This is a departure from Finding Health and Wellness, but bear with me: Through elementary school and high school I wrote a lot of fiction, a lot of stories. I had imagination and told stories with dialogue and narrative. I didn't need to “shut up and write”, I just did because I had stuff to say. My parents still have a copy of a short story I wrote called “The Elephant's Party” with 2 friends in Grade 3. I remember working on it in the school library.
When I was applying to universities I applied to both a Creative Writing program and a Journalism program. I ended up in Mass Communications, where I did a lot of report & thesis writing and fell in love with that in a way that I didn't in high school. The essays I enjoyed most in high school were reports on books I enjoyed and on topics I enjoyed researching, and then in University when I was more often allowed to choose my own topic, I thrived. I spent hours in the library pouring through books noting THEIR sources and going to secondary sources in both my university's library and the library of the “competing” university (both universities had cheer songs that mocked the other). The internet was JUST coming of age and so internet research wasn't as robust as it is now.
I thought of this yesterday as I was completing a 10-day challenge called the Shut Up And Writeathon, a free 10-day program for coaches, healers & self-employed professionals. It does what it says, encouraging participants to Shut Up And Write!
Mailing Lists Galore & Lack of Inbox Chaos
One of the many people whose newsletters I subscribe to is Stella Orange, leads these challenges. I've been subscribed to her newsletter since September 2015 and it appears that I'd signed up for some of her free classes and workshops in the past but I honestly don't remember sticking with them. I tend to get overwhelmed. I can tell you that I'm an email pack rat.
In Gmail, I assign a label to everyone whose newsletters I subscribe to and then do one of three things: Read and delete, read and archive with the label, or don't read but archive with the label anyway. I have 82 of Stella's emails. Eventually one of her programs had to stick. Stella has lead the Shut Up and Write challenge (minus “athon” it's my SEO keyword here) at other times in the past but I never signed up before because it didn't resonate.
“The Shut Up And Writeathon is a free 10-day program that takes you to the heart of whatever is NOT WORKING in your marketing, so you can face it, defuse it, and come up with your own original solution to creating great clients!“, says her website.
It didn't seem right.
Then this time I thought, “What the hell?”
And, as it turned out, this time the Shut Up and Writeathon complemented the work I've been doing on myself to get over my fear of using my voice and being visible. Maybe that's why I was guided to do it.
I didn't do 10 consecutive days of Shut Up And Write, but I did every prompt. Sometimes I skipped a day, then wrote two, or I'd do two days in a row, catch up and miss a day.
I struggled with day 1, but not so much because of the starting part, but the prompt: Freestyle write, then burn it.
My response to that was, “But, I journal every day, and I don't want to write anything I'll want to keep if I've got to burn it.” I thought about taking a photo of my writing but I thought that wouldn't count, and would defeat the purpose. It reminded me of the concept of the “Shitty first draft”, which Brene Brown wrote about in some of her books, crediting Anne Lamott's book Bird By Bird.
I found that some days the prompts seemed tricky, and that's one of the reasons I didn't write every day. I needed time to let it marinate.
The day 10 writing prompt is this, here, now. I wrote much of it in my head yesterday, when I chose family time over writing. The prompt was this:
Write a 500-word blog post telling a story about your Shut Up And Writeathon experience, with a headline and bulleted list with 5 things you learned.
The prompt is brilliant. See, by writing this, I'm promoting Stella to my readers. And by posting a link to this post in the Writeathon Facebook group later, I'm getting more eyes to my blog. (Hi Writeathoners, please sign up for my newsletter.)
Here I go, starting the assignment “for real” (after 800 words):
What I learned from the Shut Up and Writeathon
I learned that business writing isn't completely unlike the creative writing that I used to love doing. This series of writing prompts got me back in touch with that.
A reminder that writing is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Bring some fun and joy into it, even if it's not fun. In your own writing you can choose enjoyable topics. In writing for others, ask yourself where you can find joy in it.
I learned that I still have a knack for dialogue, evidenced in Day 8 when I was to have a conversation, on paper, with my “mean wolf” (you could call it your ego or the devil on your shoulder). Big Bertha made 3 pop culture references. Not quite Gilmore Girls cadence (see what I did there?). I also referred to improv “Yes, and” rules. I've never taken an improv class, but I read a lot and know about it. “Yes, and” should be an important part of the writing process. Consider open-ended words and be open to possibilities. Use your inner dialogue.
Use your inner dialogue!
When you keep pen to paper and don't overthink it, marvelous, unexpected things can appear on the page.
I used my notes from Day 9 + reflection for this. The prompt: “In the dance with your mean wolf, what’s been the most helpful to you? What hasn’t been helpful? What are 3 new disciplines or instructions you have for yourself when it comes to dancing with your mean wolf, going forward?”
On Day 5 I ended up with some ideas for this website. Writing while seated on my couch next to my bookshelf on Day 4, I pulled Amy Poehler's Yes Please off the shelf. opened to the following bookmarked page, and transcribed a paragraph. Then I shared the page with my SUAW Facebook group.
It was a wonderful experience, and now I'm over 1200 words, so I'll leave you here.
(Next challenge: Self-editing.)