Deciding Not to Go Pro

Remember yesterday when I pledged to participate in a new blogging challenge? In case you don’t, here’s a recap of how I started the post:

This week I am taking part in Jeff Goins’ Blog Like a Pro (BLP) Challenge. Each day, I will write a post in line with the assignment. If you are a blogger and want to learn how to join in on the fun, visit here to learn the details.

I have to be honest with all of you. I realized something very important today.

I do not want to blog like a pro.

I am not saying I do not want to write. I DO want to write. And I want to keep sharing it with you. I am thrilled and blessed to know there are people around the world who take the time each day to read my words, thoughts and ideas. What an honor it is to be a guest in your lives.

But I do not feel compelled to engage in another blogging challenge to help me become a professional blogger.

It is not the fault of the challenge or the facilitator. Jeff is a great writer, and he has the experience to offer people who DO want to become professional bloggers. I have learned many important lessons from Jeff’s prior challenges, such as building a platform, growing your audience, engaging your reader, and following your calling. Jeff’s book You Are A Writer  is the reason I am writing every day. I am grateful for his guidance and advice over the past year and a half.

But I am not ready to become a professional blogger.

Some pretty serious things have happened in my life in 2016. If you are a new reader, you may not know about the burglary, illness, wheelchair repairs and the broken femur. To read the details of how my year started, you should read this post. Really – you should go read it, because just looking back at that last sentence I’m giggling to myself as I realize all of those things happened in the first thirteen days of the year. I AM a tough cookie.

But I am not willing to invest time and energy into something that is not bringing me fulfillment right now.

Two weeks in the hospital, followed by two more weeks in a rehabilitation hospital, and then a month at home, have given me plenty of time to examine my goals and priorities. Last week I shared my pledge to prioritize me. Today I am making good on that pledge by stepping out of the BLP Challenge.

I still plan to follow the progress of the other bloggers who are working on the BLP Challenge. Just because I have decided it is not the right time for me to complete the challenge does not mean I will stop offering encouragement and support to those who are giving it their all. In fact, I have already been inspired by the posts I have read. I was particularly struck by a manifesto written by Ross who blogs over at Anything is Progress. Yesterday, Ross wrote:

 Your aspirations should be all yours – not someone else’s.

Ross wrote some other good words, like these, in response to my comment about his post:

If we are trying to be someone else and living out the interests of others instead of living out how we’re made, then there’s an underlying frustration, even hopelessness, to everything we do. So yes, we need to say yes to life – we have it today, so we should make the most of it. It’s real, and it’s ours.

My aspirations do not include becoming a professional blogger. They do include writing and blogging, but my goal right now is to continue to practice my craft, not build a website. I know there will be a time to build and launch DeeScribes on its own, not on the free WordPress platform.

But that time is not now.

Now is the time for research and writing. Now is the time to interview family and friends to gather information for my book. Now is the time to continue physical therapy and exercise for my broken leg so I can return to my usual activities. Now is the time to be true to myself and my aspirations.

I am a writer. And now I will write.

Write a Manifesto?

This week I am taking part in Jeff Goins’ Blog Like a Pro (BLP) Challenge. Each day, I will write a post in line with the assignment. If you are a blogger and want to learn how to join in on the fun, visit here to learn the details.

I was born with a progressive neuromuscular disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). When I was diagnosed at age three, doctors could not predict how long I would walk, when I would need to use a wheelchair, or how long I would live.

My parents chose to raise me as a person with capabilities, rather than limitations. Sure, there were activities I could not do. This did not excuse me from chores I could perform, such as washing and drying dishes, or setting and clearing the table.

I was raised to be an optimist – to look for possibilities when others might see challenges, solutions when faced with barriers.

They were shaping what would become my manifesto.

I first thought about writing a manifesto in 2014 when I joined the My 500 Words community. This initiative, also created by Jeff, encourages writers to write at least 500 words every day. There are daily prompts in case you need a focus to help you get your words out. When I joined the group, I noticed Jeff had a manifesto.

Jeff’s manifesto popped up again when I enrolled in his Tribe Writer’s course. I say “enrolled” instead of “completed” because I didn’t complete much at all. I attempted to address the assignments, but I was not in a place where I could focus on my writing due to other commitments.

Now I am committed to trying his latest challenge. Our first assignment?

“Write a manifesto: a 500-word treatise on what you’re about.”

This time, I am going to do it. In fact, I already have 485 words! I am not sharing it here yet because I have work to do. But I committed to posting each day, so I am putting this up. This way, you will know I am working on a project and will hold me accountable.

I will finish the manifesto, I promise. And I will share it with everyone in the hopes it will inspire you to take action.

As always, thank you for joining me on this journey as I explore my writing dreams. I haven’t written much this year due to my injury. Now that I am writing every day once again, I finally feel like I am on my way back to “me.”

3 Reasons You Should Take a Writing Vacation

On September 7, 2014, I launched this blog and declared myself a writer. I made a vow to write at least 500 words every day, a commitment I kept until last week (with the exception of this one day last January).

A week ago, I decided it was time to take a break. I was on vacation, relaxing at my sister’s house, and for the first time in over a year writing felt like a chore. I had ideas in my head, but lacked the discipline and desire to sit at the keyboard and give them life.

So, I gave myself permission to take a break. For the next seven days I did not stick to my daily writing schedule. I watched movies. I crocheted. I sat in front of my sister’s fireplace and played with her dogs. I ate junk food. I sang showtunes while working on a jigsaw puzzle. I visited with family and friends.

I wrote a grand total of 783 words in seven days. And I don’t feel guilty for not writing more. Along the way, I remembered why I loved writing, and recommitted to my daily discipline.

There are good reasons to maintain daily habits, but a hiatus now and then can also be beneficial. Here are the three lessons I learned by taking a writing vacation.

1. People are more important than writing.

I already knew this from my 2015 adventure to Australia, but this week was a good reminder.  During my vacation I visited with family and friends, laughing and reminiscing. We shared stories and jokes, making new memories as we remembered past holidays. It was exactly what I needed, and I am especially grateful to my sister Caroline for letting me use her house as home base this week.

2. Exploring other creative outlets is fun and inspiring.

Writing helps me process life and my emotional reactions to daily events. But it is not the only activity I enjoy. I love to crochet. Having time this week to sit with yarn on my lap, a new project on my hook, allowed me to express a different part of my creativity. I had fun exploring color combinations and pattern designs. Working on a project in silence allowed my mind to wander. I thought of potential new blog posts, new writing opportunities and projects I hope to accomplish in 2016. Even though I wasn’t writing, I was still engaged in mental processes which will help my writing. And because I gave myself a break from writing, I did all of this without feeling guilty for pursuing one activity while ignoring another.

3. Taking a break refocuses your energy.

Sure, a daily habit is important if we want to accomplish a goal such as writing a book, composing a symphony or completing artistic work. Meeting deadlines and maintaining a routine, self-imposed or created by others, requires discipline and determination. But my stamina for this discipline was waning. Writing was becoming work, an obligation instead of a release.

When I gave myself permission to take a writing vacation, I found myself eager to write again. Writing was not a “must do” but a “want to do” activity. Rather than being a chore, writing was a creative outlet once more.

Now it is time for me to go back home, resume my daily routines, and enter the real world. I am excited to write each day, eager to work on the projects I have outlined. My writing vacation was just what I needed to be ready to write again.

Photo of an empty wheelchair parked on the bank of a river with a dingy hitch attached to the back of the chair.
Vacation was fun but now it’s time to get back to work.

If you are contemplating a daily writing routine, but need some encouragement, you might want to visit My 500 Words. This online writing community, started by Jeff Goins, is one of the reasons I have been able to maintain my habit. The members are generous, supportive and sincere. They will welcome you with open arms. 


Mary Jane and Denise - Photo of the author, a woman in a wheelchair, and her sister. Both women are wearing green Santa hats and holiday aprons over red shirts.

Why Blog?

“You really need to write that book Denise.” 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone tell me this, I would have enough money to fund my next international adventure. My response until now has always been a smile and a polite, “Maybe someday…” But when my sister Mary Jane asked me to write, suddenly writing became a requirement – a necessary act of love I vowed to complete as a gift to her and my other sisters. To help you understand this, I need to tell you about my sisters, and how being part of our sisterhood has shaped my life. This may be a long story and I will do my best to keep you engaged as I get to the answers to the questions of why I have decided to start my blogging journey and what I hope to accomplish along the way.

I am the youngest of six daughters. My identity, my place in the world, has always been tied to being “number six,” the baby, the youngest “DiNoto girl,” younger sister of Susan, Mary Jane, Donna, Sandy and Caroline, one of Sam and Dolly’s daughters.

No matter where I go on earth, even to Australia, I have been approached and asked some form of the question, “Are you a DiNoto?” I’m not kidding about Australia. When I left my small hometown at the age of sixteen as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student I was thrilled to break away from the pack and ecstatic at the chance to be my own person, free from the others. I settled into the seat for my sixth and final plane on the long journey to Tasmania only to hear a man say, “Excuse me – are you Denise DiNoto?” It was a Rotarian from the club hosting me for the next year. He knew I was taking the same flight to the island and had thoughtfully changed his seat to the one next to mine so he could accompany me on the final leg of my 36 hour trek across the globe. Thankfully, when we write to each other now, we are able to laugh about the look I gave him 24 years ago – a mixture of “Are you KIDDING me?!” and “How on earth does anyone know who I am 14,000 miles away from home?!” Naive sixteen year old me had never considered that even if I wanted to be my own individual person, I would always be tied to a larger clan.

In my adult life, I continue to run into people who know my sisters even when I’m not at home or in New York State. Fifteen years ago I was visiting Donna in Florida and as we entered a store in a Tampa mall we heard, “Well, you never know where you’ll see DiNoto girls!” It was one of Caroline’s high school friends. Sandy and I live in the same area and when we go to events we often joke about who will know more people. She insists I know everyone, but I know she really has more connections. Either way, it is rare for me to introduce myself at an event and not hear, “Are you Sandy’s sister?” Last month, I was out for happy hour with some friends from work and as we started eating, a woman approached me and said, “You’re a DiNoto, right?” She is friends with one of my cousins and had seen “the DiNoto girls” at my uncle’s funeral two years ago.

My sisters are all strong women. This is not a surprise as we come from a line of strong female role models. We are each others loudest cheerleaders, our most honest critics, and sources of unconditional love even when we don’t agree with decisions or actions made by another. When something good happens to one of us, it is a victory celebrated by all. And when tragedy or difficulty hits one of us, it is a wound to all. Our sister network is a source of energy and now grounds me in the certainty of knowing I am part of something larger than me.

When Mary Jane was diagnosed with glioblastoma (malignant brain cancer) in 2010, it was the first time I considered the reality of six becoming five. Thankfully, her husband understood the bond we shared as sisters and welcomed our help, our visits, our calls, and our “sister weekends.” I have a hard time reading “sister emails” written then without breaking down in tears because of the affection expressed so simply by all of us. How fortunate we are to have this network, this blessing of abundant love. How could I ever have wanted to be separate from it?

Mary Jane outlived her original prognosis by several months. Per her wishes, she spent the last week of her life on earth in a local hospice. I was unable to visit her at home, because her house was not wheelchair accessible. I promised her once she went into the hospice, I would visit every day. When her husband called me on December 22, 2011, to tell me it was time for hospice, I left work immediately. Over the next six days, I fed her soup, read to her, held her hand, watched her visit with former students and friends, and got the nurse every time she told me she needed more pain medication. On Christmas Eve we listened to carols as the nursing staff attended to patients. Christmas evening we listened to Handel’s Messiah with our hands clasped, me singing the alto part.

Our last conversation of any length was Friday, December 23. Her husband had just gone home for dinner and we were alone when she said, “Did you know I always wanted to write a book?” She went on to tell me she had always intended to write about our sisters, what it was like to be part of our family, and what she had learned from all of us. I sat with tears streaming down my face, her strong hand clasped in my weak grip, listening to her talk about her writing dreams. Then she asked me to make her a promise.

“You have to do it for me. You have to write it. Promise me you’ll write the book. And stop crying!”

What choice did I have? My older sister, who had shown such courage and strength throughout her cancer journey, who had never asked anything of me in my life and always gave so generously to others, was asking me to share her story, our story, with the world. From her hospice bed. No pressure!

I wiped my tears, and promised I would write the book. She smiled and closed her eyes, squeezing my hand and thanking me.

Mary Jane and Denise
Mary Jane and I, matching and sporting aprons made for us by our sister Donna. Photo courtesy of S. DiNoto.

The next fourteen months I now refer to as “the year of death.” Not only did we lose Mary Jane, but six months later Mary Jane’s husband lost his own cancer battle. We said goodbye to my uncle and our brother-in-law’s father. My best friend’s mother died suddenly, as did my friend who was the CEO of the company where I had just started working. I became a pro at funerals – attending services for another friend’s father, the brother of a college friend, a former colleague, and a mentor from my college years.

I forgot about writing. I was too busy helping others deal with grief, and dealing with my own losses to think about being creative. Then in the spring of 2013, I faced my own health concerns when I learned I had to have gallbladder surgery.

What should have been a routine outpatient procedure ended up as ten days in the hospital, with me unconscious and on life support in the Intensive Care Unit for four of those days. I had developed pneumonia, and the morning I was to be discharged the nurses found me unresponsive and not breathing. My sisters and family gathered once more to sit vigil, this time at my bedside. When I woke from my coma, I saw my sisters gathered around me and knew instinctively I would be alright.

Having been given more time here, knowing there must be a purpose behind my second chance and remembering my promise to Mary Jane, I began to write. At first I tried to journal, an exercise I had always enjoyed and found therapeutic. However, the mild brain damage caused by my reduced oxygen and coma made the physical act of writing difficult. My hand didn’t react quickly enough to the words pouring from my head. I became frustrated when I couldn’t make the pen create the thoughts I wanted to put to paper. I had never used a keyboard for “my writing” but now the computer was the only way for me to capture my thoughts at a pace matching my brain. I have always been an excellent typist and thankfully the fine motor muscles needed for this were still working up to par!

I have always performed better when I have others to hold me accountable, so I registered for a local memoir writing class with the brilliant Marion Roach Smith – The Memoir Project. I have always been comfortable in front of an audience and have performed and spoken in front of people from a young age. Yet I was terrified the first time I had to read my work to the class. I was asked to be vulnerable, to honestly share thoughts and ideas I had kept hidden from the public and only allowed my inner circle to witness. I could share my writing with those I loved, but to share it with strangers?! I thought of Mary Jane, of my promise, and knew facing my fears was necessary for me to fulfill my vow.

One night in class, Marion mentioned Jeff Goins blog. Jeff’s eBook You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One) was the kick in the pants I needed to allow myself to declare myself a writer. And writers write (DUH!). I would need to practice writing, and blogging would help me while giving me the accountability and motivation I needed. Someone, somewhere, will see I am blogging. I may or may not know that person, but just knowing someone will receive an email when I hit “publish” is enough to keep me on task.

Now I am part of the Intentional Blogging Challenge, and I am being guided through exercises designed to help me focus my writing and my blog. I mentioned yesterday I find these tasks are overwhelming. I didn’t start this blog with the intention of growing an audience. I’m still writing for me, to develop a writing habit. If others are moved by what I write and enjoy my work, it is such an amazing vote of confidence and more than I ever dreamed would happen.

Right now the answers to the questions I posed way back there in my first paragraph are simple. I started blogging because I view it as good writing practice. I need to allow myself to be a writer and to actually write if I am going to make good on my promise to my sister Mary Jane. I will never write the book I vowed to write if I don’t view myself as a writer, and as I said before, a writer writes!

I hope to clarify my writing voice, to gain discipline and spark some conversations along the way. I only allow myself to look at blog stats once every 2 weeks because I don’t want to get distracted. There will come a time when those statistics matter, when I will care about what is resonating with my readers. I’m not there yet, and I’m grateful those of you who are reading have been patient with me while I explore. I am reading each and every comment – and do my best to reply to all within a timely manner. It’s only fair that I do my share of  communicating if I am asking for your input.

Yes, I need to write that book. I promised my sister I would, and a vow between my sisters is sacred, not to be ignored. In the meantime, I will use this blog to continue to share my writing. I wrote this in my first post, and it bears repeating here – thank you for letting me be what I used to be too afraid to be, a writer who shares her writing with others.