You may be asking yourself: How did Melanie stumble into writing about the serious and sometimes dreary topic of heart failure? You may be asking yourself: Why did Melanie chose the blogging venue over other forms of social media communication?
Trust me, I’m not out of touch with technology. I text, I google, I download tunes from iTunes, and I download and read eBooks on my iPad. I keep up with tweets from friends and former colleagues. So sure, I could have chosen Twitter to communicate my thoughts on heart failure. But as you can see from my previous posts, it would be challenging to put my thoughts on a particular heart related topic into 140 characters or less.
Sometimes you need a lot more words to describe what life is like having a chronic illness. There are so many factors impacting a patient’s diagnosis, treatment and restrictions. There are so many good things going on in the medical world that fuel our hopes and courage. You just can’t distill the feelings and the reality of having a chronic illness into short, pithy statements.
So the blog seemed like the right way to go. Unlike many people today, I dearly love the creative process of writing. I love devoting the time and brain power it takes to come up with each 2 page post. Extensive writing is something I have done for my whole adult life.
Before I retired, I used to write and edit legal and administrative documents for a government agency. Even though these documents could be a bit stilted and formal, I found that there was a bit of a creative experience in drafting even the most boring documents.
When I was at a loss for what to do with my life after heart failure, I decided that writing could perhaps fill the void. So the seed was planted to create something, and my therapist suggested a blog of my experiences with heart failure. It seemed to be an ideal marriage: my love of creative writing and the process of working through the changes in my life that were caused by heart failure.
What is it that draws me to writing down thoughts and putting a distinctive spin on them? It started out in my childhood, when I became an avid reader. I respected authors - how did they develop the ability to create a cohesive storyline filled with memorable characters? Where did they get their ideas from, and how were they able to articulate them in a fashion that was not only understandable but addictive?
The first writing projects that were not related to a school assignment were some funny stories that I wrote as a summer employee in my first government job. It became a tradition at every birthday or other celebration in our office for me to write a funny story about the person who was being honored. The stories were always well received, which was awesome. Let’s face it – the people I worked with had been around in the workplace for a while, and I was just a summer employee. But they truly liked the stories, and their positive reactions gave me incentive to continue my creative writing endeavors.
As part of my legal training, I had to learn how to write legal documents. One would think that this would inhibit, if not destroy, my creative writing talent. Of course, I could not turn in legal writing assignments that had a comical or whimsical spin. But as odd as it may seem, I think the skills I learned in law school contributed to my creative writing style.
First, I needed to develop research skills so that I became an expert on the particular issue I was writing about or arguing. I had to be able to analyze the facts of precedent cases and demonstrate how my issue was similar to those cases, or on the other hand, why those cases were not relevant. This is similar to what I do now when I create a post. I find information to explain my facts, and show how they relate to how I feel and perhaps how to turn my facts into opportunities.
Probably the best class that helped hone my creative writing skills was a class called “Legal Methods”. The classes were taught by attorneys who worked in the real world – law firms, government agencies, corporate law offices. My teacher was especially gifted in both the art of written and oral legal advocacy. He could weave a paper that was not only analytically correct and complete, but was also interesting, clear and compelling.
One of the most important skills I learned in his class was how to organize the research, analysis and conclusion on paper so that all the data in the paper had an easy flow and the reader could grasp the merits of your argument. You can craft the exquisite sentences, but if the reader cannot follow the logic and direction of where you are going, there is no map to tell you where the next turn or landmark is.
I also learned that while logic and flow has a prominent place in any writing – legal, creative, administrative, etc. – emotional impact is also important. You want the reader to become like a character in your writing, or to be pulled into the facts of the case you are arguing so that he or she has a visceral reaction to the facts at hand, and is compelled to accept your conclusion.
It was at this point in my legal training when I realized that writing a legal document could be just as creative and artistic as writing a short story, a novel, or a humorous commentary. So I learned to continually edit each document until the order of the facts and analysis and conclusion seemed to gel. I also wove in imagery to grab the reader wherever I could.
The writing skills helped me when I began my government career and had to write advisory opinions for our clients. One of the biggest compliments I can remember receiving was from a client who told me that he could understand the exact advice that we were giving him in a memo. In the past, previous counsels issued memos that were full of Latin and legal phrases, but did not tell the clients what they should do to fulfill legal requirements. But I always told my trainees that the point was not to impress our client with how smart we were. The point was to make sure the client knew exactly what he or she was required to do. So when a client said he could understand our memo, well that was high praise and evidence that my legal methods instructor taught me how to write in a clear and logical fashion.
So these are the same long ago learned skills that I am applying to the production of my blog posts. Even though there is a lot of information out there, I try to include factually correct and relevant information. I try to organize the ideas in each post in a fashion that is easy to follow. And even though I know that there are people who read this blog who do not have heart failure or a chronic illness, I’m hoping to convey the emotions that come with heart failure – a lot of frustration, fear and anxiety, but also equal amounts of faith, joy, and perseverance.
But I also do not want people to feel sorry for heart failure patients, or to pity us. I want to draw them into the joy that comes when someone can provide us with support and comfort even if they are not experiencing the symptoms or emotions of heart failure. I hope I have been successful. But writing this post has made me think that maybe there would be some merit to writing a post in texting terms with emoticons!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.