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The second-most transformative thing I've ever done for my writing
I now think it is the second-most transformative thing I’ve ever done for my writing and storytelling. It’s almost easy to forget about because the change was so gradual, taking place over a long period of time, going back to when I started a blog in 2010.
Here are 5 ways blogging changed everything for me:
Finding my nonfiction voice: Back in 2010, I was a fiction writer trying to learn how to write personal nonfiction, which specifically meant trying to find my voice when it wasn’t hidden behind a fictional narrator and fictional situation. When it was just me writing about my boring old life and thoughts. Then, I started a blog, PhD in Creative Writing. For the first year or so, I had very few subscribers, so it felt like a secret. I was free to write whatever interested me in a way that interested me. But even if it was a secret, it wasn’t private. I had to imagine a “public,” a reader. In doing so, post after post, I “found my voice.”
Finding what I have to say: Like Joan Didion, “I don't know what I think until I write it down.” Keeping a blog forced me, not just to find my voice or how to say something, but to figure out what I had to say, what I thought. I figured out what I love about Prague and Franz Kafka and the Sedlec Ossuary (aka Bone Church), about the author Herta Müller, about the movie Julie and Julia (hint: it’s about writing!). I figured out what my annual New Year’s NON-resolutions would be and made them public so they’d stick. And I figured out why Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater felt so much more special to me than the Robie House. These are all good things for a writer of one book set in Prague and one set at Fallingwater to figure out.
Connecting with a Community: But I didn’t want the blog to be only about me, I wanted it to be a resource for others, and, as an athlete who fumbled my way into writing, I was really interested in how ANYONE became a writer, so I from 2011-2015 I ran a bi-weekly interview series, “How to Become a Writer,” where writers answered the same 5 questions about their journey. I interviewed people I knew, but I also “met” a lot of other writers through recommendations, and it expanded my community in wonderful ways. It also led to my blog being “Freshly Pressed,” which meant that it was featured on the Wordpress home page and lots of readers got interested in the series and the writers, and I gained subscribers.
Early practice with visual storytelling: I also learned a lot about visual storytelling because I loved pairing photos and images with my typed text. The blog was also a little gallery of sorts for my own art. Even just making the header collage of women working (creating/harvesting) was a creative act.
Switch to Substack, more of same: In 2022, I made the decision to switch from Wordpress to Substack, where I started creating this illustrated newsletter, The Habit of Art. (You are here! Thank you!) I learn from each post. I figure out what I think. I draw things I don’t expect (like people made from letters; like talking flowers). I practice developing my visual voice. I learn so much each time I go through the process of coming up with an idea, finding words and images, cutting and adding, hesitating and sharing, and interacting with readers.
It may also be worth noting that I was an inconsistent blogger, sometimes posting only 2-5 times a year. I’m a little inconsistent here too, but I’m also surprised at how many posts I already have created in a little over a year! It adds up.
I know we all probably have newsletter overload right now (just me?), but, if you haven’t already, consider starting secret blog or a public newsletter. Take it from a talking water lily: