I have only recently realized how irritating this practice must have been for my teachers and peers. Sorry, teachers and peers.
|This is pretty much what I looked like, only not as cute. (via)|
Needless to say, I loved writing. I loved it from the moment I could do it, and I remember elementary school classrooms being a place where this passion was very well-nurtured. At that age, I was daily encouraged, as we all were, to imagine, to dream up realities and find a way to convey them to the rest of the world.
Second grade, for whatever reason, especially stands out to me as a time where I grew significantly in these abilities. Before class every day, my teacher (shout out to Ms. Lopez!) would write a prompt on the board, and when we arrived, we would pull out our journals, write, and then have some sharing time (otherwise known as The Christy Show). These prompts would sometimes be as simple as, "What is your favorite food, and why?" but others would require deeper, more critical thinking. I especially loved the ones along the lines of, "Write a letter to the President and tell him what you think he needs to be focusing on right now." I was all over a prompt where I got to tell someone what to do.
There were some days where Ms. Lopez would forego a prompt and instead just tell us to do some "free-writing" where we could write about basically anything. I remember hating this. I'd look around the room at everyone's quick-moving pencils, their minds clearly racing with ideas while mine was despicably empty. I'd watch Ms. Lopez at her desk, bleary-eyed and obviously in no condition to come up with a decent prompt, and I would resent her for it. I wanted a prompt, damnit, not some willy nilly free-for-all.
While writing is something I love, something I'm good at, generating ideas is really challenging for me. I consider myself to be creative, but I am the type of creative who innovates preexisting concepts. I need just a little something-something to get me started. I guarantee you that in my lifetime I will never be an inventor of anything.
This is an interesting challenge for me as a blogger. Since so much of what I now write goes directly out to the world, I always feel a pressure to produce really solid, unique content on a regular basis. Sometimes blogging feels a lot like free-writing in Ms. Lopez's class. It's simply too much freedom. I could write anything: a list of all of my favorite fruits and vegetables, a review of a movie or book or salad dressing, a post with pictures of my eyebrows before and after tweezing. I need direction. I need limitations or my brain just breaks and I sit there entranced by the flashing cursor on an empty screen. It happens a lot.
Knowing this about me, Daniel bought me a really great gift recently.
This, friends, is a book full of prompts, and if you're anything like me, I suggest you go get one for yourself right now.
Like Ms. Lopez's prompts, some are simple...
|Except, what the hell? Beat(nik) soup?|
Others require a bit more critical thinking...
Also, some of them are flat weird.
But I love this big, fat book. It's gotten me through some tough days, both as a writer and as a person, and it has served as a reminder of what makes writing really great -- ideas and imagination. That's it.
I'm a fan of stuff like this because somewhere along the path of my education, prompts stopped being as much of a thing. Suddenly, in high school I was practicing writing for standardized tests instead of creating worlds and impossible realities. I was drafting college essays and cover letters, things that have a discernible weight of anxiety attached to them, instead of writing fake letters to the president. Writing stopped being a place to imagine and it turned into a place to accomplish. I feel that tension in my writing to this day.
The thing is, while I'm no longer begging a teacher for attention with my arm raised in the air, I'm still that annoying kid who just wants to have my words heard. That's what this whole blogging thing is about on some level. Every blogger was that weird kid in elementary school class who always wanted to read aloud. There, the secret's out.
And most of us want to be successful, which is not inherently a bad thing. I would caution bloggers, however, as I would caution myself, that in the pursuit of finding some variation of achievement, we cannot lose that heightened sense of creativity that we experienced during 2nd grade journal time. I am not saying that we should set our blog posts in mythical realms or spend time inventing new bands of superheroes (though if you are doing that, please tell me because I want to read your blog right now). What I mean is that we should be thoughtful enough to this process of writing to really say something with our platforms, even if that something is "I made a sweater" or "Here's why I love french bulldogs." Whatever you're saying, it should be authentically you and it should be executed creatively.
What I feel like we often do instead is frantically look around at our neighbors to see what they are doing. Just like me on free-writing day in 2nd grade, we panic in finding what to write about while the rest of the world seems to be on the right track. We start to look at the success of fellow bloggers, and we try to imitate their same formula.
I'm going to get real here, and it might sound catty, but please trust my intentions. There are some majorly popular, majorly boring blogs out there. Yeah, I said it. I've seen blogs, and I'm sure you have too, with thousands of followers, but that lack a real sense of purpose or ingenuity. Maybe a recipe here, maybe an embedded YouTube video there, but at the end of the day, it's nothing to write home about.
And I think these blogs are dangerous because A) they expect no inkling of intelligence from their readership and B) they make the rest of us feel like we need to alter everything we are doing. When I start to discover the recipe for this kind of blogging success, it is so tempting to want to follow a similar path. I am constantly checking myself -- is this really what I want to write, or is this what I think people want to read?
It's a battle, and I am not always winning it, but when I'm absolutely not sure, I go to my prompts. I pretend I'm seven again. I write from the heart, and I see what comes out. I think blogging can be this simple, and I would challenge all of us to take the pressure off of ourselves, and do what we do best -- write. Screw those other guys. They probably have, like, I don't know, a fungus or something. We don't want to be like them anyway.
I wrote this more for myself than for anyone else in particular, but if this is ringing true for you, I would love to hear some of your thoughts. How do you stay honest in your writing?