New Project: #500WED with Lift.do

500WED

Many years ago, my grandmother bought me a subscription to Cricket Magazine. Her college roommate, Lucy Johnston Sypher, was featured frequently in the magazine and she thought it would be great for a kid who read as much as I did. I loved Cricket Magazine and devoured it cover-to-cover each month.

Six months later, I decided to enter their monthly poetry contest. I wrote an acrostic poem with the word “mountain” about the lovely mountains of New Mexico. I didn’t win. But writing became something I wanted to do – so I did it, often badly – for the next twenty years.

Then I got sober, and writing left me. The words simply vanished. It was agonizing.

Luckily, I had help: Rachel Simon, my first true writing mentor. As my brain began to heal from drug and alcohol abuse, Rachel guided me back to writing. Some of this was in a professional category – she and I were both event coordinators for a bookstore chain, and I had to write my event calendar each month, and she quite literally held my hand through the process – and some was simply because she believed in me (Rachel has an excellent book about writing as well). Never underestimate the power of someone you admire believing in you.

Today writing comes easily to me. Because I earn my living writing, much of what I write isn’t particularly creative, but I put words on paper (metaphorically, of course, it’s all digital these days) each and every day. I am blessed to be living as a writer forty years after I wrote that first poem.

One of the things Rachel told me early on has stuck with me. “In order to really call yourself a writer,” she said, “you need to write at least seven hours a week.” Today I write more like 25 hours a week, but that an-hour-a-day idea helped me focus as I grew as a writer. For over a decade this blog has provided my place to spend that hour of writing creatively, and I’m proud of the writing I’ve done here.

After some time, I wanted to share the gift Rachel gave me. At a couple of years sober, I began teaching creative writing to women living in long-term drug and alcohol rehabs. The time I spent with those women was such a gift! For myriad reasons, writing was hard for them. For some it was because they felt their education wasn’t complete, others believe they were stupid, and a few had undiagnosed learning issues. Spending weeks helping them find the capacity to trust themselves enough to write creatively was powerfully rewarding. I still have a folder of their amazing writing that I often refer to for inspiration.

Recently, the good folks at Lift asked me if I’d like to do that sort of work again, and I thought once more of Rachel. Last year she came out to see me give a presentation and she told me again how gifted she thought I was, and how she can’t wait for me to publish my book (the book that is still in process, alas). I eagerly agree to partner with Lift to create a month-long writing challenge that will start (very soon) on September 1st.

Called “500 Words Every Day” (#500WED is the hashtag), the challenge itself is free (as is registering at Lift). Each day I’ll share a writing prompt, and participants will be asked to write 500 words on that prompt (or anything else they’d like to write about). The goal isn’t to complete a novel or any particular project (unless you’d like it to be), but to fall in love with writing. To trust yourself, and to believe in yourself as a writer. The project will become available on September 1st, so go quickly.

If you’d like, you can also sign up for personalized coaching from me. I’ll be able to digitally hold your hand as you embark on this project, much like Rachel held mine back in 1996.

I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with other writers again. Feel free to email me if you have any questions!

On Taking Back My Story: Thoughts on #BlogHer14 and Ten Years of Blogging

I’m at the BlogHer conference in San Jose. It’s the tenth BlogHer conference (and my seventh trip to the conference) and, coincidentally, this year I also celebrated ten years of being a blogger. There’s a strong sense here of blogging “growing up,” if you will, as well as many questions about what’s next. Today some of the sessions I plan to attend will be focusing on just this subject – what’s next for the Blogosphere – and I’m looking forward to it because I honestly don’t know what is next for me either.

These days much of my creative and writing energies is geared toward corporate clients with the goal to make the client – not me – shine. I buckled down and faced the reality that in order to succeed I had to stop thinking like a blogger and started thinking like a business owner. Making that decision at the beginning of the year shifted my thinking and my approach and now that work is paying off as my client base grows. Work is really, really good and I’m proud as hell about it.

So I’m here, at BlogHer, and I’m wondering what is down the road for me as a blogger. Last night as I listened to the readers during the Voices of the Year (an event where bloggers read posts selected by a panel of judges), I was reminded again how powerful blogging can be, how it can build a community, and how the power of story can be transformative and magical. I know, deep in my heart, that blogging is still revolutionary and important – particularly blogging by women. Blogging still matters.

Yet at the same time, I’m not sure it matters if I blog anymore. I’m not saying this to be dramatic or for pats on the back or to elicit pity – trust me, I am really and truly okay with my life as it is, whether or not I continue to blog. But there are new torchbearers telling the stories that need to be told out there, and maybe it’s their turn. Maybe it’s time for an old head like me to stand down, and get out of the way to let others shine in the light and community of the blogging world.

Yet, of course, here I am on my own personal blog, thinking my thoughts out loud. For ten years I have processed the world this way, and in many ways blogging for me is a bit like breathing, a bit like sitting down with a group of friends and saying the things that need to be said, even the things that are foolish and foolhardy and insignificant and hypocritical.

But the problem with thinking out loud on a blog is this: once you hit publish, you cease to own your own story. And I think, quite possibly, that it is time for me to take my story back.

Because the internet is bigger now that it was a decade ago, and sharing on my personal blog is no longer like sitting down with just a few friends. There is a much bigger audience reading and much of that audience lacks compassion and has zero interest in giving the writer the benefit of the doubt or understanding that what is shared is just a tiny sliver of life and not the whole picture.

I started blogging because I felt isolated and alone in infertility, and blogging offered me a community. It transformed my life and gave me so, so much that I have zero regrets. Telling my story allowed me to survive and has helped other people and I am so happy that I was able to do so. I have made friends from this community that I treasure beyond all else and thank God for every single day.

But I know that I got lost for a while. Blogging was the wild, wild west and seemed full of opportunities and money and fame and I saw the opportunity to finally live full time as a writer and fulfill my childhood dreams. I saw that brass ring and I reached for it and became singularly focused on it in a way that was probably dysfunctional and ultimately detrimental. And then I saw others reach the goals I thought I wanted and I became bitter and hungry and did and said plenty of shit I regret. I became a person I didn’t like very much. I made stupid choices, and I wasn’t always the best member of this community, and I acted unprofessionally at times, and that I do regret.

Usually people get their emotional well being together and then begin making professional changes, and I did just that early in my recovery. This time, however, it was the shifting of my professional focus that has pushed me to look long and hard at what is working in my life and what isn’t.

It probably sounds like bullshit, but I’ve been working to extricate myself from the content farm that was Babble for the last year or so as well as shake off the “mommy blogger” label, so the changes at Babble came at just the right time and made it easy to quit, finally. And now that I have the mental space to look long and hard at what I’m doing across the board, I have more choices to make.

What’s next for blogging? I have plenty of ideas and thoughts about that. But as to what is next for Cecily, I just don’t know. But I do know one thing: the next decade will look a lot different, and I’m pretty fucking happy about it.

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Bitter {Just Write}

Today I feel life pressing down on me, smothering me in practical concerns and unreasonable worry. I am gifted at mixing the two – the practical and the unreasonable – into a toxic soup that poisons my heart and send twinges through my body, leaving me both overwhelmed and frustrating. This cycle is quickly followed by self-shaming, where I tell myself to get over it, that feelings aren’t always facts, and that my perceptions of reality aren’t always accurate, and that I need to step back and reevaluate whenever I find myself in this place yet again.

Thank GOD I’ve been immersing myself in recovery. Without it I’d be lost. But even with the bolstering that recovery gives me I find myself saying things out loud that would be better left inside my brain so no one, including me, can see how mean spirited I can be sometimes.

The other day I stood in line behind a young woman, tall and strong and slender, and the epitome of the American beauty standard. I stood there, feeling bitter and old and fat. As I walked away from her I said to Charlie, “I didn’t get to look like her, not even for a moment, not even in my youth. So unfair.” Charlie looked surprised, because of course he knew me when I was young – we met when I was only 19 – and he still, today, finds me beautiful. Hearing that kind of bitterness from me is unusual, and I felt badly even as I said it, because I know that gorgeous young woman is just as plagued with self-doubt as any other woman.

And then I hate myself for being so bitter, deepening the cycle of loathing. And then I beat myself up for that too. Sometimes my brain is a cesspool of idiocy. It’s time for another meeting; I’ve got to keep peeling this onion.

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I’m going go meta for a second, talking about blogging. I’m gearing up to go to my seventh BlogHer conference next week, and I’m really excited about it. I’m not speaking, I’m not sponsored by anyone (going on my own time), and while I am participating with the BlogHer buddy/mentor project, I’m free to just attend because I love writing and reading blogs. And thanks to making the decision this week to no longer write for Babble at all, this year I am attending as a hobbyist, not a professional blogger – like I did in 2008, my first conference.

Interesting stuff has happened in the blogging world, and it’s going to morph and change once again. The money aspect is moving away and the search engines are prioritizing long form content again and these are good things. While we’re not going to see the end of the Buzzfeed-ication of the internet, I do believe that the good solid writing that exists in the blogging world will once again float to the top. That stories will be told, artfully, and we will once again be entranced by the writings of our fellow bloggers. I believe this with my whole heart. Now, I’m not saying I’ll be one of those artful storytellers, but I do know that I will be here sharing my words and standing by them. And this makes me happy.

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Once again, I’m participating in Heather’s Just Write project, so this all streamed out of my brain with little to no editing. Happy Tuesday to you!