Year six

Cupcake


I’m back, friends! And not a moment too soon . . . because today is actually write meg!’s sixth birthday, and I wouldn’t want to miss the party.

And by “party,” I really mean a blog post. Because I’m still fighting jet lag, have barely been sleeping, am getting ready for our big move and feel slightly like I’m losing my mind. But, you know, if anyone has cupcakes handy . . .?

(We must party with cupcakes.)

Six years ago today, I wrote my first blog post — which was all of three paragraphs long. I didn’t know what I was doing, had no “vision” for the site . . . I just knew that I liked having an online presence and had created websites before (fan pages dedicated, in turn, to Hanson and ‘NSYNC. Woo ’90s?). Plus, I really missed my English program in college. Missed words and books and reader camaraderie.

I was 22, a year out from the University of Maryland, working as an assistant editor at the same newspaper where I’m still happy to return each day . . . and without a creative direction, really. A friend told me about WordPress and blogs and, given how bored I was on my lunch breaks, I started doing some research.

One of the first book-related sites I found was Rebecca’s, followed by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books — and the whole idea of discussing books really gained momentum with me. I didn’t write my first book review (Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes) until September, but then I was really on a roll.

If you like statistics (me me me)? Since June 3, 2008, write meg! has . . .

• Published 1,540 posts
• Posted 421 book reviews
• Received 18,209 comments
• Been Freshly Pressed by WordPress (here, here, here)
• Welcomed many pals into my life


Of everything on that list, I’m most proud of the final point. Blogging has shaped me into a more confident writer — but none of that would mean much if I didn’t have folks in my corner. We’re our own little cadre of friendship and sharing and great books, aren’t we? When I was on vacation last week, I missed y’all. Missed your encouragement and thoughts and fun.

I’ll admit that, at times, I suffer the occasional identity crisis. write meg! has no main focus, no singular platform. I write about books, yes, but I also write about cupcakes and decorating and weight loss and photography and, for a while, wedding planning . . . and down the road, I imagine I’ll also weigh in on motherhood and babies and home chaos. (And maybe gardening, because I really don’t know what I’m doing out there.)

But that’s good, I think. It’s me. Dear Melissa wrote a post about this very topic last week, and I nodded along with so many of her points. I’ve never dreamed up write meg! as anything other than my own little corner of the Internet to share anything and everything, and I feel immeasurably fortunate that it’s brought so many kind, wonderful people into my life along the way.

Thank you, thank you.

So many of my biggest moments — happy, sad, joyous, uncertain — have been pieced out and sewn together with words right here, and I can’t imagine not making my way to this space each weekday.

I hope I never do.


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New words, old machine

Typewriter


My grandparents had an old typewriter I loved to set up in their living room, pulling off the dustcover with a flourish on lazy summer days. In fifth grade, well before the age of smartphones and tablets or even personal computers, my typing skills weren’t exactly stellar. It took me forever to type even the simplest of sentences, and I constantly debated carriage returns so I wouldn’t run out of room on a line (the horror!).

It was fun, and I wrote all sorts of short stories — mostly about a bunny family or a tornado ripping through a small town (watching too much “Twister”). I’m pretty sure some “Star Wars” and Luke Skywalker fan fiction was sprinkled in there, too. But being a lifelong perfectionist, having to cover up my mistakes with correction fluid was intolerable.

Intolerable. And messy.

Friends, I was the kid who could not stand cross-outs and misspelled words in her assignments — yet refused to write in pencil. To this day, I’m a gel pen girl all the way. I was OCD enough to rewrite any essay littered with mistakes, carefully forming the letters until it was absolutely crisp . . . even if it took all afternoon. Rough drafts all the way.

I wrote on college-ruled paper, refusing to touch the wide-ruled stuff. I hated my handwriting until middle school, when I began to practice and practice and practice creating words and sentences until they were pretty and perfect, just the way I wanted to be.

I haven’t changed much.

Though I loved the look and feel of that old typewriter with its thin, unmarred pages, it was a potential disaster zone of incorrect punctuation and unclean sentences. Living in the digital age, I love the ease with which I can crank out thoughts on a “page” — or, um, Word document — to be shared in a blog post, on Instagram, in a Facebook post. I love the instantaneous connection of Twitter, the community we’ve built here.

But there’s something nostalgic and romantic about the humble typewriter, isn’t there? Out at a giant antiques store with my mom and sister last weekend, we found tons of them on side tables in vendors’ booths. The one at top was a favorite — weathered, a little dusty, but able to produce bold words again.

When Spence and I have the space, I’m getting one.

Maybe it’ll even be pink.


Words on offer

Holiday Mail 2


As we draw ever closer to our Sunday wedding, I find myself reading and re-reading the many notes and cards we’ve received over the last few months. Some came during my bridal showers; others were dropped in mailboxes across the country to wish us well (like Melissa’s, which so touched my heart).

When I talk to others about my love of mail, I often get a wide-eyed look and knowing grin. Their little smile says something plain as day: Well, aren’t you just adorable?

I mean, I get it: mail is considered old-fashioned. Stodgy. Outdated. Letters are a thing of the past, really; one step up from antiques or — gasp! — printed books.

It’s not cool to send mail. Or collect stamps.

But I wish I could change that.

I love to write letters — real, serious, tangible letters. Cards. Mail. I write to my grandma, I write to service members, I write to folks who simply need some love and light in a complicated world.

I spend at least part of my day almost every day with a Sharpie and stack of note cards, sending some words out into the world . . . for no other reason than I feel compelled to do so. It’s my small way of sending joy.

I’m not rich. I don’t have piles of money for worthy causes, though I wish I did. But words? Encouragement? I can do that. I will offer that. Which is why I send letters every year through Holiday Mail for Heroes, a program sponsored by the Red Cross. It may sound a little early to be writing out Christmas cards, y’all, but life is going to get super busy very quickly. It’s not too soon to start thinking.

It’s a simple thing, really: a humble piece of mail. Just words scrawled in honest-to-God handwriting in blue or black or red ink. But it means something to someone, I promise you — just like it means something to me.

Don’t give up Facebook or Twitter or email . . . but remembering how much you value your real-life connections, too. Instead of dropping a “how’s it going?” text to a friend, grab a card. A silly one, a funny one, a random one — whatever speaks to you.

Then let it speak to them.


Holiday Mail 1


The great English transition

Paper


I didn’t start out as an English major.

Wanting to follow in my dad’s footsteps, I started college planning to go into journalism — be a reporter, work at a newspaper, become as intrepid and adventurous as he is. I spent my first year in community college wading through the prerequisites before transferring to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2004, where I learned I’d have to apply to the College of Journalism.

And then I kind of panicked.

When I imagined my lofty journalistic goals, they had nothing to do with . . . well . . . real journalism. In my daydreams, I imagined myself typing self-righteously on a keyboard in a busy newsroom, covering some explosive local news event. I saw myself at the end: polished, professional, well-respected. I visualized all the sparkly, exciting parts without any sense of reality. I never thought about the hard work. I didn’t think about muddling through the middle, working hard to rise to the top.

Isn’t that how it always goes?

Between my sophomore and junior years of college, I actually interned for our local newspaper’s community section. I answered phone calls and emails, tried my hand at laying out pages and wrote a few features on local folks doing good in Southern Maryland. I’ll never forget seeing my name in print for the first time: the extreme thrill, the pride and awe. I still remember my first article on a local theatre director and his immense collection of costumes. I remember my lead, too.

By the time I started schlepping up to College Park every day that fall, I was a little burnt out on the newsroom. I love to write, of course — I’ve always loved to write — but I had an immediate, sinking suspicion that reporting wasn’t going to be my bag. I bonded more with the copy editors and editors themselves: those who craft their own sentences from time to time, yes, but mostly tinker with others’ words.

I like tinkering.

But reporting? I’m not a reporter. I lack the edge, the finesse, the dedication of a real journalist. Between my summer at the local paper and the following year’s internship at a D.C. daily, I accepted something I might have known all along: I’m better behind the scenes. My favorite week at the Examiner came when I left the Washington office to proofread pages in Virginia. I’m just better at tinkering.

My journey into the wide world of English came when I was finally honest about that. Though I was nervous to tell my dad I wasn’t planning to get into the newspaper biz, my parents were very supportive as I changed my plan. The same sunny afternoon I called with my idea about switching to a Bachelor of Arts, I marched over to the English building and declared a new major. It was the first time I felt really excited — and not anxious — about the future. I never looked back.

That was the first of many “adult” decisions I made in school: these little transitions that put me on a different path than the one I’d first started marching down. It was a scary moment to veer off a course I felt had been laid for a long time, but I’m proud of having made the decision — especially because it was the right one for me.

Of course, ironically, I did still go into journalism . . . though not as a reporter. I was hired as an assistant editor in 2007 and have spent all of my young career here. In 2009, I was tapped to write a local personal column that has evolved into more than I could have ever expected — and despite veering into English rather than journalism, I’m still living the dream I had as a kid: writing. Writing for a living.

So life takes us where we need to be, I’d say.


Linking up with Blogtember today on a time my life took a turn.


Postal connections

photo


Remember the More Love Letters project? I’m still writing strong for those who need a boost, and I wanted to mention the team’s new system: more people! More love letter requests! More good sent out into the world!

I know I harp on the power of the written word (perhaps too often?), but I really believe “real” mail — a letter, care package, little trinket . . . or just a “hi!” card — has the power to restore the spirit. When’s the last time you received something other than a sales flyer, bill or charity request? How did it make you feel?

More than a decade after the digital explosion, I see many people now taking a step back from media like Facebook. Maybe we’ve over-shared. Maybe we’re fatigued from the whole experience. It might seem strange to scrawl this on a blog, of all places, but I also find myself turning a little more inward and sharing less online these days. When I see my friends in person, I don’t want all my stories to be something they already saw on Instagram.

I like having moments — real moments — just for us. And for my fiance. And for my family. It’s not all about shouting into the void, waiting to see if anyone will bite. Life is fragile and way, way too short. We all crave real connection.

Mail can do that.

If the idea of penning words of encouragement to a stranger feels a little weird to you, I challenge you to embrace the weirdness. Get out that box of note cards you got for your birthday but have never had an occasion to use. Pick up a funny card for 99 cents at the grocery store. Heck, steal a page of your kid’s notebook paper and just sit down to write. Whatever you say will be more than enough. There are people who need you. And when you learn about them, the words will come to you. They always do.


I started writing something

writing


After chewing a small slab of espresso-studded dark chocolate before driving back from Spencer’s last night, I was smacked face-first with a story idea.

It’s been so long since I wrote fiction that I almost overlooked the whole thing. Like any good aspiring novelist, I once kept a notepad in my purse for turns of phrase and plot points and character names I loved. Anything and everything could become the basis for a new poem, a short story . . . or, when I was daring, a new book. I’ve started countless novels but only finished two since college, both during National Novel Writing Month. I’m proud to have finished them — even typing THE END — but reading through them now makes me cringe. They’re great drawer novels.

Since starting working at the newspapers I’ve called home the last six years, I’ve written primarily for print — and all decidedly non-fiction. I scribbled made-up stuff for four years in school before a personal column opened up so many chances for me to grow. But while I honed my real-life storytelling, my desire — and inspiration — to create fictional characters withered. I became focused on paying work (and rightfully so?), but I’ve always felt something was missing. From my writing life.

I talk about my “writing life” and my “reading life” and how important both are to me: Megan, a literary-minded and bookish gal with frizzy hair and an overactive imagination. I started writing stories as soon as I mastered the concept of a pencil, and I was telling stories even before that. I’m not saying they were any good, you know, but I was playing make-believe with characters of my own creation before I knew that could be . . . well, an acceptable thing.

Driving home tonight, Hanson blaring through my car’s worn-out speakers, I suddenly thought of an old plot I’d turned around in my head for years without ever putting finger to keyboard: a girl who wakes up in a hospital room with every man she’s ever loved crowded around her bed. Is she awake? Dreaming? In limbo? How did she get there, and what does this mean?

I looked up at the fat supermoon, hanging bright and low in the sky, and something finally clicked. I started to flesh it out. Even without my trusty notepad handy, I began to create links and back stories and wild characters before I finally reached my driveway. I’d planned to read more of Chocolates For Breakfast and crash before starting another work week, but the words and thoughts and people came so furiously that I had to sit at my laptop before they disappeared.

I wrote 4,500 words without stopping. Now it’s 12:30 in the morning. The espresso-laced chocolate seems to have worn off, but now I’m running on pure adrenaline.

This . . . I’d forgotten how good this feels.

I feel like me.


Half a million

Cupcakes


Yesterday morning, write meg! quietly hit a milestone: 500,000 page views.

Half a million views. Of my posts.

That’s not unique visitors, friends; WordPress doesn’t divulge that information to yours truly. But regardless, half a million views feels pretty . . . well, pretty huge to me.

My blog will turn five years old (!) in June, so I’ll save the sappy memories for then. In the meantime, thanks for coming by. As the years have progressed, write meg! morphed from a personal blog to a bookish one . . . and is now somewhere in the middle: a sweet literature-laced hybrid of the two. While I don’t have a real blogging “identity” or fit into a niche, as professionals decree, I know that I love this space and all its incarnations — and our community.

Onward!