Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Thank you to my blogging buddy extraordinaire Jan Hasak for asking me to participate in a world-wide "Blog Tour" that asks four simple questions to reveal the essence of why and how we write. I am honored to participate from Southern California.

It's fascinating to see how each blogger answers the same four questions. Read what Jan has to say about her writing process on her insightful blog, Mourning Has Broken

Besides answering the queries, the best part of the Blog Tour is that each participant gets to pick two bloggers to continue the Tour! (To find out who I am passing my Blog Tour baton to, keep reading.)

Here are my answers to the four Blog Tour questions...

Q1: What am I working on?
This question should come last, because what I'm working on isn't really about writing. Or is it…? I began 2014 by writing down three words: Discard. Energize. Create. This 3-word salutation to the new year is something many bloggers do, including Philippa of Feisty Blue Gecko (who resides in Myanmar and created this Blog Tour, by the way) and Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer (who participated from Australia). But back to those three little words. 
  1. I started with Discard. My goal? To toss stuff daily, no matter how small. Emails, recipes, bank statements, rusty nails — it all counts. I also systematically slim down my bloated photo library, which grows each time I upload new photos and neglect to delete the less-than-ideal images. So I made a pact: If I download, I must edit. Period. So far I've weeded out 5,000 photos. But I've still got 28,000+ photos in my library. Which means I'm running out of memory. (So is my computer.)
  2. Next word up: Energize. Which is absolutely how I feel after I discard anything. And when I'm energized, I feel creative.
  3. Hence my final 2014 word: Create. Freeing up physical space frees up mental space to create. It's like magic! Turns out those three words have a very symbiotic relationship. (Who knew?) 
My creative endeavors currently run the gamut, from blogging (which feels the most like work, if I am to be truthful), to my guilty pleasure: genealogy. When I need to relax and take my mind off my troubles, I get lost in the lands of my ancestors. I'm a detective in my own history novel. Hours go by when I'm on I love, love, love digging through records to piece together tidbits that, when strung together, form a storyline such as the following about the grandfather I never knew: 
April 17, 1912. First trip from Austria to the U.S. Arrives with $80 in his pocket; New York City his final destination. He's 5' 6" tall, with brown hair and blue eyes, and is listed as a dressmaker/tailor.
My other addiction? My camera. But then I end up adding to my earlier problem of having to purge excess photos. (I'm seeing a circular pattern emerging here…)

Q2: How does my work differ from others in its genre?
When I began telling my breast cancer story back in April of 2011 (find my first post here), the words tumbled out of my head and they made me laugh. How could this be? I was writing what seemed like serious accounts of my multiple surgical procedures and complications, yet I was finding humor in it. Where did THAT come from? Not everything was funny, of course, but I discovered, through blogging, that I had the ability to lighten up a heavy topic with humor. Which is exactly how I got through the whole breast cancer thing at home too. Husband and I found ourselves laughing about the most inane, insane things, Every. Single. Day. And that is how I kept my sanity.

In fact, we laughed the most during the most stressful time which I've dubbed "the in-between time" — post-diagnosis but pre-treatment, when your fate is unknown and your worries are of epic proportion. Those days and weeks when you know you have cancer growing inside you but you haven't figured out how to make it go away. You're sleeping on a time bomb, and it's a wonder sleep ever comes. 

That frustration and swirling anxiety fueled the words which formed the blog. This blog. Which means my "work" does not differ much from the many others in my genre of cancer blogging: We write because the keyboard is the sticky edge of the ledge — it's the keys that keep us from falling off into the black abyss. Which leads me into question No. 3...

Q3: Why do I write what I do?
My initial need to blog was to chronicle my healing process after my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. I had several setbacks, and so much was happening in such a short amount of time that I feared I would forget what I went through if I didn't write it down. I was very afraid something important would fall through the cracks. 

I was afraid I would fall through the cracks. 

So it became critical to my mental and emotional health that I document the journey. I also knew that there were other women going through similar setbacks — I'd seen them on — and I didn't want them to feel they were alone. So what began as a way to help myself morphed into a way to help someone else who was going through something similar.

With my writing came inner revelation — insights into how I was really feeling, where I was struggling, how I was reacting (or not reacting), dealing (or not dealing). Those kernels of wisdom were not evident to me until I read them later on the finished blog page. Sort of like making a magical soup. I would gather the ingredients (words), and throw them in a pot (my head) and stir them around and around (my flying fingers in the keyboard) and let it all simmer with the lid off (and often with the lid on) in my drafts folder. And over time, everything distilled down into a (hopefully) tasteful Blog Soup. 

And now I have the title of this blog post! Sometimes the title presents itself first, sometimes it's the last thing I type. However it arrives, the title always binds it all together. Blog Soup.

Ultimately what I learned through my writing was that my delayed physical healing was a direct reflection of my delayed mental and emotional healing. And that's why I still make myself blog on days when I most want to do something else. And in doing so, I have found my voice. That was probably my biggest realization: that my voice had been completely buried beneath my breast cancer, and my delayed healing forced me to dig through my hardened core and befriend my vulnerability. 

And that lead to another big surprise: My involvement with breast cancer advocacy. Though the blogging friends I've made over the past three years, I'm now part of a social media truth-in-breast-cancer movement. We meet weekly on Twitter: #BCSM breast cancer social media tweet chat every Monday evening at 6 PM EST/9PM PST. We discuss everything from dealing with depression to how to talk to your doctor to what to say to folks who say insensitive things to cancer patients. 

We also blog about the stark realities of breast cancer. 

My involvement in advocacy? Never saw that one coming. But talking about the hard issues, the stuff that's not pretty or pink? That's raising awareness. And for people with Stage IV (incurable) metastatic breast cancer, like my friend Jan who I mentioned in the first sentence of this post, they need our support. Remember, 30 percent of patients diagnosed with earlier-stage breast cancer will eventually develop Stage IV metastatic cancer. (For more, please see

Q4: How does my writing process work? 
Oh Lordy, I wish I knew. I know it involves procrastination — I am a wickedly slow writer. And yet a wickedly fast typist. My fingers are flying before my brain can catch up. So I type a LOT that never makes it onto the page. And I edit even more. That is my true Achilles heel, the editing thing. 

I imagine other bloggers sitting down and typing out a nice clean paragraph and pressing PUBLISH. When I see how frequently other people post I wonder, how do they do that? How can they blog every day? Sometimes it takes me two weeks to write a post.(I told you I was slow!) It's not simple at all to me. I start at the beginning, and I craft each word, each sentence, each paragraph. I fix punctuation as I go. But I never look at the big picture when I'm writing. I am stuck deep within the forest, in the thorny thick of the trees, taping words together, trying not to be obvious, playing with alliteration, and still resorting to overused phrases and cliches.

Clearly my writing process is bogged down by my inevitable pursuit of perfection. I know this, and yet I struggle to change it.

After I write a draft, I never, ever, re-read it. I save it. And then I step back and walk away. I find something else to do. Sometimes for a few hours. Or a few days. Even a few weeks or months. Occasionally a few years. (I currently have 88 draft files. My oldest draft is dated February 2012.)

Guilt drives me back to my drafts folder. I always feel guilty when I neglect my blog, even though I always have so much to say. I feel pressure to write. It's like exercise. It doesn't always feel good, it takes more time than it should, it's darn hard to do, and I get down on myself for not doing it often enough.

So I start rifling through half-written posts. I begin to read, and I start the slow burn of the editing process. And as I edit, I rewrite. And still I don't read the whole thing. I edit and write and stop, edit and rewrite and stop.

And just when it seems I'll never leave the loop, something magical happens. I get to the end, the very end, after I've tweaked from top to bottom, after I've done the cold read, and I am amazed that I'm able to weave together a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end without consciously doing it. It's a very organic process. And it starts with three words: Discard. Energize. Create.

Now to passing on the Blog Tour Torch: Allow me to introduce you to two of my favorite bloggers.

1) My friend Josie writes about her experience with refractory Hodgkin's lymphoma in her often-humorous blog entitled A Pain in the Neck. Josie is currently preparing for a stem-cell transplant and is blogging from her bed on the bone marrow floor of a New York City hospital. Having recently finished 20 sessions of radiation, she is enduring chemo as I type this. I've written about her before (at the end of this post), but Josie deserves an extra dose of bloggy love right now. Though getting ready to go through hell, she was excited to participate in the Blog Tour:  "Thank you for passing the baton to me! I'm going to try to write this post before the brain fog sets in." Please visit Josie's blog, and check back to read her answers to the Blog Tour questions. I can't wait to read about her process — she is such gifted writer.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Josie just posted her answers to the Blog Tour challenge here. This is amazing since she has her stem cell transplant tomorrow (April 24). Please send her your very best good thoughts!

2) Many of you already know Yvonne of Time to Consider the Lilies blog fame. I also have mentioned her in a recent post. Yvonne's blog grew out of her own breast cancer experience, and I have greatly admired her writing, and her Irish chutzpah. This fall, though, she was dealt an unimaginable blow when her husband of 20 years passed away suddenly. I hope you'll join me in welcoming Yvonne to the Blog Tour, and discovering what goes into what she writes and how she writes it!
EDITOR'S NOTE: You can find Yvonne's Blog Tour contribution here.

And do tell me what you think of the Blog Tour!


  1. It's nice to see you posting again Renn.

    I remember when I started it was very sporadic... than when things didn't work out with my 'D' ... I blogged everyday (I am not sure how I did that) Now I only post once per week... sometimes twice ;-)

    I'll answer a few questions:

    I'm working on forgiving right now... I feel if I can let some things go, I can heal quicker emotionally.

    I don't know that I'm that different but I guess we all are as we have our own unique stories. I talk about my struggles with weight, self worth, depression and I try to look for the good.

    I started to write a year after my ex raped me, I found my voice through blogging. I became stronger through writing. I'm glad I did.. not sure where I would be today.

    It takes me hours to write a post now.. sometimes days depending on what I want or need to say... I enjoy the process though, it almost always helps me deal with the challenges I have dealt with.

    Have a great day.. Launna ♡

    1. Oh Launna, I love that you answered the questions! It's wonderful to read about your process, and about how similar we are. Blogging is such a great tool for finding one's voice and for processing our experiences. Thank you for sharing and for your insight.

  2. I'm loving this blog tour, Renn! It's fascinatingto see the reasons why you write and what you get out of it. I'm so glad Jan passed you that baton. :) ~Catherine

    1. Thanks Catherine! It turned out to be a fun and insightful experiment. :-)

  3. Renn, what an engaging post! I was fascinated by your choice of words, and was reminded of the three words that I never really took to heart. But you really did. I can relate to your writing block and do really wonder how some bloggers can post so frequently. But that's what makes us all interesting. I do dabble in genealogy as well, and perhaps that helped lead to the demise of my marriage. Too much time on the computer writing and researching. But finding ancestors and piecing together bits and pieces with the help of distant relatives is so intriguing and addicting. So I understand. I look forward to reading the posts from those to whom you passed the baton. I know Yvonne, another wonderful writer, but don't know Josie. xox

    1. Hi Jan! Again, thanks for including me in this writing project. I really needed prompting to sit down and write a post! I am a prolific blogger in my mind only. (My keyboard knows the truth.) PS I hope genealogy doesn't cause marital discord! But last night as I was about to sit down at the computer, I heard your words in my ear and I spent the time with Husband instead. So thank you! :-)

  4. dear Renn,

    as I read through your marvelous blog tour post, I was galvanized by your answers to the questions posed. and I thought of all the energy, really good, strengthening and nurturing energy and realized that the voice you found wasn't just for others to know that they are not alone, but for you, your sweet and kind self to truly know that you, too, are not alone either. I think this is what makes you a fabulous advocate, I think it is what showcases your genuine, heartfelt concerns for others and allows the alchemy of the Blog Soup to bubble over with compassion, empathy, gratitude and love. and lots of good humor! I am so grateful that you post when you do - it's always something so germaine and with words fixed onto the page that are always just right, and I am impressed that those 3 little words you chose, Discard, Energize, and Create have been the perfect guideposts for this new year (as well as adding Edit, as needs be!) you've done a lovely job giving us insight into your unique writing process, so interesting and so YOU! I am excited to see the baton handed over to Josie and Yvonne.

    with much appreciation and congratulations,

    Karen xoxoxo

    1. Karen! I know I said this the last time you stopped by, but I owe you an email! Thank you so much for your kind words here, as always. You have remarkable insight and a way of looking at things that I don't always see. That, my friend, is so very YOU! xoxo

  5. Yay Renn! Wonderful to read this and to discover new things about you - like your love of genealogy :-) i love what you wrote about falling through the cracks - that's such a powerful image. Thanks for taking the part in the blog on tour - it's been fun hasn't it?

    1. Marie: See Jan's comments above about genealogy addiction! LOL! Falling through the cracks was a very real fear of mine, and I still feel it anytime I go to a doctor's appointment. I'm on guard and ready to fight lest any doctor or nurse try to brush my concerns to the floor where those large cracks loom...

  6. Love the idea of your "magical soup." Keep mixing it up!

    1. Will do, Y. You do the same! Thanks for participating in "the tour"!


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