faith, and family. I left the breakfast knowing I had a new friend and mentor. She completely believed I had stories to tell, and that I needed to write them down. I was inspired, and I was going to write.
But I didn’t. Twice, she has asked me via email, “Are you writing, Jenna??” And I, embarrassingly, have not responded, because the truth is, I haven’t. Until now.
Since at least the third grade, if not before, I said I wanted to be an author when I grew up. In the early years, I wrote in spiral-bound notebooks, trying to come up with my own version of The Baby-Sitters Club, writing about best friends with luscious brown or blonde hair, one curly and one straight, of course. I wrote silly poems about boys that would never like me back – “he’s just not that into you” isn’t a new concept. I thought I could be like my first female author crush, Laura Ingalls Wilder, writing about my own family and our adventures (pioneering or not). I aspired to be at the level of Jane Austen, my second female author crush (LIW and Austen still top my list; you never forget your first loves), who wrote about the everyday stories of family, friends, love, and marriage with such eloquence and humor.
Some of you have read this story before. I went to college for journalism, writing feature and news stories, and adjusting my dream to become a star reporter for The Washington Post, only to shift gears and jump into digital communications and advocacy for nonprofits in DC, right at the time that blogging and social media really began to take off in a big way.
And nearly two years ago, I left DC after several successful and happy years, thinking I would try to “be a writer” again. But today, I find myself questioning what it really means to be something. Am I still a writer even though I haven’t blogged in more than two months until now? Am I still a writer even though I haven’t written anything that isn’t for a client in two months? Am I still a writer even though I don’t actively send out pitches to publications?
I’ve read enough books and blog posts, some by famous writers, and others who just would like to think they are famous, that sternly remind those of us “wannabes” that we need to write every day if we want to become better at our craft. That we need to “shut up and write” instead of talking about it. I’ve read Pressfield’s The War of Art, and know the demon of Resistance very well, and know I have to beat him at his own game.
In some sense, they’re right. Just like any other skill or hobby, you become better at it, or perhaps even master it, by practicing frequently, maybe every day. And there are days when you may like it, or days when you hate it, and you are counting down the minutes until you are done. I see this a lot when I read about running. As a kid, I hated running. I never thought I would become a runner. And even after my first couple of races, post-college, I still didn’t consider myself a runner. I didn’t have all the gear yet. I wasn’t fast. I didn’t run every day. I didn’t know all the runner jargon. But somewhere along the way, as I practiced and learned and even began to enjoy running, I finally called myself a runner. I get Runner’s World, I have the gear and clothes, and I use the jargon. I am faster, I am stronger, and I run more frequently. I’ll never become an elite, and I’ll probably never win a race. I don’t want to run every day. But I’m a runner because I run.
So why do I struggle so much with this concept when it comes to writing? Perhaps part of it is because there is a stigma around writing, all these expectations. You tell people you are a runner, and they don’t usually ask you if you’ve won any races. They may ask how many miles you typically run. But tell people that you’re a writer, and they want to know where you’ve been published, or if you’re writing the “next great American novel.” Not all runners are expected to be fast. But writers are expected to be good. And if I’m really honest with myself, I expect to be good.
A few weeks ago, I was one of two final candidates for an editor position at an alumni magazine. I wanted it so badly – it was the first job I’d seen in essentially all the time since I left DC that I thought I’d be perfect for, and that was in the direction I want to go. It came down to some very specific feedback about my writing – the headlines being part of it. I was pretty upset, as you might imagine. To be that close to something, and then have to start over, because my headlines weren’t up to snuff? Ouch.
Although I ultimately look at it as a lesson learned and a great experience, I also recognize that it was a blow to my ego, and perhaps has been a factor in extending my writing drought. I have quickly pushed aside ideas for stories and blog posts because I don’t think they’re interesting enough. I avoid sitting down in the morning or night to write because I don’t think what will come out will be good enough, even for me, much less for anyone else to read. So I knit. Or watch Netflix. Or do more crosswords. Anything but write. Because the nagging question deep inside me is quite possibly, “Am I a writer? Will I ever really be a writer?”
As I’m sitting here in a coffee shop with my laptop, I’m realizing that part of my challenge may be that I’ve taken to looking at writing as a chore, rather than something that I once so enjoyed. If I think about my evolution as a runner, it meant changing up my route, trying different running clothes and apps and shoes, and working on specific goals, like improving my time or besting a killer hill. I learned to stop looking at it as a thing I had to do, and instead something I wanted to do – it was fun, it was motivating, and I quickly learned all the little things that played a role in my growing passion for it.
So I think the same thing applies to my writing. It’s been a long time since I tried writing a poem, or wrote real fiction, or something that wasn’t within the themes of this blog. And clearly, I needed to get out of the house for the words to start pouring of me, so now I know that for me, I get inspiration and motivation from changing my location. When I began to see changes in my running, and ultimately, changes in my body and in my frame of mine, running became more enjoyable, and more…flowing. It’s time to get back into that spirit with writing again. It’s time to be a writer, not to be a best-selling author or to win any awards or to make other people proud. It’s time to be a writer because I like to write. And that’s who I want to be.
Readers of my blog know all about how much I adore writing and receiving letters. I love it so much that I’ve had two mini campaigns (here and here) to promote snail mail with fellow letter lover Leslie. I love it so much that I have a box overflowing with stationary and notecards, pens and postage, and of course, my letters from others over the years. I think I need a bigger box — collecting letter paraphernalia has become a bit like my book buying habit — I get more before I’ve finished what I have. But I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. One can’t have too much stationary, right?
It’s National Letter Writing Month, so I wanted to share a bit more about why I love the special art of snail mail so much. Just in the past week, I’ve received a handful of thoughtful postcards and notes from dear friends back in DC, and after a few weeks off because of my move, I’ve written a handful myself to be delivered to friends across the country. Just the very fact that I have friends who send me mail ( some quite regularly) all because they know I love it, makes me smile and makes me cherish our friendship even more. And the postcards I get from friends on their travels means even more to me (do you know how much international postage costs?!), coming from Australia and Hawaii and Italy and Mexico, and elsewhere.
I asked people what they love about letters so much, and here’s what a few had to say:
Pretty straightforward if you ask me. I think a handwritten letter is one of the most sincere and genuine forms of communication, and of respect. It takes time, it takes thought, and it takes feeling. And the memories of both writing it and receiving it are surely to last a lot longer.
So if you’re ready to send out some snail mail, check out my Pinterest board for some inspiration and options to start your own big box o’ letters. Then share in the comments whom you’re writing letters to this month, and why you love snail mail so much. And of course, let me know if you’d like to exchange letters with me!
Back in February, I lamented the possibility that the USPS was going to cancel Saturday mail delivery. A long-time letter lover, it was another let-down for an institution millions of Americans have relied on since the late 1700s, and another reminder of how technology, with all of its good intentions, is also changing time-honored tradition.
So another blogger and I decided to rally for snail mail, and offered to write postcards or letters to anyone who wanted one. Writing back was optional. We hoped that our love of letters would spread a little and at least remind people of the joys of receiving mail – the good kind. We were pleased at the results: I think we each sent out a dozen or more notes, to friends, family, and people we’d never met. We loved the letters we got in return, and seeing others inspired to do their own mini snail mail campaigns. Leslie and I have even begun regularly writing each other now – we both wanted a new pen pal! But most importantly, we like to tell ourselves that our little project is what prompted the USPS to withdraw their proposal to cancel Saturday mail. Victory!
Nearly 10 months later, Leslie and I are ready for round two, and this time, we’re kicking it up a notch. We think that writing letters is a perfect medium for storytelling, and that’s why we’re ready to share some of our most personal experiences with our recipients, and we hope we get to learn yours, too. Here’s how it will work:
We’ll take up to the first 10 participants in this first round, 5 for each of us. (don’t worry, there will be more rounds!). Sign up here if you want in.
For each person, we’ll write on a different topic. And to mix it up a little, Leslie and I will randomly select who writes to whom. You won’t know the topic or the sender until you open your letter! Here is the first round of topics:
- First heartbreak
- A difficult decision
- Favorite recipe
- Offbeat or unusual hobby or interest
- A vivid childhood memory
We’d love a letter back, too, so start thinking about what you’d share!
So here we go! Let’s get some #snailmailstories going…who will sign up first?
I’m not a chain letter kind of gal. Nor do I copy and post those silly status updates on Facebook that I see cluttering up my feed about anything and everything (“Pass it on so we know if you’re a real friend!”). But, I am about recognizing other bloggers, other women who are living life to the fullest, and helping a girl out with some online love. So when Michelle of Hey Love Designs passed The Liebster Award on to me, I agreed to pass it on to others. Michelle, like many other people I have connected with via social media, is still only a virtual friend, but here’s why I like her: she participated in my snail mail project with Leslie, she makes gorgeous paper products, and totally owns who she is — a pole-dancing, dog-loving, font-obsessed entrepreneur. And she just seems happy, which is tops in my book. So thanks Michelle for recognizing Lagniappe.
Here’s how this whole Liebster Award thing works:
1. Link to the blogger that nominated your blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions they asked. (see below)
3. List 11 facts about yourself. (see below)
4. Nominate 5 blogs with less than 3000 followers. (or how about I just pick some faves)
5. Ask 11 new questions which these 5 bloggers will answer (optional, I won’t be offended if you don’t!)
(P.S. It should be no surprise that I love the 11 things/11 questions theme. See why here.)
11 Questions for Me:
1. What show do you love right now? Since some of my favorites are not in season right now, it’s got to be Scandal. It’s so ridiculous and dramatic, but I love it.
2. What’s your favorite season and why? Without a doubt, fall. Football, Thanksgiving, my birthday, fall foods, hoodies, the leaves. It’s just got it all.
3. If you could trade lives with any celebrity, who would it be? Hmm, I don’t know that I want the celeb life. Does Terry Gross count? She interviews some pretty awesome people on Fresh Air (NPR).
4. Would you rather live in a small home in a city or a large home in the country? Now that I’ve done both? I think the city, for this life phase (as I sit on a 4-acre property in the middle of wine country and write this), but I could see myself retiring in the country. Who knows. They both have their pros and cons.
5. Are leggings pants? No. I’m probably in the minority for saying that. I don’t do leggings.
6. What is your favorite outdoor activity? I’m a runner, so that’s first, but after that…I love standup paddleboarding now! (SUPing)
7. If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, and money and time were not an issue, where would you go? I’m trying to check off my must-visit places, and now that I’ve covered some in the top of the list, the biggest one left for me is London. I’m a huge British history and lit buff, so I’ve been dying to go to England for years.
8. What’s a fun childhood memory that most people don’t know? I share a lot of memories, so let’s see what’s left… when I was a little girl, my neighbors and their four kids would babysit me all the time. I became one of the family. Their youngest son, Jimmy, would be Johnny Castle and I would be Baby and I would run down the hallway and we would do the lift, Dirty Dancing style. It went on for years, until I was too big for him to lift me anymore.
9. Every time you hear this song, you can’t help but sing it at the top of your lungs. Name that song! Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, by The Temptations.
10. Live to eat or eat to live? Ummm… it depends?
11. What’s your favorite Disney movie? Is it possible to have a four-way tie? The Lion King, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp. I suppose it could go in that order if I’m really forced to pick.
11 Facts About Me
1. I had imaginary friends named Patty, Marcus, and Stephanie. That’s what only children do, I guess.
2. My parents gave me a dictionary for my 7th birthday. I read it front and back, and it’s still on my shelf today.
3. I always ask for Andes mints in my stocking at Christmas. But while my parents share their candy, I hoard mine.
4. I still do not know how to blow a bubble with bubblegum. It sucks.
5. I was in a community performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in middle school. I still remember the entire soundtrack.
6. I hate feet. I don’t even like people touching me with socks on. I also don’t like ketchup leftover on a plate or dipping into someone else’s. It weirds me out.
7. I don’t consider a visit home to Louisiana complete without having a shrimp poboy.
8. I didn’t have my first kiss until a month before I turned 18, as a senior in high school. It was on my driveway when my date dropped me off after the Homecoming dance.
9. I volunteered at a nursing home for two summers before high school, and me and the other kids were featured in the newspaper. I met some of the most amazing, memorable people there.
10. I’ve never broken a bone and I’ve never been to a movie alone.
11. I was a tour guide in college.
My Blog Picks
Next Round of Questions
1. If you could be a character on any classic TV show, who would you be?
2. Jeans or a Dress?
3. If you could relive any moment from your past, what it would be and why?
4. What’s your favorite quality about your mom/dad/both?
5. What book from childhood did you read again and again?
6. If you were on The Amazing Race, who would you pick to be your partner?
7. Who would you write a letter to, if you knew they would write back? Famous or not. Dead or alive.
8. What song reminds you of your childhood?
9. Would you rather redecorate and redesign your kitchen, or your bedroom?
10. What’s the best quality in the man/boy who means the most to you?
11. What’s one thing you wish you could have told your 18-year-old self?
So that’s it, folks. Let’s see what happens!