Part of Writing Non-Fiction is Not Writing

averie-woodard-122274Spring has flung me across the country multiple times already and it’s only mid-April. I knew my work life and social life were both going to ramp up at the same time (showers, events, travel) but I didn’t realize just how much it was going to put my ever beloved writing life on hold. You don’t really know how much you love to stare at a blank screen, willing yourself to write something brilliant, until it’s ripped away from you for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks can feel like a lifetime.

It was in a particularly bad moment, when I was spiralling about not writing enough, not writing ever, potentially never again (?!), that my boyfriend pointed out that part of being a writer is also living. And that is even more important for someone like me, who writes non-fiction. My stories are the stories that I have lived. My stories exist because I was not alone in front of a computer screen at every chance I had. They exist because I went on dates, and traveled with my friends, and broke some bones, and almost lost my brother. They exist because I was off living, not worrying about getting a certain essay completed.

When the travel calmed a bit, and I was able to see two beautiful weeks ahead of me with time to write, I came across a Self Care Challenge. 7 days worth of Self Care. A challenge to love ourselves and give ourselves the time we need. How freakin’ radical. It came at the perfect time because I was so frantic last week to get back to work on my essays and my poetry that I was willing to forego a much needed haircut, to lock myself up and get the work done. I was desperate to be left alone and work. I put every other single need– work, side gigs, writing, family, friends, dog– ahead of my own. I was willing to put myself at the very bottom of the list because that’s what I’ve always done. Seeing that so many people struggled with Self Care last week helped me to at least try and take care of myself too.

Outside of taking care of myself I have to remind myself that I am so very lucky to find myself traveling, visiting friends, having things to celebrate. Yes, it does take me away from my writing but in the end it is enriching my life with memories and lessons and inspirations that will ultimately help me when I do finally find those glorious couple of hours to sit and pen something. Why is it so hard for us to see what’s full in our lives? Why are we trained to always see lack? Almost every bucket of our lives could be full to the brim, but it is the one that is empty that we worry about. I am so guilty of this and it’s embarrassing to admit to the greater public.

But I am hoping there are others out there, that feel overwhelmed as well. Overwhelmed with not just life’s annoyances, but overwhelmed with goodness too. And maybe together we can find some tactics to stay grateful for a little bit longer. Live in our present a little bit more. And accept that we cannot be all things at all times and let each part of us (sister, girlfriend, employee, writer, friend, daughter, SELF) have their moments to shine, and let the others take a step back. The others are still awake, still learning lessons that can be applied in any situation.

It’s a painful cliche–but I have found that the older I get the more I understand these cliches–but life is meant to be lived. And even though figuring out how to do that with success is killing me (I will figure this out one day!) it still feels worth it. Remarkable.

Now tell me, how often do you forgive yourself for having a little fun? How often do you avoid something fun because of your work, your “dreams”, your diet? How do you find balance between all the yous there are, and when do you find time for self care? FILL ME IN!

Essay: Sad French Movies

Publicly sharing my non-fiction is literally what my nightmares are made up of. But in my constant fight to open myself to new possibilities and to grow as a writer I have to actually let me writing be read. I am starting a writing class next week on Narrative, taught by one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Chloe Caldwell. Since I had to submit a piece to be accepted and this one made the cut, I figured it was safe to share.

SAD FRENCH MOVIES

There is a night you take me to see a Sad French Movie. Catherine Deneuve is in it and every line of the movie is sung. It’s like a musical, but more so. It’s about falling in love and how life then pulls everything apart piece by piece, like the unraveling of a sweater by each thread. You are always taking me to movies at Film Forum, and you are always forgetting the card that gets us discounted snacks. So we never get snacks. I watch a lot of snackless movies there in those old musty seats.

The movie ends at a snowy gas station and the couple can’t be together because they’re married to other people. They’re all so sad but they’re still singing every word that leaves their mouths. Still singing in the snow. Still singing even though their love failed. The ending makes me sad too, but I guess that is the point of a Sad French Movie, to make life feel very heavy.

Though I am feeling very down, you must be feeling romantic because we walk for three avenues to find a place to have a bottle of red. We never do stuff like this, but we’ve been broke since we got together so we don’t know how to do stuff like this. As soon as the first glass hits my bloodstream, I am weepy. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I feel stuck. Where am I supposed to go? I forget how weepy red wine makes me. The restaurant is Argentinean and we are the only people not eating.

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Tales of Directionless Personal Branding

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If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you’ll notice that I have re-branded three times, changed the content twice as much as that, and fluctuated between writing every day and once a month and well, never. Running this blog has been a strange journey and I am constantly re-evaluating it and trying to determine what it can be.

The only thing that keeps me going is that every once in awhile, I write something that resonates. That moves someone. They write to me and say, “Wow, that really helped me.” Those tiny moments fuel me forward even when I have no idea what I will say next or do next.

If you didn’t know, my day job is spent branding and marketing independent hotels. I do know how to brand. I do know how to market a brand. But branding and marketing myself? I find it impossible because I change and grow and even sometimes, decline. I strive to be authentic and truthful about who I am and what I’m doing, so maintaining a brand that is no longer who I am, or just a piece of who I am feels fake and painful.

I am so impressed with the millions of bloggers out there that brand themselves so well and are so honed into what they want to share and do. I am impressed every day. And I think about the time and energy they put into managing their brand and get tired. People do manage to create authentic brands based on who they are… it’s just embarrassingly hard for me to do so. I also struggle daily with the idea of becoming a “lifestyle” blog or brand. While I LOVE and ADORE my life, because I’ve built it piece by piece, I hardly think the masses would be impressed and envious of it. But who am I to say?

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IG: @CheapCourage

 

Of course the irony of all this is it’s nearly impossible to be alive in 2017 and not have a personal brand. Social Media requires all of us to brand ourselves whether we know so or not. What news stories we share on Facebook, the jokes we tell on Twitter, the filters we use on Snapchat… these things become our respective brands. Obviously we are editing, to a degree, what we choose to SHOW about our lives and what we choose to HIDE about our lives. And in turn we all judge each other based on these very small shared pieces of ourselves.

Some of us are very good at branding ourselves, some of us are not. Some of us can monetize our lifestyle, and some of us can not. So if I am to look at it that way, as I should, it isn’t that I don’t have a personal brand, it’s that I do not know what I want out of it. That is where my confusion, my fuzziness, my lost sense of online self comes from.

So a few Sundays ago I sat and thought about it. Why was I unhappy or confused with my personal brand? If I was simply happy to interact with friends and family and occasionally spark a political discussion or make a joke, then I’d be all set. But that’s not what I want. If I wanted to be known for photos of my outfits or my makeup or my fitness regimen, I would switch gears and feature only those types of images, leave the other stuff out, and focus the lens. But that’s not what I want.

What I want, and what I too often lose sight of is this: I want people to read my writing. I want to share my writing. I want to influence people with my words. The goal of gaining followers on Instagram or WordPress or even Facebook is to funnel more readers to my work and to engage with them. And I’m not talking about my blogs, I mean my essays and my poetry. The things I write and write and write and never share because of fear. (My god I’ve written about fear on here more times than I can count.)

And so for me to build a cohesive brand that serves me… I’m going to have to start sharing some writing. I am terrified to do so. Baby steps of course… but it is possible. And all I had to do, and what I would strongly suggest to anyone going through a hard time with a creative project, is repeat to myself over and over again, “What do I want out of this?”

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IG: @CheapCourage

Working On: Staying Sane

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I honestly can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post. I knew it had been awhile but REALLY?! A month? What I have I been doing with myself… Wait! I can actually answer that question this time. Really! Normally, these weird sabbaticals wind up with me returning with an embarrassed grin and little to say about my absence. But I do have answers this time.

  1. The Election – The election did one positive for me. It woke me up out of the dream state I had been living in for the past couple of years. I’ve been finding new ways to give back, donating more money than ever before, and wrapping my mind around how I can be the best ally to my loved ones that will need my support, not just for the next 4 years, but forever. To those people, I’m sorry that I’ve been sleeping. I am here now.
  2. National Novel Writing Month – Nov. 1st marked the beginning of yet another NaNoWriMo. If you know me well, you know that I typically engage in this insane challenge and pump out 50,000 words in a month. While that is challenging in its own way, it wasn’t what I needed this year. I tend to pump out a lot of work and then never touch it again. I abandon my writing. So this year I challenged myself to STICK with pieces, edit pieces, finalize pieces, and get to cracking on finished stuff to submit with wild abandon. It went well. I spent most of the month reading work from the past 3 years and finding the work worth keeping and moving forward.
  3. Emotionally Drained – If you didn’t know, I write mostly non-fiction. About my life. So the reading of ALL of my work for the month also meant I reflected on a lot of not so great parts of my life. I had to confront a lot of different demons (namely who I used to be) this past month and it was EXHAUSTING. But that was part of the work. And so I did it. That said, the last thing I wanted to do after reading my poor writing about my own life was share more of me– and that definitely meant I skipped the blog a lot.
  4. Holiday/Wedding/Birthday Circuit – This is the busiest time of the year for so many of us. Social obligations really ramp up, which leaves little time (or focus) on projects like these.
  5. Promotion – Work has been absolutely crazy as well. The promotion is going well but that means I am incredibly busy, most of the time.

So that is where I’ve been–mentally and physically– and it has proven to be a real challenge for me. Editing is slow work. I rarely feel as though I’ve made progress at the end of a working session these days. It’s so different than just pounding out whatever you want and then leaving it on a drive somewhere to grow moldy. My pieces are going to take a lot of readings and sessions to get them right. I’m learning such patience.

I’ve lost control over the organized part of my life since the beginning of November. My planner is in disarray, I barely know if I am coming or going, and I just try and do as much as I can with my head on straight and hope for the best with the rest of it. I know that this will all calm down after the holidays, and that I will be able to restructure my goals and my life. And I am clinging to that knowledge!

Tell me, how as your holiday season been going to so far? What’s something you’ve stopped doing because of it all? What are your plans to get back on track? I’d love to learn some new tactics for focusing around this time of year.

Until next time. (Which I hope is soon!)

 

Call For Guest Bloggers

I am so excited to announce that Cheap Courage is now accepting guest bloggers!

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Below you will find your basic standards for post submissions… these are the things that will make it easier for me to vet writing and schedule posts. The most important thing is that the post reflect the Cheap Courage lifestyle. That means it is not only a reflection of your life so far, but most importantly, it’s all about doing NEW stuff! The stuff that scares you. Write about anything and everything but keep the heart of this blog in mind. 

We are here to grow. We are here to challenge ourselves. We are here to laugh. We are here to find our courage when all hope is lost.

That’s it! Follow the submission guidelines below and you’re golden!

  • Read the Cheap Courage About page to familiarize yourself with what I do here.
  • Spin around in a circle.
  • If you would prefer to pitch before you write a post, please do the following: 
    • Write a 3-5 sentence pitch about the post and why it’s a good fit for Cheap Courage.
    • Send me one other blog (or essay or journal entry or love letter… anything so I know you have a fairly decent grasp of the English language) to read.
    • Write a nice bio.
    • Put it all in an e-mail to me at kusekamanda@gmail.com with the subject line: “I have Cheap Courage and that makes me brave”.
  • If you have a post written and you’d like me to share it, please do the following:
    • Send me only original posts, I am happy to link to your site, your Instagram, your dog’s Facebook, whatever! But I will only take originals.
    • Keep the post between 500-1,000 words. 800 tends to be a personal sweet spot I love.
    • Write a nice bio.
    • Put it all in an e-mail to me at kusekamanda@gmail.com with the subject line: “I have Cheap Courage and that makes me brave”.

I absolutely, positively cannot wait to start working with all of you!