On the anniversary of my blog – looking back

In August 2013 I was sitting in a friend’s guest room in Portland, Oregon.  My oldest son had just been diagnosed with blood cancer, lymphoma, and I had come to Portland to help him and his small family in any way I could.  A friend opened her heart and her home to me, a lovely gesture.  I was there for two weeks.  At night after a long day of visiting my son, doing grocery shopping and misc. errands for his family (they were staying in their RV on the OHSU campus), taking my 2-year-old granddaughter for a few hours so his wife could spend time with him, I came back to a small room in my friend’s home in NW Portland.

It was hot.  In August, Portland was in the 90s – five to ten degrees warmer than Seattle.  I was on the second floor (no air conditioning), I’d open the windows at night and hope the cooler air would eventually come into the room.  Sitting at the little desk in my friend’s guest room, in the middle of my master’s program in creative writing, I had assignments to complete and packets to send.  I didn’t mind the writing work; it took my mind away from the awful realization that my son had cancer and that our lives had changed forever.

But – I had writer’s block.  I would open the laptop screen, rest my fingers on the keyboard, and . . . nothing.

Yes, my son had a major illness.  My life was in turmoil.  I was out of my natural element, in a different city, in someone else’s home.  I can say now, also, I was in shock from the entire medical situation and the threat to my son’s life.

But – my private secret was that writer’s block had been my personal struggle for many years, for my entire writing life.  I got stuck 60 pages into a novel – twice; this after completing two novels (unsold) and having several of my short stories get published.   Countless short stories had been abandoned.  There had been months, or years, when I had stopped writing, unable to create the kind of work I dreamed of.  It’s immensely painful.  It always makes me feel like I’m a failure.  No matter how much success I can point to,that blank screen or sheet of paper, with no (good) ideas coming to mind, would send me into despair.

In desperation, sitting in my friend’s upper back bedroom in Portland, I opened Victoria Nelson’s On Writer’s Block and started to read.  Maybe somehow this book would finally help me to overcome the persistent, pernicious writer’s block that kept me from producing the writing I knew I wanted to create.

What did I read?  Don’t berate yourself over not writing.  Your block is your creative self saying, hold on!  Something’s not right here.  Let’s go back and figure it out.  And, Don’t bludgeon your creative self into writing what you want to be written.  Ask your creative self what it wants to write.  Invite it to the writing. (paraphrasing)

I took out a yellow pad and my Waterman fountain pen; I started a dialogue between my “organizer” self and my “creative writer” self.  (I call these two personas “A” and “B,” which is dull, but served my purpose.)  Writer A, the organizer, asked Writer B, the creative self, what it wanted.

To my surprise, Writer B said, You’ve been promising me that blog.  How come you haven’t set it up yet?

Oh my gosh.  The dialogue continued:

Writer A:  I didn’t know you wanted it so much.  I thought it was a kind of “perk,” something optional, when we got around to it.

Writer B:  You promised you would start the blog.  Why haven’t you done it?

Writer A:  I’ll do it.  Sure!  Thanks for letting me know.

That night I set up my WordPress.com blog after several weeks of putting it off.  I started with little fiction snippets using the Daily Prompts.  I wrote a blog post every day for five months.  Blog post became my warm-ups.  They helped me learn more about how to develop characters, about dialog, about working out story arcs.  A little poetry.  Eventually I stepped back from daily posting to a couple of times a week.  I’m excited to announce that it’s been four years this week.  And now I am delighted to say I have become part of a community of writing bloggers who inspire my creative process and who help me to become a better writer.

Photo by Theresa Barker.

(As a side note, I still do check-ins with Writer A and Writer B whenever I get stuck.  I have learned from Writer B what it takes for new and inventive ideas to take shape. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, doing a dialogue between “A” and “B” helps me work out what’s holding me back and what direction I want to go in next.)

This week, as I celebrate the four-year anniversary of my Lab Notes blog, I would like to go back in time to share with you a posted story from that first week, one that I think you will enjoy.  I happy to see it is very like some of my best work today.  It’s called “Missing Person’s Report”  (posted Aug. 15, 2013):

Delia Swan disappeared into the crowd on Saturday morning, August, 17, 2013. She walked out of her Brooklyn brownstone, headed for the gym as usual, when a crowd swept by and picked her up . . . (read more)

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Bonus

Here is a photo of my son in Aug. 2013, under treatment at OHSU.  The purple knitted cuff was done by my daughter, at his request, to cover the PICC line they had installed for injections.  Only a few weeks into the treatment, he was on Prednisone, which gave him a lot of energy.  He still looked very healthy (as you can see).  I miss him.

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Leslie, August 2013, photo by Theresa Barker.

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About blogging and writing!

How did you start your blog?  Do you ever struggle with Writer’s Block?  If so, how do you try to overcome it?  What advice would you give your earlier writing self?

 

66 thoughts on “On the anniversary of my blog – looking back

  1. Happy anniversary! My blog originated from the fact that none of my friends follow tennis. I had a LOT to say and no one wanted to listen. So, this became my outlet. It’s been super fun and I think my writing has improved and morphed into my own style or brand. I think my blog is pretty original! And it’s super fun (to me!).

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  2. What a lovely and timely post, I was just thinking that this August marks my second year of blogging and like you has helped me become a better writer (apparently I kept telling friends & family for 4 years that I wanted to start blogging!), your post has also touched my heart and I love the photo of your beautiful son. Thank you so much for sharing…

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  3. What a great testimony Theresa. Lots of great things happen in those “upper rooms”. Remember the Apostles. Happy 4 year anniversary and the wordpress world is better because of you or more specifically we are. Such a handsome son. One day you’ll see him again or at least this is our belief. We initially began blogging to share our journeys and the wonderful experiences we encountered. We are so glad we did because it allowed us to meet so many great people such as you. All these experiences are food for our book, some in process and some to be written. Congratulations!

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      1. You are absolutely right on that one. So many people I’ve talked to have had overlapping experiences – something that you highlight beautifully in your travels and in your blog, making the world richer. 🙂

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      2. Thank you Theresa. Yes in our travels and meeting people and really getting to know them has been such an eye opener. it has brought deeper meaning to never say never. Its not a matter of if the trials come its when. Some of the folks we meet have shared stories that amaze us. We are working on how to present these and all the story tellers have openly said feel free to share.

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    1. Oh! Dippy-Dotty Girl, I am so grateful you felt the emotions I was trying to express. It was a difficult time, and even more so when we lost him when the cancer came back six months later. 😦 He was an artist; he was always happy to hear I was writing. I’m lucky he’s still in my heart.

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      1. Theresa, I also wanted to thank you for sharing your story. I was very moved and impressed that you were able to channel so much positive energy into your blog. Sounds like you have a wonderful family. Thanks for sharing your work and being an amazing friend. You’re a very talented writer! 💕

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  4. Theresa, I find it very difficult to comment using my iPhone. But I wanted to let you know that I found the conversation between your two selves that only interesting, but familiar. I too have an organized self and the creative self and maybe that’s why I blog! And I agree about the blog and community. You’ve given me food for thought. I’m so very glad you’re blogging Happy anniversary!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh! Luanne, that is really interesting that you noticed the two different personas as well. There must be something universal there! I’ll be intrigued to hear more, hopefully, in the future! Thank you so much! 🙂

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      1. Wow. Interesting connection there – having both people within. That might be getting at a kernel of writer’s block, or resistance to writing. Those two beings inside one’s self. Hmmm! 🙂

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      2. You are not kidding. I think that being an engineer and mathematician has intensified my “editor on the shoulder” for all my life. It’s only been recently, and through this A-B dialog technique, that I’ve been able to keep from automatically having that critical voice impact my writing negatively. Not that it’s perfect now. But better! 🙂

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  5. Happy blogging anniversary Theresa. God bless your son. He looked happy despite all that was going on. Thanks to having strong and positive people like you around him I guess. Continue to stay strong and positive and keep writing! x

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  6. Happy Blogiversary! I’m glad to have found you on this platform even though our work is different, I think there are a lot of underlying principles that creatives have in common, a work block being one of them.
    I started my blog to keep track of my work, an offshoot of being a list maker, and have been at it for about five years (honestly, I’d have to check on the year count) I would tell my earlier blogging self that it is ok to change the number of times I post per week, and that the struggle of keeping the blog meaningful to me vs. what other people might want is real.
    I know I have said something like this before, but I am sorry for the loss of your son. That is a nice photo of him.

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  7. I wish there was something i could say to ease your pain but I can only marvel at your courage and fortitude. I am totally with you on A and B, except I am D and M – one that writes and the other that scoffs and goes to work 😀 Congratulations on your blogaversary 🙂

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  8. Happy blog anniversary, Theresa. Four years is a quite a while to be blogging, and look how far you have come with the blog and most importantly, your writing and the writer in you. I’ve enjoyed what you shared here, from your fictional pieces to your process as a writer – all of which I feel are very honest and down to earth.

    I started my blog because I wanted an outlet to publish my academic writings on cultural diversity. Little did I know I’d learn to write about topics that I’d never thought about and write creative non-fiction. It will be five years this October for my blog. How time flies. Like you, sometimes I have personas A and B – they’d be two voices going back and forth in my head about writing ideas and sometimes I even speak them out loud. I should get into the habit of writing such thoughts down but so many times I am lazy…so you are one up on me on that one 🙂 Your son looks very happy in that photo. Thank you so much for sharing, and he will always be there in spirit with you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mabel, What a lovely compliment, “all of which I feel are very honest and down to earth.” Thank you! ❤

      What a great origin story for your blog – how intriguing, to know you started it as an academic pursuit, and then you expanded the blogging before you knew it. Congrats on your own upcoming anniversary this fall.

      Interesting that you, notice a couple of personas in your writing also. This is turning out to be a theme among writers!

      And much thanks for the good thoughts about my son’s spirit. 🙂

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      1. The pleasure is mine, Theresa. I wish I’d discover your blog sooner, though. But always better late than never 🙂

        Looking forward to seeing where your blog is headed. Maybe you will write quite a few books in the years to come and create so many more characters 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sad to report that my son passed away 11 months after he was diagnosed, even though he followed all the treatments and we all supported him. There was some part of the cancer that roared back the week after the multi-month treatment was finished. He struggled to overcome it, but seven weeks later he succumbed – June 2014. 😦 He was such a kind person, and I loved him very much. Even now part of me can’t believe it, but another part of me knows it’s real. Thank you for asking.

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  9. Happy blog anniversary Theresa! I think I need to sit down and have a talk with my “crocheter A” and “writer B”! I’ve been so immersed in crocheting that I haven’t given a thought to writing blog posts! In fact now that I think about it my creative self has been dominating my time all summer! I certainly haven’t suffered from ‘hooker’s block’!
    My son just turned 30 last week. I am so very sorry for your loss and am inspired by your strength and courage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah! I love that you have been creative all summer. That goes along with your being outdoors or away from online activities, and I think that’s wonderful – way to go, Tami! – Thank you for your kind message about my son. It’s an awful thing. But warm thoughts from friends like you make it more bearable. 🙂

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  10. Hi Teresa, somehow I missed this post. I think I had house project for several weeks, then I was getting something done before going to my daughter’s Baby shower.
    Happy blogging anniversary to you. You started in August 2013, wow! Four years went by so fast. You made a lot of contribution to the blogging community by sharing your insights and challenge the bloggers to write. You have accomplished a lot of the writing you want to do, that is wonderful. Happy writing to you. Miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ll have to come back later and click the link to your first article – but wanted to say congrats on 4 years!!
    And I love hearing how blogs got started – I deleted the post that shared my WordPress blog start / but will post again sometime in the future – oh and it was around July 2013 when I got it going – close to your time – but I had had other blogs and websites on and off since early 2000s.
    Anyhow – your son did look strong there and I’m sorry for your loss –
    🙂

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    1. Oh, thank you for your kind note, Yvette (about my son). And I love you have all that practice with blogging. It is definitely a moving target, in my opinion. I have missed your posts! Looking forward to reading more soon! 🙂

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      1. I am honored to have read that u missed me! Seriously T – I learned a few things over my blog pause and one of them was how some readers do really just like my posts and need me in the blogosphere – sounds cheesy – but I needed to remember or know that – cos I enjoy it so much and well – forgot it has its place for others too – just like your writing does and when u share about workshops – and the way other bloggers share and inspire thru it – ya know? And over the summer I was surprised by local people who follow my blog – walked into a small group and someone asked if I was going to be blogging again – and when…. and I was like – huh? Had no idea they followed me.
        I also learned/remembered that we just “do what we do” and keep it “us” without worrying about stats and ahhhh – tres bonne

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      2. Yvette, I read your thoughtful observations yesterday, but wanted to savor them and then respond. I am thrilled you are back! And you are right, it is often only when we hear from others about our impact on them that we appreciate what we have brought to the world and to their lives. That is fantastic that you heard from local people about their affinity with your writing. Even though we may think we “write for ourselves,” there is so much more to the equation when we know there is a response in the reader. Kudos!

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      3. thanks – and you know, at one point I was overwhelmed when my blog “grew” – I am kinda private (but then very open) and well, I seriously could write for a dozen folks and feel all affirmed and like it was worth my time. maybe even one person would be enough – cos we know the impact – but it does fuel the motivation to have an audience that values you for you.

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      4. Well-said. If I’m feeling a little blue or uncertain about writing, it’s lovely to hop into the connected community and either write a piece, or read others’ pieces and add to the conversation. Interesting to hear about your experience, too!

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      5. … oh, and I was re-reading your last sentence, and I, too, have found myself bogged down by stats. It never feels good after, measuring, and quantifying, and second-guessing what I might have written that would have attracted more popularity. Finally, what I have done recently is to ignore the “visits” stats altogether, and to remind myself not to count and compare “likes,” because in fact I am thrilled when a reader takes the time to share their thoughts in a comment. That way we have connected and we have perhaps learned from each other. It’s hard to avoid measuring, though! 🙂

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      6. yes, and some comparing is good – at times – and in the right vein….
        and I know we both know that popularity never equates to quality – many times it just means something was bumped or even took off for wrong reasons.
        and all the more with good writing – even the best writing will only appeal to a certain crowd….
        well I was just reading about this and will try and share it on my blog soon – because it was so encouraging for writers.
        The info is from a book that is almost thirty years old and it was the author’s 4th edition (which to me means it was extra good from refinement) but I love this book so much and really look forward to sharing some snippets.
        anyhow, what I have to stop second-guessing is how I used my time in years past.
        I used to post super long entries in teacher forums and write pdfs to people – when I should have been putting all that time into books. ugh
        maybe not –
        cos maybe the folks that read it were meant to – and were meant to read it in that way –
        I do believe that – 🙂

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      7. The book is “on writing well” by William Zinsser and it is this 4th editon that has been the pleasant surprise.
        Turns out, I actually owned the 5th edition a long time ago – it was required for a college class in the 90s – and I think I did not even open it.
        I am going to do a post on this book, but I do not have the time to do it right now and i want to give it a little attention and share snippets – so I will come back and let you know when I make the post (just in case you wanna drop by) – but I alsolearned a lot about editions as the author noted in this 4th edition how he changed her verbiage and content to include women more and to represent both genders (cos his first three obviously did not) and so it is cool to see an author/professor share about his personal growth and his sharing teaches just as much as the chapters in his book teach….
        ttys

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      8. Oh! I’ve heard of Zinsser’s book, so I’ll look forward to your postings. What a wonderful resource for us writers. I was thinking of Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write or Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. Fun!

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      9. oh – never heard of those two books -and maybe Iu was extra surprised this book was so good because I am rather saturated with “writing tutorials” – I have been a teacher on and off for many years and so in my arsenal of resources I have numerous books – and the only reason I grabbed this one was because I was at the quarter book store and I like to get a bag for traveling or for giving away – and well, this little gem was for neither – it was for home and for moi. ha!
        and maybe it is where i am at in life right now – which is why I discarded his other book years ago (or never really even read it) but I think his voice and comments just speak to me right now…. Ill let you know when the post is done – hopefully later this month

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Oh! You hit it right there, that it speaks to you right now. That’s so interesting. That happens to me, too! I pick up a book that I tried years earlier and now it seems very relevant, which it did not before. Looking forward to your future post!

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