Monday, 15 October 2018

The Slow Crawl To Excellence

Every now and again I read an old blog post that I wrote and cause my sister and mom to roll their eyes as I exclaim, “Wow, this was great writing! I feel so inspired!” Or I start giggling all over again as I read a funny blog post that I wrote. Yeah, humility is my middle name.

But a couple of days ago I started to dig a little further into the past. I was looking for any good writing I had done for an ebook I am thinking of putting together. I unearthed the first blog that I started back when I was 20 years old. It was called ‘One of Five’. I went through the four years of posts that I had written in my early 20s and I was utterly humiliated. Good grief! Was that me? So clichéd, so immature, so nondescript. So embarrassing.

Maybe my next blog was better? I wrote for three years when I first became a Catholic volunteer and lived abroad. I was 24 when I started it. But no. Most of that was pretty painful to read as well. My writing revealed my unsureness, my lack of confidence in my own voice and even thoughts. They were largely about my faith, and yet they were lacking in substance. Those posts stuck to the most obvious of my beliefs, and didn’t explore nuances, didn’t seem to challenge me or anyone else.

I knew my writing was not good enough. When you read a lot, it’s easy to differentiate good writing from bad writing (for example, read Pride and Prejudice, and then read a cheesy free Christian romance novel. Yeesh.) But it’s a lot harder to create good writing.

I started my third blog in 2013. I was 27 years old. I knew that I wanted to write differently and better and realer. But also, I had changed, I had grown, and I had found my voice. I was sure about some things and not as worried about having things that I was still working out. And over the next five years, I began to slowly write better. Less links and more real writing.

A few years ago I realized that writing is one of my charisms. A charism is not just a talent, or a skill, but ‘graces that pass through you and me – with our cooperation – to convey God’s truth, beauty, provision, healing, and mercy to someone else’. I don’t have a very big audience (comparatively), but I often heard back from people that something I wrote drew them closer to God. Very often I would go back and look at that blog post, and it seemed as if I didn’t remember exactly how I put those particular strings of words or thoughts together. It seemed like more was coming out than I was putting in.

But I have come to believe that a charism or even just a skill or a talent doesn’t come out perfect the first time. It must be developed. It must grow and mature and be sharpened (or sometimes softened). I know I have a long way to go to reach excellence in writing. I only blog at the moment, which is a very chatty and informal style of writing. But there are so many other ways to write that I have barely touched. I have never even done a writing class. But I have my life ahead of me, and I’m happy that I have started this journey.

These are some of the things that I think have helped me reach where I am:

1. A lot of reading of GOOD writing: As a blogger, I realize I have picked up all these little tricks and styles from other blogs and authors that I have read extensively over the past 12 years. Somehow while I feel I am sometimes a weird mixture of Jennifer Fulwiler, Simcha FisherCamp Patton and Dave Barry, perhaps with a splash of Mama Knows, Honeychild, I am still me. But it’s not just blogs. If I had been reading only cheap romance novels or thrillers from the time I was young, I highly doubt that I would be writing particularly well. But thankfully I have been exposed to many, many talented authors, and delightful books, a wide vocabulary, subtle characters, and well-woven plots, and all that has subconsciously given me a foundation upon which to build.

2. A lot of bad writing: Embarrassing as it was to read my poor attempts at writing through the years, I probably would never have reached a place where I actually like to reread what I’ve written if I hadn’t gone through the bad years. Just like going through awkward social situations when you are a teenager eventually helps you become a self-possessed adult, you just have to get through the bad to get to the good. There are no short cuts. You don’t ever pull out a pen… I mean, open a Word document... for the first time and create a captivating bestseller.

3. Regular writing: Especially after starting my Patreon page and committing to write four posts every month, I’ve found that I have gotten better. Apparently in order to be a writer, you just have to write! My mum used to say that to me when I was a kid – “If you want to be an artist, you just have to pull out a pencil, look at something, and start sketching!” I can’t write just every once in a while and hope to get better at writing, which is I think how I thought it would work with my first two blogs.

4. Live life and write from the real life that you live: When I was in my early 20s I remember saying, “I want to write a book. But you’re supposed to write what you know. And I don’t know anything. I haven’t been anywhere or done anything or lived outside my bubble. So I think I need to live life before trying to write about it.” I have done a lot more living over the past 12 years (and I have a lot more to do), but my best writing comes from the life I live. I don’t ever want to stop living life and just write, because I would have nothing to write about.

5. Write what you want to read: If I write something, look at it and say “Boring!’, I usually just delete it. Or rewrite it better. I have a short enough attention span that I won’t bother reading something that isn’t snappy enough. I skip over nature descriptions in books. My eyes are drawn to dialogue, to words and thoughts that are unexpected, engaging. So I try to write what I like to read. If I find it boring, why would I expect anyone else to find it interesting? I write about topics that haven’t been written about a zillion times. Or at least I try.

6. Say a prayer: I usually shoot a quick ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before I write. Whether it’s a comic sketch about scary insects, or a serious post about anxiety or negativity, it can all be inspired by the Holy Spirit. I once wrote ‘People are Disappointing’ after not having any idea what to write about, sitting in front of my open laptop, and saying a prayer. It wasn’t one of those catchy posts about romance or marriage. ‘Hopefully someone will read it,” I thought. I knew titles usually need to be a little catchier. Few people liked or commented. But a few days later, an old friend (and patron) messaged me to tell me that it was exactly what she needed to read and that God was speaking to her directly through that post. So I’ve been a little more committed to that prayer-before-writing since then.

Well, that’s all I have for today. If you feel called to write, start writing! It may take a while, but you have something to say that the world needs to hear. It may be another creative venture like art or Youtube videos or song-writing or podcasting. Pray about it, and move forward! Be not afraid!

Recommended Reading 

Charisms FAQ

Bearing Fruit by Living Your Charism

How to Begin Dreaming [Abiding Together podcast]

1 comment:

  1. I agree Suz.. You have this charism. Many of my acquaintances have been blessed by your blog.