Category Archives: Writing Life

Back in the Groove

After finishing my graduate work in Creative Writing, I was completely sapped, and didn’t write anything for a good long while. (Except personal letters, I’m a dedicated pen pal.) I share this because several others who have graduated from the low-residency program at WVWC I attended have had similar dry spells.

My personal “writer’s block” was compounded when ten months after graduating, I relinquished a dedicated audience of an average 40,000 readers a month that took me ten years to build. Who is my audience now? Three hundred facebook page followers? Ouch. What next for Stumptown Publishing? What next for me as a creative? As a writer? I had, by giving up the magazine and trimming my personal friends list to develop a professional page following–pretty much wiped the audience slate clean. All I can say is, “It had to be done.”

Three years. Three. Years. Three years I’ve been stuck in a creative impasse. Three years of adult coloring books, crappy writing prompt responses, bullet journal work to prompt something… anything. No sewing, no writing, no physical response to minute flashes of inspiration.

I rearranged furniture. Got a new laptop. New pens, new notebooks, new nail polish, new hair color, new hair cut. New clothes. Three years seeking any method that would crack the dam and open the flow again. I’m a project person who had no creative projects or output for 1095 days.

I asked questions. Am I good enough? Am I an academic? Have I written myself out? Is the well dry? What to do with my business? What to do with what I’ve done? Should I teach? Seek a publisher? Self-publish? What to do with what sits unfinished? What now?

Damn. It’s been a long three years.

Last month, the block cracked. I updated my web site and relaunched my quarterly email newsletter. (You can sign up for that on here on this web site.) Behind the scenes I began working on a book–a collection of my favorite columns from ten years of Two-Lane Livin’. I expect to have it available before Christmas.

I also have a book previously published that I’ll be reissuing–a collection of my columns from four years as a small-town newspaper reporter and columnist. I’ll be adding thoughts and reflections to those for this issue. I expect that to be completed by spring.

I have two other books (a poetry collection and a photo book) I will also be reissuing at some point, and I’m drafting a non-fiction how-to book I had outlined before entering graduate school.

In the background, the long piece from my thesis sits. It’s been through two revisions, and has been presented to three editors/reviewers for feedback. It’s percolating right now, and I’m okay with that.

And–I’m at the early, early phase of a multimedia project. A gonna-take-me-all-winter project. A gonna-have-to-do-some-research project. But I’m totally lit about it. It’s a new creative/career direction I’ve been presented little hints about over the last few years when nothing else was happening.

This project-driven person has got some projects going! W00t! I finally got my groove back.

You have no idea how good it feels to be working (creatively) again.

How I got Control of my Facebook Addiction

(Originally posted on Facebook, with a different summation.)

Two years ago, about this time, we made the decision to “kill da wabbit” and end the ten-year run of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. At that time, I had over two thousand followers of my personal facebook profile. Up until that moment, I had an “I’ll friend anybody” attitude about it. I also had a terrible facebook addiction.

If you’ve been following along, then you know I began cutting folks from my friends list then. (And before folks get outta joint, I did have a method to this madness. Some might take it personally, but I’m here to tell ya, it had more to do with me than anyone else.)

First, I removed the Facebook app from my cell phone. When you work from home, it’s over the internet, but when you have to go out into the world again, it costs data. So, only the facebook messenger app travels with me.

Second, I spent MONTHS urging people to head over to my “professional” page at https://www.facebook.com/LHayesMinney/. I also set up a public Instagram profile, which is tied to my facebook page. (Instagram, IMHO, is a kindler, gentler place where people have to use photos and can’t go on angry or political rants. It also forces me to use photographs and limits my angry and political rants. While my page isn’t entirely “professional” I am less likely to “show my ass” there. There’s a side to me that the world doesn’t need to see, there’s a side that you “friends” see, then there’s the side that sends memes by private message because only people who know and love me need to know that side.)

Third, I started cutting complete strangers from the personal friends list. I spent much time going, “Who are you?” Looking at profiles to see if they were someone I could recognize. If not, cut. I also started building a friend list on Instagram, and if someone was posting the same to both — I unfriended from facebook and friended them on Instagram instead.

Fourth, I completely stopped taking new friend requests. If I did friend someone, I sent them a message to go like my page, then often, unfriended them again.

Then, I started culling lurkers. Politicos. Haters, Drama Queens, Trolls, Negative Nannies. Whiners. People who post pictures of abused animals. High school friends who didn’t speak to me then and wouldn’t speak to me now. I started unfollowing Pages I really didn’t care about and unfollowing certain friends to see if I actually missed seeing their posts.

At that point, I had trimmed my friends list to about 500. My time spent scrolling down the Facebook feed was also significantly diminished. I had removed the wheat from the chaff.

Then, my Aunt Sybil died. I have always tried (not always successfully) to behave myself on facebook because Aunt Sybil and Mother were watching. Now, I do have a post setting that is “Friends Except Mother and Sybil,” but very rarely did I use it. But knowing that Mother and Sybil are watching is the main reason for the PG setting of all my posts. (I also don’t post many political posts because the family I love is divided on many issues. And I still love them, of course.)

I started thinking more about watching who was friending me and why. Who watches? Who likes all my posts? Who likes only the really good posts? Who is stirring pots IRL because of my posts? Who, among my friend list, was actually interacting? Who was following me, supporting me? (All writers must consider their audience.)

I unfriended (nearly all of) my library board members. Not because of any real issue or event, but because I think that just makes a healthier workplace. They are welcome to follow my facebook page where I maintain some personal control, but I don’t want them to witness me when I rant. I don’t want to know their politics, they don’t need to know mine. (This is healthy for a work environment, this is necessary for a good library environment.)

I friend very few, if any, library patrons. Same reason I unfriended my library board members, but also–friending library patrons on facebook gives them 24/7 access to the librarian. This, my dearies, is a privilege I am not about to toss out willy-nilly. The library has a facebook page, I check it when I’m at work. If you don’t get the answer you want at 2 a.m., then you’ll have to just wait.

At this point, the Facebook algorithm got interesting. I was seeing posts I was interested in. Pictures of faces I love, posts about issues I’m interested in, people I know. I worried for a while that I might only be selecting folks who see the world the way I do, but that didn’t happen. Yes, there’s a good selection of like-minded folks on the list, but I will not go so far as to say my list is all people who have the same opinions I do.

I got to a point after that, where I made actual, personal choices on my friend list. Did I miss the ones I unfollowed? For several, I followed them again. Some, I unfriended. Who do I enjoy following? Who is funny? Interesting? Educational? Who are my storytellers? Who am I investing my time and energy in?

Who, of those who I unfriended, asked to be friended again? (Answer=3)

So today, nearly two years later, there are 95 of you left. My goal was always to get below 100. One hundred people I follow or check in on regularly. I can manage that. Less than a hundred people who get to witness that I’m kinda weird, and a little dark, and occasionally snarky.

There are days when I get on facebook and spend far too much time (like today). And I still check facebook daily, but sometimes I don’t. I don’t jump and run to respond to notifications anymore, I don’t gauge my post success by the number of likes (the record was 374) and I rarely spend more than 30 minutes total on any given day.

I’m blogging more (not much, but more), I’m writing more, and I’m working on a collection of my work as a book. I spend more time with family and enjoy more beauty on Instagram and less attitude on Facebook. I haven’t gone cold turkey, but it has changed my life.

 

Back to Blogging

One of the authors on a writing web site I follow noted that she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. She says, we block because we don’t know what we want to say next.

Come the end of November, it will be two years since we killed Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, a monthly publication we produced for a decade.  When we ended the magazine, we were at the peak of our readership, reaching nearly 40,000 readers monthly with 18,000 print copies circulated around central West Virginia. We never could print enough copies.

Of course, I had a monthly column in the magazine, a continuing conversation I had with readers for ten years.

And when the magazine ended, I lost that audience and lost that conversation. For two years following, I did not know what to say. Who would I be talking to?

Perhaps I was reluctant to admit we failed the magazine. We could not rustle up enough advertising revenue to keep it alive. Perhaps I didn’t want to admit that I felt trapped by the business–its monthly deadlines, the routine of it, the box I had put around myself as a writer and career woman. I knew, for the last two years of the publication, that the magazine I had once dreamed of creating was something I didn’t want any more. The simple country Iife I had toted and promoted for ten years was feeling restrictive, limiting, and too much of a struggle.

I had hoped to create a publication that readers would love, and we did. That was the fun part. Keeping it financially viable with advertising income in an economically depressed region was a huge pain in the ass. That was no fun at all.

I did not realize until we discontinued the magazine, how much of a burden it was on us. Nor did I realize, until the deed was done, how much I would miss our readers. How much, as a writer, I needed that audience. I needed that conversation. (One-sided as it was.)

I was recently interviewed by an artist working on a project that she waited 30 years to start. We talked about how Two-Lane Livin’ started (an idea in a bubble bath) and how it ended (with phone calls to this day from readers who miss it).  We talked about my graduate school writing experiences, and then she asked me, “What do you want to do with your writing now?”

And the question that’s been percolating in the back of my mind for two years finally answered: I’d like to have an audience again. Not facebook followers, not sporadic literary journals, not a book (although that’s coming). I don’t want to deal with writing as a business right now, I don’t want to scour submission guidelines, subject my work to an editor, consider marketing tactics, web site SEO, cover photos, paper stock, sales tax.

I just want to write and be read. I want to start that conversation again, between me and the world out there, whoever cares to participate. For a writer, what other goal is there but to write – and to be read?

I have been blogging off and on, for 16 years. The archives on this site alone go back to 2006. Sixteen years. Good lord. That goes back to before I was a newspaper reporter, before I was a columnist, before I was a magazine publisher, graduate student, college professor, librarian. Who knows what is in those archives? I don’t. Who knows what new will be added? What’s this blog about? I don’t know that yet either. The photos I’ve put in the page give a review of some of the main points of my recent life — porch sitting, caregiving, library life, creative play, pictures of Daisy, our beagle. This is my space for expression — I cannot predict what is to come.

Blogs, they say, should have a niche. They should use photos, SEO, keywords, hashtags, make regular entries, include external links — there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.  I may or may not adhere to those guidelines.  I’m an Amazon Affiliate and have a Google Adsense account, so I might put those in play at some point, but the point here is to put the words out there, and hope folks read it.

Blogs should allow commenting…  Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to moderate comments or take crappy criticism from strangers. (I’ll post links to these entries on my facebook page and profile. You can comment there if you’d like.)

Since it already has nearly 400 subscribers, I’m also reviving my email newsletter. It was originally intended to be monthly, but I think seasonal/sporadic is a more realistic description.  Highlights folks might have missed. Favorite entries, work published elsewhere. You can sign up in the form in the right-hand column–I’m preparing the fall issue to send out some time next week. You can also sign up here.

So, here we go again–writing via the blogosphere. I hope you’ll join the conversation (one-sided as it may be).