If you tell me, “I’m a writer and I think I want to open a personal blog” I’d offer you my sympathies with a huge hug.
Honestly, I may be the one who could use one.
You see, I was not trained as a writer. In fact, I’ve been discouraged to pursue this exciting and fulfilling – sometimes frustrating and nerve-wracking – insanity my whole life. Having been raised by an army officer and her old-school slash comes-from-money catholic wife, in the 80s, as an only child, my options were two: to quit being daddy’s princess and become prince charming’s wife, or to go to college first so I’d become “something real.” (Writers are ghosts; lawyers are real)
So, I struggle a lot. (You didn’t notice what I just did because, how could you? But I changed the font in my file from Open Sans – which is the only one that I can write and read with – to “Iowan Old Style” – which gives me headaches, so that I can feel that I am writing. Seriously writing. Like in the 1800’s)
I presume my struggles are the ones of someone who hasn’t been trained as a writer, because I’ve never bought a book on “how to write”. And… (don’t tell anyone) I haven’t read a novel in decades.
In case you are wondering, here is why: I was a teenager and my godmother my “book-to-read” provider. She lent me one by a storyteller (which I consider myself to be) named Poldy Bird, who used to write the sweetest, soul-changing short stories. But, after having fell madly in love with her book, I freaked out: “This is me! I would have written this with these words. People are going to think I am copying her! Must-stop-reading.”
If someone had told me, during those formative years, “That’s ok! That means that your writing is good! Keep going. You have your own stories and your own voice,” I would be swimming in millions like Scrooge McDuck. (“Millions.” Yes. My ego was created in Argentina; another thing I couldn’t choose.)
Faith that I can be one of the lucky ones, I have plenty. I believe, I visualize, and all that jazz, that I am the writer the world has been waiting for. And that all I need to do is to write, and then publish at my blog, for the Universe will take care of the rest saving me from the twisted claws of social media.
But, since no one has guided me, nor believed me (I’m not whining. Fuck them), “I struggle a lot.”
Besides, writers don’t write and publish, periodically. Bloggers do. (Being a writer at a personal blog is a whole other game) And for some mysterious reason, after fifteen years of blogging, I still refuse to think of myself as a blogger when I am editing a copy for the 156,943 time. So! As I believe I mentioned, “I struggle a lot.”
1. I didn’t have a “Sanctuary” for my writing
A few years back, I was watching on Netflix the movie “My Salinger Year.” (I may not read books, but I watch every single movie about writers I can find. I am a cinephile slash screenwriter wannabe… Oh, I did take a course on screenwriting…) And what I discovered blew my mind.
In case you haven’t watch it, it’s the story of Joanna, an aspiring writer who gets a job as a New York literary agent’s assistant, at an agency that represented J.D. Salinger. (This is based on a true story, by the way1)
Salinger was very reclusive, so he would only speak to the agency over the phone, which Joanna would answer. He calls for the first time, and when she introduces herself as Joanna he calls her “Susanna” (Rude! I know”)
On the second phone call, she mentions to him that she reads and write poetry, and he says:
“Susanna, it’s important to write everyday. You know that?”
“I’ll keep that in mind”, Joanna replies.
And I though, “I write everyday! That’s all I do for that freaking blog. Good. I’m on the right path.”
On the third phone call:
“Have you been writing everyday?” Salinger asks her.
“A lot of days. They’ve given me more responsibility around here. So, I’ve been reading manuscripts!” Joanna replies.
“You are a writer, Joanna, aren’t you? Not an agent, not a secretary…?”
(Pause here. He calls her by her real name for the first time! So I thought, “Ok, something is coming”. Let’s resume:)
“You are a writer, Joanna, aren’t you? Not an agent, not a secretary…?”
“… I don’t know”
“Sorry, I missed that. I’m a little … deaf.”
“Yes… Yes… I’m a writer”
“So write. Even it’s just fifteen minutes in the morning. Protect that sanctuary, okay? Don’t get stuck answering the phone, Joanna. You’re a poet!”
And my heart jumped off my chest. I thought, “No one told me I should have a sanctuary!”
Even though I was writing everyday, I wasn’t doing it per se. I wasn’t taking the time, those fifteen minutes per day at least, to sit down and wonder, reflect, philosophize. You know what I mean?
And I was getting so stuck answering to the SEO!… It comes with the job of being a writer with a personal blog, but we are to find a balance, to focus on what matters: the writing.
So! I began building my sanctuary since then, with a filing system and all (so I wouldn’t lose tracks of those hundreds of drafts I have). Thank you, Hollywood.
2. I used to write multiple copies at once
The following discovery took place a few months back. I got the “binge-watcher syndrome” while I was watching the second season of “And Just Like That.” (The season hadn’t ended yet, but I was already experiencing the withdrawal). So! I began watching “Sex and City” since its very first episode. But the same thing happened when I still had more seasons to watch: “I need to google more, now”.
Of course, I began with the most obvious search, “who was the real Mr. Big.” Highly disappointed, I conducted a more intellectual search: “Candance Bushnell original sex and the city column,” which I found at the Observer.2
I read some of them, and it was … enrichening, but I felt my brain was looking for something else. I just couldn’t put a pin on it.
Then, as I was watching another episode, Carrie said something like, “I need to work on my column.” And it hit me.
Her job was to pick a topic, and to focus on it for seven days. Write, and publish, “one copy.” (I have thousands of drafts with ‘the best idea ever’, some of them with a few paragraphs, that I never go back to. And when I do, I’m like, “What did I want to say with this?” Ugh… Do you feel related? I know you do… Hug?)
Focusing on one copy when we’re developing the content of a blog, it is as hard as it can gets. But I gave it a try and it did wonders for me.
3. I was afraid to be “too much”
Our comfort zone is so… comforting, right? 🤦🏻♀️
My brain is one wonderful, creative, and weird human organ. It’s been developed in a particular way (a books says it has an attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity; I pay no attention to it). Due to its development, I have no filter (literally; it’s a thing). I feel a lot, and I say a lot. (I am also a “Highly Sensitive Person“; just click on it later)
So! Here’s what happens: frequently, when my brain begins sending to my mouth the command “say this”, my mouth doesn’t wait, and it spits the words in a very awkward (sometimes neurotypically insulting) manner. (It’s as if my brain would be baking the most wonderful brownie, and my mouth would open the oven way too early, grab the hot and shapeless thing and throw it to people, in the face.)
Now, when I write, I don’t care. I choose to write without that filter. But…, when I edit my copies, I apply the filter. Why do I do that?
I wanted (still do) my readers to understand exactly what I intended to say. And that is impossible! The moment we put our copies out there, they are opened to interpretation (and to the vicious attack of social media’s “TQ” readers, “title slash quotes out of context” readers).
Another fear I had was to change my mind after having hit the “publish” button. But now I think, what if I do? If I change my mind, it will be surely because I have reflected more and grown. (But! Does society and social media “TQ” readers know this? NO)
Determined to overcome my struggles, I got a book! “Everybody Writes” by Anne Handley3. I haven’t finished the first chapter yet, and it has already inspired me.
She says, “writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.”
As you can imagine, I am focusing on giving a damn.
- The film “My Salinger Year” (2020), written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, is available on Netflix and it is based upon the memoir of the same name by Joanna Rakoff. ↩︎
- You can find the “Sex And the City” columns at The Observer ↩︎
- “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content” by Anne Handley is available on Amazon ↩︎