I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to be more authentic in my life. Like a little baby turtle sticking my head out into the world, wondering if there’s a place for a more authentic me in it.
My intention to live more authentically formed as a little zygote of an idea a few years ago when I realized that I desperately wanted attention and I wanted it in a quantifiable form. That’s embarrassing to admit, even now, but it’s true.
It manifested most noticeably in my writing. I was obsessed with how many hits my blog posts got, how many short stories I published, how many twitter followers I could accumulate. And then when my book came out I latched onto book sales, checking my Amazon Author page every Friday morning to see how many units I’d sold and in what regions of the country.
There was a disassociation between what I was doing and why. I had thought I was writing because I loved writing, but in reality I was writing to get attention.
An Unquenchable Thirst
But knowing that I wanted attention didn’t do anything to quell the need I felt. I had this sense that there was a certain number, some qualifiable unit of something that would make me feel like I had accomplished something. And then I could let go.
But every time I reached what I thought would be a threshold of satisfaction (x number of newsletter subscribers, y number of books sold), the marker would move. Suddenly that didn’t seem like enough.
I felt a deep emotional exhaustion. I was exerting all my energy on these things that were writing adjacent, but not really my writing. I argued in my head that they were important for building an audience, and to a certain extent that was true, but I was giving them far more weight than I needed to.
I started to think about what it would mean to be more authentic. I actually do enjoy blogging. It’s a space to ruminate on things I’ve learned about the craft and business of writing. And sharing things (like how I crafted my query letter, or why I did an audio recording of myself reading my draft) feels like a way of supporting other writers, which is important to me.
But this past spring I was posting to my blog 4 times a week and tweeting dozens of times a day. I spent SO much time writing blog posts about Scrivener, and grammar tips, and California trivia. Why? Because the posts I write about Scrivener and grammar and trivia get the most traffic. Yes, they are helpful, and yes, I actually do think Scrivener is the shit (I am genuinely a big fan), but I didn’t write all those posts because I loved writing them. I was trying to drive traffic, to get attention.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But I had to stop and think about what it was that I really wanted. What I realized was that I believed that attention -> income -> more time to write.
Time To Write
Ignore for a moment the HUGE assumption that attention -> income. I could write a whole other blog post on the perpetuation of that myth.
What I really wanted was more time to write. And you you know what? The less time I spend doing all of this other shit, the more time I have to write.
So I’ve made some adjustments.
- I stopped spending so much time on social media.
- I quit Facebook and it has been glorious (seriously, if you’re still on Facebook, you should quit).
- I stopped writing posts about Scrivener and all that other crap.
- I stopped writing posts with numbers in the title (like this one: 10 Ways to Support Your Writing Career, Even When You’re Not Writing) even though they get more hits.
- I’m blogging a lot less.
In fact, I’m only writing two posts a month now. The slower pace gives me the time to dive deeper, write more authentically about what I’m thinking and feeling. It’s writing I really enjoy.
So Far So Good
The craziest part? For all the things I’ve stopped doing, my numbers actually haven’t changed at all. Yes, I checked. I mean, I managed to go weeks without checking, but out of curiosity (sparked by writing this post), I looked at my blog traffic, and it hasn’t dropped at all. Weird…
I’d like to think that’s because I’ve traded quantity for quality. I’m not switching to full hermit mode (yet). I still live in Los Angeles. I am still on Twitter, but I’m trying to be myself and drop the writing guru voice. I never wanted to be anyone’s guru.
I am still blogging (obviously). But I’m trying to do it in a way that feels true to who I really want to be. I’m being careful to spend the majority of my time writing fiction, working on the things that really matter to me.
Most importantly, I’ve stopped waiting for someone to tell me that there’s a place for me in this world. I’m here. I didn’t need anyone’s permission. And I can be whoever I want to be.
And if you’re still reading after all that, maybe you’re having a similar shift in your writing life. Maybe you too are trying to nurture that little voice inside that knows what you really want to be working on. And maybe, like me, you still have trouble letting go of doing other things you think will please the strangers on Twitter, to get you that little hit of approval.
If so, drop a note in the comments. We should probably be friends.