I started writing regularly a mere six months ago. I jumped in with eyes wide shut.
I’ve had a love affair with words for as long as I can remember. Grade school spelling bees, “word of the day” e-mails, trying out new ones, being affected by them, affecting others. The “novel” I (hand)wrote on loose leaf paper when I was 10—about a young girl with Leukemia—still sits crumpled in the back of one of my drawers, its tattered pages hole-punched and bound by fraying yellow yarn.
As a litigator, my greatest pleasure came from drafting. Briefs, motions, even research memos and client summary letters. I once savored the opportunity to write a Third Circuit appellate brief, pouring my heart and soul into crafting its cogent, meticulous arguments.
Then, one November morning, as I was readying the boys for day care, having digested more than my fair share of Huffington Post Parents articles that week, I had a thought I couldn’t shake: Why not me?
I did some, but probably not enough, research into choosing a blog name. (In fact, I’m thinking of shortening it to simply “Common Things” and would welcome your thoughts!) I wrote and I pitched and I published…and so it began. Now I’m hooked. I don’t know where it will all lead, but I’m (uncharacteristically) at peace with that.
After each of my sons was born, I always went back to work, full of reflection and reminiscence, when they were six months old. So it feels somehow appropriate to pause and process what I’ve learned so far, six months in:
1. FIND YOUR PEOPLE.
Find your role models, those you admire—whose words touch your soul. Each and every time. You will read their writing and the ache of recognition will cut so deep, it hurts. These are your writer crushes. I have several. When you find those people, don’t let them go. Follow them, visit their blogs—often, engage with their words. Allow them to inspire you, to make you want to be better, dig deeper. Hopefully they find you back—but don’t make too much of it if they don’t.
You may find yourself in a circle of people who are all referring back to each other, and it may feel like you’ve crashed their middle school lunch table. You probably have. So what? Pull up a chair; I bet they’ll scooch over to make a little room for you.
Find others who are just starting out, like you, so you can stumble together. They’re not as visible, and so harder to find. I’m still looking.
2. EMBRACE, BUT TEMPER, YOUR TWITTER ADDICTION.
On the one hand, it will lead you to strange and wonderful places. Tapping into a community of writers online has already added a richness and complexity to my life in a way I never would have thought possible. In ways I’m just beginning to understand. (I swear my husband will lose it if I tell him one more thing about “this writer I follow on Twitter.”)
On the other, it can be all-consuming, greedy with your time and attention, and take you away from being present, from living deliberately—which is truly why we write in the first place. To capture elusive moments in time and grasp them tightly, so as to live them over and over again and share them with the world.
You simply can’t keep up with everyone, all the time, so don’t even try. It’s impossible, and it will drain you. There will be nothing left of you, for you. For your thoughts. For your words to fill their space—at first awkwardly, but then with strength and purpose. With honesty and heart.
3. MAKE LISTS IN TWITTER.
Once I was following several hundred people, my time on Twitter began to feel disorganized, hectic, and directionless. I needed a way to cut through the noise. I created a (private) list of my favorite writers, and then when that grew too large, I subdivided that list into categories such as “Not To Be Missed” and “Humor.”
Follow back generously, but then narrow your focus. Life, and your Twitter feed, moves too fast for you to spend your time trying to keep up with every single tweet.
4. DISCOVER YOURSELF.
This is the hardest work of all. Finding your voice. Figuring out who you are all over again. Discovering who you want to be on the page. Making sure those are one and the same.
I can be snarky, funny even…more so in writing than in person, I’m told. But I’ve realized that for the most part, I’d rather leave regular humor posts to those who are really, truly funny—like all the time, without even trying. I feel much more comfortable in my own skin when I’m writing a sentimental piece about my children’s fleeting youth or how we, as mothers, as people, can be there for each other.
Write what you know. Write what feels good. Your natural voice will be apparent to your readers; they will be drawn in by your authenticity.
5. DEVELOP A THICK SKIN.
The comments section, the rejections from publications, your own self-criticism…it can do you in, if you let it. Don’t. It’s not worth it to stifle your voice because of occasional disapproval—from yourself or others. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep your chin up and carry on.
You will stumble. You will fall. You will write something that’s a total piece of crap—but you’ll publish it anyway. You’ll write something you’ve edited for weeks and you’re convinced is pure gold and…crickets. You’ll spew something onto the page in under an hour and it’ll go viral. It may feel unfair what generates mass appeal—what garners the most “likes” or “shares.” Like when the title track of an album becomes a radio sensation, but it’s often the lesser-known songs tucked away elsewhere that are far more beautiful. So…
6. (TRY TO) IGNORE THE NUMBERS.
Quality is more important than quantity—I’m trying to internalize this. Why am I so concerned with my number of Twitter followers ticking up if what really matters is that people I admire and respect are listening in? Or that I’ve affected even *one person* with my words–made them think, or smile? Or (better yet) nod with profound understanding?
Don’t get caught up in who follows you back or how many blog views you get (easier said than done); just keep forging ahead. Write for you. Not solely to be read. Sometimes I imagine a world in which we wouldn’t see how many “followers” someone has at all.
7. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SING SOMEONE’S PRAISES.
Loudly. Who doesn’t love a compliment? We all like to be read. Putting yourself out there to proclaim your love for a post or its author is often met with genuine gratitude—and perhaps even some reciprocal praise. Or better yet, the start of a true online friendship.
8. DON’T MISS OUT ON YOUR LIFE.
At times, I’ve been tempted to pass on an outing or social opportunity—a lunch with an old friend or a walk in the park with my kids—to finish a piece or get something onto the page. But inevitably, every time I push myself to get out, I end up inspired with an idea for a new post. You never know where your next story will come from. If you have a thought about something you want to come back to later, just jot yourself a few notes (apps like Simplenote are great & very user-friendly), and be on your way.
Be open to the world and curious about others. Live your life. The words will come. Writing about the world around you demands living within it.
Be you. Write. Follow those who move you, day in and day out. Read and write in equal measure. Find what you love and love it hard. Give it your all.
Find the raw reflections within you that inevitably resonate with others, put them on the page, send them out into the world, and bring us together.
I’m still finding my way…what advice would you give to burgeoning bloggers/writers? (I’ll be listening!)