I started my first journal in the winter of my seventh year, but it took me three decades to share my words publicly. It was 2007, and I was in the throes of a decidedly less-than-amicable divorce – a trauma that held my then three year-old daughter in its cruel clutches. I had just discovered an online community called Maya’s Mom and I began to tentatively journal about my experiences with lawyers, mediators, and the court system. A few weeks into the experiment, I received an email from an editor at the site, inviting me to come on board as a paid columnist. They wanted me to continue chronicling my misadventures in a marriage gone wrong.
I hesitated, but only for a moment. I’m a writer.
Three years later, I have over 500 blog posts in orbit around the Web. Some are about business, some are about writing, and some are about personal topics like relationships and being a mom. That first stint – writing on a very personal subject for a very tough audience (my ex and his two sisters were routinely the first to leave comments … and they weren’t kind) – proved to be an excellent training ground for the blogging journey that lay ahead of me.
When you are writing about personal topics, it really is a little like being naked for all the world to see. If you want to connect with people, you need to get to the heart of the thing – whatever it is. You need to peel back the façade and get at the juicy bits, the raw bits, and the not-so-pretty bits. If you dress your stories up in politically correct straight jackets, they lose their ability to reach out and grab people.
Even when I’m writing about less personal topics, I run the risk of getting someone’s feathers in a bunch. Each personal opinion, perspective, or idea I express feels a little like losing another garment in a game of strip poker. With each word I publish – whether digital or in print – the reader gets to see a little bit more of me. The line between my personal and public “persona” begins to blur.
Developing thick skin
The first thing I had to acquire for my journey was a thick skin. My editors at Maya’s Mom were unbelievably supportive and wonderful mentors. Having been in the game longer than me, they had already survived their initial hazing. As my ex and his family hurled libelous accusations and insults across the internet via lengthy and venomous comments, the editorial team at Maya’s Mom coached me through the experience. With their guidance, I learned how to deflect and disarm the onslaught of negative feedback. The Maya’s Mom community rallied at my side – even without knowing the identity of my attackers who always used pseudonyms.
I took these lessons with me as I ventured out into the blogosphere. Because of that early trial by fire, I didn’t flinch or cringe when readers disagreed or got downright nasty. I kept my calm, stayed as impartial as an author could be, and focused on the work. My thick skin was often pierced by cruel and careless words, but it always healed stronger than before.
Understanding and accepting consequences
Over the past three years, I have had to make hundreds of decisions about what to publish, and what to keep to myself. Each time I sit down to write, I carefully consider how much my words will expose. I ask myself if what I have to say is worth that exposure. I think about who else might find themselves stripped bare if I hit “publish” – my daughter, my ex, my family, my friends, my clients. I put their modesty above my own and often shy away from stories that would leave them shivering on the virtual stage, hands crossed desperately in an effort to conceal their nudity.
In my case, I also have to strike a balance between my various stages. Like most writers I know, I don’t have the luxury of being able to focus on a single performance for a single audience. On any given day, I might be writing about business blogging strategy, character development techniques, why we love dogs, or my daughter’s first crush. Although each of these bits of content lives in its own world, those worlds can – and sometimes do – collide. A marketing client might be uncomfortable with my post about discovering the perfect bra; a faithful mommy reader might find my post about building a social network manipulative. The opportunities for mixed messages are everywhere.
In the end, we’re all naked
As a writer, I’ve chosen to put myself out there. It’s not always easy, but my courage to bare all grows a little each day. Although I hope to never write self-indulgent, let-it-all-hang-out posts devoid of relevance to my readers, I will continue to do my little striptease – pulling off my silk opera gloves one post at a time. My skin isn’t so thick that I’ll never bruise or even find myself in need of stitches, but my experiences have made me savvier and more confident. The risks of standing up there on the stage – no matter how small – will still be there, but I’ve learned to gauge them and I know how to make smart and thoughtful decisions
These days, I worry less about the scrutiny. I realize that we’re all naked beneath the public personas we construct. I use that old trick for shaking stage fright – the one where you imagine the audience in their underwear – to ease my nerves. And I try to remember that when I stand on my little stage – naked, but still writing – I’m standing up there for someone in the audience who’s too afraid to get naked, but who is so grateful that I wasn’t because now she knows she’s not alone.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps creative entrepreneurs (artists, writers, idea people, and creative consultants) discover their “natural” marketing groove so they can build their business with passion, story, and connection. She also blogs. A lot. She is a mom, a singer, and a dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Image Credit: obyvatel