Step by Step, Word by Word

I have sought counsel from eight separate people regarding a fairly difficult situation in my life. Despite their words of “I’m sorry,” there are is always the saddening “I wish I could help,” which is exactly the opposite of what I wish I could hear.

When my parents were both diagnosed with cancer several years ago, I felt a similar sort of melancholy and loneliness. Despite friends and teachers and neighbors rallying around my brothers and I, all they could really say was “I wish I could help.” It wasn’t that their hugs and prayers weren’t welcome, it was that I was so desperate for a solution, for something better, and the people I relied on couldn’t provide me that.

I turned to writing, delving into fictional worlds in my head where I could control what happened. I didn’t have to wait around for doctors or on blipping heart monitors to tell me what was going on, I could simply write and choose what happened. Most of what I wrote didn’t deal with cancer. Most of what I wrote had nothing to do with my personal life at all, but it felt good to finally have a say in what came next. It didn’t fix anything with my parents’ health (which eventually got better, by the way, and they have both been cancer-free for several years), but it did help in a way that hugs never could. It let me shut off the depression that was my world for a few moments and transfer into a new one. It helped me get through to the other side of the time I affectionately call the Dark Years.

For my job now, I write all day long. I write tweets and news releases and snippets for an upcoming magazine. I spend my day typing away on a computer, stringing words together to tell a story (sometimes even if that means it’s only 140 characters).

So when I get home and open up my laptop, my fingers hesitate more than they did several years ago. My eyes and my hands are tired, and my brain could use a break from being creative. I want to shut off—and I do. Cue the binge-watching world of Netflix. It’s great for my work life, I come in renewed in the morning and ready to work. But as far as the conflict that’s occurring in my life that I’m continually wrestling with in my head, I’ve never really stepped away. In TV land, I can’t control what happens. I watch as tensions flare, and am seemingly more restless when I come out the other side.

I desperately need the reprieve of sinking my teeth—or fingers, rather—into a world commandeered by me. I want to be the maestro so that I can actually fix a problem instead of just living in one. And, as they have been known to do lately, my words are failing me.

When writing/life fails you, I think the best thing you can do is to take it as it comes. I can’t control everything, but I can control how much effort I put into solving things. I can sit down daily and try to write, even if I only ever muster a sentence or two. I can brainstorm of a peaceful solution to turmoil in my life, and actively pursue those options. I can try to remind myself that I won’t be on the struggle bus forever. Sometimes even that’s hard to remember, but then I just think of the words of John Lennon, who once said:

Everything will be okay in the end. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. 

And so trying to march on and attempting to write I shall, one word at a time.

Lauren is a social media professional, writer, and editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

Going Home + Gaining Perspective

Three weeks ago today I was celebrating the epic Michigan State football win. I had dropped a little more than I should have at Target, but it was OK. Michigan State had just beat our much hated rivals and I was loving my new responsibilities at work. Things were good.

Flash forward to today: My job is expiring in a month and I just returned from home after an unfortunate family health scare. This blog post is the first time I’m letting it all sink in (and beginning to regret those Target purchases).

Oh, how much life can change in such little time!

But when these major changes happen, it’s one of the times when my writing flows most freely and I become most inspired.

I began this post last week when I was home helping take care of my sister and had begun writing about how easy it was to write when I was home. I spent a lot of time in my childhood bedroom, sifting through old journals, swapping old tales with family members, and waiting at the hospital.

I would have thought for sure that the jam packed week (oh yeah, I was trying to put in a full 40 hour work week remotely too) would have stunted the creative juices, but amidst all of the stress and activities, when I’m surrounded by comforting things, food, and family I’m the most uninhibited in my writing.

In Milwaukee and Ann Arbor where I’ve been living for the most part over the past year, I was couch hopping and wasn’t comfortable. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t even think about writing. Every time I sat down in front of my computer to blog or write creatively I froze. This wasn’t my couch, my apartment, my coffee shop. I wasn’t home.

I was devastated earlier this week when I found out I would be leaving my job at the end of 2013. But then I realized I would most likely be heading home unless a job materializes in Milwaukee in the next three weeks. I’ll be surrounded by my father’s cooking, my mother’s big bear hugs, dinners with my grandparents, my favorite stuffed animals and the love and comfort of home.

So while three weeks ago I was blissfully happy and yet unable to write much of anything in my free time, today I find myself a little sad and yet overcome with the desire to write.

And my Spartans are winning. Things are on their way to being good.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in internal communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

Stuck in Process

I had this interview once where they asked me about my writing experience.

I couldn’t very well say, “I could send you this short story I wrote in seventh grade about this  boy wizard, but like, it’s not a ripoff of Harry Potter or anything. Pinky swear.” And so I shrugged and said I had focused more on editing and the publishing process in college, not focusing on the words that floated around in my head and always found themselves scribbled on some paper. Fixing someone else’s words was exhilarating; coming up with my own (and showing them to people) was terrifying.

Later, the interviewer told me one of the main reasons I didn’t get the job was because I had very little writing experience.

For someone who has always considered themselves a word connoisseur, this deflated me. I didn’t have writing experience. Nothing that counted, anyway. All of the short stories and attempts-at-novels and plot lines I had written down counted for nothing my resume.

Theory: Maybe it was around the time that I decided to turn into an adult that I lost my creativity.

I had notebooks filling my childhood desk at home and another one I always kept in my bag during college for when the idea struck. I pulled it out only a few times in college. I’d rather go to Beer Rhetorics, or watch the Bachelorette, or shop on Grand River. I didn’t sit at the computer so much anymore, slamming away on the keyboard for hours at a time, my fingers not moving fast enough to satiate what my brain was telling me to say. I didn’t really notice until I started interviewing for big girl jobs that I had grown up from the idealistic “writer,” and had grown into the “editor.” I had transitioned from one world of words to the other without even realizing it.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE editing. I freelance edit, I edit at my job, I even edit some of Vanessa’s stuff from time to time.

I guess I’m having a hard time adjusting to this “correctness” problem. I can’t write a shitty first draft. I can’t get lost in the tale anymore; I get lost in the syntax, the commas.

Vanessa recently challenged me to get back into writing. I have been dipping my toes into it again, testing the water and seeing how it feels. It feels okay, I guess. A little like it used to, but still foreign and forced.

I haven’t changed all that much from over a month ago. I’m trying to put words to paper, but dragging my heels every step of the way. I can practically taste the inspiration — I have the desire to continue, the general idea of what I want this unwritten tale to be — but I can’t wrap my fingers around it.

So I’m reaching out to you, writers. What tactics do you use to get yourself out of a funk?

Lauren is a social media guru/web content manager/overall awesome editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

We’re Writers, We’re Artists

I was in the middle of writing a blog post about blogging. And then I saw this…

And stopped everything.

I tossed aside my intellectual musings about meta-ness and stopped thinking so hard. I let my thoughts run away from me and appreciated my writing, Mary Lambert’s writing, VALCAN’s writing, you-person-I-don’t-know-yet-reads-my-blog’s writing for the art forms that they are.

Even though I collect a paycheck from a major corporation in exchange for stringing words and commas together, I’m a writer and I’m an artist. Ali’s a writer, front-end developer AND an artist. Vanessa is a digital media specialist, novelist AND an artist, Allegra’s a queer and gender studies rhetorician AND an artist. Chelsea, Noelle and Lauren are writers and artists too.

Our writing projects, be they trivial blog posts such as this, yet-to-be-completed novels, songs, poems, screenplays, cookbooks, websites, are all works of art. And yet I take these projects for granted. When I walk into my shared apartment, too tired to turn on the microwave to heat up leftover Tom-Yum soup, after a long day defending grammar and style in a power suit, I forget that I’m an artist. I forget that I have the resources and skills to finish that screenplay I started and turn it into something. I forget that I could turn these characters dancing around in my imagination into characters in a book instead.

Listening to Mary Lambert (of Same Love w/Macklemore fame) put an extraordinarily powerful poem to music, her calculated and honest articulation, and the beauty of the video reminds me that I could create something meaningful, emotional, and artful too.

I write, I create art. Sometimes all I need for inspiration is to remember that.

NOTE: Let’s take a sec and talk about Mary Lambert’s message. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why any woman or girl should feel negatively about herself. If you know someone who is struggling with body image, self-worth, depressive thoughts, anxiety, or anything that’s making them feel less than the stellar person that they are, help ’em out. Here’s a website that will get you/them started: To Write Love on Her Arms.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

In Exchange for Inspiration

I’ve been feeling the fuzzy blanket of bland nothingness Lauren so expertly articulated in her search for inspiration. I write all day. All kinds of projects. All kinds of copy. But when I go home, not a single creative thought enters my mind. Some days I can’t even figure out what to eat for dinner, and if you know me, you knows that’s very unusual.

But there’s an upside to this creative sinkhole I’ve found myself in. I refuse to blame my job because my job is awesome. I love it. And I love what it provides me with. Experience, new friendships, personal growth, sure, yes, of course. But also: cash. The freedom to buy whatever I want (within reason), whenever I want.

So, in exchange for inspiration, I’ve made a few purchases.

Keen walking sandals, $67 on sale. Because walking gives me ideas, and my old Keen sandals smelled.

Four prints from Society6, $84 with free shipping. Because if I can’t come up with my own ideas, the least I can do is support artists who can.

Copper mug, 20 cents, half off. Because Value World is great and Moscow mules are delicious.

Vodka, ginger beer, other accouterment, $20-ish. Because fancy hipster drinks don’t come cheap. Trying to trick myself into creativity. Trying to drink myself into creativity?

Sushi, $20. Because some days you need expensive sushi dinners. And when you have a job, you get to treat yo self. Sinking into creativity-loss denial with expensive, expertly arranged raw fish is just an added bonus.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere really. Not until I find that inspiration again. Except maybe on a walk in my new sandals.

Chelsea currently works as a copywriter at a software company. She is a syntax enthusiast and always enjoys a good dinner party.