Our Many Identities

Last Sunday, I was at the optician getting my very first glasses. It was an especially humbling moment, but not because I read it as a sign of getting older. (I’m sure you weren’t thinking that anyway!)

It was humbling because the store had super bright fluorescent lights and I could see all the flaws in my skin. I looked pink and blotchy and wearing glasses just magnified it! I almost reconsidered my purchase: maybe I won’t need them after all – I didn’t look this unkempt until I put the extra eyes on!

After working from home for 1.5 years, it simply hadn’t occurred to me to focus on my appearance and maybe have a look in the mirror before I left home. You see, after Covid began, I quickly realised no one could see whether I had any make-up on during video calls, and I so stopped making the effort (much like those who liked to go trouserless got away with their little secret!).

If my younger self could have seen me, she would have been shocked! Before kids, I would never have left the house without full make-up. Not unless I was catching the 4:50 AM bus to my airport job, in which case I always got ready on the bus. (Later on, I’ve learned that there are people who don’t like it when strangers do their make-up in public! Lucky for me, that bus was always empty apart from a guy who, I noticed, worked at the hangar and fell asleep as soon as he entered the bus. He didn’t care.)

Honestly, who gets up at 3:30 to do their make-up? That would be a bit unrealistic, I think. I used to get up at 4:05, get dressed and jog to the bus stop all the way downtown. If I missed the bus, I would be very late for work. Usually it worked out quite well: I was there early and had breakfast before work began. I remember I even used to think my eyes looked less puffy when I was slightly tired from having gotten up so early! What a funny idea! So naive!

Fast forward seven years, and here I am, definitely not looking fresh-faced after hundreds of nights of twinsomnia. The pink-faced woman staring at me at the optician looked like someone else. Who had I become?

This week, I was searching for my identity as a writer in a creative writing group I joined. Once there, I realised that my writing is very realistic and simple in style, whereas creative writing requires descriptions of scenes and characters. I usually edit those out to get to the point faster! But guess what? It turns out creative writing doesn’t need to get to the point quickly! Not at all.

Of course I knew this, but I’ve still been approaching creativity the same way I would approach work, where being clear and concise is an art I’ve deliberately honed over the years. Hello, why didn’t I realise this earlier?!

Descriptions are tough to do well. They can easily end up sounding pretentious, cringeworthy, or boring. How do I know which words are not boring, how do I filter back in all the necessary words my instinct tells me to leave out? Adjectives, sounds, colours… when do they sound genuine or fake? Will the reader know sooner than I? And let’s not even get to character building! How much of a backstory is enough, can there be too much? Maybe I won’t ever write a book after all!

Maybe I’m more of a columnist? Can I still learn to write fiction well, I wonder, after all these years just talking about myself on my blog, journaling? Do I have it in me to imagine interesting scenes that didn’t really happen?

Before the writing workshop, I had just spent hours copywriting banner ads with character limits of 15, 70, and 150. It was very hard to turn my brain into a descriptive mode after that.

The other workshoppers advised me to go with scenes that did happen in real life, and to repurpose them. Well, I do that all the time! Just without vivid descriptions of scenery. Would the optician scene at the beginning of this post have been better if I’d described the store’s decoration, the other customers, and the glasses I chose? I listened to some of the others read out their texts, and they were full of detail. They sounded like real stories.

Working against this goal, my internal editor actually likes her editing job and refuses to stop, so I’m not sure.

Maybe I can try to find a writing identity where I can continue to be concise but also learn to write descriptions that aren’t concise. Maybe I can do whatever I want, and someone else can decide if it was done badly or worth a read. There’s joy in the journey, even though sometimes you don’t know the outcome.

And sometimes the identities you thought were long-lost can make a surprise comeback. The airport barista who always made my early morning coffee is now a neighbour and her kid goes to my kids’ daycare. She remembered me too, as well as my order! The airport identity is still somewhere in me.

Psst..! Speaking about writing, may I suggest you have a look at the blog called My Adventure Book, if you haven’t yet. It has consistently beautiful, serene writing and amazing photos to accompany it. Worth following!

47 responses to “Our Many Identities

  1. Ahh, many questions, several mirror mine, I have zero answers. Not that you really expected them, I’m sure. We are all on our individual paths. I have a huge problem with inventing, describing things that didn’t happen, as well. What a nice barista, she remembers your order! Unlike you, I were overjoyed getting my first glasses. Before I couldn’t even see John Taylor at the Duran Duran gig from the middle of the venue. And that’s a sin.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t mind getting glasses. I can see far, just need them a bit for reading now. I guess all this blogging is ruining my eyesight!
      Interrsting to hear that other bloggers have trouble with fiction, too! I guess I never really separated them before

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve taken several creative writing courses and I find it strange that this one guides you to provide more detail on background. All of my writing instructors have guided me to write less and focus on what’s important. One exercise is to free write something and then cut it down by half. Bonus exercise is to cut that in half again.

    I have the same problem with writing fiction. If we relate to our real life, how do you make it bigger than life ! It’s a stretch which I’ve given up on trying to do. Pure fiction is not my forte. Slightly tilted real life is more achieveable 😉

    Loved ‘twinsominia’. Great example of how one word conveys everything that it needs to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Slightly tilted reality works for me too! But I’d really love to sink into an internal world of imagination and create something made-up. Maybe I need to wait until retirement for that because when my life gets too hectic, creativity gets locked up somehow.
      And I’m glad you noticed ”twinsomnia”, hahah! I designed a t-shirt for hubby’s birthday with the word printed in a cool, band shirt kind of way!

      Like

  3. First of all – what truly wonderful pictures illuminate your piece! Writing concise or in detail. Maybe detail is like the make up of a story. You don’t always need it, but in some cases you might fancy a bit of finery. The goal is to create an image that the reader can ‘see’. I see quite clearly an early morning bus, the city is still dark and empty, hardly a light anywhere. In the bus a young woman doing her make up, she puts on her lipstick, looking in a tiny mirror in the glow of a lamp post. There is another passenger, a man, sleeping. And the driver, who is looking in his mirror too, seeing the woman and her eye shadow. Then he looks at the road again, tired and maybe a bit sad. His shift is almost over. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I like the idea of detail being the makeup of a story! And your little story here flows so effortlessly. It’s also interesting to imagine the different ways a scene could be written about. I’ll need to think about this for a future post, as an excersize try adding detail!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Pretty leaves your blog gives me a daily dose of Finnish nature! Ah. So refreshing. Mind you, today the weather her is prefect and only a few annoying flies staying to buzz about.
    Your writing is always enrolment, be it as columnist or fiction writer. As I have recently started writing articles for a magazine, I can relate to the restrictions of word limits, something we don’t have to do with blogging.
    Your writing group sounds great for challenging snd extending your skills and repurposing real life characters to fictional is a good approach.
    Don’t worry too much about needing glasses or makeup. Your natural beauty will shine through once you get so more sleep. And choosing frames can be fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ugh, totally get the thing about writing descriptions. My work is devoid of descriptions because of exactly that—I find my own to be boring and distracting from the plot. Lots of learning to do. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • What kind of book are you writing? I’m happy to hear you are leaving descriptions out! To be honest, I’m not sure I like reading books that have lengthy descriptions of everything. Sometimes I wonder, what makes a story? Why is flimsy character-building criticised – do we need to know all the minor characters’ life stories? Would the story work without that info if the writing is engaging? What about Hemingway’s simplistic style, it worked, and he too probably had an internal editor due to his journalistic background!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of Elmore Leonard who wrote many well known crime stories. His thing was focusing on dialogue and letting the reader fill in the descriptions. I love that because that’s what I do as a reader. His ‘Ten Rules of Writing’ is also on the mark in my book.
    I think if you want to sell fiction, then research what sells and copy that, but otherwise, just write what you want, in the style you want, and let readers find it. I always enjoy reading your posts because they’re well written (and have lovely photos with them!) and they provide a perfect description of your point (twinsominia!). I agree with Sandy that every writing class I’ve taken has focused on editing out the unnecessary stuff. I actually found that very liberating in that I felt free to write whatever I wanted and then I unexpectedly enjoyed crossing out all the fluff!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think I added him to my Goodreads reading list the last time you mentioned him. I need to check.
      And thanks for always reading, I appreciate it! As for editing, I love doing it and have become quite good at it for my job’s needs. I like leaving the fluff out and feel that the descriptions I carefully choose to keep then have even more value and impact. I guess decscriptions fill the page and build the world, and if I were to write a fictional story in my present style, it would be much shorter than the descriptive ones because the plot would just roll out faster. Our workshop mentor told us to forget about editing and just write without thinking, get into a flow. I’ve tried doing that but haven’t been at all happy with the results…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I read a lot, reading is part of what I do for a living. I had a colleague at work years ago that wanted to be a writer. It’s a common thing among booksellers. He published three books of which I read 50 pages of the first one. More than likely he followed the instructions on creative writing to the letter: the end result was something painful to read, hard to engage and unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. The other side of the coin is, there are a lot of debut writers getting it absolutely right and they all have in common a passion and believe in what they are doing, in the story they’re telling in the way that is their own. For me, it is easy to spot the ones that truly are inspired and the ones that are trying too hard. I would recommend not to try to hard, just write what comes naturally as there’s a considerable amount of people who enjoy straight to the point storytelling, including myself.
    On another note, I also got my first reading glasses this week, after years of making fun of my sister when she got hers. I’m over the moon with them and I specifically picked frames that make me feel I can get away with no makeup…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Sofia, for such an interesting comment! First of all, funny that you too got glasses just now and were thinking of makeup vs no makeup. And thanks for the advice. It really does feel like trying too hard when you try to adopt a style that isn’t yours, so maybe I’ll stick to getting straight to the point. Maybe part of the problem has also been that the prompts are very quick, 15 min to write it (and maybe finish at home later on), and for me the storyline is so important that I usually take time to think it through first. In 15 min, however, there’s no time to think and so you just write whatever comes to mind and for me that doesn’t result in anything I’d be happy to share with others!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. You write effortlessly and beautifully snow! I love it when you create imaginary stories and brings the reader to another world for an escape from reality. I find myself struggling to write details most of the time, hence it’s always with more photos instead, haha. Thank you for the mention about my blog, I felt shy and truly humbled. *.*

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I feel like I struggle with the same regarding creative writing.

    The best illustrations that come to mind are my meetings with my boss. I ask a straightforward question and their response is a 15-minute-long monologue. On one hand, I love learning about new things or getting to know my boss better, but, on the other hand, I don’t want to waste an entire meeting on just one thing.

    When someone asks me a question, more often than not, I reply in a very concise manner, divulging only the information that was requested. I expect the other person to ask me some follow-up questions IF they want to. Sometimes, I tell a longer story when I think more detail is useful. However, I still give the answer at the beginning of the story. To me, it’s all about being time-efficient and also knowing that most people won’t care about the things I might care about.

    This definitely translates back to writing. As a reader and a communicator, I want to get from point A to point Z. I care about the plot, but not about the hair color of the protagonist unless it somehow influences the plot. I also don’t care if it’s summer or winter, unless, again, it advances the plot. So, I’ve been struggling with scenes for a while now. Every time I think I get better, I get tired or forget and go right back to being direct.

    As I’ve said before – I look forward to some of your creative writing.

    I’m on my way to check out the blog you recommended.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Sam, for sharing your thoughts! I get what you’re saying and I’m like that too when I write.

      I do have some creative writing on this blog but the purely fictional ones aren’t my personal favourites. I think I’m at my best (blogwise) when I blend some fiction into something that really happened to me – or not even fiction but just colour it a bit and add some extra drama. (I think another blogger was saying something similar about herself in the earlier comments.)

      If I were to write a book, it would be hard to do it with someone else as the main character and not myself! I’m not sure I have that kind of talent, to pull it off. Maybe I’d better just stick to what I know and do it my way, which also means leaving out descriptions. I think I tend to describe feelings and thoughts more than setting the scene, and for me that’s more interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I’ve had glasses for most of my 40 years, and sometimes I enjoy taking them off when I look in the mirror 😉 Perspective truly is a fickle thing – details that already existed, just outside of our peripheral, which hold no weight until they come into our sphere of knowing. It is so dreadfully hard to un-know something, once our thoughts get a hold of it, and this seems to be true for all of our senses – something we see or something we hear. I make no claims to be an expert of anything, but I am a reader, and I very much enjoyed the flow and context of your piece. I did not find it lacking in any way, but I was able to relate to it so easily. So thank you for that ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks very much for this kind comment! I’m so happy that you were able to get into the flow of this piece. 🙂
      I am wondering a bit if it’ll help my writing now that I’m aware of the little detail dilemma, or will it maybe slow me down and confuse me? Entering the writing workshop, I was looking for new thoughts and ideas, and I guess I got what I asked for! 😀
      Wishing you a lovely week!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Personally, I think awareness is never a bad thing 😊 I am new to the world of blogging, and I know I am still working on writing with my true voice, finding the balance between writing authentically for myself and also doing so with the understanding that there will be an audience. Which is terrifying! But also exhilarating ❤️ I am trying to be conscious of the lens with which I am viewing things. I find if I view new ideas as a tool they integrate better than when I view them as a correction (not that I do this with ease!). In my opinion, whether you end up incorporating this into your writing or not, the lesson was already a gift because you’ve shared it! It’s become a seed of a thought in my world, and I’m sure that’s true for many others who have read this. So thank you for sharing 🙏

        Like

  11. I bet you do write a book! 🙂 I really enjoy your style btw … Creative is great, but can get too ott. Made me laugh when you spoke about the classes .. Checked out that blog too .. absolutely worth following

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, descriptions especially can get ott, I agree! Sometimes it can seem like a writer is trying too hard – it’s important to do it the way that is natural to you, so that it sounds authentic. Cool that you checked out the blog, too! It’s always a treat to visit. Take care, Julie!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You are who you are, and your style is yours. Personally, I like its directness. Proust has always defeated me several times (never managed to read him) by his endless descriptions of scenes, situations, what have you.

    Liked by 1 person

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