One of the unplanned joys of blogging is the people you meet in the process. I say “unplanned” though, really, writing is all about connection, isn’t it? It’s just that you never know who will connect with you as a result of your words, how, when, or under what circumstances.
Recently, I had the joy of connecting with Bethany Rohde, first through my posts on Hieropraxis, and then through All Nine, then Facebook. Bethany is a wife, mom, writer, and very thoughtful follower of Christ. She also loves English muffins and reading C.S. Lewis, both of which make her very cool in my book.
Bethany and I started a virtual conversation about writing, privacy, exposure, utility, and more. With her permission, I share it in part here.
Bethany: I reread your post, “Pen Phobia: Writing Through the Fear.” I love your advice that, “The only cure to the fear of writing is to write.”
Writing privately is my favorite way to process the quandaries, confusion and excitement of life. A question I often ask myself is, “When should it just be a personal journal entry, and when should it be something I share with others?” Of course I’m not going to write anything that uncovers or intrudes upon someone else’s privacy. Those topics are off the table. But beyond that, do you have any thoughts you might share on how you decide that?
Kelly: It’s funny, Bethany, because that particular piece came out of a private journaling session – i.e. “writing practice”. At that time I was frustrated and full of unnamed fears, but forced myself to write anyway. Now that I think of it, many of my pieces for public consumption have started out in private writing practice and/or journaling, or parts of them have. It’s when I feel the most free to explore new ideas. (That said, I write a TON of things privately that will never be seen by the public. They are just for me, or they are crap, and belong in the crap pile.)
I boss myself around quite a bit in private writing. And it turns out, some of what I tell myself, well, it seems useful and I think others might benefit. I run it by a friend first, and if it rises to a certain level (and it’s not just me falling in love with the sound of my own voice), then I share it.
I agree with your intrusion/”do no harm” policy for what not to share. Other measures I generally use to determine if I’ll share something publicly are things like,
1-Will it be useful to others?
2-Will I regret this later? (e.g. Is it unprofessional, not polished, too angry/sad/freaky/etc.)
3-Does it fit? i.e. Thematically does it work for my blog or as a guest post for someone else or as a poem for some journal?
It’s always a judgment call and I find that the more I do this, put stuff out there, the more comfortable I am with pushing the envelope with more edgy things, things I would have pulled back on when I was younger and more concerned about being liked. That’s when it gets real, where people can really connect. The “Pen Phobia” piece is a good example of this. There is so much in there that, in a previous version of my writing self, I never would have said for fear of offending (“crap”!) or exposing myself (meaninglessness…) too much or exploring weird imagery (elephant in fuzzy slippers). But it’s been one of my most read pieces ever. So, sometimes you just have to go there, to those scary-weird places (the places, I would argue, where redemption becomes real).
I think a key thing here is to make sure whatever the content, it is done with excellence. Respect the words.
Bethany: Actually, when you said “crap” in that post, I immediately felt like we were keeping it real. You held a great place in that tension in the tone where overall, it was so anti-sanctimonious but never disrespected the importance of your subject.
I think that is part of my little self-made conundrum: “will it fit?” My little blog of four essays was not intended to be a blog at first.
Kelly: The fit question is sometimes harder with your own blog, since you are the one who can always decide to change what fits or doesn’t. When someone else is putting constraints around the topic, it can help. Fewer decisions to make.
Bethany: I could create a separate blog that is for other topics. But what happened was that no one in my circle of friends/family (besides my brother) had every talked about these issues of intellectual honesty in combination with our faith. I know several people whose journey with Christianity has now brought them to different conclusions about God. I imagine some of that is because of unaddressed doubts, or witnessing some deplorable, hypocritical situation.
So I thought… “There has to be at least one voice in here that attempts to squeak out: ‘Maybe there’s more to this story, Friends.’”
I tried to just write it on FB but it wasn’t working. So I thought, “I can format freely in a blog! And it is literally free.”
So I put that “Personal Question List” about my own journey there instead. And then I had a couple more thoughts… And now, after 10 years of not writing anything but email and grocery lists, I remember how much I adore writing! And now… I’m stuck.
Kelly: I wouldn’t recommend a spin-off blog. That’s a vicious circle. You may want to consider Jeff Goins’ Tribe Writers class. It’s a very supportive group of bloggers at various levels of experience. Once you pay for the class, it’s pretty much a life-time membership. I started it in December and still need to finish up the last bits of it, but have very much benefited from the “tribe” of writers involved. Very encouraging.
Bethany: Well, thank you for your kindness … I am a bit lost if/how I fit in with writing anything outside of my journal, but this helps give me some ideas of what to do next.
Kelly: We’re all a bit lost, truth be told…
Bethany: Comforting to know I’m in good company.
The only reason I started sharing my writings was in hopes that maybe… *perhaps* it might be helpful to one person in my circle who read it. (It turned out that it was to one person in particular. I am so grateful to God for that!)
Anyway, I have been reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Adequacy” over and over these last two weeks. I really want to write my thoughts on it. It would be a good exercise for me and I would just thoroughly enjoy the experience. But this is where my question continues: “Should I share what I write? Will this be helpful to anyone else?” I do think it is going to speak to some of the ideas in my blog essays (how hypocrisy can do the cruel work of blurring the lines between what is “God’s doing” vs. “man’s free-will choosing”).
But also, I want to be able to share some things that are on other less-direct topics concerning God. What I mean is instead of saying, “Here are the reasons why I believe in God…” I would also like to share my thoughts on matters that are perhaps a bit more indirect and less “scary” for people of other beliefs to read and digest slowly.
Besides writing about the poem, I would someday talk about Sensory Processing Disorder, which my son has and has come such a long way in! There is hope! Or I would like to write on how culture can color Christianity a different hue than it really is.
All of this to say: I think you are entirely right that having your own blog space makes it very difficult to decide what “fits!”
Kelly: If God is the creator of all, as I believe He is, then all things can point to Him. Poetry, art, education, mental/physical/emotional health, etc. You don’t need to limit your blog to any subject, per se, but understand your own voice which would come through with whatever you talk about. The more you practice writing (both privately and publicly), the more you will refine your voice. Keep going.
Kelly Belmonte is a published poet, blogger (http://allninemuses.wordpress.com), and management consultant with expertise in non-profit organizational development and youth mentoring. She currently serves on the board of directors for Exeter Fine Crafts in Exeter, New Hampshire. Her published book of poetry, Three Ways of Searching, is available through Finishing Line Press.