I’m not a writer.
When I sit down to write a blog post, I start thinking about easily-dividable things I can write.
It’s not that these types of content don’t have value – they absolutely do. And I enjoy writing (and reading) them.
I want to be a next-level writer, though. If I want to be successful at this, I have to push myself beyond my comfort levels. I have to get personal and vulnerable… and this is hard for me.
True writers put themselves into their work. They open up a side of them that isn’t normally seen. That isn’t to say I need to air all of my dirty laundry – no, you don’t need to know about the terrible life choices I made when I was 14 years old – but it does mean that I have to allow my audience to see just a little bit of my life… rather than keeping my distance.
That’s how you build a meaningful connection with your audience.
I’ve seen this play out before
I’m often amazed at what my email list responds to.
When I posted about my struggles getting Book 5 published, I received a swarm of notes from readers encouraging me on my journey. I once sent out an email about how I injured my wrist working in my wood shop, and I got nearly two dozen responses. Readers connect with that stuff.
I’ve even gotten “thank you” notes from readers who appreciate that I am sharing with them the life of an author and not just promoting books. They love getting to know me.
So if I know that this is important, and I’ve seen the results for myself, why do I still have a hard time opening up? Especially in blog posts like this?
Growing up on my own – to a fault
My mom likes to tell people that I have always had a fierce independent streak. For whatever reason, I am always determined to do things myself.
I think there are two reasons for this.
One is that, largely, I grew up alone.
As a young child, my parents weren’t really around. My father struggled mightily with his mental health, which left him often withdrawn from the family. My mother was present as she could be, but she also worked long hours to keep medical bills paid and food on the table. My three older brothers were in different stages of their lives and couldn’t really be around for me. I went to a small grade school, where I was branded the Class Nerd pretty early on and it stuck for the remainder of my time there (being my friend publicly was something of a scarlet letter kids suffered, so they didn’t bother). For years, I didn’t have much in the way of support for myself and the struggles of youth.
I don’t begrudge anyone these things. My parents tried their best, but both were limited in different ways. My brothers were older and didn’t have the time or interest to pay attention to the baby of the family for long. Kids are, in general, cruel and clique-y people by nature. With such a small school (my class fluctuated around 3-5 students for most of my grade school life), there weren’t opportunities to find kids that shared my interests. Many of them had far worse home lives than me, anyway.
Unwittingly, I learned early on in my life that, if I was going to survive, I had to find ways to cope with troubles and get through them myself. I avoided activities that left me vulnerable and embarrassed, like most sports and outdoor activities. I retreated to my imagination when I could. I often turned to television to pass the time and get my mind off of the real world. Not all of these things were healthy, but they were just what I did.
If I had a problem, I took it upon myself to either fix it or find a way to forget about it. If I were to talk about any of them at school with the other kids, they would just become fodder for them to make fun of me and make me more miserable. They never helped me. My family all had their own things going on, so burdening them with my troubles wasn’t something that I felt comfortable doing.
As a teenager, some of this was corrected. High school brought me many dear friends. I wasn’t used to having friends. It was great. I never considered myself “popular” by any stretch of the imagination, but I was inoffensive to most. And I did build meaningful friendships with people I cared about – a handful of them have lasted to this day and have only deepened.
Being surrounded by newfound friendships, I sometimes overcorrected. If I had a real struggle, like with a bad breakup, I unloaded that burden on my friends, who listened patiently. I took it too far, of course, and became something of a sad sack – a tendency that I regret to this day, as I squandered some of the most fun opportunities of my life during that period.
When I got out of high school and friends starting dying, and bigger issues in life began presenting themselves, I started to withdraw again. I eventually lived alone in an apartment, working from home (also alone), and dealing with life on my own.
I looked back on my brief years in high school, where I troubled myself over everything and dumped much of it on the people around me, and I told myself Never again.
This has become a problem as an adult
My wife and I have been married for over a decade now. She often tells me that she worries about me.
I’ve willingly taken on the burden of solely providing for the family (financially). My job has seen ups and downs, and both come with stresses of their own. Many days, I feel like I just don’t have enough hours to get what I need out the door. In stressful times, I struggle with insomnia and stomach issues.
In other words, when I’m stressed out, it’s really obvious.
But I’m still in the bad independent habit at times. When I’m troubled, I withdraw. I get quiet. I brood. I stress.
I do whatever I can to not be a burden to my wife or my kids, if I can help it. In my flawed thinking, they can’t do anything about it. So why add stress to their lives?
I try to explain to my wife that, when I’m quiet and scowling, I’ve just had a bad day and I will be fine. I just have to deal with it myself. I mean those words. And I am always fine. But it’s not healthy for me to store it all up like that.
What does this have to do with writing?
All my life, for various reasons, being vulnerable has been a bad thing. It’s been something that I have tried to avoid. I try to keep my stresses, my fears, my worries… all of it to myself.
But if I want to connect with my readers, build an audience, and create something meaningful, I have to let that tendency go.
I have to write openly about what’s going on in my head. I have to allow myself to show the scars and wounds that I’ve built up over the years. That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Audiences connect with emotion.
I can still write lists about apps I like. I can still create blog posts around productivity. But to take that next step – the step I want to be taking in 2021 – I have to write about me.
I’m the only me there is. There’s value in that. I have something original to say.
If I want to say it, I have to be vulnerable and open. Otherwise, in my mind, I’m not a writer.