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blogbookblueIt’s a dream/fantasy of many bloggers: that their blog can become a book – or maybe even a movie.

When I started blogging in early 2006, blogging was already becoming pretty common. I started blogging as something to use both in my teaching at NJIT and as a way to get my ideas out there. I had been doing workshops and presentations on the still-new blogs, wikis and podcasts for a while and I was trying to get faculty at the university to incorporate them into their courses.

Then I was asked to do a presentation for business people on those topics. Though I was doing podcasts and had created a few wikis, I was not a blogger. One of my colleagues at NJIT, Tim Kellers,  was my tech guru and he created a blogging platform for us to use in our presentation using software called Serendipity. Thus, Serendipity35, my blog about learning and technology, was born. And it’s still going.

In 2004, the New Yorker had said that books by bloggers would become a cultural phenomenon, but I never gave that a thought in those days. Since that first blog, I have added 8 other blogs to my weekly writing. As a few friends like to remind me, “if you only channeled all that writing, you would have a few books by now.”

Then came stories like that of Julie Powell and her blog about trying to cook the entire Julia Child cookbook in her new York apartment.

PostSecret and Stuff White People Like are other blogs that became multiple incarnations of books, but Julie was the star student.  Her original blog on Salon.com is gone, but is archived on the great Web.Archive.org site.

The blog began in 2002 as she cooked her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” In 2005, it became a book, Julie and Julia:365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.

In 2007, a film version was announced – the first major motion picture that started off as a blog.

Say what you will about the writing of Powell, she had an established readership and that is why a publisher knew that readership could mean book sales. This is not new to publishing, TV or film – choose things (comic books, hit plays etc.) that have a built-in following and are a surer bet.

The film adaptation, directed by Nora Ephron, also titled Julie & Julia, was released in 2009. The film was actually based on both Powell’s book and Julia Child’s autobiography My Life in France.

This was not a small, independent film. Amy Adams starred as Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Julia’s husband Paul was played by Stanley Tucci.

But that is one blogger who got great deals out of many millions of bloggers. It is tough to find a number for how many blogs exist (active and archived) but just Tumblr.com’s cumulative total blogs in July 2016 surpassed 305.9 million blog accounts. That makes the odds about the same as winning the Power ball lottery.

Yes, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody got a book deal out of her blog (not the one that led to her best known screenplay for Juno though).

Another success story is Tim Ferriss.  His blog, the Four Hour Work Week, was listed at number one on the top 150 Management and Leadership Blogs.

In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton started a project to create a photographic census of New York City and his blog version (and Facebook page) of Humans of New York became the book Humans of New York: Stories and was a bestseller.

That is why you can find lots of blog posts about turning your blog into a book. (For example, look at thebookdesigner.com/2015/06/making-the-leap-from-blogger-to-book-author/ and authorunlimited.com/turn-your-blog-into-a-book-effectively

blogging this

I still haven’t moved any of my blogs to the print (or film!) world. I could see my poetry project at Writing the Day as a poetry collection. I’d like to think that Weekends in Paradelle and One-Page Schoolhouse have enough posts to produce a collection of essays. The same might be true of the several thousands post on Serendipity35, but I realize that many of my posts are “dated” in the time they were written. Editing would be a major part of turning a blog into a book.

I believe that, despite tales of the death of print, an actual book still holds a special, higher place in our culture than a website. Publishers: contact me.

clouds and black

Most of us have a  résumé  which highlights our successes. It also probably hides our failures.  As a reader of  résumés and CVs ( curriculum vitae, as they are often called outside the U.S. and in some professions, such as academia), when I see a gap of a year or two on one, I wonder and ask about what was happening there.

You often see articles and books like Failing Upwards: Discover the importance of failure on your way to success and The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success by writers reminding us of the importance of being able to fail and learn from the experience. But most of us do not want to advertise those failures. School often teaches us the shame of failing and few job seekers are willing to promote their failures to a potential employer.

The idea for a CV of failures seems to have started with an article published in the journal Nature in 2010 by Melanie Stefan of the University of Edinburgh. She argued making a record failures visible to others is a powerful way to help other people deal with their own shortcomings.

Recently, I saw that one of these CVs of failures was published by Johannes Haushofer, a professor who teaches psychology and public affairs at Princeton University. He put his online. It lists degree programs he didn’t get into, research funding he didn’t receive and rejections from academic journals.

He says that “Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days.”

He also add there is some irony in that his now often read CV of Failures “has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work” – a kind of meta-failure to add to the list. And also a kind of success.

As an academic, I can identify. As a poet, I can really identify. Anyone who enter any of the arts – writer, actor, fine artist – desires success and expects failure. More poems will be rejected than accepted. Even poems that get published may not be accepted by an audience you read them to on a given day.

A résumé seems a good place for failures to me because so much of our regrets about failing are connected to jobs, careers and the path we followed in life. I wanted to go to film school when I graduated high school, and I was accepted into a good one. But I didn’t have the money to attend and no one was offering me help. I went with choice number two – study literature and maybe be a writer. Of course, I had read enough biographies of authors to know that few writer make a living by just writing. Teaching was my choice as the full-time gig to pay the bills while I wrote.

I’m still teaching 41 years later. I tried publishing short stories and a novel and eventually moved to poetry. There were a few successes for the CV, but a much longer list of rejections. Rejections, or failures? There is a difference. Some of those rejected poems are good. People have told me so – just not the people who publish such things.

I stopped submitting work for eight years when I realized that I was trying to write what publishers wanted rather than what I wanted to write. I suspect there may have been some of that in J.D. Salinger’s exit from publishing. Now, I submit what I like, hope I find a like-minded reader, expect rejection and am delighted with success.

And then there are the failures that probably don’t belong on a résumé but have a much more powerful influence on how we walk through life. The failed relationships, marriages, regrets as a parent don’t belong in your job application package, but they certainly have influenced it.

When I went through my darkest period of depression, failure was a key word in my vocabulary. I saw it all around me. I felt like I was failing every day, all day long. There were things I didn’t seem to be able to succeed at as a husband, parent, educator, son, brother or writer. I was failing in all my roles. I was learning from failure only that I was a failure. Now, at a distance of years, there was much I learned from that period.

We all need a résumé that shows the successes as well as the failures. Writing that résumé can be humbling, but it can also be a reminder of the things we have accomplished. I may work on mine this weekend. It won’t look much like a CV and I won’t publish it online, but I will polish it the best I can and print a copy to read later when things don’t look as good as they look today.

It’s impossible for me to blog with a pen and paper, but I still make notes for many posts in a small blank book that I keep with ideas. How often do you write things out by hand these days? Even if you are a technophobe, you probably do it less than in your earlier life. I have come across four studies that offer some good reasons to continue writing things without a keyboard. Maybe you should even try shifting some keyboarding activity back to paper.

One study found that writing by hand activates the brain. The study looked at children who couldn’t yet read and found that when they were writing letters by hand a circuit of neurons in the brain associated with reading were activated. When they had the kids trace or type those same letters, these neurons did not fire up. These are brain regions associated with literacy and it makes sense that in those of us who are older would also be firing up those neurons differently when we type and when we write on paper. 

Older folks often complain about younger people being terrible at spelling since it is taught with the same intensity as it was in their school years. Another study showed that writing by hand improves spelling – or perhaps using the keyboard makes spelling worse.

I pay a lot of attention to studies on memory as I get older. A 2014 study showed memory improvement with writing by hand. Using university students in a study where some took handwritten notes and other used laptops, the researchers found that writing longhand better helps you learn new information. The pen and paper group processed more of what was being said during a lecture. One reason might be that you need to condense information to keep up using this slower method and that requires thinking about the content rather than simply transcribing what you hear. Later testing showed that the handwriters recalled information from the lectures better than the laptop group.

As a former teacher of middle school students, I was interested in a study that looked at students in elementary and middle grades writing in both ways. I what might seem counter-intuitive, writing by hand seems to make you think faster. Students writing by hand were found to write more, and more quickly, than those who typed on a keyboard when they were writing essays. 

Get out that pen and paper, and set aside the keyboard sometimes.

I started a new daily writing practice for 2014 that I call WRITING THE DAY.

The idea is simple – and not totally original – to write a poem each day.

I wanted to impose some form on myself each day. I love haiku, tanka and other short forms, but I decided to create my own form for this project.  I wanted to do shorter poems and I thought about the many Japanese forms that I enjoy reading and writing. The haiku is the form most people are familiar with, and it is a form that gets far too little respect in the Western world,

People know that form as three lines of 5-7-5 syllables. But that’s an English interpretation, since Japanese doesn’t have syllables.

bridgerain400The main inspiration for me is the tanka form which consists of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. Even in that short form, the tanka has two parts. The 5-7-5 is called the kami-no-ku (“upper phrase”) and the 7-7 is called the shimo-no-ku (“lower phrase”).

For my invented form, ronka, there are 5 lines, each having 7 words without concern for syllables. Like the tanka there is no rhyme.

My own ronka will focus on observations of the day as seen in the outside world and the inside worlds of dwellings and the mind.

From the haiku form I will try to use techniques like having seasonal words to show rather than tell – cherry blossoms, rather than “spring” or April.  Haiku also don’t include the poet or people as frequently as we do in Western poetry.

I am calling the form ronka – obviously a somewhat egotistical play on the tanka form.

wave crossing

William Stafford is the poet who inspired this daily practice the most for me. Stafford wrote every morning from 1950 to 1993. He left us 20,000 pages of daily writings that include early morning meditations, dream records, aphorisms, and other “visits to the unconscious.” He used sheets of yellow or white paper and sometimes spiral-bound reporters’ steno pads.

I already write every day. I teach and writing is part of the job. I do social media as a job and for myself. I work on my poetry. I have other blogs. But none of them is a daily practice or devoted to writing poems.

When Stafford was asked how he was able to produce a poem every morning, he replied, “I lower my standards.”  I like that answer, but I know that phrase “lowering standards” has a real negative connotation. I think Stafford meant that he allows himself some bad poems and some non-poems, knowing that with daily writing there will be eventually be some good work.

Read the poem, “Mindful,” by Mary Oliver and you’ll get a nice explanation of at least part of the motivation for doing this daily poetry practice – the joy I find every day in some thing, perhaps rather small, that I feel some need to record so that I will remember it in times when things seem less joyful. The poem comes her collection, Why I Wake Early, whose title fits right into the William Stafford writing practice that also inspired my project. She writes about the outdoors – crickets, toads, trout lilies, black snakes, goldenrod, bears and deer – and that is at least a third of what I expect my poems to have as inspiration. But I will be less disciplined about waking up early.

Now, I have been Writing the Day for 19 days and I don’t know if I can sustain the practice every day for an entire year. But, I know it is more pleasurable than resolving to lose weight, exercise more, spend less time online or any other of the common New Year’s boxes that so many people put themselves into in January.

Writing is the 6th Impossible Thing is a great post by Vivian Swift about writing and painting drafts and the process of creating. Plus terrific illustrations.

I have been a journal keeper since I was 14 years old. I say journal rather than “diary.” To me, a journal is not a daily activity. It’s also not a book of secrets to hide away from family and friends. In fact, although some of my entries are lists and quite informal, I usually think of an entry as being more like an essay and I would have no problem with others reading most of the entries. (Future biographers take note.)

Recently, I encountered the idea of keeping a “gratitude journal.”

Gratitude is a word we use quite a bit, perhaps without much thought about its meaning. We use it rather loosely to mean thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation. Some definitions say that it is a feeling, emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.

Gratitude is a part of several world religions and has been considered extensively by moral philosophers such as Adam Smith.

The study of gratitude within psychology is a much more recent one, beginning around the year 2000. It may be part of what is called the “positive psychology” movement that was a kind of reaction to the traditional focus on understanding distress rather than understanding positive emotions.

Gratitude is not the same as indebtedness. Both of those emotions occur after we receive following help,but indebtedness implies that we are under an obligation to make some repayment of compensation for the help.  “I feel indebted to you for what you did for me” means I owe you something in return.  Gratitude for help given might motivate me to improve my relationship with someone.

An online search on gratitude journals in Amazon turned up a good number of guides, examples and even blank books designed to encourage your writing.

This post actually started after I heard Dr. Andrew Weil speaking on the radio and he just mentioned gratitude journals. I started searching.

Andrew Weil is a well known doctor, speaker and author. He is best known as a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. ,That is a healing-oriented approach to health care which encompasses body, mind, and spirit. I found his 2011 book, Spontaneous Happiness interesting to read.

He suggests strategies from Eastern and Western psychology to counteract low mood and enhance contentment, and emotional balance. The books includes a number of concepts that are often disparagingly classified as “New Age” such as psychotherapy, mindfulness training, Buddhist psychology, nutritional science, and mind-body therapies. But, more and more I hear more mainstream doctors talk about “wellness” which is really a different way of looking at health.

There are any number of techniques for managing stress and anxiety or for changing mental habits that keep us stuck in negative patterns. Some of these enter the realm of spirituality.

A gratitude journal is one of those techniques.

Dr. Weil received both his medical degree and his undergraduate AB degree in biology (botany) from Harvard University and actually spent years studying natural medicines including hallucinogenics. I think he has seen wellness from both ends of the medical spectrum, and found the answers more in what we might call non-traditional medicine, while not ignoring traditional approaches that work.  (There is more about him at about.me/DrWeil )

I see a gratitude journal as a diary (if done on a daily basis – which is the recommendation) or occasional journal entries of things for which one is grateful. It is a way to simply focus attention on the positive things in your life. It sounds too easy, right?

An empirical study in 2003 (Seligman, Steen, Park, Peterson, “Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421) showed that people who used gratitude journals felt better about their lives, and reported fewer symptoms of illness.

And so, gratitude journals may be one treatment used to alleviate depression. Studies that have shown long lasting effects from the act of writing gratitude journals were ones that asked participants to write down three things they were grateful for every day. The greatest benefits were usually found to occur around six months after treatment began and this “exercise” was so successful that many participants continued to keep the journal long after the study was over.

The spiritual or religious aspect is also there, if you feel that connection. Gratitude is viewed as a prized human propensity in the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu traditions. Gratitude to someone who has helped you can extend to gratitude to God.

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