A friend asked me the other day if I minded that my writing posts on social media don’t get very many likes. I kid you not. Even I didn’t have a response to this question. I sat there dumbfounded. Not sure how to respond. If I should make a joke out of it or respond honestly.
I have been actively writing for less than two years. Blogging for only 9 months. When I started writing, I discovered the long forgotten joy that writing brought me. When I was a kid, my dad and I enjoyed writing short stories together. I took my first stab at writing a book when I was junior high. Made it about 80 handwritten pages in and abandoned the project altogether. When I was in high school, I discovered my love of poetry and story telling through short statement sentences.
I had a few great teachers who influenced me and encouraged me to keep writing. I completed a poetry assignment of 20 poems and handed it in two days after it was assigned. I had two more weeks before it was due, the teacher took it from me and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to spend a little more time on it?” I told her no, I worked hard and was ready to hand it in. She started to page through the packet and and asked, “How did you come up with 20 poems in 2 days?” I told her I had a free period the last two days and wrote them out on the computer in the library. She stared at me. “You wrote 20 poems in 2 days? You didn’t write any of these poems beforehand?” I confirmed, 20 poems in 2 days. She was silent for such an uncomfortable amount of time, I had to say something. “Great. I will see you Friday in class.”
Poetry flowed out of me. I could hardly contain it. Even if I wanted to. I wasn’t sleeping well at the time, I was working through a lot of emotions and feelings and all those teenage woes made great food for fodder. I wrote about relationships with my parents, with friends, with boys. I wrote about a relationship that needed to cease.
I was asked by the same teacher to stay after class on Friday. I completely panicked. She must have hated my poetry packet. I was going to fail this class as it was 50% of my grade. I approached her desk as all of my classmates exited the classroom and felt tears poking at the corners of my eyes. “Kelli. Your poetry packet is amazing. You have a clear voice. A distinct way of communicating what you want using a very limited amount of words. I could tell the two required rhyming poems were challenging for you. But I found them whimsical, humorous and delightful. I doubted your ability to complete this project in such a short amount of time. I should have never doubted you. I am giving you a perfect score. You exceeded my expectations on both content and effort. Well done. I will be using two of your poems in class as encouragement to the other students.”
Encouragement to the other students? Wait. What? I asked her not to use my name. She said no problem. She wanted to use one of the fun rhyming poems as an example that sometimes the best things come out of not trying too hard. I wasn’t sure if that was actually a compliment or not. But I wasn’t going to ask any further questions.
I quickly exited the classroom and headed to my locker so I could race to my next class. I smiled the rest of the day.
I was inspired. My teachers’ compliments were all that it took to inspire me. Words of affirmation from an adult other than my parents. I continued to write poetry for the remaining portion of the two weeks and knew that I was improving each time I hit the save button on the library computer. When my poems were shared in class the next week, silence followed after the first one. I wrote about that relationship that needed to cease. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but I knew I was fidgeting in my seat and probably was the most unnatural shade of red all down through my neck.
“Okay. Was this poem written by a girl? Because that was beautiful. A boy wouldn’t be able to talk that way about something he wants but knows he shouldn’t have. It makes me want to know what happens next.” Nodding and agreement. Our teacher proclaimed a mighty, “YES! That is what good poetry should do. It should make you want more. You should be intrigued from the first line and it should make you desire more. It should make you feel something deep inside. It should change you. It should make you think differently.”
Our teachers’ words spurred me on to write even more. All those hours I was awake at night made me burn through notebook after notebook. I wanted people that read my work, to want more. I wanted them to be hooked from the first line. I wanted them to desire more. And I wanted them to think differently and to be changed.
I continued writing and felt so fulfilled. I was proud of myself. I felt better about who I was and felt that I had a purpose. To write. Even if only for a short time. Writing gave me a purpose. Life happened and I wasn’t then writing as much. I worked hard the summer before college and then felt utterly consumed by moving away and overwhelmed by college and the workload that was expected. I sat down to write one night at school, and nothing. Nothing. I had nothing to write about. I didn’t feel inspired to write. I felt I should do it because I hadn’t. It felt like a task. It no longer brought me joy. It started to stress me out.
Filled notebooks and blank notebooks sat on my shelf above my desk in my dorm room. And they continued to sit there. By the end of my freshman year, I had completely abandoned my love for writing.
I have filled all of these past 25 years with some pretty amazing things. I got married, worked in a profession I loved and succeeded in. I was blessed by having two children. I started two companies and enjoyed the work. I began to write articles for the local newspaper when artists or writers came to town. I would write about their life, their career, and my impressions of their speaking engagement. Sometimes, I would have a prearranged interview set up with them and others times would just make a point of asking questions and recording the answers.
I believe myself to be pretty savvy on social media. (That is a lie. I am a stalker at best. I would track those coming to town down on social media and assault them with numerous private messages until they answered me and agreed to an in person interview or to respond to my questions. My shenanigans worked more often than not. ) Each of my articles were accepted at the paper. I was so excited. Was I a writer? I sure was. I was writing more, and writing well. I thought I would take another stab at writing.
Once I began, I found that only about a dozen or so poems were ready to be written. But I sat down and found I had a story to tell about my mom. My mom died about 5 years ago now. She was so young, only 67. She was a ridiculously quirky woman who never met a person she didn’t love. I wanted to write about her. I wanted to write about my childhood with her as my mom. I wanted to honor her. I started writing short, one or even two page stories, every week or so. Then the stories about being a special needs parent came to mind. And about organizing your home and life, which is my line of work. Mostly, I wrote about my daily life. About conversations I had with my kids and my friends. And sometimes I even wrote about the conversations I had with complete strangers.
When I wrote a story, it was about something important. A lesson I had learned. Something that brought me joy. Something that maybe still made me ache today. They were stories about memories I held dear. But when I told my stories, they were stories I thought others would also like to hear. I felt they were stories that others needed to hear. Subject matters that would touch hearts and maybe even heal them. Stories that others could have written themselves. I wanted other people to know they were not alone.
I began submitting stories to dozens upon dozens of companies that specialized in story telling. I was quickly discouraged as I received 29 declines in my first 6 weeks. 29. But then yes. Another yes, we would be happy to publish this piece. And even, what else can you send us? Editors started emailing me and actually asking for more samples of my work.
Absolutely, it feels great when a contract for printing is received. I have published with 20+ different companies and organizations and continue to submit weekly. 9 months ago when I started blogging, I didn’t just blog about my daily life, I added in all of the poems that I wrote, some of the newspaper articles and the books reviews. I also started including all of my life stories in my blog.
And to the original question. Does it bother me that so few people like my writing posts on social media? No. The honest answer is no. How many people read my blog on a consistent basis? I don’t know. But you know what matters to me? The messages that people send me or write on posts. The times when people ask me for help in solving a similar situation. The times when people tell me they are ready to call their mom and ask for forgiveness. But most of all, I enjoy the thank you’s. Thank for being honest. Thank you for writing about something that hurts. Thank you for helping me figure out this whole special needs parenting thing. Thank you for making me cry, I needed that.
“Kelli, I don’t know you. We have never met. But we have friends in common. I wanted to tell you I found your blog. I can’t stop reading. Were we twins and separated at birth? You and I are the awkward honest girls. The ones that cry watching the news and retelling stories. Thank you for not making me feel so weird.” Those are the messages that make me want to write more.
“Oh sweet Zach. I read your article in the paper. I had the joy of helping him at school a couple times last year. I miss him so much. He was always smiling and so funny. I liked reading about your daily lives. Thank you for the insight into special needs parenting.” Special needs teachers. I want to hug you. Thank you for all that you do for my son everyday. Thank you for your patience, your ability to teach and your love for my son.
I have started writing a book. For real this time. A real book. With chapters and page numbers and everything. This book will be more of the same. More of what makes me laugh. What makes me cry. More stories I think others will want to hear. Stories others need to hear. No, I won’t ever sell a million copies, and make a bunch of cash. But I will have told my story, filled my life with even more joy, and connected with people I have never even met. Hopefully inspired someone along the way. And that sounds like a mighty fine endeavor to me.
Catch more of Kelli J. Gavin with her other entries here at The Ugly Writers:
Check her own website here.