A few months back, I received an e-mail from a reader, who told me this:
I love to tell stories, too, but have so far limited myself to sharing them verbally so that I can measure the responses of the other person. I think what you’ve done takes quite a bit of bravery, and I hope one day I’ll be able to write some of my stories, too.
My first thought was, Me, brave? I thought about how I run this blog from my bed, tapping out stories on my laptop and responding to comments while in my pajamas or a comfy T-shirt. It sure doesn’t look like bravery at first glance. And sometimes, I’m convinced it looks kind of silly. (Seriously, you should see some of my “office” getups while I’m doing this blog.)
But as I pondered her words, I once again remembered how right she was. Yes, there’s courage in writing something incredibly personal about your marriage to a Chinese man, about living with him in China (and, before, America), and what it’s like to be a part of his family.
If there’s anyone who knows how scary it is to put yourself out there, it’s me. After all, there was a time in my blogging history when I quit big time. Yes, you read that right – I quit my blog. There was a time when I lost the confidence to write, and couldn’t find the courage in myself to overcome it.
Here’s a big secret for you – when I pressed that publish button on Speaking of China over six years ago, it wasn’t the first time. I actually started blogging on speakingofchina.com in 2002. I didn’t really know what I was doing as a blogger at the time (it was a pretty new thing back then). But I enjoyed posting my writing online, which was more like random journal entries about whatever was going on in my life in China. And some people actually read it – not a ton, but enough to make me care about it. I kept blogging for a few years into late 2005, when my husband and I had a major life change. We moved to the US together to pursue our dreams.
That’s when my blog completely tanked.
The stress of transitioning back into America, along with helping my husband through it, weighed upon my harder than I ever imagined. Well, one of the things nobody ever tells you about blogging is that it takes energy to be courageous, to write and publish your writing publicly. And because all of my energy was sucked away into this extraordinary life transition, I stopped blogging.
It wasn’t really a conscious decision I made. It was just that as the days, weeks and later months passed, I couldn’t think of a single thing to write that was actually worth sharing. And the longer my blog remained without a single update, I experienced an even more painful feeling – shame. I was ashamed that, for everything I had done to build up my blog in China, I was throwing it away because I lacked the energy and chutzpah to continue writing.
Guess what? It takes enormous courage to overcome feelings of shame about yourself. And I didn’t have that courage. Not yet.
So I quit. There was no fanfare, no big announcement, nothing. I just stopped posting on my blog and desperately tried to forget that I had even bothered in the first place.
As if that was possible.
As 2006, 2007 and 2008 passed, I watched my blogging peers in China – people who had started their blogs in China the same time as I had – make their mark in the blogosphere. A prickly feeling of shame gripped me whenever I encountered their names or posts online. I wondered, Could that have been me – if only I have summoned the courage to fight through my confidence issues and just keep blogging? And in the worst moments, I just felt utter despair – that I’d had my chance and wasted it by abandoning my blog.
It wasn’t until 2009 that the idea of blogging about something I truly loved occurred to me. I had just founded a writer’s group in town and gave a few talks to the members about the value of having a blog. At the same time, I was laboring on the first drafts of what would eventually turn into a manuscript for a memoir (one I’m editing as I write this). It was ironic that I lectured my fellow writers on starting up a blog when I had quit doing the one blog that I had always been my first passion.
Then in May 2009, inspiration arrived in my e-mail inbox from a most unlikely source – Rachel DeWoskin. (Or rather, Rachel DeWoskin’s publicist.)
Did I mention I’ve been one of her biggest fans over the years? Big enough to gush over her memoir Foreign Babes in Beijing in my business blog. (A blog that almost nobody was reading.) Well, because I happened to blog about her book, her publisher found me and invited me to review Rachel’s new novel, Repeat After Me.
Well, that e-mail hit me with all of the power of a huge adrenaline shot – and sparked a host of crazy thoughts that I had hidden deep within myself a long time ago. Like, Could I start up Speaking of China again, in a different version? Could blogging help me build a career as a writer? Did I have the courage to finally do this? I had no idea and yet, I didn’t care anymore. My passion had such a momentum at that point that I couldn’t even slow down to consider all of the “what ifs” – and it was so unstoppable that it demolished those walls of shame, fear and discouragement that had held me back for years.
On May 18, 2009, I pressed the “publish” button for the first time on my revamped version of Speaking of China (that date has since become my blog’s anniversary or “blog-iversary”).
Of course, it’s one thing to find the courage to restart your blog, and another thing completely to be courageous enough to keep doing it. As any blogger knows, one of the greatest disappointments comes when you start out and you’re scraping to get anyone to read it. In my first few months, I was lucky to break 100 visits in a day!
It takes a toll. You wonder, what’s the point? Why I should I put myself out there when nobody’s bothering to read it? In my worst moments, I could feel those old feelings of shame and unworthiness creeping back into my mind, telling me I was no good, wondering why I was even trying. And, of course, kicking myself for quitting all those years before.
Miraculously, I didn’t quit. I kept posting, writing and believing in this new blog. So I made it through to late August 2009, which is when I ended up writing about the rarity of Chinese men and Western men in China. It was a big leap for me to tackle such a personal topic, and honestly, I felt pretty nervous about pressing the button on this one. It took some courage to push through it all.
I just never expected that post would go viral.
I also never expected that once the post went viral, the avalanche of comments that flooded my blog would make me so anxious. Like any blogger, I worried about what they were saying (or going to say) about me. A lot. And it took courage to just tell myself, It’s okay, you can keep blogging.
The anxiety didn’t end there. If anything, it got even worse once I committed myself even further to blogging (especially when I spent nearly five months publishing blog posts five days a week). Can you imagine what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night almost five nights a week, struck with terror over what you’re about to publish on your blog? Or compulsively editing a scheduled post in the early morning hours because you’re afraid of what people will say about it? That it’s too personal or too revealing or the kind of thing people are going to laugh at you for?
Nobody ever told me that blogging would feel scary at times – that it would take courage to overcome all of those scary feelings.
Sometimes, I didn’t even have the courage – and that meant turning to my husband to help me through some of my darkest moments as a blogger and writer. I think pretty much every writer struggles with feelings of inadequacy. But when you’re posting your writing online without an editor behind you or any of the usual endorsements, it’s tough. You wonder, am I good enough? I swear there were times when I was powered by nothing more than hugs from my husband John, whose unswerving belief in me and my blog made all the difference.
Now that I’ve been doing this for over six years, you might think, Oh, well, now she doesn’t worry about any of that.
I still obsess about what people think about my writing. It’s not uncommon for me to feel nervous about what I’m posting. And there still are days when I wonder if I really am good enough. (Or worse, when I wonder if my best blogging days are over!)
I still have to rally that inner courage to continue writing, blogging and connecting with people out there.
In fact, I’m rallying it now as I write this post. It’s frightening to admit that I quit blogging, that my journey to the present was messy and incredibly imperfect and involved a lot of personal (and psychological) healing on my part.
So, yes, I may wear silly pajamas and T-shirts, and curl up on my bed, which has long been my unofficial office. Yet by simply letting my fingers dance across the keyboard in an effort to share an experience in my marriage to John or with his family, I’ve realized it really is an act of bravery. (Granted, an act of bravery in incredibly casual attire, but bravery all the same.)
And to the person who wrote me that e-mail, I hope that one day you too will find your own courage to share your stories with the world. I’ll be rooting for you.