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Writers, have you ever taken a break from social media?

This summer I have taken a bit of a social media sabbatical. Only after a couple of months now have I started dipping into Twitter, and, to a lesser extent, Facebook, and have yet to add the apps back to my phone.

Next week I’m going to write more on my reasons and what, if anything, I’ve learned, but first I’d love to know if others have done the same. Reply in the comments, drop me an email, or answer on Twitter or Facebook (yes, I see the irony).

Have you ever taken a break—complete or partial—from social media? What was the result?

See also Kristen Lamb’sBreaking Facebook Dependence—How to Create an Enduring Author Brand.”

Social media apps

Header photo credit: Jason Howie, Social Media apps, (CC BY 2.0)

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Writers: Stop pretending to yourselves to be anything but what you are

Why do we write?

It’s a question I’ve thought about a lot and one I’ve asked here before. I always come back to the same answer:

I write because life is more meaningful when I do.

As August begins—and on a Monday (!), which adds an extra oomph to the feeling of starting anew—we can pay attention this month to how we feel 1) when we write, 2) when we have written, and, perhaps most important, 2) when we have not written. This summer I’m working on strengthening my commitment to a life spent writing, with a goal to write 500 new words per day, and here’s what I’m finding: On those days when I don’t write, I go to bed feeling worse than on the days when I do, regardless of what else happens during the day.

Photo credit: Denise Krebs, 2012-259 A Writing Six-Word Story, (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: Denise Krebs,2012-259 A Writing Six-Word Story, (CC BY 2.0)

This is the part that has surprised me the most: the feeling of well-being (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with what I’ve written, what genre or topic, whether it is for publication or just for myself, or even whether what I wrote was any good. It depends only on accepting the challenge of the blank page. Somehow the very act of writing makes me feel more myself, more authentic, more grounded, and better able to tackle the rest of what life offers.

J. K. Rowling offers a clue as to why this may be the case in her 2008 Harvard Commencement speech (video at end of post):

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” ~ J. K. Rowling [emphasis added]

In order to grasp fully Rowling’s decision at that point in her life, we need to allow our imaginations to go back in time before the world had heard the words “Harry Potter” (difficult, I know). When she committed herself to writing as a way to be who she was and to do work that mattered to her, it was not with the guarantee or perhaps even dream that she would create a cast of characters and books that would define a generation. That wasn’t the point at all—the success was only a byproduct. The turning point was that she fully accepted that she was born to be a writer and changed her life to be more in line with that realization.

What will it take for us to stop pretending to be anything but who we are, and to start directing energy into what really matters to us? What does that mean for your daily life?

The topic for Wednesday’s post will be social media, especially the idea of taking a social media sabbatical. Until then, I’d love to hear why you write.

See also

The Purpose of Your Writing Life

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Grandma’s Ball of String

The following flash non-fiction essay was first published in the December 2015 issue of HippocampusThis version includes a few links and photographs of my grandmother. And, yes, the header photo is the ball of string.

String Theory

The ball of string fits reassuringly in my hand, smaller than a softball but just bigger than a baseball. Its perfect sphericity seems impossible against my palm, testament to the care and diligence with which it was wound.

For a long time after I brought it home from my grandmother’s kitchen, where it had been stored in a coffee can in a low cupboard drawer, the orb sat as a kind of museum piece on a bookshelf in my house. The string itself is aged, not quite yellow but certainly not white, smoother than one might expect, and tied together in pieces of about two feet with knots so secure that only magic could pry them apart. I have looked in every hardware store I pass for string of the exact diameter and strength and texture, without success.

Grandma, born in 1902 and the youngest of 10 children, is the girl with the white bow in her hair

Grandma, born 1902 and the youngest of 10 children, is the girl with the white bow in her hair. Her father left his New York state home just shy of his 16th birthday to fight in the Civil War.

In recent years I have begun to use the ball with college students in a classroom creativity activity that requires exactly one yard of string. Each time I cut three feet of string, I am struck that my grandmother would have added her final piece long before any of these students were born. Will I ever get to its center?

Do I want to?

Grandma, late 1920s

Grandma, late 1920s

Grandma Louise raised four children on a farm and ranch in Todd County, South Dakota, the third poorest county in the United States per capita income, with a population density of six residents per square mile. My parents lived on the same farm, so I spent much of my early years at Grandma’s compact, white, two-story house, especially after the birth of my brother when I was two. He was colicky, my mother was depressed, and it was good for all involved for my chatty, impulsive self to be out from underfoot.

Tucked near the center of my being are long, delicious, formative hours watching Grandma roll dough for cinnamon rolls and wipe the flour from her hands onto her ever-present faded, calico apron that slipped over her head and tied loosely in a bow at the small of her back. From her I learned how to embroider dish towels and crochet potholders and iron men’s handkerchiefs. Together we listened to a radio program called Kitchen-Klatter, during which I would be shushed several times as I impatiently waited for it to end.

Yours truly, with Grandma and Grandpa

Yours truly, with Grandma and Grandpa

While rarely idle, she would have never described herself as “too busy.” She was a farmer’s wife, accustomed to waiting for bread dough to rise and cookies to bake, for crops to sprout, cattle to fatten, alfalfa to dry and wheat to ripen. For children and grandchildren to grow up.

Office of War Information poster, 1943.

Office of War Information poster, 1943.

A member of the “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” generation, Grandma repurposed long before repurposing was a thing (logophiles take note: the word “repurpose” was coined in 1984). The women of my youth never remodeled for the sake of remodeling nor bought anything new before the old was useless. Threadbare work shirts that could no longer protect from the sun willed their buttons to the button jar, their fabric to rags and quilts. Gravy turned any leftovers into feasts. Even dryer lint was transformed into stuffing for pincushions.

String was repurposed perhaps more than anything else. In an era before cellophane tape or plastic bags, grocers wrapped food in brown paper and string for its journey home. Parcels to be mailed were similarly packaged, as were holiday gifts. As I use my grandmother’s string one yard at a time, my appreciation swells for the simple and useful and for the cumulative significance of time. I imagine her unwrapping each package in her measured way, pulling the string taut to remove any kinks, knotting it expertly to the waiting naked end, then rewrapping the new addition tightly before returning it to the coffee can. Later she would cut new pieces to bind turkey legs or secure climbing bean plants to poles or show children how to play Cat’s Cradle or Jacob’s Ladder or telephone with tin cans. Then another package, another measure of string, and it all would start again.

In String Theory, everything—planets, trees, human beings, computers, energy—is ultimately the same at its core, a simple, one-dimensional, vibrating thread that unifies the universe. I cup my ball of string in my hands—hands that look with each passing year more and more like my grandmother’s, age spots and all—and the theory of everything slowly unfolds.


Do you write about family papers and other historical records, or know someone who does? A new anthology of family narratives currently is calling for submissions of creative nonfiction, essays, and poetry based on family diaries, letters, and other artifacts. Click here for more information. Deadline: September 1, 2016.

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