Blogging 101: Starting New

And why, you may ask–when this blog will celebrate its fifth anniversary in the spring of 2016–would I tackle WordPress’s “Blogging 101” course to start the new year?

The answer? It’s an opportunity to re-visit this blog, to learn some new tricks, and to make these pages stronger and more appealing.

So I thought, Why not?

Because Poor Blog: I have to confess she’s been neglected lately, even after the publication of my short story collection, Crosscurrents and Other Stories. Maintaining the blog is more important than ever, but there are all those other things you have to do when you publish a book, especially  when you publish with a small press, even a really good one like Press 53. You don’t have a publicist, and nobody is handling your marketing or setting up events. (For more on this, see “Great Expectations: Ten Things to Expect When You Launch Your Book.” ) It’s all exciting and fun, but it’s a lot of work.

Create / Gerry Wilson

And to tell you the truth, the blog was feeling stale. It had become a chore. This blog began in response to a challenge, so I thought maybe a new challenge is what it needs–what I need–to re-engage and find new and refreshing ways to engage you, the reader.

The first assignment for “Blogging 101” is to write this post and think about why I’m here. “Blogging 101” suggests that if I’ve been blogging for a while, now is a good time to re-examine my motives. Here are the suggested questions to address:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

Here goes:

I’m blogging publicly because 1) I don’t enjoy talking (writing) to myself so much;  2) I have something to say; and 3) I want to create a platform for my book and whatever comes after it.

Scraps / Gerry Wilson
Scraps / Gerry Wilson

What will I write about? Certainly some of the same things I’ve written about before: personal experiences,  memories, writing about writing. I will seldom wax political here, not because I don’t have strong opinions, but that’s not the focus of the blog. That won’t change. And maybe there’s something new, something I haven’t explored yet.

I want to connect with anyone who shares my love of books and writing and, well, life.

What do I hope to accomplish? On a practical level, a blog calendar I can stick with and manage without feeling overwhelmed. I’d love a revamped theme/style. I want connection. I want growth.

So here it is: #1 post for “Blogging 101.” The old hand, trying something new. We’ll see how long I last. Hoping for good things!

Resolved: The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge for 2014

New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge / Joy Weese Moll
New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge / Joy Weese Moll

A writer-friend, Joy Weese Moll (librarian/blogger extraordinaire), has launched a reading challenge for the month of January. The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge involves a commitment. Joy explains it better than I can:

Whether you want to write a novel, start a new career, or be happier, there are books to aid you in your quest. The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge is to read one to four books that will stimulate action on your goals. Here are the levels:

Resolved: 1 book
Determined: 2 books
Committed: 3 books
Passionate: 4 books

The books can all be about one subject, or they can vary.

I’ve committed at the Determined level to participate in the Read-Along portion of the challenge. Joy has recommended The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin for a “communal” read and  discussion via our blogs and/or on Facebook and Twitter. So I’ll be reading Rubin’s book and blogging here each Wednesday in January with thoughts and responses.

I’ve also promised (in a very public way, thanks to Joy!) that I’ll read Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, a book I bought recently but haven’t yet read. Both books invite me to consider my life and my writing work in thoughtful, fruitful ways.

For complete info re these challenges, visit Joy’s links posted above. Or read along with me and follow on Wednesdays as I explore The Happiness Project.

Here’s to new starts in 2014!

Listening Back

I haven’t been able to get these words out of my head today:

We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music.  — Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey

My Wordsmith Studio friend, Lara Britt, keeps encouraging me to write memoir.

“But I write fiction,” I tell her; “I don’t write memoir.”

Oh sure, I’ve written some pieces for this blog, mostly in the context of exploring memory in relationship to story. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself. I have to confess, though, that I found it cleansing to “get them out,” those stories, some of them like a painful tooth; it felt good for them to be gone, no longer cooped up inside my head. But a memoir, a cohesive story of my life? No, I don’t think I have the material. Or the nerve. Because it takes courage to remember.

no such thing as perfection

I used to think I’d had a nearly perfect childhood. Nobody beat me. I didn’t grow up poor. I didn’t grow up rich. But I was an only, overprotected child in a household where the grown-up dynamics were complicated, so not so perfect, after all. Idealistic and immature, I did what I was expected to do: got a teacher’s license so I could “take care of myself” if the need arose, married a good boy with “promise,” settled down and had babies and and generally lived what I thought would always be the good life. How can I get stories out of that?

Well, life doesn’t always turn out that way, does it? And that’s where remembering gets hard.

looking back, listening back

I understand Buechner’s “looking back” as an easy metaphor for examining the past. When we look back, we either boldly turn and face the past head on or we glance over our shoulders so memory comes at us a little sideways, a little slant of the truth. Either way, we see visions of how things used to be. Sometimes they’re lovely; sometimes, nightmarish.

My dad's radio / Gerry Wilson
My dad’s radio / Gerry Wilson

But how do we “listen” back? Maybe Buechner means the way we play old “tapes” in our heads: the reruns, the should-haves, the voices, the patterns of thought that occupy our minds and keep us spinning helplessly in one place, not moving ahead but not able to go back, either, which of course we can’t do; we can never, ever go back, not to the previous minute or hour or day, not really, except through the filter of memory.

Too much dwelling on the past and we risk turning into “pillars of longing and regret,” Buechner says. Soured on life. Stuck. Sad. Lost.

deaf to the fullness

But then Buechner makes the turn, important in a poem but also in any good story: “to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music” [emphasis mine]. To shut off remembering is to miss out. Shutting off the past makes us less than what we can be and keeps us from living fully now.

So maybe my friend is right. Maybe all our remembered stories, no matter how simple they seem on the surface, deserve to tell their noisy little selves: to shout out, to sing off-key, to be messy and loud, heartbreaking and beautiful at once. Just like our lives.

Nobody wants to “live deaf to the music.” How do you confront—or embrace—your past?