Going to work naked

When your job requires you to stand naked in front of the world, each day is an adventure. This is exactly what writers do, at least the ones who write about personal stories, opinions, and ideas.

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.

Working naked
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

10 thoughts on “Going to work naked

  1. Oh Jamie,

    I love this post. I recently interviewed an artist who said that for the longest time she could never show anyone her art. The finished products had become her babies and she didn’t want to share them or have anyone comment negatively about them.

    You could have been a writer I thought.

    It’s true. Writers give birth to writing and much like any new mom we only want to hear that our babies are beautiful.

    I was a very good tech-writer – you know the kind of writing that fits neatly into a box and has nothing seeping out of the corners. It’s a very safe way to write.

    I was not teh best non-tech writer. My initial attempts at writing were formulaic, devoid of voice, and downright boring.

    I got hit by comments. I got hit hard.

    It took me a long time though, a lot of anguish, and a lot of self “get back up there on that horse” kind of talk to finally get to the point where I might bruise but I no longer bleed.

    Oh and for the record. This reader LOVED the information in your perfect bra post – who knew??

    Wendy

    • Thanks, Wendy. Glad you liked the bra post.
      😉

      You bring up a good point that any creative endeavor puts the artist in a position of exposing herself when she shares her work. We often hear about artists thinking of their creations as their “children,” but I really think that the criticisms hurt so much not because we are worried about these “children,” but because of the way their performance reflects on us … are we good mothers or bad mothers, genius artists or mediocre hacks?

      I hope that your friend let her art loose in the world, and I’m SO glad that you ventured beyond the safety of tech writing into the uncertain world of chickens and children. My world is a better place for your stories & that’s what writing is all about!

  2. Thank you Jamie – great post. I sorta like the concept of baptism by fire … except when it’s the kind your ex and ex-in-laws dumped on you. What a horrendous story – congratulations for your courage, fortitude and success. Take care, S.

  3. @Susan – It was definitely a difficult time, but – in the long run – what didn’t kill me made me stronger … and smarter!
    😉

  4. Great post! It is always a struggle no? Sometimes, the words just beg to be shared, and there is some satisfaction just getting them on the page (or screen), but sometimes, it just isn’t in anyone’s best to share them. Those are the times when is sucks to be a “grown up”.

  5. I so remember those early moments on MM. You were one of my first friends!!
    You are an amazing and talented writer. I remember one of your posts about driving to the end of a road listening to KT and thinking about your life….thinking about the next steps. Boy, you’ve really been an inspiration to me in so
    many ways. I’m so lucky to have found you online and now have the pleasure of your friendship in RL!
    I am beginning to write my parents’ story….it’s such a vulnerable time for me, but it’s one I’m jumping into. Thanks for the strength to do it!!
    Xoxo

  6. @my darling Christine,
    And you are an inspiration to me. So glad we connected way back when, and even more grateful that we managed to stay in touch over the years. I remember that KT post well … and that night, in the dark, staring out into nothing – into my unformed future. We’ve come a long way, baby! 😉

    I’m so proud of you for everything you’ve done and excited for you as you start your latest writing adventure. I know you’ll do it justice and can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

    All the best, my writer/mommy/entrepreneur friend!
    🙂

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