Publishing my writing vs. writing to be published. This difference explains how my view toward writing shifted from something I enjoyed to something I avoided. My earliest published pieces were written for me first and I found outlets for them afterward. Later on, as I learned more about writing markets, advice, forums, social media, branding, platform-building, and other things “real” writers viewed as important, the joy I once felt writing trickled away. I started writing to please other people instead of myself. I became more cautious, more worried about “Will it sell?” than “Do I like it?” Or worse yet, “Should I even write this? What will people think?” which killed countless ideas before they ever saw a page.
I spent most of this year trying to hear myself again. I’m getting there, slowly. I deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts years ago with no regrets, but this year I stopped lurking on writing discussion threads completely. I got rid of all of my writing advice books and stopped reading writing blogs. More recently, I revisited two activities I’d set aside decades ago–doodling and collage–to relearn how to embrace making things without knowing, or caring, how they will turn out.
So much writing advice is about injecting certainty into what’s inherently an uncertain venture. Creative work is, by definition, creating something new. By focusing so much on the outcome, I’d forgotten that I make things primarily to feel alive. Everything else is gravy.
Here’s a doodle I made with words cut out from a Trader Joe’s newsletter. I had fun making it, and it’s a good reminder not to take anything, especially my own work, too seriously.
1. If Food Network and HGTV are getting stale for you, check out Li Ziqi’s YouTube channel. She shows how to make food and other items using traditional Chinese techniques. This video of her making a writing brush, ink stick, ink slab, and paper (yes, she made paper) blew me away. She also has gorgeous videos of her building bamboo furniture and cooking meals over a wood-fired stove, all set to relaxing music. You’ll be thankful for modern technology after watching a few of these.
2. It’s a glorious time to be a crafter! Years ago, Knitty and Ravelry were game changers for me in my knitting thanks to beautiful, modern patterns. I decided to get back into cross-stitching this week and WOW, the patterns are way better than they were 30 years ago! I’ve known about Subversive Cross Stitch for a while, but the sheer number of funny, snarky, edgy, and modern patterns on Etsy made me so happy. Cross stitch isn’t just for cutesy samplers anymore, and it’s about damn time.
3. I’m obsessed with the music played at grocery stores. Few things make you feel older than hearing the music you grew up with as sonic wallpaper. That said, the places I shop can have…interesting mixes. One grocery store always surprises me: one week it’ll be an entire ELO album, the next might be an Andrea Bocelli/Sarah Brightman duet followed by Ariana Grande. Here’s my Spotify playlist if you want a taste.
4. I read How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell last month and can’t stop thinking about it. I need to re-read it soon. It’s a good companion to Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport–the first book is from an artist’s perspective, the second is from a computer scientist’s perspective.
5. Annie Lennox rehearsing “Under Pressure” with David Bowie. Enough said.
1. An art exhibition that combines my love for both art and music: Cranbrook Art Museum’s “For The Record” exhibition features album cover art alongside other pieces made by that artist.
2. Austin Kleon’s blog always inspires me and points me toward new-to-me things that I might enjoy. In fact, this blog format I’m trying is inspired by his newsletter.
3. I recently read The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and am now reading Ripley Under Ground. I understand Patricia Highsmith was not a great human being, but there’s no denying her writing talent. She manages to makes me root for a murderous sociopath with frightening ease.
4. Children’s art books! I checked out a handful of kids’ books about modern art from the library and I enjoy them so much more than the turgid tomes written by art critics. Best of all, the books inspire me to try making new things. Collage, anyone?
5. Speaking of making things, this comic by Lynda Barry really, really speaks to me right now (and I desperately need the reminder). The two questions that can stifle creativity (“Is this good” and “Does this suck?”) intrude my brain far too much in practically everything I do. Getting rid of that mindset is a work in progress. I love how she put it:
The Two Questions‘ came from trying to write something good and not getting very far because I had forgotten that trying to write something good before I write anything at all is like refusing to give birth unless you know for sure it is going to be a very good baby.