Writing Better

I sat down at my computer to write with nothing particular on my mind. Just an exercise in making the words appear. There was an open Word document, my unpublished memoir titled Help in the Time of Schizophrenia, 248-pages needing revision and a publishing house. Honestly, I’m not sure how to go about that—the publishing. I know about developmental editors. I have a couple of contacts. Have I reached out? No. Publication remains a mystery. Maybe I’ll crack the code on my upcoming summer vacation.

When I finished my MFA last spring, one of my professors advised me to put my manuscript in a drawer and step away and read more and write more. That’s exactly what I’ve done until now. So instead of writing something meaningless today, I sat and reread and tweaked my words for what seems like the millionth time. I stopped on page twelve. 236 pages to go.

But, after twelve pages and a year, I felt better, much better. Through this break, I’m finding my authentic voice. I’m asking myself, “Would I say that?” I’m tightening the language. I’m adding details.

As for blogging, it’s more about writing practice—making myself do it vs. perfection. As for writing better, it’s more about the revision—root word vision—prefix again. Now I’m literally seeing the words and the story in a new light, letting go of what I once thought grand, finding holes in my storytelling. And maybe, just maybe, I’m inching my way to the goal.

Persiflage?

It was mid-January. I lay in bed on a Saturday morning, phone scrolling, when a piece of art caught my eye. The irony. I lay in bed contemplating the Spitzweg painting of The Poor Poet, who was also in bed contemplating.

The Poor Poet, by Carl Spitzweg, 1839

My friend from Berlin wrote, “Who Is Carl Spitzweg?” (Click the link if you’re curious.) She proceeded to tell me and juxtaposed Spitzweg’s poet with a contemporary painting of a bear. How great are these two when compared? Zoom in on the painting behind the headboard below.

Picture by Papafox on Pixabay

My friend wanted to know, “At the end of the day, art and kitsch are in the eye of the beholder. What I truly can call kitsch is artwork like this with the bear. Now wait, or is it persiflage?”

Persiflage? I had to look up the word. Light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter.

I continued reading. “Please ladies and gentlemen help me out! Is this art or kitsch?”

Kitsch? Another word I’ve learned. Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

I responded.

Hmm. Favorite word? “I like juxtapose, rhymes with morose,” I said, scoffing at my bad joke, the eye rhyme, not an ear rhyme.

My Berlin friend and I went back and forth for a couple of days. I don’t think I truly have a favorite word. I reserve the right to change my mind each day. The next day I liked “gaga.”

She liked “mushroomed.”

We decided to collaborate.

A good-words post.

Five words each?

I fear I’ve commandeered the idea. (Commandeered, a nice word, right?)

On my laptop, I found a list started years ago. In a file called Creative Writing, from a class I once taught, is a document called “I Love Words,” untouched since January 2016. I started an ABC list of words I like while watching Wes Anderson’s quirky (good word #1) directorial-debut Bottle Rocket. It’s about three “amigos” (good word #2) planning to pull off a 75-year plan of “helter skelter” (#3) heists. The movie bombed at the box office, not everybody’s “cuppa,” (#4) but, oh, the banter. Now wait, or was it “persiflage” (#5)? Writing is just words, hopefully the best words, in the best order. I’ve added a few to my list along the way.

As for my Berlin friend, German’s have some of the best words. The funniest words. Do you know any Germans? Or their words? If not, click here.

And here she is—my friend who writes at Be Kitschig. From here she takes over this post. Her choice of art and words. Enjoy.

Oh, Wes Anderson has a cornucopia (Be Kitschig lovely word #1) of ideas. Thinking about it, I am not sure if I used that word 100% correct in the past. It’s always a bit awkward (good word #2) when people use words wrong. Like, not every thought you ever had is an epiphany, dude, but I digress (#3). One word I always liked was flabbergasted (#4). Since there are so many amazing words in the English language, five might just not be enough. So, for today, let’s finish the banter.

Cool?

Peachy (#5)!

And you know what would be uber cool and peachy? Add your favorite words in the comments. Better yet, link your own post below.

A Top 10 Blog about Blogs

I’m no SEO expert. When I started blogging back in 2017, I didn’t know a thing about search engine optimization. Since then, I’ve learned to check off search categories and tag key words before posting, and my blog has grown. Humble bloggers tend to say they don’t care about the numbers. Call me Not Humble. I can’t help noticing. And now for the January 2nd moment I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for…

Photo by gdtography on Pexels.com

Crystal Byers Top 10 Blogs of All Time

10. S is for Siblings (2020)

An ode to my sister and brother who shaped me more than they know.

  • Blogging Categories: Family, Gratitude
  • Tags: A to Z Challenge

Some birthday love for the guy who made me a mother.

  • Blogging Categories: Family, Happiness, Love, Strength
  • Tags: Love Shack, B-52s

8. On Life and Writing (2021)

A little pep talk to myself about creating my thoughts, intentions, and reality.

  • Blogging Categories: Believe, Gratitude, Inspiration, Life, Progress, Writing
  • Tags: Dr. Wayne Dyer, Narayan Kaudinya, Wordsworth

7. Butterfly, Butterfly (2020)

A love note from my second-grade self to my mother.

  • Blogging Categories: Alzheimer’s, Family, Love
  • Tags: None

6. I Have a Secret (on Anti-Aging) (2019)

The time I met up with my second-grade friend and came home a younger person.

  • Blogging Categories: Friendship, Happiness, Health
  • Tags: anti-aging, collagen peptides, collagen protein, dental health, hair health, joint pain, liver detoxification, nail health, Plexus, skin health, Starla, weight loss

5. Purging and Mental Health (2021)

The time I admitted to the hoarding problem in my home and took a 30 day purging challenge.

  • Blogging Categories: Hope, Mental Health, Purge
  • Tags: 30 Day Challenge, Less Is More

4. Actinomycosis (2020)

The time a severe sore throat traveled into my jawbone.

  • Blogging Categories: Prayer
  • Tags: “The Death of a Clerk,” Anton Chekhov

3.That Time When I Met Harvey (2017)

The time when a hurricane flooded our home and the piece that compelled me to start a blog.

  • Blogging Categories: Faith, Gratitude, Hope, Inspiration, Peace
  • Tags: None

2. Tale of the Unwanted Letter Jacket (2020)

The time my letter jacket met its demise.

  • Blogging Categories: introverts, writing
  • Tags: None

1. Making Macbeth Memorable (2019)

The first time I taught Macbeth. I admit to posting this one on a Facebook English teacher page where it continues to bring viewers.

  • Blogging Categories: High School English, Learning, Life Lessons, school
  • Tags: Shakespeare

If you’re still with me, Thank You!! I had a recent conversation with a fellow blogger (Hey Rhonda!) about the Me, Me, Me obnoxiousness of blogging. She admitted to having a “full-blown complex about coming across as self-centered, self-involved and driven solely by self-interest,” and I totally relate. I have no answers, but I’ve come to feel unsettled if I’m not writing a little here and there. Not that I must post it, or must I?

I published my first ever blog post on September 12, 2017, and tapped out 13 posts total that year. 30 posts in 2018. 35 in 2019. From 2017 to 2018, my views doubled. Those stats align with how my number of posts doubled. From 2018 to 2019, my views tripled, and I only wrote a few extra posts. Maybe I started using more tags and categories that year?? From 2019 to 2020, views doubled again. My blog hit a growth spurt when I wrote 26 posts in April for my first A-Z challenge. Then again, I wrote 89 posts that year. In 2021, I wrote 74. The views on my blog plateaued. Still my followers grew. If you’re still reading this post, THANK YOU!!

Bloggers come and go. Many of those first followers no longer log in to their WordPress accounts. Some followers follow as a strategy for growing their readership. Looking back on the years of more prolific blogging, I realize I wasn’t working during that time. Instead, I was home for most of the pandemic, which gave me some extra time and freedom to blog.

What does this mean for my 2022 blog? I honestly have no clue. After a two-week vacation, I go back to teaching the children tomorrow, and they are my priority. With the new job, I have a spring semester of curriculum to flesh out still. I perpetually reflect upon what is and isn’t working and consider what to change for next year. The adjustments are major, a post for another time.

My reflection spills over and onto the blog. I think about what’s working and what is not. Not that I have the answers. I suppose, I’ll continue to take each year as a new year and each day as a new day and reserve the right to change my mind about everything. And, I suppose, if I have one goal or one word for myself this year, I’m leaning toward GRACE. GRACE when I want to beat myself up. GRACE when I want to beat someone else up. 😊 And if you’re still with me, you probably wondered where all of this was going. Trust me, I did, too. Thanks again for hanging with me ’til the end. (Or is this the beginning?)

Update.

This April here on the blog, I’ve stuck to an alphabetized theme of action. Allow me to update you.

Updates are good—especially in job situations and within families and with friends. Updates keep your people in the loop and strengthen your connections. This week I phoned my sister, and my bestie called me. We updated each other. Those are my favorite updates.

However, I have a little problem with today’s blog update. If you’ve been reading recently, you know that most of my posts for the last twenty-three days or so have been updates of sorts. I’m starting to bore myself with the topic of me. If you’ve been reading, and you’re back again today, God Bless You! You could be doing anything right now, and I’m not loving this post. Hopefully, some of the others have been better. If you’ve missed any, I’ve linked them in the update below.

Starting on April 1st, I chose to abstain from alcohol. Today is my twenty-fourth day. This action freed me to accomplish more in a month than I have probably ever. Weirdly, I haven’t missed my nightly drinking much. I can’t say I’m quitting forever, but I am totally rethinking my relationship with my booze habit. Oh, the extra calories!

This month I’ve taken three ballet classes and turned a few cartwheels. I’ve continued reading my devotional book almost every day, or at least I catch up when I fall behind. Hopefully along the way, I’ve encouraged someone somehow. One of my reader-friends said my post on forgiveness was her favorite.

While thinking about actions from A-Z this month, I’ve noticed myself Googling throughout most of my days. One day I read about the benefits of headstands, so I’ve been practicing. I held one for about thirty seconds the other night. This challenge has taught me to innovate. One day I wrote about not jogging, but since that post, I pushed myself to try it again. Mostly I’ve been trying to Keep It Stupid Simple and listen to God and good advice and people who matter and the birds in the trees.

Along the way, I put some thought into some memorization, some nominations, and observations. I photographed some murals, quested forward with personal goals, and read a few memoirs.

I’m not sure what makes me more proud this month, completing 1245 situps and pushups and 1320 squats or revising 215 pages of my memoir for my thesis due date on Monday (I still have 30 pages and a final inspection to go) or the 3 interviews I had this week (that’s a post for another time). One thing I know for certain is that none of it would’ve been possible without believing I could do it and giving it a try.

Nominate?

Many thanks to Chen Song Ping, who nominated me for the The Golden Bloggerz Award! I’m humbled and honored! Serena Chen is a nurse and the caretaker of a child with a mental disorder, and she shares insightful life experiences. Serena asked me a series of questions, and my answers are sprinkled throughout this post.

I’m going on my fourth year of catapulting my ideas into the blogosphere, but I still remember what it was like in the beginning to have like three followers and no idea how to find other good blogs. [Stage left. Enter the awards.] The awards, no matter which one, are all about promoting other bloggers’ blogs and helping them be part of the community. If you’re new to blogging (or not), here are some of my best tips:

  1. Read other blogs.
    • Of course, you can keep up with the blogs you follow in Reader.
    • There is also a tab you can click at the top of Reader to Discover new blogs, and you can search by key words according to your interests.
    • You could search for Awards (or maybe Award), and you will most likely find lists of bloggers that other people like inside those posts despite your interest in their questions and answers.
    • Read comments in other posts to see who responds in a way you like. Then pay that person a visit. If a person cares enough to leave a nice comment, that person might care enough to support your blog.
  2. Write something compelling.
    • I taught high school English for twenty years. I used to tell my students, “I have one hundred and fifty essays to grade. Make me laugh or make me cry.” As far as blogs go, people have so many choices. Compel readers to return.  
    • The same advice applies to your comments. If you just hit the little star on the post, you may or may not receive a return visit. If you leave a likeable comment, you are more likely to receive a visit.
    • When I write about anything, I try to reveal a deeper meaning or a bigger lesson without preaching. I personally don’t like to be told what to do in life and especially during my free time.
  3. Final thoughts.
    • One big DO NOT. Too often a star-happy blogger comes along, clicking star after star on my site without any time in between clicks. Knowing the reader isn’t a reader makes for a pointless visit, and I feel no obligation to check out that site.
    • In connection to awards, some people thrive on recognition. Others do not. Considering my own time restraints, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel pressure to respond. Rules are arbitrary, and I tend to circumvent them. I also reserve the right to decline.
    • Remember to update your About page. Check what other bloggers say on their pages for ideas.
    • Blogging should be fun and guilt free. If it ever feels otherwise, step away. People understand, and if they don’t, well…
    • Show your readers gratitude. I appreciate you for reading today, and I know you have a million and one other things you could be doing.  

It’s so hard to narrow down my list of amazing bloggers, and so I’m choosing nominees under the 900 follower mark, who deserve so many more. When you have extra time, check them out. Without further ado, I would like to Nominate the following Golden Bloggerz:

With over twenty years of experience, Tiffany Arp-Daleo has developed a unique painting style described as Bohemian Abstract. All her creations are original, derived from the heart, and born out of a need to consistently create and to explore the unknown.

My friend Keith at Terrified Amateur is actually a Bold Expert in the kitchen. His cheeky sense of humor and adventurous culinary spirit never fail to deliver fantastic posts.   

By day, Gr8ful Collette helps pregnant and parenting teens beat the odds and earn their high school diplomas. Over at her Wine 2 Water blog, she pens her experience of finding peace and meaning through sobriety.

From Faded Jeans Living, Dwight Hyde writes about finding happiness, comeback stories, and growing and learning along the way. I love how he keeps it simple and real.

From the land down under, Perth Girl at The “F” Word blogs about faith, family, and food. She enlightens me with her spiritual insights time and again.  

The David from David’s Daily Dose is just a regular guy, who was tempted to lose all hope but didn’t. It was God who made the difference, but he isn’t preachy about it.

Bosssy Babe shares her journey through life as an imperfect human trying to balance marriage, motherhood, work, and her many passions. She is proud of being loud and feels no shame about having unpopular opinions. 

H. Davey Thoreau claims to have succumbed to a spell for the first forty years of life before undergoing a spiritual awakening. At Words from Walden, he writes of how our friendly universe is full of possibility.

Jen Knapp at Life, Love, and Sentences is a former high school English teacher who scooped up her family and moved to Quito, Ecuador. Her blogs are part literary analysis, part life analysis, all in the in the hopes of doing some good.

Bryan Wagner blogs at Visions of a People’s Dharma. He believes that we can all have our own paths and still interact with compassion, intelligence, and caring for others. I love his philosophy: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you and expect nothing in return.”

For my nominees, I have one question should you choose to respond. No sweat off my back either way.

What is your all-time favorite post, the one that makes you laugh or cry or most proud of your own writing?

If you have a spare moment, please reblog your favorite one. I would love to read it.

KISS.

I remember teachers in my life using the acronym KISS—Keep It Simple, Stupid. I didn’t personally like the word stupid on the end. My mother wouldn’t let me use that word in reference to a person. There was no name calling in my house. (Probably not completely true, but that was the rule.) This probably explains why name-calling crawls under my skin, regardless of who is slinging insults at whom. But, name-calling is beside the point. This post is about keeping it simple.

The U.S. Navy began using the term in 1960, a design principle that most systems work best when kept simple, rather than made complicated. By the 1970s, KISS had become popularized.

As for me, I normally blog four to five times per month. Simple. This April, I took the challenge of 26 posts on a theme of action from A-Z. To Keep It Stupid Simple, I’m concluding here.

You could be doing anything today, but you’re with me. Thank you.   

Google.

The day before yesterday while out grocery shopping, I racked my brain for letter G options for today’s A-Z challenge post. I felt grateful for the food soon to be on my table, but I was stumped as far as posts go.

Back at home later that day, I Googledverbs that begin with the letter G. I considered giggle, graduate, and give, but I had covered those topics recently. I had nothing new to say.

That same day I Googled the past tense of lie (which I look up over and over) and benefits of standing on your head. I realized I had twenty opened tabs, and I wondered if other people’s browsers looked like mine.

I had a page opened via Google for HemingwayApp.com. You can copy and paste your writing into this App, and it highlights problem areas such as passive voice and adverbs and hard to read sentences.

Another opened tab of Googled information included Selenium from Se-methylselenocysteine and Carbonyl Iron which a reader mentioned to me as an alternative treatment for schizophrenia.  

I had searched for the definition of Anosognosia for my memoir in progress, and Google took me to the Treatment Advocacy Center website, the tab still opened. Also called “lack of insight,” Anosognosia is a symptom of severe mental illness caused by physical damage to the brain that impairs a person’s ability to understand and perceive his or her illness. It is the single largest reason why 40-50% of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder refuse medications or do not seek treatment.

I had an opened tab for Chase Oaks Church from a recent Sunday service and one for the Royal Academy of Dance for my third ballet lesson at home and one for the Serenity Prayer. All Googled.

A little over three and a half years ago I Googled WordPress, signed up for an account, and started publishing myself for others to Google. I feel like this post could go on and on. Isn’t it amazing the resources at our fingertips?

Thanks for reading my A-Z Challenge ramble today. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action: mental, physical, and spiritual, things I might already do or haven’t attempted in years or maybe never. You know what else I’m doing this month? Click here to see: AbstainBalletCartwheelDevoteEncourage, Forgive.

To Blog (A-Z) or Not To Blog (A-Z) That Is the Question

One year ago, and for the first time ever, I blogged A-Z during the month of April as part of a challenge. I committed at the very last minute, wrote my first post A is for Apple on April 1st and posted it on the 2nd. I chose a theme of gratitude, which seemed important at the beginning of a pandemic and in keeping with the nature of my blog:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.

Other than that, I didn’t have a big plan. I chose an attitude of gratitude for twenty-six days according to each letter of the alphabet and posted on the fly. It was all part of keeping my own sanity.

I missed this year’s big theme reveal day on March 8, and I read that technically I don’t have to stick to a theme. That’s what I love about blogging—freedom of voice. Whew!

This semester my MFA program comes to an end, and the deadline of my thesis looms on the horizon—April 26. Revisions continue on my memoir, a quest for help for my son who has a severe brain illness and a coming-of-age story of a middle-aged woman who realizes the only person she can truly help is herself. I see my work as a playbook of sorts for someone in my position and hope it’s relatable despite a person’s circumstances.  

During the spring semester of 2021, I’ve submitted the first two-thirds for feedback from my professor, and the next third is due at the end of March.

Parts I-III: 20,650 Words and 74 Pages

Parts IV-V: 23, 271 Words and 87 Pages

Parts VI-VII: 23,882 Words and 84 pages

Grand Total Today: 67,803 Words and 245 pages

Then, two more rounds of MAJOR revisions on my part, and after that three more professionals will read for extra opinions. So I might be mad to even consider a challenge. Then again, if I go for it, I might be building my audience of potential readers when the time comes to publish Help in the Time of Schizophrenia.