In my normal life, I spend all day at my desk. I used to write in a coffee shop which added a shot of social interaction into my work week, but those days are over. I'd end up spending too much money, drinking too much caffeine, and as each hour passed I grew less productive, unbearably jittery and increasingly neurotic. ("Hey! Hey! Can you quiet down a little over there? I can hear you drinking!)
I've since moved my office permanently into my bedroom where I can sit and work for days at a time. As a treat, I'll get up and fold laundry. Receiving an email from my editor is a momentous occasion. Conference calls with Soulpancake writers are delightful. If I know I'll be getting feedback about a story over email on Friday, I'll lay awake all Thursday night, wild with excitement. But most of the time, I just sit at my desk.
My work life, which is quickly encroaching on all other parts of my life, is a social desert. But the conference? The conference was a tropical retreat. I was in New York! At the Hilton! With a hundred other writers! And it was catered! There were trays and trays and trays of little tiny desserts. We were given bags full of books! And I wore a name tag!
Without question, the most valuable insight I learned was how well respected blog have become within the publishing field. Honestly, this was not what I was expecting to hear. I even straight out asked about it to a panel of Penguin agents: "How do I make my blog actually register with an agent? Because I'm sure you don't go home after a long day at work and peruse the Internet for blogs."
And then, and I've never been so excited to hear these words, the (intimidating, poker-faced, fancy-suit wearing) agent leaned forward and said into the mic, "You're wrong."
Across the table, heads nodded. "Actually, we get paid to look through blogs. And then we go home, and we look through more."
In that one reply, almost every disparaging remark I've made about blogging in the past three years was contradicted.
One of the most remarkable moments in my career occurred during lunch.
Lisa Stone, the co-founder and CEO of BlogHer, was on stage leading a discussion with Dominique Browning. Dominique is an author and publishing veteran: she was editor in Chief at House and Garden, an editor at Newsweek, and recently published a memoir called Slow Love. Both women were professional, accomplished and poised, with enough elegance and grace between them to give Meryl Streep a run for her money.
After the interview, they took a few questions. I lunged for the microphone.
"What I really can't stand, when I mention that I write a blog, is when people say wow, blogging sounds so self-centered! It's a pretty common response, and I have a hard time countering this, because on a certain level they're correct." I asked Dominique if she had an intelligent response to this type of negative comment.
Before Lisa passed over the mic, she paused. "Wait a minute. You write The Wilder Coast, right? I actually read that blog. I really like your blog. And if anyone gives you a hard time, just direct them to the essay you wrote about eating your power animal on your birthday. They will shut up."
I was stunned. BlogHer is huge. It's enormous. And Lisa is very high up in the publishing world. It knocked me off my feet that she read my work, even more so that she could single out a specific post. There were a hundred and fifty other writers in the room, along with the agents and the marketing directors and the editors, and they were all looking at me.
Then Dominique then gave me a gorgeous reply about how this style of personal writing is following in a grand tradition that goes back to the beginning of books. Write what you know. I wish I could be as eloquent as she was, but I cannot remember her exact words. Maybe if she reads this, she could leave a message and remind me, and all of us who write.
****So I'm back at my desk now, in front of a very cold, leaking window and a picture of John Stewart from the cover of Rolling Stone magazine tacked to the wall. He's looking at me with that face he makes, incredulous, eyebrows raised, and every time I glance up I imagine he's saying "You better keep working, kid. You better work, right now." I have a copy of Dominique's book on top of a stack I keep at my desk, along with the memoirs of Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling. I read a few pages when I feel discouraged, and I remember being at that conference room with all the other people in my field, and I think about Lisa saying "Yeah....I read your blog. I really like your blog."
It's so simple. I just want to write things that people want to read.