Writing this post marks the end of a bit of a blogging hiatus for me. It’s actually the first post I’ve published in three months.
I didn’t plan to stop blogging, but in hindsight it was inevitable I think. The reasons have something to do with the changing ways I’ve perceived myself and my own capabilities as a writer since I first started blogging in August 2011. They also have something to do with self-consciousness – and a lot to do with a certain crisis of purpose that came on and built throughout 2012.
I’m going to lay that all out here (for myself as much as for any other reason), just to kind of ground where it is that I am at this moment in time…this moment wherein I’m redefining my purpose in keeping a blog. And starting a whole new blog in the process!
2011 – the year that saw me venture into the world of blogging – was a particularly rough year for me. My husband and I separated in March of that year – the final marker of a long and steady marital disintegration. So in August, I was dealing not only with the personal fallout of that breakup (emotionally and so on), but I was also trying to guide my two kids (aged 4 and 2 at the time) through it. That wasn’t easy. Added to the whole, I didn’t know what I was going to do career-wise, or childcare-wise. I had a master’s degree in the extraordinarily useful field of medieval art history – which I’d never even utilized, choosing instead, post-graduation, to accompany my husband to a graduate program (for him) in a Kansas college town that couldn’t accommodate me. I ended up working in a bookstore for the five years between the end of my master’s program and the birth of my second child.
Making a move that severely limited my career choices actually hadn’t seemed like a terribly bad choice at the time. I knew 2 things, career-wise, when I finished grad school: 1) I didn’t want to continue on toward a PhD in the field I was in, and 2) I wanted to do something creative and flexible with my time. Added to that, we were also seriously considering having a baby. A (I hoped) pleasant and flexible (if low-paying) job, working with other readers/writers/humanities sorts, in a cool little college town, with flexibility to spend lots of time with my (hypothetical) baby seemed like a pretty decent way to spend 3 or 4 years.
If I could have foreseen that those 3 or 4 years would stretch to 6, and that they would also see the crash and burn of my marriage, I would have made different choices. But of course I couldn’t see, and I made the choices I made. So 2011 was, for me, about trying to adjust to a massive lifestyle change – and about trying to piece together a game plan for a future I’d never envisioned. It was all pretty daunting.
So, in the midst of this, I started blogging. And I started blogging for two reasons: one was practical and one was emotional. I created two blogs to meet these two different purposes.
The first blog (on WordPress) was designed to chronicle my explorations into the world of self-publishing. Indie publishing was just beginning to become a big thing in 2010/2011. I didn’t know much about it, but I found it intriguing. As a longtime fiction-writing hobbyist, I also had some fiction fragments, and one complete novel, sitting on my computer. My mom encouraged me to put them up for sale. I think she really did like them, but I also think in hindsight that what she was doing was encouraging me to step up and take a chance on myself – for which I am so grateful. Publishing those things, which I did in September, October, and December 2011 respectively, was so enormously empowering. It’s scary and exciting and ultimately a really good idea, I think, to sometimes make a leap – even if you aren’t sure you’re capable, even if you’re worried a little bit about looking stupid. I think it’s better, pretty much always, to just TRY. Take a chance. I’m not enormously proud of the quality of those bits of fiction – and I unpublished them in the Spring of 2012 for that reason. But I don’t regret putting them out there (even though it DOES embarrass me now to think about people reading them!) Doing so was such a huge step forward for me, personally-speaking. I can’t regret that.
I started the second of my two blogs on Tumblr. This was more of a personal project, as opposed to the more “business-focused” self-publishing focus of the other. I wanted a space to talk about some of the feelings I was having (post-breakup, live-changing, etc.) And I also wanted a space to share some of the the things I’d found that had helped me through some of my worst moments – helped me IMMEASURABLY – and were continuing to bolster me as far as emotional support.
The whole marriage-ending process was, for me, a time of extreme loneliness. The relationship itself had been a lonely thing for quite a long time before we actually called it quits. But after the fact, a lot of my other relationships changed as well – which I didn’t expect. I don’t know if everybody who goes through something like that feels what I felt – or if what I experienced was just a testament to the fact that I hadn’t made very good friends over time, or what. But a lot of people I expected to sympathize with me and support me simply…didn’t. My husband actually found the same problem in different ways with his friends and family. It made everything much harder for both of us than we’d even expected. I was fortunate in that my parents were supportive and loving. But they were far away when it was all coming apart. So were my brothers. As it turned out, there really wasn’t anybody else to lean on. Everybody else sort of, one by one, just fell away.
I found the support and solidarity and comfort that I desperately needed at that time from art. It came first via music, then poetry and books, then blogs (reading them before I actually started blogging.) Eventually, visual art came into it as well. And of course after I started blogging myself, I found a whole community of interesting, creative, wonderful people.
Whatever criticisms can be made of digital media and social media and technology and the way all of that is changing our society and culture, I know that I wouldn’t have been able to connect to these artistic sources without the internet and the accessibility of iTunes and websites and online interviews and reviews and all the rest of it. I mean, I lived in a small town. I didn’t have a car. I had two preschool-age children. I had no money to travel or buy many things. The music, the writing…it was a lifeline for me, to ideas and thoughts and opinions and just emotional solidarity, without which a horribly difficult period of my life would have been so much more so. I’m so incredibly grateful for the works those artists produced – and I’m equally grateful for the technology which enabled me to access them.
I started the Tumblr blog because I wanted to give back somehow. I needed very much to order my own thoughts, to work through my ideas. I needed to take some of the issues and feelings swirling around in my head and pull them out and put them somewhere where I could evaluate and analyze them…yes. But I chose a blog for the purpose rather than a private journal or something because of the profound gratitude I was feeling. I thought (and do still absolutely think) that it’s a brave and hugely worthwhile endeavor to examine yourself and your feelings and motivations – to try to connect with universal human needs and emotions. What a gift it was to me, that other people had so eloquently done this! I wanted, in my confused and amateurish fashion, to be a part of that discourse myself in some way. And I also wanted a forum, however small, wherein I could showcase some of the things (the books, etc) that had been so meaningful to me – just on the off chance that somebody else going through similar emotions/experiences might come across what I’d written and be similarly helped by those things that had helped me.
That blog represented (in hindsight) a huge surge of idealism in me, I think. I was feeling so many dark things, post-marital-breakup. I was so scared and so daunted and so worried about my kids and myself and the future. I felt so bad about myself for making bad choices in the past. I needed to believe that there were worthwhile things I could be a part of, and that I had something worthwhile to say. I needed to feel that there was purpose in what I was going through, and that I could maybe make some sort of difference in speaking to it. I wanted to believe that I hadn’t squandered my life and my choices in hooking up with and having kids with somebody who turned out to be so very wrong for me. So that’s a lot of what that blog was all about.
I frankly don’t think I ever consciously expected anybody would ever read it! I’m not sure anybody actually DID when it was on Tumblr. That changed a bit when I moved it to WordPress (in December 2011. I had decided I wanted both blogs under one umbrella so that I could just toggle between them.) But still, even on WordPress it’s not as if I was inundated with followers or anything. Everything I was doing at that time (blogging, self-publishing) was pretty much under anyone’s radar.
That changed a bit the week after Christmas, 2011. My perspective changed, at least.
One of my self-published bits of fiction got a lot of downloads that week…a lot. Like, a couple thousand (which for me was HUGE.) This work was a little romance novel – one of the fragments I’d had on my computer for a long time. It was probably at least ten years old in parts – and the newer parts I’d written really quickly, just to get the thing done and published before Christmas, when I thought it might have a better chance of getting seen. It did! Particularly as it was part of a free promotion.
I didn’t make tons of money or anything (it sold a little, but most of the attention came when it was a free book.) But the point is that a LOT of people read it – or at least read the initial preview pages and thought enough of them to download the thing. That in itself was shocking to me! It was in that moment that I realized that I hadn’t truly expected anybody to ever see anything I wrote! It made me look at what I was doing with a different eye.
And then around the end of January, a similar type of moment occurred in regard to my blogging.
My ex and I had been trying since our breakup, actively and consciously trying, to not give over to the bitterness and angst of the split. As parents to two young children, it was really, really important to both of us that we found a way to be as positive as possible in our dealings with each other. We wanted the kids to grow up with the understanding that, while life might not always turn out the way you’d like, while relationships sometimes don’t work out, what IS possible is kindness and compassion. You can always choose to be good to people, you can find it in yourself to be kind, even when navigating a lot of hurt. You can reach out to others with friendship.
We were doing a pretty good job with this, but we had our moments – and around January (2012) we stumbled a little bit. It’s not that we were unkind to each other or something (so we didn’t fail in what we were trying to showcase for the kids), but we had some emotional residue to work through.
I wanted to write about this. I really wanted to blog about it on my newly-moved-to-WordPress personal blog. But I didn’t want to be super-explicit in a public forum.
What I ended up doing was talking about it through the lens of talking about why a particular musical album had been meaningful to me throughout the last year (through the breakup and the aftermath). The album is called LadyLuck, and it’s by singer-songwriter Maria Taylor. (I’ll be re-posting that post on this blog soon.)
I was really proud of that post. It’s actually one of my favorite posts that I’ve ever written – mainly because it was coming from such an emotional place, and I managed to express what I was feeling in a way that was true to me, yet also fit the parameters I’d laid out for myself (not being too intrusive into my private life, or my ex’s, etc.) It was a really challenging piece of writing for me, as a writer, but I felt like I really accomplished what I wanted to accomplish with it. Publishing that post was a nice moment for me, as a writer (and getting it out DID make me feel better too!)
BUT…the next day I checked my blog stats. I had a lot of views of that post. A LOT. More traffic than I’d ever seen before. I couldn’t understand it. It was kind of shocking! I realized (via the stats info) that all of the readers were coming via Facebook. It took some poking around, but I soon realized that somehow Maria Taylor herself had come across my post. She actually linked to it from her Facebook page – and a lot of people clicked over from there to read it.
I actually cried! That sounds silly…but it was a big moment for me. And it wasn’t because Maria Taylor read my post, or that she liked it enough to show it to people (though I admire her music/songwriting enough that that was flattering.)
It was because in that moment I really KNEW for the first time, even more than when people had downloaded my freebie book, that I had the means, with digital media, to be heard. I could write things…and people would read them. I could put something out there – an idea, an opinion, a story – and people would be aware of it. I had a voice.
I mean, we all have a voice…right? But it doesn’t always feel like it can be heard…that it can make a difference. To realize that I had the means to speak, and that what I had to say could potentially resonate with people…this was heady and daunting and exciting and terrifying all at the same time. And it had me completely re-evaluating what exactly I was doing as a writer. And, more to the point, what I wanted to do.
Over the next few months, I pulled down my self-published fiction. I didn’t want anything out there with my name on it that I had put forward on a lark – something that didn’t mean anything to me.
I decided to take a break from fiction writing altogether, in fact, and I started exploring other opportunities – researching freelancing opportunities, for example.
And I had some success with that. By late-spring 2012, I found myself doing regular contract work for a PR company – ghostwriting blogs, editing and proofreading. It was fun…and I turned out to be pretty good at it, which was something interesting to learn about myself. Added to that, I was making regular money. This was a real thrill – and a validation that was important in that it really cemented the feeling for me that this, writing, could be – and in fact WAS – a career path for me. It wasn’t a pipe dream. I could make this work…and work well. This was a big deal for me.
Just to round everything out, around this time (Summer 2012) one of my posts was Freshly Pressed on WordPress. This was pretty crazy. Suddenly the readership of my blog exploded, the number of followers quadrupled. It was pretty exciting.
So everything was moving along pretty swimmingly.
But then Autumn rolled around – and things started to get complicated.
For one thing, it was at this point that my ex and I realized that getting divorced when kids are involved is an extremely complicated endeavor. We’d erroneously assumed that the most challenging aspect was maintaining amicability, so that we could work together on how to handle things. We’d done that – very well, actually. We were pretty proud of ourselves for that. We were actually in total agreement as to how we wanted to handle things legally – but we realized at this time that getting “the system” to accommodate us the way we wanted (particularly child custody-wise) was extremely confusing. We weren’t at all adversarial…but we were totally intimidated. The stakes, when you’re talking about the lives of your babies, are HIGH.
A lawyer was the clear answer here…but lawyers are quite expensive. We had wanted to finalize the divorce by the end of 2012 – and we realized there was no way that could happen. We simply couldn’t afford it. (This is an ongoing issue which I’ll be writing more about in future posts.)
The legal impediments were really demoralizing to me and I found it exceptionally hard to write through that feeling. That was one problem I began facing. But there were some purely writing-related realities that began to inhibit me at this time as well.
For one thing, I had discovered (to my chagrin) that blogging with the idea that a handful of people would MAYBE read what I’d written, and blogging with the knowledge that a whole load of followers would find my post in their inbox/readers were two very different propositions! I got really self-conscious. I couldn’t look at my writing the same way. I found myself holding it up to standards I hadn’t before. I couldn’t NOT think of readers when I was writing. I thought about people who commented regularly and about what they might say. I wasn’t writing for self-expression anymore – I was writing for an audience.
Now, this is a feeling that can be GOOD for writing, I believe. It can make for good discipline. It can help you to tighten your writing. But the problem was that I took it to a paralyzing extreme. I saw myself doing this. I tried to talk myself out of it…but I didn’t have much luck with that.
And then (the icing on this particularly unpalatable cake of non-writing) I began to have some issues with the freelancing too. As that endeavor began to look and feel like a career (rather than this cool thing I’d tried and was having success with), I started to evaluate how best to move forward with it. This wasn’t exactly a BAD thing…but I realized through that that I needed to be doing a few things differently.
To top it off, I was also simultaneously trying to decide if I should wholly abandon fiction-writing – which I’d been struggling a lot with.
Lots to consider!
Ultimately what I needed was to take some time, breathe and think, and evaluate where exactly I was (in life, in writing), where I was going (in life and in writing), and where I wanted to go. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months.
A few weeks ago, one of the WordPress Daily Prompts came through my email inbox, and it was something to the effect of, “Why Do You Blog?”
It got me thinking. And I realized that in some respects my original blogging goals haven’t changed. I shut down the indie-publishing-related blog months ago; its time had passed. But the other? That one is still relevant to me. I want to write about things that are important to me, with authenticity and truth. I want a platform for sharing the writing/other forms of art that have been meaningful to me. Blogging is a good medium for all of that.
I also want to grow as a writer – and keeping a blog helps with that too. For example, I want to practice writing different types of essays, with an eye toward developing articles that I can submit for freelancing. Blog posts are a good first step for me in that process.
I definitely want to continue to blog. I wasn’t sure about that a few months ago, but I am now. I’m still not exactly sure how to shape this blog to be something I’m satisfied with – but I’m going to see if I can feel my way there.
One thing: I thought about reworking my original blog to accommodate what in my head feels like a refined focus. But frankly, that seems like a bigger pain than I feel like undertaking. In truth, I don’t really care about salvaging all of my posts; I can copy and re-post the ones I don’t want to lose. And, while I regret losing followers, I admit that there’s something kind of interesting to me in the idea of starting from scratch with a brand new blog.
So that’s what I’m doing with this space! This monster-long post inaugurates a brand-new blog for me.