It’s 2011, I’m living in Los Angeles, fresh out of college and submerging quickly into my very first job post-grad, as a traveling consultant for a sorority, before I’m living back at home in my childhood room spooning with quite the collection of mint condition Beanie Babies and ancient artifacts of Tamogatchis and Pogs. I’m unemployed and an excerpt from my resume reads something like this: proficient at making mashups of Shakespeare Sonnets and Jay-Z lyrics.
We sometimes feel we have nothing…
A little bit over two years ago, I took a break from writing. Kind of like how people take “breaks” from their relationship to embark on some sort of emotionally chaotic journey in hopes of desperately figuring out what, or who, they really want—yet, they still speak every night and sneak smooches here and there. I took this hiatus to flirt with the idea that I wanted to be a motivational speaker after the briefly lived thought that I wanted to be the person who dresses the mannequins at Forever21.
But I couldn’t help bursting out the occasional anecdote. On napkins at early bird specials in Boca Raton, Florida. On the notepad of my iPhone while I was bored on a first date. On the frosted glass of my shower door after suddzing up my elbows.
…until we decide we want more.
I was working at a magazine as an editor. But really I was scrubbing dog poop stains out of carpet and decorating the Publisher’s house in Christmas decorations. I was doing everything but writing, really. So in between organizing her shopping receipts and sweeping the floor of her garage, I spit out articles on the side and sent them everywhere. But all I heard, all I ever heard, was a blunt “No, thanks”, or even more often, nothing.
And then we work harder…
Two years ago, today, I’m celebrating my Great Aunt’s 92nd birthday, stuffing down a roll of bread the size of my knee cap, listening to her whisper sweet nothings to me across the table. And by whisper, I mean shout, at full-volume, because her hearing aid and her age, make her care less about how or what she says.
Jennifer, I’m verklempt, the boys must be lining up. She screams before she’s silent.
The Jewish ones don’t wait in line. I mumble through the incessant chewing of garlic bread.
Remember, date the doctors. A dentist, Jennifer! A dentist.
There are conversations, like that one, which stick in your mind for a really long time, for all the wrong reasons. And then there are conversations that make you leave the dinner table with the urge to be and to do and to want something more, something else.
Everyone wants to live until they are old. She kisses me on the check, her frosted coral colored lipstick becomes a temporary tattoo on my face, and before she enters the passenger seat of her son’s red Mercedes, she says, But let me tell you, it’s not that great. Don’t wait around for things to happen in life, okay?”
That night I rushed home. Threw open the screen of my computer and published my very first post on a website that I intended to use as a platform to expose stories like that one, based on the things that won’t escape our minds. I wanted to give those stories a place to live, to breathe, and to inspire. I started my very own blog, The Things I Learned From.
I’m here now, with you, two years later. I’ve written hundreds of stories for this site and many others, that I convinced with endless persistence and courageous guts that I was capable of writing something that would slap their readers across the face—in the most delicate and honest way.
My inbox often entertains letters from some of you asking me how. Passionately confessing in the most raw and kind way that you have desires to be a writer and to be successful at it. Asking me what my secret is. As if I have one. As If all of this was cultivated with one simple click or in the amount of time that it takes for me to devour a fresh pie of pizza (which is only about 8 minutes, really). There’s no secret. And you’ll learn that about most things in life: diets, finding true love, getting that unbelievable job title. There’s no simple answer or way about it. If you want to be a writer, to be anyone or have anything, stop trying. Really. Stop walking around telling people what you want and how badly you want it. Take all that time, that energy, those words, and do something with them.
To start a blog, you should know:
- More than just how to write. Emerge yourself into the world of HTML, of web design, of Photoshop. Make yourself a master in more areas other than just how to put together a killer sentence.
- What you want to write about and how you plan to make that topic fresh and engaging week after week. If you’re going to be a fitness blogger, make sure you have something to say—that hasn’t been said many times before and make sure you fully believe and practice the advice or the story you’re putting out there. Your readers will know. Your readers will thank you for this.
- Work hard and then when you think you’re done or when you think it’s time to rest, work harder. I made sure to post once a week, no matter what. When my mind was all like, umm, i have nothing to write about. Or, I’d rather be off eating an overpriced brunch with my gal pal’s, I ignored all of that and wrote. I wrote in the most exotic places, too (my shower, on the subway, while waiting in line for $1 slices of pizza). Prove to yourself that excuses like “I’m too busy” or “I can’t write, here” are silly and pathetic.
- Invest in what you’re doing. Invest your time, at first, and then invest your spare change. It costs money to buy a domain name (which is a very good idea and the best present you can buy yourself and your blog) and it costs a little bit more money to host your site. Once you invest (hopefully your own) money into your blog, you’ll take it more seriously. You’ll be more reluctant to not give up on it when you see the monthly charges eating up your paycheck.
- Force yourself to post regularly. Maybe daily, maybe weekly, maybe even one a month. Whatever it is, get yourself in the habit of shooting out new content on a schedule. I’ll write a new post whenever I’m feeling in the mood, you’ll hardly ever be in the mood or have the time. And when you do, you’ll want to nap or watch The Real Housewives of Princesses of Long Island, or whatever.
- Read, read, read and then write, write, write. That’s the secret, babe. You want to be a better writer, then write. It’s really that simple. Actually, most things in life are that simple. You want to find the man of your dreams? You have to stop ordering Chinese takeout food, for one, on a Saturday night and go on dates. You want to get in better shape? You actually have to lift your torso up from the mat at the gym and…do…something. If only we followed our advice and put some action toward the complaints that flow chaotically out of our mouths.
- Never, and I really mean never, give up. I’ve received more “No, thanks” than I have “Sure, we’ll publish you”. I’ve had more people in my life telling me to STOP writing and start trying to do something else. Heck, my high school journalism teacher told me when I was 14 that I wasn’t a good writer, at all and that I should make arrangements to study something else. I owe much of my determination and success to his disgusting words. For every rejection or “you’re not good enough” response I received, I spent approximately three hours doing something to prove that person wrong. Your drive is as important as your talent.