So, I’m in grad school right now. I’m getting a Master of Liberal Studies with an emphasis on Creative Writing. (Mock my MLS all you want, it’s part-time so I can still work and it’s free because my job is amazing.) However, I didn’t start this degree with writing as an emphasis. One of the classes I had to take was a course on journaling. I was SUPER afraid it would be this just massive love-fest where people vomited out their angst all over each other and we call sat around and cried and patted each other on the ass.
I was SO wrong.
While there was some angsty writing, there was also some of the most personal and touching stories that came without sentimentality or bathos from some of the most diverse groups of people I’ve ever met. I can’t talk about their tales here, because what happens in journaling class stays in journaling class, but some of them were beautiful. Even the less well-written ones were honest in a way that still made them amazing. And we were all only moved to tears once, on pretty much the last day, by some amazing and touching stories about loss and love and immigration and body image and war.
Also, we had cookies one time. Damn good cookies.
It was in this class that I had a professor that said, hey, you should write. And I was like, Nah…. and he was like, No. Seriously. Think about it. And I did. And it was from then that I decided that, yes, I would give in to Meg’s suggestion that I write for APW on a regular basis and stop making her feed my ego and go, “No, seriously, it’ll be good.” And it was then that I decided to go (almost) full-force with my blog. And it was then that I decided that I would eventually pursue writing professionally, if not as a sole career.
Because one professor said I did not suck.
I’m a sucker for a compliment.
Anyway, the following is one of my last papers for that class, and entry on my journey in journaling. (Gag. I know…..) But read it and then go to the link within and read about the five steps on Positively Present and tell me where YOUR five step will take you. (And actually, go there and poke around a bit. It’s kind of amazing blog that will make you think, be more kind and get fired up about life in general. Go ahead, it’s okay, I’ll wait here.)
Let’s be inspirational today!
My journey in journaling has been surprising and exhilarating. Writing has always been something that I just did and could do, like knowing how to make an omelet or make a piercing two-fingered whistle. It didn’t take any particular amount of effort; not everyone could do it, but other people could and some of those other people could do it much better. Until my college days, writing was just another piece of my “skill set” that recruiters are always talking about, a bullet point on my list of “hobbies/likes” on my MySpace page. It was during my freshman playwriting class that I discovered that writing could be something more – a career, a meaningful artistic expression, a joy. That knowledge filled me up and fired me up, but I never went anywhere. Theatre overshadowed writing and it became just another toy in my bag of tricks.
I feel this journaling class has helped me pull my writing out that bag, dust it off and try make it a featured part of the act. I want to be a Writer, not just someone who writes. But HOW? This class has also added a frustration to my life as I attempt to find a way to make it fit in with all the new additions that I’ve added over the last year, such as a new husband, job, condo, degree. I’ve been doing a lot of searching, in my soul and online, and I came across a list on a blog that struck me as simply beautiful and beautifully simple. I’m not a fan of pithy, new-agey, touchy-feely, get-in-tune-with-the-REAL-you articles or books, but this particular post struck me with its simplicity and practicality. The list was described for the author’s purposes, but the basic outline can be used by anyone. Plus, it’s a list and I love me some lists.
Five little steps that can make an enormous impact. It’s terrifying.
Believing has been a struggle. I believe in myself, but there’s still that part of me that picks away at my confidence when I’m not looking, like a maniacal dentist happily chipping away at tartar. A little self-doubt is healthy; it keeps you in check and keeps you from being lazy. But like that dentist, go too far and you bleed. I must believe in myself. I know I can do this. I also must believe in others, that when someone tells me that my work is good, that it is good. No explanations, no apologies, no distrust in their judgment. It’s good, I’m good, that’s it. I must believe that my family and friends will be there for me, supporting me and my decisions. I also need to believe in life, God and fate. There’s beauty in all three and while I am not completely governed by them, recognizing and respecting their power can only make me a better Writer and a better person.
Now, thinking? I’ve got that down pat. I think more than I need to. My mind is always going, shifting through to-do lists, random scenarios, past and future argument strategies, favorite memories; they’re all there, whirling around and occasionally ramming into each other like bumper cars. This step needs to be a little more concrete, however. I need to think of all the advantages and disadvantages of being a Writer. The ways it’ll enrich and hinder my life. How the title will fit in with my other titles of Student, Wife, Employee and eventually, Mother. Can all those personalities work within me? Can they all get along? Will they lead me to end up being just one: Divorced and Unemployed Lady on the Couch Eating Ben & Jerry’s? I also need to think about how I can get there. What are the methods, what are my options? What KIND of Writer can I be? Can I be more than one? Does my writing just have one voice, or is it literally multi-lingual? Lots of questions and not many answers yet. Story of my life.
No, it WAS the story of my life. Not anymore. Now I have five steps.
I’m very good at the next step, plotting. As a list-maker, I’m excellent at narrowing down the steps in order to achieve whatever goal it is I’m trying to conquer, whether it’s a career change or a grocery list for a holiday meal. This step also involves research and planning, two other of my favorite things. I’m not organized, but I love to try and pretend to be as I make copious amounts of lists and outlines and then promptly lose them or forget I wrote them in the first place. This step is also the most fun for me because it will involve so many possibilities. You can Believe and Think, but once you start to Plot, things begin to get more real and concrete. Every list written, story outlined and agent researched will be infused with the excitement of opportunity and anticipation. Will THIS LIST be the ONE, the one that will change my life? Does this blurb on submission guidelines contain the magic address that houses my first magazine publication? Is it really about to happen?
Of course, all that planning and listing and Plotting are to no avail when I get to my trusty old roadblock, Act. Actually acting on my dreams is the one place I always stop at; the one spot on the map where I pull a Bugs Bunny and make a wrong turn at Albuquerque. But this time, I need to change it up a bit, plan better, make sure that nothing shiny distracts me from my goal. This time, when I Act, I will employ my family and friends as caretakers of the plan. I’ve already spoken to them about the possibility of me being a Writer and they are all very encouraging and supportive, but I need them to keep me accountable. Just the fact that they know I am going to try makes me want to actually go for it even more, if only for the fact that I don’t want my possible writing career to be brought up as an anecdote at the bar or family holidays. “Hey, whatever happened to that book you were going to write?” has to be one of the most humiliating sentences, fraught with perceived recriminations and implications on my skill or willpower. This step is where my discipline will come in, where I make sure that writing becomes part of my daily habits, just like brushing my teeth and taking my pills. This is the hard step, the tough step, the step where all the actual work goes in without much immediate reward. This step demands product and producing it makes me nervous. But I’ve got to do it, otherwise what was the point of the other three steps?
And without Act, there cannot be Create. Technically I could count everything I said in Act as Create, but I think Create is more than that. By Acting, I’m paving the way to Create. Create is not exactly the last step, I think it is part of ALL the steps. By even starting the process, I am Creating a new life. When I Believe, I am Creating the reality of my dreams of having an artistic job that I love and that gives me freedom. As I Think, I am Creating a world where I can express myself and touch strangers lives, even for the duration of 297 pages or the space of a webpage. While I Act, I am Creating an environment where I might be able to have a job and raise a child without juggling daycare and sitters and afterschool programs. By the time I finish Steps One through Four, Step Five is already complete.
So while this list of “5 Steps to the Awesomeness of Alyssa” is not life-changing, being in this class has been. Writing is solitary, but producing works to be published is not. To be a writer, you need a pen; to be a Writer, you need a reader; to be a GOOD Writer, you need other Writers to help guide you along the process. It’s an invaluable source and one that I don’t think that can be done without. I’m grateful for the chance to have my words work-shopped and I will be looking for opportunities to do so again in the future. Just as soon as I get that pesky Step Four taken care of…