Before I quit my job and became an unemployed writer of unpublished texts, I used to work as associate editor to the Journal of Levantine Studies. As one of the founding members of the journal and having dedicated five years for its ongoing excellence, separating from my baby wasn’t as easy as slapping a resignation letter onto my boss’ desk. I mean that metaphorically; my ode of separation was sent via email.
Since then, I continued to help the new team, answering questions on dealing with annoying authors or dilemmas regarding capitalization rules in Arabic transliterations. All simple and straightforward. The most recent question the editor-in-chief asked, however, caught me off guard. She explained that they were preparing to launch a new blog for the journal’s website and needed input.
“As a blogger yourself, what do you think Nathalie?” she wrote in an email.
Me? Blogger? Whaaat?
If anything, I am the imitation blogger. A woman who writes stuff online without a clue. A blogger-impostor in disguise.
“I don’t know anything about blogging!” I said to the screen.
Thankfully no human lives behind my laptop.
What makes one a blogger?
Until my new editor queried my valuable advice, I had never used the noun as a qualifier for myself. Blogger sounded so official, so professional. Almost like a writer or an artist.
To be sure, I throw about the “I have a blog” line whenever a stranger asks me what I do with my time now that I tramp the earth without a purpose since… ehem… I don’t have a “job.”
“You know, I write. I publish some of it. I have a blog… Umm no… No body pays me…” is the kind of rambling that daily spews out of my mouth.
At that moment, I realized that I have been consistently blogging since a year. My first readers were my parents. Then my father’s buddy became my biggest fan, sending me a private email of praise after every post.
One day something magical happened: people with whom I have absolutely no relation started subscribing. Who were they? I googled them and stalked my new followers on Facebook in search for a connection. Nope, no one I know. Not even a second or third degree LinkedIn relation? My first anonymous follower cost me a glorious night of celebratory drinking in Colombia.
Nevertheless, I didn’t feel comfortable seeing myself as a blogger. And not because I think it’s a great accomplishment. I have even been advised not to include my blog in formal pitches to magazine editors so as to not seem like a “mere blogger.”
In my mind, a blogger has tens of thousands of followers. She tweets and pins. She knows what affiliate marketing is and throws the word around to show how she, as a fine blogger, does not resort to such methods of monetizing. She says monetizing. A blogger does not send messages to her techy friends every other day: “HELP! WordPress hates me.” She doesn’t mull over each post like it was meant to be the greatest piece of art (which it isn’t), but slaps it onto that virtual page and moves on.
The Art of Navigating Self-Doubt
My identity crisis as a blogger hit a nerve. My editor could have just as well asked my advice as a writer or an artist. Could I call myself a real writer? In The Art of Asking Amanda Palmer writes that:
There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.
Amanda (Fucking) Palmer, as she frequently calls herself, is a musician who shook the field by financing her record by raising over a million dollars through crowdsourcing after ditching her record label. In fact, the musician asked her fans to support her art making ever since she began her journey and they responded in kind.
The Art of Asking is a homage to the silent contract of trust between the artist and her audience. The faith that if the artist keeps on making her art, appreciation – in the form of cash and empathy – will follow.
The book chronicles her path from street performer with $26.00 to her name to successful musician. But through every step, Amanda Palmer felt the pangs of the “impostor syndrome” that plagues every artist. She calls it The Fraud Police:
The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of “real” grown-ups who you believe— at some subconscious level— are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying: We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY.
The meanest of the Fraud Detection Unit is the artist herself. The so-called writer’s block is a euphemism for self-doubt. And fear—fear of failure and of success—feeds self-doubt like sugar to fungus.
If Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck doubted himself even after he wrote his masterpieces, hope exists for us. In Travels with Charley in Search for America, Steinbeck compared the daunting task of crossing the United States with a trailer truck to that of writing a novel:
I wondered how in hell I’d got myself mixed up in a project that couldn’t be carried out. It was like starting a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.
Every writer oscillates between grandeur and despair when it comes to their art. When you are an artist, Palmer writes, “nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.”
Oh, Amanda! Sometimes they do hit you with that magic wand. Like when your editor asks you for advice on blogging. At that moment, its best give Fraud Police an unpaid vacation and take the compliment.
I hope that my musings on the pages of Pack the Story make you feel something. And if not, I will keep trying.