You Are Who You Are

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2017 (other than my Year of Austerity project, which I’d say was about 85 percent successful and has already been extended into year two) but the one goal that is always in the back of my mind is to write more and potentially make something of myself as a creative writer someday. Like tens of thousands of other wannabe writers out there, I have a gut feeling that I could be a very successful writer, but I’m not putting in the effort required to make that happen. However, over the last few years, I have been increasing the amount of writing I do, and 2017 turned out to be a quite prolific year. Here are my writing accomplishments that I feel proud of.

  • If you’ve been following me from the beginning, you might have noticed how much more I blogged this year compared to other years, especially last year. I’ve been more conscious about considering my experiences from a blogging perspective and getting my thoughts typed out. If nothing else, someday this blog will be a fun record of my life to look back on.
  • I filled three pen and paper notebooks with exercises and travel notes and random ideas that popped into my head during the day. I’ve kept a notebook in my purse or backpack and made more time on my adventures to write everything down. Doing so has helped me blog more because it’s kind of unbelievable how fast what you think are strong, meaningful thoughts fly out of your head and are lost forever unless you took note of them somewhere. I’ve also been more intentional about making time to brainstorm story ideas, which is easier to do when you always have a notebook with you.
  • I joined a critique group that meets monthly. Having a regular deadline and not wanting to waste an opportunity to get feedback on my work are huge motivators for me. I’ve written a few short stories and flash fiction pieces, like the Danielle stories I posted last week. I’ve also sketched out ideas for dozens more short stories that I haven’t put any significant work into yet.
  • Meeting someone who is on the same writing wavelength as me has also got me writing much more frequently. Ironman and I write together a few times each week, doing prompts before we call each other and reading them out loud, using them to generate new ideas or pull little tidbits of unique phrasing for reuse elsewhere. And most days when we don’t write together, I still do a prompt on my own to keep up the habit.

So even though I haven’t published anything yet (after all, I can’t publish anything if I don’t submit and I haven’t done that either), I’m happy with the progress I’ve made and I’m feeling good heading into 2018 about achieving even more. But exactly what more will look like remains to be seen. A fair amount of the writing I’ve done this year has been journaling, essays, and other introspective work, which has led to some interesting revelations about myself and my life circumstances. I have had several moments this year in which I threw down my pen in astonishment and said out loud, “Oh my God, that’s what was happening!”

One of those, which doesn’t really rise to the “pen-throwing-in-astonishment” level, is that I’m a pattern seeker. Grammar has always been a strong suit of mine and I’m a strong editor (though not always of my own work and I make no apologies for that). I can talk for days about the grammar of foreign languages that I can’t speak two words of. I’ve been freelancing as a standardized assessment question specialist for over eight years because I’m good with rubrics and rules and following specific requirements.

But somehow, I’ve never put together that I’ve been this way since childhood and I’ve always come up short on uniqueness. I’ve been down on myself at times over the past few years for not being more creative, thinking that I used to be so imaginative and inventive as a child, but the truth is, I never was. I enjoyed crafts immensely, but only ones in which I was following a pattern. I spent many evenings and weekends doing paint-by-number, latch hook, Spirograph, perler bead kits, and bake it sun catcher kits. I also enjoyed many other solitary pursuits that involved patterns: jigsaw puzzles and word games, for example.

The times I got creative, I was generally copying something I had done in school. One time we built dioramas in shoe boxes in art class, and then I went on a diorama kick, making a dozen of them. Yes, I made all kinds of them, but ultimately, I was copying that original pattern. I engaged in this obsessive copying with all kinds of art projects we did. As an adult taking part in those trendy paint-and-sip classes, I found myself irked by the people who didn’t follow the template. I might change a color or two, but I always made the painting we were supposed to make and I was disgusted by the people who went completely off the rails. I took some art classes and excelled at assignments that involved taking an existing work and modifying it somehow. But to make something completely out of my head has always been an impossible task.

Which brings me back to my writing. It’s obvious now why I struggle so much with creativity and finding a unique angle. Some parts of who I am are immutable. But I won’t allow this understanding of myself to be a deterrent. The creative writing muscle needs to be exercised and needs regular practice. I have come up with a few short story ideas this year that I believe are unparalleled in the great corpus of American writing. I’m proud of them and will likely give them another hard edit in the coming year and then start shopping them around. I’ll keep working on more ideas as well, and I’m willing to bet that I’ll have some pen-dropping moments with my fiction this coming year.

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