Category Archives: On writing

What I’ve learned from writing 799 blog posts

So this is my 800th blog post. (No, I don’t keep track of these things; WordPress does).   My thoughts on this milestone range from Holy cow, that’s a lot of writing  to I never thought I’d last this long to Let’s go get some cannoli to celebrate!  (see Blog Post #792).

I also  thought, I guess I’ve learned a thing or two about blogging over the last five years, haven’t I?  And since many of my readers are bloggers too, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned just in case it proves helpful to others.  (It’s certainly  less messy than trying to share a celebratory cannoli, though I do believe life is exponentially better when it includes Italian desserts.)  So here it is: What I’ve Learned From Writing 799 Blog Posts.

1.  What you write about may change over time.  When I started in 2008, I’d just published a book about Mary, and my blog was very focused on Mary and how she can relate to modern women.  But as time passed and my second child began to exit the baby stage, my focus became less about one particular mother and more about motherhood in general.   That change happened organically; I just went with it.

2. If your blog focus changes, the name might need to change.  The Blog Formerly Known as Mary and Me became Random Acts of Momness in early July of 2011.  I owe the name entirely to Scott, who turned to me suddenly in the middle of watching a Fourth of July parade and said ,”I have the perfect new name for your blog.”  (See why I love him?).

3.  Blogs can be the catalyst for getting to know some pretty fantastic people.  In some cases, you actually get to meet them in the flesh (hi, Chris!); in most cases, my blog-buddies are people I have never seen face-to-face, people whose voices I could never identify.   But their comments led to actual email conversations, and now I count many of them as true friends.   I had no idea that would happen when I started blogging.  It’s been a beautiful surprise.

4.  Blogging energy,  like anything, ebbs and flows.  There are days where I’m so into this whole thing that I could post something every day, and then there are other times where I feel like the blogging well has run so dry that if you were to drop a bucket into it, the ensuing clank would echo until Kingdom Come.  Sometimes, you need to take a little  hiatus and let the rainwater fill you up again.  I’ve found that it always does.

That said, I do have the mental escape hatch that if this ever stops being fun for a long period of time, I can give it up. After all, no one is making me do this but me.  (But if I stopped blogging, would I miss it?  Yes, I probably would.)

5.  You have to figure out what you’re comfortable sharing, and not.  I made the call early on not to post pictures of my kids on the blog, for their privacy’s sake.  (God knows I share enough embarrassing stories about them as it is.)   Your line may be different, and that’s great — you just need to decide where it is.

6.  When it comes to developing your craft as a writer, blogging is both good and bad.  On the plus side, blogging can let you develop a totally authentic voice.  If you aren’t trying to match the style of a certain publication or editorial vision, you are free to let yourself go and write however the heck you want to write.  Blogging has helped me solidify my own personal voice, and that’s nice.

That said, there is a reason why most published material goes through an editorial process: we aren’t always able to see what works and what doesn’t in our own writing.  If you don’t have someone else giving you feedback, it can be hard to grow as a writer.  Anytime someone else edits my work, I learn … a lot.  When  you are publishing your own stuff, it can be hard to get that feedback unless you actively solicit it from others.

7.  Go with your enthusiasm.  My blog is about  motherhood and spirituality, but not every post fits under that umbrella.  Sometimes, I am so into something that I just have to share it.   (And I’ve never had a reader ask, “Why the heck are you writing about Jane Austen when you are supposed to be a blog about motherhood?”)

8.  A blog is a zillion times more interesting with readers’ comments  … so what would you add to this list?  If you are a blogger too, whether you’ve written one post or one thousand, what have you learned from blogging?  I’d love to  have you share your wisdom in the comments field below.  (And  please stick around for the next 800 posts!).

Writing about our parents

My relationship with my parents has always been a solid one.   I like to say that in the cosmic lottery of parents, my sister and I hit the jackpot — Mom and Dad  are kind, wise, ethical people whose love and counsel have helped me through more than one rocky period in my life.    I think I always took that for granted when I was younger, but it’s fascinating how, as an adult, I have learned to think about them more consciously, to trace all the ways that their lived example has shaped and influenced me.  And that in turn makes me think about the ways that I am influencing my own kids.

In the spirit of that, I wanted to share this great article  called Go Ahead: Write About Your Parents, Again.  It’s by Tarn Wilson, whose beautiful guest-post about her mom was featured on this very blog last fall.  It’s geared towards writers, but there’s wisdom for everyone here because it really explores the impact of our parents on our lives.  One great quote:

All cultures have their origin stories, their creation myths, which reveal their foundational beliefs about human nature, good and evil, power hierarchies, and the qualities of a hero. Our family story is our personal origin story. When we examine it, we see more clearly the assumptions—faulty or inspired—by which we live.

If you blog or journal or write about your life, it’s totally worth a read.   If you are a parent — or if you’ve ever had a parent — it’s also totally worth a read.   Guaranteed to get you thinking.

The Mother and Sister of the Artist by Berthe Morisot

Mary as a model for writing, and living

Intriguing words from the writer Madeline L’Engle:

What would have happened to Mary (and to all the rest of us) if she had said No to the angel?  She was free to do so.  But she said Yes.  She was obedient, and the artist, too, must be obedient to the command of the work, knowing that this involves long hours of research, of throwing out a month’s work, of going back to the beginning, or, sometimes, scrapping the whole thing.  The artist, like Mary, is free to say No.  When a shoddy novel is published the writer is rejecting the obedient response, taking the easy way out. But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening.  And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand.

— Excerpt from Madeline L’Engle: Herself

P.S.  Just in time for the Feast of the Assumption, Amazon has posted the “Look Inside this Book” feature for Mary and Me.  Have you read it yet?  No?  Take a peek!


Are you a coffee person, or a tea person?

I’m both, honestly.   I love coffee for its delicious darkness (especially when it’s really strong, the way my husband makes it).  It is the fuel that gets me going in the morning, the brew that gets me out of the murkiness of sleep and into some semblance of focused coherence.   And there are times when I’ll drink it in the evening, too.  On those rare occasions when Scott and I escape for a dinner date, there is nothing like a nice decaf cappuccino to round out the meal.

But for the most part, if it’s not the morning, then I’m drinking tea.    This is especially true when I’m writing.  There is just something about a cup of tea, its steam rising up like incense, that gets my creativity going.  Perhaps this is because drinking tea is, by its very nature, a slow and meditative process; you have to sip it, not gulp it, and that leisurely pace is very conductive to writing. Perhaps it’s because I associate tea with the English authors I’ve loved ever since I was a child, when I devoured The Secret Garden and the books of Noel Streatfeild.  Tea has an emotional resonance for me, reminding me of those stories where characters routinely stopped for the afternoon ritual around the pot.  And there is something innately soothing about dunking a teabag in a cup of hot water, seeing the dark flavor spread like ink.   It’s very familiar, but still beautiful.

So what about you?  Are you a coffee person, a tea person, or a hybrid like me? Is there some other beverage that fuels your creativity or your quiet hours?

The writer’s notebook

Blame the nuns at my elementary school, but I have a passion for copybooks. After all those years of using them for religion notes and sentence diagramming, they feel like home to me.  And when I have some time to scribble freely, they are my go-to notebook of choice.

There’s a lot to be said for these books.  They don’t have those annoying metal spirals that get flattened and then stick out at crazy angles, catching on fabric and tender forearms.  Their pages are lined, which helps me keep my terrible handwriting somewhat in check.  (My penmanship is one area in which the  nuns did not leave a lasting legacy.)  The copybooks naturally lie flat, so I don’t have to lean an  elbow on the pages as I write.  And I find they are just the right size to tuck into a bag — they’ll even fit into my purse.

And though I sometimes write directly onto my laptop, there is no denying that my writer is often looser, more daring and more edgy, when I am filling pages in my copybook.   When it doesn’t look like something that I will send to an editor, I’m freer to write what Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, memorably calls “shitty first drafts.”   It is a fact of writing that sometimes you have to write a lot of dross to get to the really good ideas.  It is also a fact, at least in my world, that it is pretty easy to get obsessed on the details when I’m writing my first draft on the computer.  I go back and re-read and polish endlessly, and the writing gets a little stunted from too much overattention too early in the game.  Far better to let my thoughts and handwriting go wild and loopy, and then to stop and come up for air and look back and go, “Wow.  Some of that is actually good.”

Plus the nice thing about these notebooks is that they invite decoration.  Over the last few years, I’ve taken to gluing pictures onto the covers.  It’s a great way to use pretty cards that people send me, cards that I want to keep but don’t want to stick into a box somewhere.  Since I am a visual learner, I can often remember the contents of a notebook by what’s on the cover.  (“The red cover with the Nancy Drew postcards on it — that was when I was back at school after Matthew’s birth.”)  These copybooks work, on lots of levels.

But maybe that’s just me, with my own Catholic school background and unruly handwriting and random assortment of cute cards.   Every author is unique, and in the end, the best writer’s tools are the ones that get you writing … and that keep you writing.