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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

#IWSG: What Is Your Hidden Weakness?

    First Wednesday of the month means another edition of Alex J Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.   You can discover more participants here.

        And speaking of Alex, his guest post on Michael Di Gesu's In Time was the inspiration of my current #IWSG post.  In Alex's guest post he was discussing the importance of writers (and others) to lead a more healthy life through good diet and regular exercise.  Thinking about this I was reminded of my own personal experience.

          When I was a kid I was fairly active and never thought much about fitness.  I roamed the canyons in San Diego, rode my bike for miles, and enjoyed physically active games like tag and kickball.   The elementary school phys ed programs were not rigorous and mostly designed as fun activity to give us a break from the classroom.

          Then when I hit middle school (it was called junior high back then) I was faced with the more regimented format of actual physical education classes complete with calisthenics and running laps.  I couldn't keep up.  I would sometimes get physically ill and even throw up if the exertion was too much. 

          From the start I attributed this reaction to being out of shape.  The problem continued through high school.  I just accepted the fact that I was not an athletic type and would always be out of shape.  Instead of pushing myself into the realms of agony I learned to pace myself.  

          Throughout adulthood I had the problem.  Sometimes if I worked too hard or pushed myself too much in an activity such as hiking, the burning in my chest, the dizziness, and the sick feeling in my belly would come back and I would have to sit down until it all subsided.   Now and then I would try to discipline myself with a fitness program, but it never lasted long for me.  

          Into my forties the problem got worse.  I could be just walking across the field to go to my kids' soccer games or even standing up to walk across a room and I would get very dizzy.  I even started to have spells of blacking out.  After falling and hitting my head a couple times at night when I'd awaken drenched in sweat and try to get out of bed, I decided to see a doctor.

          They checked me out and ran some tests.  Then they put me on the treadmill.   That's when I had my heart attack.   That's what I called it, but they gave it another name that I don't recall.  Whatever it was, it was serious enough to have me admitted to the hospital for a couple days to recover while they ran some more tests.

          The diagnosis was that I had a congenital atrial fibrillation--a heart arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat that had been present since birth and progressively gotten worse as I got older.  This was the revelatory moment when I realized why strenuous activity had always bothered me so much.  I had harbored this cardiac threat my entire life.  

          Fortunately a procedure called a catheter ablation was performed and I was put on a program of medications that have helped keep my condition in check.  Discovering the problem in all likelihood saved my life and the treatment has allowed me to live in comfort with relative assurance that I still could have many more years ahead of me.  

         In my writing life I wonder if there is a potentially fatal hidden flaw that could keep me from being the caliber of writer that I aspire to be.  I get a regular writing work out on my blog and in my blogging activity.  I'm sure this all helps, but is it really making me a better writer?

         If I had a "writing doctor" that I could go to in order to run the tests to determine if I had good writing health, that might be helpful.  Pushing myself on the writer's treadmill could reveal a heretofore unrealized weakness.  Is it writing characters, description, or plot?   Do I have some issues with grammar or style?

         I doubt whether it's all as cut and dried as that.  I guess I'll just need to write and put my output before the eyes of editors and readers to see how well it works for them.   

          Do you wonder about the potential flaws of your own writing?   Who helps you discover your writing weaknesses?   How much help do you think blogging provides in making you a better writer?

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  1. It's so cool to hear you opening up like this about your illness Lee, this is interesting to me because I've had problems with cardio and recently I stood up too quickly and felt horrible once which is worrying and is tempting me to get checked out. I'm glad that the doctor found your illness before it was too late Lee and that you had this heart attack when people were there who could save you, great piece of writing man, to read about your condition slowly affecting your life more was sad but I'm glad it had a positive ending.

  2. I am always searching for a better way to write! You do wonder though if there is something you are missing... So sorry to hear about your heart problems but you seem to have it sorted now. Best of luck!

  3. Hey Lee - thank heaven you found out your problem in time to take control of it. I totally understand your reflecting this experience back on to your writing. My first MS is being edited as we speak - It really is like my baby's gone in for scary medical tests, while I'm awaiting for the results, while nibbling my nails to stubs. Hello from a fellow IWSG X

  4. Glad you found the cause when you did! We'd seriously lack without your presence here.
    My critique partners have done wonders to help me see my flaws. And blogging has contributed so much, not just to my writing, but to me as a person.
    Glad you enjoyed my health post at Michael's site!

  5. Lee,

    Please take care of yourself.
    Someone told me that I need to read a grammar manual and I did and my grammar improved. Some else told me not to rely on spell check. I paid more attention to my spelling.
    And, again, someone else told me I didn't use enough description, well, they were wrong. Haha.
    It wasn't one person or one time, but I take in any and all suggestions. It is the only way I am going to get better and I do think blogging helps.
    Also, reading helps.

  6. Wow, Lee, that is quite a story. So glad you found what was wrong and it is under control. I don't spend too much time wondering about potential flaws in my writing. My only similar experience is I had a tendency to gain weight if I even looked at food. Now, with this practitioner I'm working with, my metabolism is working properly and I am no longer gaining weight at the drop of a hat.

  7. Only goes to prove that having a check=up is a GOOD THING.

    I guess a writing check-up comes from those dedicated CP's and friends who suffer through our work and offer advice. That's where I find my flaws.

  8. Hi Lee! I'm glad you were able to figure out what the problem was and fix it. I went through life having a slight case of asthma and didn't realize it. Luckily, it wasn't a bad case.

    I wish we had a writing doctor to go to. That would be ideal. I rely on critique partners and editors, but it still doesn't help that insecure feeling I'm not good enough.

  9. I write. I'm insecure. I think the two just naturally go together. I'm always wondering.

  10. Blogging and following other writers has made me a better writer, I think.

    Also, it holds me accountable, meaning, if I don't write then I feel like I'm lying to you all.

    Nothing like the Internet eyes to keep you writing.


  11. Yeamie -- If your problem occurs more than once and seems suspect, it might be a good idea to get checked out just to be safe.

    Pat -- It's good to have some outside input to catch what we don't as the writers.

    Shah -- Hope your ms does well.

    Alex -- I can see how good critique partners can be invaluable.

    Sydney -- Spellcheck can be very deceptive. It's good to have many resources to help to improve ones writing.

    Karen -- I could very easily fall into the weight gain trap if I weren't more cautious. I'd like to lose more, but at least I haven't been gaining and that's a plus.

    Farawayeyes -- Regular check-ups are important especially as one gets older.

    Miranda - It would be nice to have the writing doctor before the work goes before the eyes of the editor and the reading public.

    Em -- I'm always wondering too. About a lot of things.

    Teresa -- I feel the same way. Blogging is like reporting to a job where I don't get paid-- at least not yet.


  12. Hey Lee! So glad to know that this problem is scary eh?!
    I don't really worry about flaws in my writing on the blog, as it's written for fun and not meant to be anything else. Of course, the rules of grammar and spelling and all that still need to be followed even if it is just for fun..I do work harder on some posts than others...having a 'writing doctor' would be ideal, really!

  13. Hey Lee,

    so sad to read about your heart problem. I'm glad that you went to doctors who could help you.
    I had a very tough time about a year ago. It's not easy to explain, but the writing helped me a lot to get over it. I started my blog this year in March and still enjoy the blogger world. In my mind writing is like talking but instead of listening, people read and comment your thoughts, and that can help a lot.

  14. Feedback from peers and experts have helped me. Going to a writing conference also helped because I saw a lit agent and two writers who looked at my work. They offered valuable feedback.
    I chose a conference where the stated purpose is to help the writers.

    Blogging for me helps me practice specificity (sharpens word use), and forces me to research and plan. It enables me to reach out to others and to respond to their writing as well.

    Glad you got your checkup, Lee. We go through life feeling inadequate at times, when there is a concrete reason. Being friends with your doctor is a good thing. Ours told my hubs to listen to his wife (I had better health habits.)

  15. So glad you were able to have your health issue addressed.

    As for a writing doctor, mine would tell me more details please.

  16. Yay for finding the health problemo and getting a fix for it!

    I don't focus so much on grammar but on finding my writing style or voice.

  17. It can be so difficult to know when to go to the doctor. It makes me think of people like Douglas Adams and Jim Hensen.

    I don't think blogging is necessarily a good place to practice fiction writing. It's good to help you with the discipline of writing, but the styles are so different that I don't think blogging will actually help develop your writing.

  18. I do! I keep learning and finding out how much I still need to learn. Then I think - what if I'm forgetting something really BIG. Glup.

    I guess that's what crit partners and editors are for.

    Great post. :)

  19. Eve - There's a great deal to be said on behalf of writing for fun.

    Sanny -- Writing has gotten me through many difficult times. It's a great outlet for stress, pain, and depression.

    DG -- Going to a writing conference could be very beneficial I am sure.

    Johanna -- Details are often very necessary, but don't forget the old adage "less is more"--that can work well sometimes too.

    Tami -- Some faulty grammar could actually be considered part of ones style or voice, but writing should be comprehensible as a whole and following certain conventions is important to achieve that comprehension.


  20. Andrew -- I never had health insurance until I got on my present wife's plan when I was 47 years old and it was then that my condition was diagnosed. Before that I never could afford or never wanted to take the time or spend the money to see doctors. I don't think blogging is that helpful for writing fiction, but I don't think it is a detriment in any way either.

    Melissa -- If we ever get to the point where we don't have new things to learn then our mind must no longer be working.


  21. I thought about making a health insurance comment but decided not to. I've avoided the doctor many a time for that very reason. My wife still has to make go, now, because I still feel like I'm uninsured. heh

  22. Lee-

    Well, with four more years of the Big Spender, you may as well order a brand new heart!

    It's a shame you did not find out when you were younger-you probably could have sued your parents!

    I kid.

    While not a writer, the one thing that blogging does that seems to be a common discipline among writers of many types that I have heard speak on their craft (Lawrence Block, Robert Parker, George Carline, Jerry Seinfeld and a slew of songwriters)-it forces you to write every day.

    I do not think that you should worry about hidden flaws in your skill set.


    Get your work in people's hands (an agent, maybe a group of readers you know will be critical).

    Write some more.

    Repeat as necessary.

    My 0.02, for what it's worth (soon to be worth less)


  23. Hi, Lee,
    Your experience reminds me how dangerous it is to avoid going to the doctor - something I do really well.

    The repetitive action of writing helps us improve, but good critique partners are essential too.

  24. Egad, I have those same symptoms! Anyway, I don't think blogging in and of itself helps writing, except that it can put us in the company of other writers who might be able to help. I think, hands down, that working with critique partners is the single best way to improve writing skills. We can't see our stories the same way others can. We're too close. We need others with greater skills, more experience, and a wider perspective to take a look and report back on what needs strengthening.

  25. Lee, I am happy you finally got the help you needed~ I am sorry it went on for so long undetected~
    I think you sharing will help others~ I am so glad you okay and part of this blogging community!
    You have done so much for blogging!
    I am not sure about blogging and writing... I think we need to go further like Nancy said. Feedback gives us the chance to improve and fix things. Yes, a critique sandwich!
    Thanks Lee for being You!

  26. Andrew -- When I was younger I usually felt strong and indestructible and felt no need for check ups. I went to emergency clinics a few times but that was it. Thank goodness I have the insurance now because I feel a little quirky a bit too often.

    Larry -- Thanks for that bit of encouragement.

    JL -- I'll eventually need to latch on some of those good critique partners.

    Nancy -- I've been helped a lot by contact with other bloggers and their blogs.

    Ella -- Thank you! Your words are kind and encouraging.


  27. What a personal story and so glad you found the problem and took care of it! Blogging builds writing stamina. If you're not used to writing long posts or being consistent, blogging definitely helps. This support group seems very open and honest so I'm sure you will get great constructive feedback. However, for me, most of my comments relate with the topic and not how to improve my writing. My close friends who drop by do give it to me straight in hopes of improving my writing and podcasts.

  28. Wow Lee, my husband has the same condition and a very similar story. He had ablation done 4 years ago and is now off of all meds. Stay healthy!!
    Until recently I would made myself worry sick about the quality of my writing.
    Something happened, I have no idea what it was but I suddenly decided worrying was a huge time sucker and I gave it up.
    I decided to just write and listen to my editors and beta readers.
    This is a great post:)

  29. Hi Lee - glad you're now 'sorted' and healthy ..

    I worry about some posts and they can take me ages to get to put them up .. then the commenters are complementary ... so I do say to myself don't worry too much ... if I was writing a book I know I'd be more careful, concentrate better and take more time ..

    As Doreen says .. we can't worry about other's thoughts til we actually receive their report on our work -

    Cheers great ideas here .. Hilary

  30. You were lucky to finally get diagnosed. Had you been a kid in this day and age, you probably would have been to a doctor and diagnosed immediately. When we were kids, they just didn't think like that. I grew up in San Diego, too!

  31. Buck -- Blogging has been great for my writing discipline--better than college.

    Doreen -- Thank you Doreen. It's best just to write and write and strive for improvement without the time waste of worry.

    Hilary -- Your research always seems so meticulous and detailed that I think you tend to floor us all with your abilities.

    Gwen -- And really I don't think my parents realized what was going on with me and I certainly didn't know. I guess if my condition hadn't gotten so extreme it would have gone unnoticed until some drastic event when it would have been too late. By the way, I lived in the Claremont Mesa area from 1959 to 1963. It was a great time to be there.



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