“I don’t really know how things will turn out until I start making them. They don’t always look like I thought they would, so sometimes I’m surprised.” Lifewriting Author and Teacher Sharon Lippincott from her post “Discover by Doing”.
I am thrilled to feature Memoir Writer Marian Beaman in this guest post about her first year in blogging. She has some interesting ideas about what inspires her blog posts, a term she calls “blogspiration.” Marian describes herself as ” a plain Mennonite girl who turned fancy while seeking a simpler life.”
Marian and I met through fellow Mennonite memoirist Shirley Showalter. It is truly wonderful to meet new people through each other. Marian is working on her first memoir, Plain and Fancy Girl.
My First Year in Blogging Adventure
Like Alice in Wonderland, alternately perplexed and pleased, my one-year-old adventure into the blog world of writing has been full of surprises.
In the above quote, Author Sharon Lippincott was quoting her eight-year-old granddaughter Sarah who “was talking about the clothespin doll she was wrapping in a scrap of cloth. . . but she could have been talking about writing.”
Writing for me is a craft too, much like stitching together pieces of a quilt. But it is also an art, beginning with thoughts that, on the best of days, flow from my mind to my fingers and finally onto the page.
How I Find “Blogspiration”
Generally, inspiration for blog post topics and development of posts comes to me in two disparate ways:
1. Spontaneous/even serendipitous which accounts for less than 10% of my posts and
2. Thoroughly planned, hammered out mini-essays that make up the bulk of my blog post writing.
This past January, examples of each process type appeared side by side on my blog:
1. War & Peace – Rhyme and Reason I remembered a poem I had written about the Gulf War in 1991, and then heard Diane Rehm on NPR interview former Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, creating a tie-in with the theme of the poem.
Although I was not going to write a treatise on war and peace, I wanted to show both viewpoints, so the post became a brief 384-word blog post with questions posed at the end. Actually, this post turned into a lightening rod for discussion with readers expressing deeply held beliefs, pro and con. You may ask, what would one expect with the incendiary topic of WAR! What, indeed. I was surprised at how quickly this post came together.
2. Mennonite and Race: A Longenecker Lens Months ago in PA I visited my aunt’s bedroom now unoccupied because she has moved to a retirement community. On the wall, I saw the picture of a trio of women, one black and two white sitting together over a card game. At the time, I thought I would use the picture in a blog post but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when.
After I decided to link ethnicity and Mennonite beliefs, I thought I might start with this framed picture, but instead I ended up discussing childhood experiences in our family in the beginning and at the end used a reference to the picture. For me, elements of a piece often flip-flop, playing musical chairs.
Generally, after the decision of topic has been settled, blog posts begin as WORD documents, which I copy/paste into WordPress. This time I felt especially bold and began writing directliy in WordPress, but because of the restrictions of WP formatting, I felt myself fighting my own words, so I reversed the process, reverting to my usual method of typing the Word document first and then filling in the content in WordPress. I observed the “flow” return, and a 707-word post was born.
I was surprised at how long it took to write and revise this blog post.
How I Find Topics: Creation and Evolution:
Generally, I like to brainstorm for multiple future topics, so I don’t constantly have to obsess over the question “What am I going to write about now?” Then, on a legal-size sheet of paper, I chart a long-range plan with the proposed topics, just ideas in my head moments earlier.
My thematic categories in blog writing are varied. Last February I started writing “Plain and Fancy Girl” with the singular intent of sharing my childhood memories as a Mennonite girl growing up in Lancaster County, (nostalgic and memoir-ish) but then my categories expanded as I continued writing to include wisdom from grandchildren, my Southern friends, and contemporary happenings in the media that relate to topics my readers have come to expect from me.
Thus, I say this: Anything can become grist for the writing mill though I tend to stick to these main ones: Mennonite lore/history, family stories from my childhood, current events, even recipes.
Triggers for Topics: Photos from dozens of family scrapbooks, stories shared with my mother, sisters, other relatives, childhood memories drifting through my mind, often unbidden, something I heard on NPR, an event attended.
Beyond the Blog
Last fall after having purchased Nina Amir’s How to Blog a Book, I took her suggestion of grouping blog posts into similar themes by color on sticky notes. Somehow I thought that exercise would be the magic wand that would inform the “narrative arc” for a full-fledged book. Oh, well! The large wooden board with the multi-colored stickies is still in my study area, looking back at me with the mystery and enigma of a Sphynx. But someday. . . .
As one wise eight-year-old girl has said, “I don’t really know how things will turn out until I start making them. They don’t always look like I thought they would, so sometimes I’m surprised.”
I love the surprise of writing, I absolutely love it!
Thank you Marian for sharing the ways you tap into your creativity to generate blog posts and write your memoir. I love the term “blogspiration.” I have found that just about anything can trigger ideas. All we have to do is look around and say “I feel a blog post coming on!” I like how you have a clear idea of your message (brand), yet are able to adapt the material to current or historical events. These posts may very well be seeds for your memoir.
Congratulations on your first year of blogging!
Marian Longenecker Beaman’s life has been characterized by re-invention: Pennsylvania Mennonite girl becomes traveling artist’s wife in Florida, then English professor with credits in the Journal of the Forum on Public Policy published by Oxford University Press. Along with my work as a community activist leading a neighborhood to take on Wal-Mart expansion, I am a writer and blogger in this second phase of my career. Fitness training and Pilates classes at the gym have become a metaphor for my mind-flexing experience as a writer, mining stories from my past along with reflections on current events.
How about you? How do you find “blogspiration”?
We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Monday, 3/24/14: “Narrative Medicine and the Fine Art of Listening: A Memoir Moment.”