Can you believe it? I feel like I Just posted my quarterly review yesterday, and it’s already time for my six-month review. It went all right, although I think I may have gotten a little too snarky to my boss near the end. Think she’ll keep me around? 😉
This week, the writing exercise from A Year in the Life was to write a letter to a columnist giving “advice” about something you’ve been through.
Since so many people seem preoccupied with finding “the one,” I wrote about how my romantic life blossomed after I’d decided to give up dating “for good.”
. . . and I consider that a good thing.
I’m not always the greatest at being in touch with my emotions, which usually comes back to bite me. I went for a period of about five years in my life when nothing could make me cry, no matter how sad I felt. When I was in therapy, my therapist sometimes gave me the homework of writing letters — to myself and to others. Right away, I started noticing something: writing the letters made me cry.
But I had been writing unsent letters and journal entries forever. Why was this different? For one thing, writing “on assignment” forced me to delve deeply into issues and feelings I might have avoided otherwise. It also pushed me to go further with those issues than I would have on my own.
Most writers take a little while to “warm up” to their writing, and this is just as true in informal writing like letters, emails, or journal entries. Usually, my journal writing at the end of the day remains short, perfunctory, capturing a few thoughts or images or memories. But it usually stays in the “safe” zone — where what I’m writing was more-or-less preplanned and stays within those safe bounds.
Despite my own habits, I heartily recommend going outside those safe bounds. If you’re writing about an emotionally charged experience and you’re not feeling much, you’re probably not going deep enough (unless you feel certain that you’ve totally resolved something, in which case, congratulations!). To take advantage of writing’s cathartic benefits to the utmost, we need to stop being ashamed to write what we REALLY think, stop being afraid someone might read it. This leads to new levels of honesty, to new depths of feeling. So as I continued to feel a little numb about my upcoming move away from Duluth, I knew what I had to do. I took my journal to Chester Park, hid behind some trees, and wrote a “goodbye” letter to Duluth. I noticed that I didn’t feel much for the first page and a half — the length of a usual entry for me. It wasn’t until I went past the “clearing my throat” and got to the meat of the matter — the way Duluth had and hadn’t let me down in seven years — that the tears I needed to shed finally started making their way out of my system. There are probably more where those came from, but it’s good to at least know the plumbing’s still working.
When I was in college, I did research on the benefits of journaling and discovered that
- journalers sleep better at night
- journalers get sick less often
- in some cases, journaling can be as beneficial as traditional “talk therapy” for your mental health.
For some fascinating reading on the subject, check out Dr. James W. Pennebaker’s work, from which I gleaned most of the above facts. If your own writing ever brings you to tears, trust in the process and keep going. You’re probably doing something right.
On Jenny‘s advice, I just started reading the Freelance Home Writer blog, and I found the coolest submission opportunity EVER there yesterday. Apparently some peeps are putting together a book and a blog of Unsent Letters — and they’ll pay you if they select your letter for the blog OR the book, up to $250. Now, this is the kind of submission opportunity that I’d like to see more of — one in which I have TONS of backlogged content that fits the requirement. See, I’ve been an introvert and a writer most of my life, so I’ve always used unsent letters as a way to process my feelings and capture interactions. Add a couple years of therapy and the fact that this anthology accepts FICTIONAL letters, and I have enough unsent letters to fill my own book. I’m resisting the urge to go into the “attic” and dig through old letters because the ladder is not all that stable and I found myself dangling off the edge of it the last time I went up–not fun! Unfortunately, you can only submit one at a time and must wait to hear back from them before submitting another. Apparently the folks who are putting together this anthology were aware that there are people like me out there!
Before I began freelancing full-time, I had a precise plan for scheduling my time. From 8 – 10 am I would work on my writing; from 10 – 2 work for one of my primary clients; and from 2 – 6 for another primaryclient. On Fridays I’d seek out new opportunities and spend time with any “overflow” work. It looked so good in my mind, but I learned very quickly that life — phone calls from insurance companies, meetings with current and potential clients, even sleeping! — does not fall into such a nice schedule. As a result, I’ve missed several Friday “opportunity” investigations.
Maybe it’s the higher tolerance for paperwork since the accident, but somehow in this past week, I’ve managed to make up for all that lost time.
- I’ve applied as a freelancer for Harding House, which has been on my list for ages
- I’ve put in my application with Demand Studios
- I’ve written and sent a letter as a response to injustice (as I resolved to do here).
- I’ve started writing my short story for the Queer SF Anthology
- I’ve gotten in touch with the head of the newspapers in this neck of the wood, who is looking for a proofreader. (No link here, as my hometown is too tiny, and I don’t want everyone who reads this blog to knock on my door. ;)).
Until I’ve received some sort of payback for all the energy I’ve sent out there, it’s all too easy to feel as if I’m getting ‘nothing done.’ That’s why lists are such morale boosters (unless they’re lists of everything that’s left to do — yikes!)
I’m back after a wonderful weekend away at the Call to Action (CTA) annual conference. Call to Action is an organization for progressive-minded Catholics. While at the conference, I had the honor of being able to attend sessions led by people who are at the forefront of progressive, theological, and political thought, including Bishop John Shelby Spong, Workers’ Rights Activist Dolores Huerta, Father John Dear, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
During Dolores Huerta’s presentation, I was overcome with both the desire to do more to help the disadvantaged, and the despair that I couldn’t imagine anything I’d do being enough. I thought, “I should attend protests,” “I should volunteer,” “I should do more activism.” But I know myself well enough to know that all those things are very draining to me, and that I’m a prime candidate for activist burnout. And how much good does a burned-out activist do anyone? But the moment after wondering, what can I do? , I laughed internally as I realized I have a very powerful gift: a good command of the English language.
If you’re reading this, I assume that you’re developing your writing gifts as well (or else you just really like me). And if you’re human, I hope there’s something that you care about: whether it’s the environment, women’s rights, education or immigration reform, or one of the other many worthy causes in the world. I want to invite you to “marry” your passions: to write for change as much as you possibly can. Write your senators and representatives; keep a blog; write letters to the editor and op-eds. Write a memoir, nonfiction book, or novel that shares your expertise and pleads your cause. The only requirement is that you put what you’ve written out in the world. It may change your consciousness sitting on your bedside table, but it’s not going to go very far in changing the world.
If you think your words sent off to an editor or website won’t do any good, consider Betty Friedan, whose Feminine Mystique gave voice to thousands of suffering women and was instrumental in the women’s movement; consider Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which helped hundreds of people realize that slaves were human beings; consider the letter-writing campaign, launched by Dads & Daughters in 2006, that was instrumental in Hasbro’s decision not to release their risque line of Pussycat Dolls. Consider a book or letter you’ve read that has changed the way you look at the world and the people in it.
So the next time you feel ready to throw up your hands in despair or frustration, put those hands to better use by picking up a pen or sitting down at the keyboard. Imagine what you wish someone would tell the people in charge — and then, be the one who tells them.