Wednesday, September 24, 2008

30-Day Self-Care Challenge: Day 7

Today's surprising self-care goal: Foster my passion.

Here's a shock: My passion is writing, words, journalism and storytelling. The proof is documented as far back as my baby book, in which my mother wrote of my 4- or 5-year-old self, "Little Heather is following me around complaining that what she's writing 'doesn't sound right.'"

In college, I joined the school paper and sank into the comfort of listening to other writers share their favorite word. Who knew other people had favorite words? I had come home.

I became a journalist because I wanted to write every day, but I didn't realize that would often mean covering planning commission meetings, procedural turns of the screw and, in the parlance of the newsroom, "reax" to the State of the Union Address. There's no music there, but hey, it's a living.

So is freelancing. Often I write stories I love, full of real people's lives and how they address the big challenges facing them. But just as often, I write fun, interesting and educational front-of-the-book shorts or service pieces. They aren't why I got into writing, and I know several freelancers who have burned out because they only write those pieces.

Who would have guessed the shot in the arm I needed to get excited about my business again would come from my iPod? I subscribe to literally dozens of podcasts on personal finance, self-improvement, entertainment, cooking and journalism.

Last night, as I was going from friend's house to meeting to home, during the long waits between buses, I found myself captivated.

Do yourself a favor and subscribe to Poynter's Writing/Editing and Writing Tools podcasts.

In Poynter's most recent Writing/Editing podcast, Cleveland Plain Dealer Columnist Connie Schultz described how she found her stories, how she incorporates video and blogging into her work and where she gets her inspiration. It made me want to look for those stories I know I'm missing now. It filled me up with a passion that pushed out the panic about the economy that had overwhelmed me the day before. It helped me focus on what I can control: the stories I seek out, my connection with the brave and articulate sources that are the heart of what I do and the hope that my work can improve people's lives in some small way.

Then I listened to several of several of Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools podcasts, also available in his book of the same name.

Here are some of my favorites:

* Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction
At the top of the ladder is lofty ideas like "democracy" and "compassion." At the bottom is the utterly concrete, like "pop tops" and "red-and-black sneakers covered in a fine film of city dirt."

In the middle is the dregs of bureaucratic language--"single-family mixed use development," for instance. Or "full-time equivalent."

* Choose the number of elements in a list.
This fascinated me: Use one to emphasize what you have, two to compare and contrast and three to imply a sense of wholeness and completion. Four and more is just a list. In this way, he says, the mathmatics of language make three greater than four. Dig that, people! Now you know why writers are bad at math.

* Know when to back off and when to show off
When you're writing about something where the drama is already built in--say, writing about a person dealing with a life-threatening illness or the death of a family member--let your writing be understated. Let the story shine. If you're writing about something frivolous, let the writing shine.

There's an implied symmetry there, a balance that appeals to me.

What's your passion and how can it feed your soul today?


Unknown said...

Heather, this is a great post. I can't wait to listen to the Poynter podcasts. I've also gotten inspiration from listening to CDs of presentations from the Nieman Narrative Writing Conference: (and no, I'm not on their payroll)! Another creativity kick -- try a new form or a new medium. I write about lessons that transfer from radio journalism to print tomorrow at

Elaine Appleton Grant

Unknown said...

Great post, Heather! I'm looking this stuff up. I don't normally do podcasting--I don't have an ipod-- but you've made a case here for it. So it looks like I really need to get into it.

As far as my passion...I have four: my BIKE, travel, writing and speaking. I try to figure out ways I can combine them all. It's a lot of juggling, but it fuels me. I never get bored. I get overwhelmed sometimes, but I never seem to lose the fire. If I do, I just draw my attention one of the four passions I've been neglecting. You can't do them all at all times.

I've also started BIKE coaching by phone, which has been another lifesaver for me to remain uplifted. Helping others helps yourself. It's so true!

I hope that answers your question and helps get the dialogue going.

All my best,

Jackie "The BIKE Lady" Dishner,

Nadine said...

Thanks, Heather. I don't own an iPod yet, but it sounds as though there may be one in my future. I've intended to learn more about podcasting and the information about the Poynter series is very helpful.

Kerry Dexter said...

my passion is music, music that provokes thought and reflection and comes from the spirit. I never run out of things to write or think about, although finding markets is always a challenge, as what I do is more connected to humanities and creativity than entertainment. and burnout, yeah, I've been there -- never from the music, but from having put too much focus on the work [broadcasting] I took on to help the cash flow. it sounds as though you had a good evening's trip. thanks taking us along.

Anonymous said...

I love the advice about when to back off. I like to think I took that approach when writing about a homeless child a few years ago. I kept my writing simple. I was happy when another writer said it was an unsympathetic look at the boy's life. Not that I didn't care about the boy; I just didn't want to be overly dramatic about an already sad story.