When I started writing for THRED three years ago, I experienced an unexpected blessing. A college friend contacted me to ask if I would be a social media volunteer for this new project she was working on. I said “sure,” then in an unusual moment of self-promotion, asked if she was going to need any writers for this new venture.
What followed was two years of freelancing and a chance to get my writing on a public stage.
Over the course of that two years, I found myself writing less and less for myself, mostly because I’m one person and I can only do so much. Two summers ago I started writing a camping memoir but otherwise my personal blog mostly sat dormant.
Then my freelancing gig came to an end and suddenly I had the urge to dust off the blog and start writing for myself again. I drew inspiration from the nearly 80,000 words of a mess of a camping memoir that I had written and started recounting each camping trip, beginning with our Campsgiving 2018 trip. Then I wrote about our entire Christmas camping trip.
Then I decided to present myself with a challenge: one blog post a week, without exception, on everything and anything that even remotely related to my theme of the “unexpected journey.”
It was a daunting task, a personal challenge that would not further my teaching career and would make me no money. It meant giving up on other hobbies and instead writing late at night to meet some arbitrary deadline. Some days it meant ignoring my family for an hour so that I could write just for myself.
But I did it. In the end, I wrote 91 blog posts and published over 130,000 words in 2019 (before this post). For someone who once believed that there was no way I could get a doctorate because I couldn’t write that many words, I wrote twice as many as one would find in a typical dissertation. I started actually using my Twitter account and created an Instagram profile. I went to a writing conference and started seriously editing a manuscript that needs a lot of more work (and an agent). One of my friends and fellow writers encouraged me to start using my blog as a place to workshop my writing and try new things. And along the way I learned so much.
I learned that…
I can’t write everything I want to say in every single blog post. This is hard for me because I have so much to say, but unless I’m quitting my day job and deciding to completely ignore my family, there is no way I can write everything that I have to say about the world around me. I’ve also learned that this is a good thing, because some things are better left unsaid.
Some ideas are just that, ideas. Just like I can’t say everything I want to say about a given topic, there are some ideas that should just stay ideas. I may not be an expert or I may not be the right person or be the right voice for that particular issue or point. And I’ve learned that this is ok.
Some weeks, the non-binding agreement with myself can be really hard. There have been weeks where writing has been like going for a run when I really don’t feel like exercising, but even on those weeks I’ve found something worth writing about and even those pieces have turned out ok.
Sometimes I have to let my writing breathe. I have started blog posts that have sat in my drafts folder for months. I’ve written a couple sentences, stopped, thought about them, and logged out until another thought hits me. Some of my best pieces haven’t been those where I’ve hit publish in an emotion-driven fever, but instead the ones I’ve spent weeks and months processing.
Sometimes the platform matters. One of the things I stopped doing on my personal blog has been writing about education. I’ve moved those unique posts over to education websites where I know that the audience is definitely teachers who will be more interested in what I have to say than a general audience. It’s one of those lessons I wish I had learned a long time ago, but it is a lesson better learned late than never.
Just because no one reads it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the writing. This is hard for me, because like most writers, I don’t want to write for an audience of one. There is no way to know which posts are going to become popular and which posts people will read. I have to remind myself that even when I have written for a much bigger platform (such as THRED or Bored Teachers) the actual reading numbers can be significantly less than even the likes or shares. Even though it can be disheartening when only a handful of people read a given post, I learned through the experience and that is what matters.
Taking a chance to write outside of my blog is hard, but worth the occasional success. I don’t know what made me finally decide to submit to Scary Mommy, but when I finally buckled down and looked at submission guidelines and discovered that I could submit something I had previously published on my personal blog, I decided to give it a shot. I submitted a handful at once and the one that got accepted wasn’t even the one that I initially submitted. In the last year I’ve submitted many and have gotten three printed. I’m pretty happy with those current odds and will gladly take even small successes.
I wouldn’t hate it if this eventually became my “day job.” Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love helping students discover their voice as they study the voices of others. But after years of helping students discover their own voices, I’ve really enjoyed using my own voice and putting it out there for more than an audience of one. While I have no desire to quit anytime soon, I’ve decided that at 40 years young, it’s never too late to make that a lifelong, “someday” goal.
The above lessons don’t even begin to scratch the surface of all that I’ve learned in the last year of regular writing and it is a practice I have no intention of giving up. I know that there are going to continue to be harder weeks than others, but it has been an important practice that I know I need to keep doing as I work towards bigger and more challenging writing goals.
And maybe 2020 will finally be the year I finish writing that book.
Sarah is a high school English teacher, yearbook adviser, wife to an amazingly supportive husband, and mom to two quickly growing kiddos. When she’s not working to balance life as a working mom, she uses this space to write about the wonderful complexities of life as a wife, mother, and teacher, as well as her family’s camping adventures whenever they can get out of town.
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