I used to write a blog. This blog. I started it anonymously during my second year of law school, I think. Maybe my first year, actually. I can’t really remember when, but I remember that I was having a lot of feelings and needed to write it out. Anyway, the timeline isn’t that important. What is important is that looking back, I see a pattern in my creative life: I have this urge to write, and I follow it, and then I get scared.
Now maybe the urge to write, maybe that is just a distraction. I doubt this urge a lot, find it quite silly and a little embarrassing. If I really want to write, then shouldn’t I have some kind of clear idea what to write about? I struggled in my college creative writing classes because I couldn’t really choose a topic. I was very critical of my creative self and felt that all of my ideas were stupid and weak. I was afraid people would think what I wrote was lame. (I named all of my characters Jess for the entire semester. My professor wrote on my final portfolio something like You were the smartest person in this room and you could have been the best, if you had tried a little harder. It was my first B.)
It’s hard for us, I think, to really know the difference between what we are supposed to do, what we want to do, and what we are afraid to do. I read something this week that reminded me of this feeling – that we sometimes doubt our “callings” because they don’t always feel like we have been told they will. And sometimes the things that I am most afraid of doing are the things that, once I take the plunge and give it a try, are the things I am most proud of accomplishing.
So anyway, back to this pattern. I followed the urge. I started a blog (and it was really terrible, and oh, the graphics – so horrible) and I kept at it, bit by bit. I was nervous and afraid each time I hit “publish,” and yet I really loved what I was doing. I had only a handful of readers for years, and then I took on a blogging challenge where you posted each day for an entire month. It was fun and also terrible, and I wasn’t sure how healthy that experience was for me so I wrote about it. That post was selected for the front page of wordpress.com. And then – I had thousands of views in a few days and I was on top of the world. It was a rush: I had written something that someone important thought was good, and had shared with others, and those other people thought it was good and helpful too. I was in love with blogging.
Somewhere in there I connected my anonymous blog with my real-life facebook profile. I was proud and wanted to show my people what I had done, but I was also afraid that “people” would “find out” and think I was “silly” or “over-indulgent.” I felt that writing on the internet would be a source of personal and professional shame for me. I went through periods of excited writing followed by periods of absolute fear. (Hey other writers out there – do you feel this way too?)
I didn’t want for my blog to be silly or indulgent or a professional liability or something people would make fun of me for. But I also think that those fears originate from something I shouldn’t let control my actions. We shouldn’t have to feel guilty about the things that give us pleasure. And as a woman, I shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed that some stereotypically female activities like journaling, blogging, crafting or cooking make me happy. I get to be a fully integrated person, who is serious professionally and yet still totally me, and I shouldn’t have to feel nervous that if the internet reflects my true personality my professional reputation will suffer. (I mean, seriously, it’s not like I’m doing anything weird.)
But I do worry. Just because I think intellectually that a thing should be true doesn’t mean that my secret inside person is fully there, all the time. I’m still nervous that waking this blog back up, after letting it sleep in maintenance mode for over a year, is the wrong choice. I am still afraid that my boss or my colleagues would find it and be like Ahahaha you are so silly and ridiculous, look at this blog with purses and makeup and feelings everywhere!
But I miss writing to you. I want you back. And I might get scared and go dark again in the future, I can’t promise that I’ll consistently be brave. But I am here, on October 1, turning my little blog-project back on and saying hello.
Today I’m scheduled to join an online blog tour, to share a bit about my personal writing processes. You can read prior submissions by:
I’m trying to put my finger on what feels so odd about these questions and answers, but I’m struggling to identify and edit out the awkwardness and so I’m going to share where I am at this moment. These answers may feel odd because I’m still identifying exactly what kind of writer I am and what kind of writer I want to become, so while I’m posting the middle of the story today, six months or a year from now I’ll be able to look back and see how far I’ve come. Anyway, let’s get to it:
What am I working on?
In advance of the Festival of Faith and Writing, I chose a topic to focus on for 50 days and spent some time each week (mostly on Sunday afternoons at a local coffee shop) writing. By April 10 I had about 15 pages of a draft non-fiction book proposal: a 80% research/20% memoir on leadership and career development and being female. I’m not sure I’m ready to write about that topic yet, so I’ve put it on ice while I regroup. I thought that FFW would leave me inspired but instead I’m a little frozen up by the multitude of options I have. (Also, because I have been completely swamped with other things). I’m excited to wrap up a few big projects at work so I can free up a little mental space and jump back in.
This month I’ve been working on the technical side of my blogging, including converting this space to a self-hosted blog at wordpress.org and going through some blogging bootcamp workshops created by Julie at www.fabulousblogging.com.
Why do I write what I do?
My best skills are wrapped up in my writing life, but I don’t always know how to use them, and I really struggle with how to use them creatively. This may sound weird, but I love writing project reports, shaping policy proposals, and building persuasive documents that let me dig into the pros and cons of an idea. I like to read, research, and consider a topic until I understand how complex ideas or systems fit together and can begin to see places where ethical questions or institutional incentives come into play. That sounds incredibly nerdy, but what I mean is that I like to pull ideas apart and see where they are weak or inconsistent, and then think and write about ways to strengthen the foundations or resolve any conflicts. It takes courage to examine your own core beliefs and see if they can hold up under pressure, and this is one of my favorite things about my brain. (It can also be a bit of a bummer. Just saying.)
How does my writing process work?
I’m always thinking about something — usually about a few different things all at the same time. I have a notebook where I jot down what I’m thinking. Writing it out helps me begin to sort my thoughts and bring some organization to what’s going on in my head. I’m a huge believer in diligent editing, and I will edit and re-structure and then edit again. I’ve never understood when people say that they wrote something and that the first writing of it was cathartic or therapeutic and then they post it online in that form. I’m fine with that for more casual life updates, restaurant recommendations, and that sort of thing, but the more personal or controversial a topic, the more time I like to let pass between my first, second, and third drafts.
How is my work different from others of its genre?
I really enjoy writing this blog, but I have a full-time job that uses up a ton of brain space and I’m not trying to change that. I love working and I don’t think of this blog as a way to get a book contract so I can quit my job and write forever — that whole idea sounds pretty terrible to me. Instead, I write to keep family and friends up-to-date and to learn to use my words creatively. My words need a less-serious outlet and writing here keeps me sharp and free and makes me happy. I think that’s what makes my writing here different from other bloggers in my “genre.” Also, I don’t know if I actually have a genre.
Okay, that’s where I am. If these answers seem a little awkward to you, then we are on the same page! I’m excited for the next writer on this blog tour because I know she is for real and will have insightful and uplifting answers. Be sure to stop by Marvia’s blog next week for her version of the writing process tour.
And, I don’t say it enough: thanks for sticking with me through these transitions. We’re almost at the finish line. Do you like the new header and layout? Missing anything? Let me know.
I mentioned last week that I’ve been working on my blog, putting in the time behind-the-scenes to make this space better. I’ve been re-labeling categories and editing or deleting tags, which requires spending a lot of time in my old posts. Lord have mercy, the graphics. Nothing humbles the spirit like the blog posts you wrote three years ago.
I have a lot of work to do before this first step is complete, but as I review and organize my old blog posts, I’ve noticed something. Again and again I’ve told you about these great ideas I have, some new routine I want to adopt to improve some facet of my life or some new skill I want to develop — and then, nothing. Nada. Just a bunch of quiet, a mention of what I ate for breakfast or a quick photo of a fish I caught, until I’ve come up with some other new and different goal, skill, adventure to talk about.
I talk about things here as if I have everything under control and really believe in my success. I write about a new idea or habit with the attitude that once I’ve written about it, it’s basically done. But that isn’t how things work. Writing down a goal or telling you I’d like to change my habits or patterns makes no difference in my actual habits or patterns. Whether I post it on the internet or attempt to make some kind of related graphic does nothing to change that — I still have to do the actual work.
It’s easy to forget the work, isn’t it, when we’re so full of ideas? It’s exciting at the beginning. Those first few steps are pretty fun. But now that I’ve re-categorized 50 blog posts and deleted the 100 tags, I am so over this whole blog-improvement effort. I want to move on to the next step and start working on cool new content and moving my blog to a new host. I’m tired of trudging through the muck of old blog posts that probably aren’t all that good anyway.
But if I really want to change anything, if I really want any of my ideas and adventures and attempts and habits to stick, to become part of my real life, I need to go deeper than the surface and really put the time in. That’s true when I’m working to become a morning person, or plan our meals each week, or add a little sparkle to my daily life, just like it’s true when I want to make my blog work better for you.
This middle part — the part between starting out on a new journey and completing your goals — it’s kind of boring. I’d like to skip right over this part and get to the good stuff, but I don’t have any good stuff right now. Instead, I have long, steady, tedious work that continues. So far, this work has created a new menu for you on my blog — a menu that isn’t quite finished. Well, the menu itself is finished, and if you look up top you can see it right now(!!!). It has drop-down menus to find content by category and sub-category. The content isn’t fully aligned to the menu yet, so there might be a few surprises in there. But I’m working, and I really want to finish this thing, to complete this task as well as others that will follow. Only 350 blog posts and 800 categories to go.
One. And Then I Stopped Talking to my Husband, by Laura Tremaine at The Hollywood Housewife.
My husband’s world is very big and very full. Even a strong woman could feel diminished next to his circus. When we are alone in our home as a family, I’ve never been more complete. When we are alone in our bedroom cheek-to-cheek, I’ve never been more happy. But in the large picture, standing next to a man of great stature can be very lonely.
So, by the time his car was speeding towards LAX, he knew very, very little about anything going on with me. Because I hadn’t told him. He hadn’t asked, necessarily, but I definitely hadn’t offered. It wasn’t a standoff, because it hadn’t been purposeful, but we had drifted apart while standing next to one another.
Two. Rebecca Makkai for Ploughshares with So, Sue Me…
The response (I’m tightly paraphrasing so I don’t get sued for copying the email) read: “Sorry. The rate is $3,000 for 300,000 copies. And, to be frank, the writer should be grateful we’re not taking action against her for using the lyrics previously when the story appeared in the journal.”
And so we speedily shut our mouths, and I changed the story (my character now “bellow[s] out the chorus of the song” after singing the title), thanked my lucky stars, and made damn sure to learn how to check what was in the public domain.
Three. Ten Design Tips Using PicMonkey You Might Not Know About!, by Julie DeNeen at Fabulous Blogging. [These are not really quotable, but great tips and tricks for making your blog and other online profiles look beautiful!)]
Four. My friend Cara’s post Even If: Thoughts from the If:Gathering, over at Little Did She Know.
On that first day, there were words that resonated with me, things that I wrote down to ponder, turning them over in my mind. Still, at the end of the night, in a candlelit room, after communion, I found a familiar feeling rising inside me.
I needed to find a corner.
I ended up in the lobby, leaning against a pillar, tears threatening to fall. The sounds of the worship music of past summer camps, youth groups, and Sunday mornings wrapped around me still and I found myself whispering to God. What am I doing here?
Related: Kelly J. Youngblood’s When Thousands of Women Loved Something, and I Didn’t.
Five. Ummm, hi Deb. This chocolate peanut butter cheesecake is so delicious-looking. I can hardly handle it.
So, what’s in the cake? Well, all the peanut butter and all the chocolate, of course. You’ll start with a chocolate crust formed from chocolate cookie crumbs, ground bittersweet chocolate, brown sugar and hot melted butter. You’ll continue with a thick puddle of chocolate-peanut butter ganache nested inside this crust. Over it, you’ll pour a large bowl of peanut butter cheesecake batter with sour cream, eggs, vanilla, don’t fight it, please. . . .
Okay, that’s all I have for you today! What awesome things did you find on the internet this week?
I follow a lot of blogs (a quick count today revealed 119 blogs, but I know a few of those have been dormant for quite a while). To make it easy to keep up-to-date on all of the blogs and people I love, especially those that do not update on a regular schedule, I use a blog-reading and content organization app called Feedly.
Feedly is the greatest thing since Google Reader. It may be even better than Google Reader. The app can be slow to update when I don’t have a strong internet signal, but overall, using Feedly to connect with other bloggers was one of the best social media decisions I made in 2013. Feedly’s text is beautiful: crisp black lettering on a bright white screen. It takes out the formatting that can make content slow to load when you’re mobile, and I never encounter that awful music that automatically starts playing on some pages. Using the app, I can browse blogs while commuting, walking on the treadmill, or waiting to meet a friend. With one click I can save posts for later, which is really helpful when I’m putting together internet highlights for you each Friday.
One downside to using Feedly, though, is that I have no idea when my favorite bloggers have changed their formatting or updated the overall look and feel of their blogs. For those of you who visit this space on a regular basis, you may have already noticed that I’ve been working to make Pink-Briefcase more user-friendly and visually appealing. For those of you reading through an app, this is your invitation to click through and check everything out!
Here’s what’s new on the blog this year:
A new theme and color scheme. We went through a few themes over the last six weeks, so you may have experienced a bit of design whiplash. I wish the transition had been smoother, but I’m really not sorry because I love how things turned out.
I deleted the “library” and updated my blogroll. What seemed like a brilliant idea last year turned into a list of books I wanted to read but didn’t, and that I never updated. It wasn’t great for you or for me. I’ve also revised my list of recommended blogs. My top two favorite reads today? Corporette.com [for career-focused women] and AskAManager.org [for anyone who has ever worked in an office].
I’ve added a few rules and expectations for the blog — for you and for me. I’m always afraid that a potential job opportunity will be ruined because my intended employer stumbled across this blog and thought “this is so silly and weird, I don’t want to hire her!” So, I wrote about why I blog, to remind myself that this isn’t silly and weird [at least most of the time!] and to give you an idea of what my personal boundaries are for this space. It’s pretty personal and I’m kind of proud of it, so click over to “Why I Blog [the Disclaimer]” and let me know what you think.
I’ve added some new ways for us to connect. I’ve linked my twitter, instagram, goodreads account, and pinterest boards to the blog on the page “Let’s Connect.” I’d love to keep up with your reading, fitness, beauty, style, or recipe recommendations, so please do add me on one or all of these channels. I’ve also added an email just for this blog, so if you have a question, want to guest post, or have suggestions or comments for the blog you don’t want to share publicly, you can email them to me instead.
Even bigger, I’ve started a Facebook Page for this space. I hope to transition all blog advertising from my own profile to this Page, so that my personal life and my blog can be comfortably separate. If you normally come here through a Facebook link, you’ll want to like the Facebook page because soon I will stop linking to Pink-Briefcase from my personal profile. There’s a chance this is a terrible idea, and my blog stats will drop very low, but I’m hoping we’re ready for this. It’s something I really want to do.
I’ve made a commitment to myself and my team that I’ll be writing more this year. That writing won’t always be published in this space, but much of it will. Take some time to look around the new site, and let me know how it looks. I’m excited to see where this is going, and hope you’ll stay with me for this journey.
It’s funny how you forget your own life, how the good things slip into the dusty corners of our memories the way a favorite sweater can be lost in the back of an over-full closet, missing an entire season of usefulness. When I think over the year, I note how hard it was to wait for information about where we would be moving, and how frustrating our whole moving experience was because of the HR delays. But when I look at the photos from this year, I remember how wonderful it was, how blessed we have been with the best of friends, and how happy we are even though we are quite far from those we love. And so today, I’m taking a few minutes to look back over 2013 and appreciate the many gifts, experiences, travels, and opportunities for growth that came my way this year.
The New York Times’ Invisible Child series that will blow your mind and have you running to volunteer at your local homeless shelter, and a response and personal story from one of the bloggers I have recently begun following which responds to the series by showcasing her own story of homelessness.
1. Invisible Child, Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life, written by Andrea Elliot with photography by Ruth Fremson.
It is Dasani’s belief that she and her siblings are the cause of her mother’s ruin. It never occurs to her that, for Chanel, the children represent her only accomplishment.
[Can we just put a pin here, to talk about the layers in these two sentences? How children are a burden and a blessing, living in seemingly hopeless situations but also our only hope? Oh my goodness.]
2. Becca Rose at The Bookworm Beauty, with The Tent.
Years later, my dad would tell me,
“I’m so glad we went through that time, because it really taught you kids about faith and trusting God.”
What I wanted to say but didn’t was that no, it didn’t teach me about faith. It taught me what it feels like when God abandons you.
* * *
I constantly hear diatribes against food assistance, free health care, and other benefits that kept me alive as a child when I was homeless. I don’t think there’s a human face on the other end when people say things like this, because if they knew what it was like – if they knew how a child’s life would be affected when they vote to decrease funding for those things – I can’t believe they’d really do it. I can’t believe anyone is that heartless.
On Journaling as a Personal Practice
3. Claire de Boer at The Gift of Writing with Five Questions to Take to Your Journal (and life).
To stop, ask the question and either write the answer or ponder it throughout the day, has been the hearth to my cold wintry bones.
I’ve been trying many different journal writing techniques over the last few months—everything from writing letters, free-writing, dialoging and list-making, but to simply ask one of these five questions has been the most nourishing of all.
On Being Careful with our Words (and using our privilege and power wisely)
4. Brad Littlejohn at The Sword and the Ploughshare with The “All I Really Meant…” Syndrome.
None of this is to say that we always have to speak in carefully-measured, lifeless academese, with a footnote to define our every term so as to remove all cause for dispute. There is a place for provocation. But provocation must always be according to truth. “I’m playing the prophet!” is never an excuse for non sequiturs, or false generalizations that have no basis in reality, or for sloppy language that would confuse even a well-educated, well-intentioned reader. Moreover, even where it avoids these pitfalls, it must always be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis. Just because you might succeed in getting the attention of some that you otherwise might not get doesn’t mean it’s worth it. Not if you alienate many more whom you otherwise might have won, or sow division where you could have sown peace.
On Productive Meetings and Good Management
5. Amy Gallo for the Harvard Business Review’s Blog with The Seven Imperatives to Keeping Meetings on Track.
Valuable information regarding how to plan for meetings that are focused, productive, and positive experiences for your team. Emphasis on “planning,” because if you aren’t planning your meetings, chances are they will not be focused, productive, or positive experiences for anyone.