The Blog Contract: Why Writing Changes My Life

Hmmmm. What am I signing up for now?

I have no idea who reads this blog. Whoever you are, I thank you. Whether you know it or not, you hold me accountable for what I say. And what I say translates into what I do. So, thank you.

As humans, it is impossible not to think big thoughts—all of us—from a tiny child in the south Sahara to an old Buddhist monk in Nepal to a young mom in Jersey. We all ponder and stew and think about the same questions. The meaning of life on a big scale. The meaning of life on a small scale. Our purpose. Our aspirations. What will happen to us, our world, our children? We ponder the things that break our hearts and the things that fill us with joy.

But what do we do with all these thoughts? Most of us hold them in our hearts. Or we discuss them with trusted friends. And…sometimes…we take those thoughts and put them into action.

I do not pretend to think any piece of prose or poetry I’ve ever written is somehow so enlightened it answers all the questions for me or for anybody else. But it has helped me discover what is important to me and, curiously, forced me to live out my words in profound ways.

Blogging has become strangely contractual. I can say something out loud and it floats away into the ether, but when I write something to the blogosphere, it sticks. I’ve made a public contract with my words. And then I get to live into those words.

Many changes I’ve made over the last two years—from big things, like my job, to taking classes, even to daily actions—are due to this public contract and due to you, O Blog Reader, who sealed it when you read it. So, thank you, again.

I call this blog “crossing the midline” and I feel like the counter on this site is ticking down faster than ever. Looks like I have only 40 days to go before I cross the literal midline (assuming I live to 100). I started this blog to record my internal journey toward some self-made line in the sand, but I’m not sure if I can quit writing when I get there. If there is one thing this blog has taught me, life is too short NOT to keep taking chances, pushing forward hard, and making the most of every single moment.

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Trish Cozart                   Date

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You                            Date

 

Say It Quick. Listen Long. Share Your Soul.

poetry

Just some of the pages and papers I’ve uncovered from years of writing poetry and tucking it away.

Poetry is amazing. It allows anyone to capture something humongous in a tiny little box. I like to think of a poem as the busy (or lazy) person’s novel. Poems share riddles of life and only take minutes to read, but much longer to digest and untangle.

I subscribe to very few email lists. There is one and only one I read every day – Poem-a-Day from the American Academy of Poets. You get modern day previously unpublished poems on weekdays and classic poems on the weekends.

Reading these poems day after day inspired me to share my own poetry on crossing the midline. Sharing is scary. It exposes my soul. It opens me up to criticism. What if people think it’s dumb? What if they think I’m too simple? Not smart enough? Not talented? Stop. The voices in our heads need to stop. Remember our stories and poems are US and we all have value. Our experiences and ideas are unique and they mean something.

Sharing also sometimes feels like giving up…like you are never going to get published if you share your work. But I finally came to this conclusion…poetry is rarely lucrative, but it is life. I’d rather share these verses with my friends and family and the world, for which it was written–even in this small corner of the digital universe—than lose more of it on failed hard drives or tossed away on dinner napkins. I encourage you to join me. Share your soul. Open your door just a little wider and watch what happens.

Editing Epiphanies

crs

1990s.  Floppy disks. Software sales. A communication explosion….and an exploding red pen that changed my life forever.

Writing has always been a love of mine. I love writing stories. I love writing poetry. I love writing a piece of informative prose that is so tight an atom couldn’t slip through it.

And the key to all good writing? Editing. I learned this lesson at 21 when I was hired for my first job out of college at a startup medical software company. I was blessed with a mentor who taught me more in three years about editing then I knew existed.  You see, I thought editing was all about making sure everything was spelled right, the sentences sounded good, the transitions were sharp, the ideas were well supported, and it was formatted correctly. Turns out, that is not editing. That, my friends, is proofreading.

And, I discovered I was (still am) a terrible proofreader. Thankfully, after years of retraining my red pen, I discovered I was a great editor.

So, if editing isn’t all those things above, what is it? Editing boils down to this–stepping back and asking questions. Editing is strategic. Editing is confidence. Editing is questioning everything that is said, why it is said, and who you are saying it to.

I remember the first piece of work I edited at my first company.  I thought it was pretty golden. I sent it to my managing editor and it came back a bloody red mess. I loathed that red pen. I remember feeling like a loser. How could I have thought my work was good?

Looking closer at her comments, I discovered she had done just a little proofreading, but the majority of her edits fixed much deeper problems. That’s because she had asked: Why are we saying this? What’s missing that the audience would want to know? She even questioned the science and the details provided by doctors – fancy pants doctors! ( I told you editing was about confidence.) Whole paragraphs that I had carefully crafted were removed with one swipe of her red pen. It was information that was simply unnecessary.

I was amazed by the comments. These were unlike comments I’d ever received from any English teacher. I was used to setting the curve in English classes. Who was this crazy lady with the evil red pen?

I set out to learn how to edit my own work in the same way. I tried to approach each piece of patient advice I reviewed by putting myself in the reader’s shoes.

  • Does the information make sense to me/parent/patient?
  • Do I know how to take care of my sick child based on this? Is it helpful?
  • What is missing?
  • Is the science still correct when I simplified the language?
  • Is the science wrong in the first place?

Then came an even more important lesson. I got back comments from my mentor like, “Consider breaking this into two documents on….” or “Maybe we should also write a document on  …..”  Now that was really big picture editing. There was a drive to continually consider and reconsider if what we were producing was the right thing at all. Wow! Who was I to be able to change everything? Turns out that is exactly who I was.

I Want to Hug a Comma

strunk-and-white

Thanks to my editing mentor, I own the illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. An illustrated grammar book, you say? Strange, but true.

Commas give a lot of people heartburn. They have certainly given me my share. But, this weekend was different. This weekend I wanted to give that pesky punctuation mark a great big hug.

When my kids were growing up they drove me crazy with commas. They used commas where periods needed to go. When reading their school compositions, I would always have to take a really deep breath first. Talk about a run-on sentence!

I am also a recovering editor. Ok…I still edit…but I am doing my best to repress the silly arguments editors around me used to have over misplaced modifiers, nominalizations, and yes, punctuation, like commas.  Grammar nerds! You’d think there were better things to discuss in this world. My favorite comma debate topic: Should we use serial commas before and in a list? In case you are wondering, here’s my position: It isn’t technically wrong and it just might save you some serious embarrassment, so why not always use the comma just in case.

THE CASE FOR SERIAL COMMAS

I will eat apples, bananas, and figs. Comma not really necessary but it isn’t hurting anybody.

I would like to introduce you to my parents, Bill Gates and Martha Stewart. Yikes! Those aren’t my parents. Get a comma, STAT!

But, I digress.  You have either abandoned reading this post or you are still wanting to know why in the world I want to hug a comma.

It happened this Saturday morning when I was awakened by my oldest son. He had come over to our house after finishing his night shift. His new manufacturing job has been challenging, but it has provided him study work and he is discovering the benefits.

Shoulders back and head high, he stood like a giant at the foot of my bed and said in a monotone, nonchalant voice,

“Well, I got my first paycheck with a comma in it.”

He is a man of few, well-chosen, and subtle words where happy emotions are concerned. I’ll interpret his statement for you.

Woo hoo! Hooray! Let’s celebrate! I’ve done it! Take THAT adult world!

This was a major milestone. And, he came by to share it with us. He has struggled and fought and learned the hard way through life, and now at 22, he finally did it! He got a paycheck with a comma in it.

So, my dear comma, thank you for making us pause, slow down, and reveal your bounty. I have never truly admired just how remarkable you look in a number. Thank you, dear comma! You made our day.

bed

Illustrating grammar does make it a more colorful subject. From The Elements of Style.