One of the most frequently asked questions to Dear Hip Sobriety - aside from How Do I Stop Drinking - is How Do I Start A Blog. It's one of my favorite questions, because not only do I think that we need as many voices and stories as possible out there when it comes to sobriety and addiction, but also because I think that writing is an incredible tool for recovery.
I happen to believe that each of us have infinite creative potential. There is Big Stuff in each of us, and that Big Stuff needs to come out. When we are in the grips of addiction, when we turn to something to blot out our life and dull the pain, I don't think it is just the bad stuff we are running from. I think in some ways, it is our greatness and our creative genius that terrifies us the most, that tortures us the most.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield so eloquently addresses this point, saying to some degree that creativity inverted is destruction - like an atomic bomb. I get this, completely. I think about all the things that were brewing inside of me and for so long, all the good big beautiful things, that had no place for expression. The desire to sing, to write, to speak, to express, to style, to serve, to soar were there, below the surface, unmanifested. From here, I can see clearly that my imploding had much more to do with the repression of this creative spark - the denial of these gifts and talents - than it did with the trauma and the pain that is life. Too much of that creative energy built up, and my own atomic bomb went off.
Of course, I am not downplaying the role that all the awful played in my need to escape. But I am saying, maybe, just maybe, it's our unfulfilled greatness that causes the most damage.
Writing was never a fun thing for me. In school, because I was a procrastinating perfectionist, I put too much pressure on it, and while I knew I was good at it to some degree, it was a painful experience to write. As my life went on, after school, I began to think about writing some sort of anonymous confessional, mostly because my life felt unbelievable (and not in the good way). Crazy things would happen that I was certain could only happen to me, and I'd sit in bed at night writing the narrative as if I was typing it to a page, in some Carrie Bradshaw wannabe fashion. Of course, nothing ever came of these musings. I had more important things to do, like drink.
In early 2013, as I started to heal, the voice got louder. And in May 2013, a month sober, I read Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Melton, and it was game on. She was writing MY story. She was telling the TRUTH. And it no longer became a maybe. It became a must. I HAD to get it on paper. It could no longer be contained. I wrote my first post on May 11th, 2013, and titled it We Already Know Everything, We Have Only To Remember.
The road from there to here is not linear. It came in fits and starts. There were times the words leapt from my soul onto the page. And there were times when no matter how much or how hard I tried, the words just didn't come at all. I wrote about six posts in the first year, and that felt monumental. Then, in February 2014, fresh from quitting my job, Philip Seymour Hoffman died, and as I watched the typical sensationalized/depersonalized/stigmatized/mis-informed rhetoric about addiction spill out of the media, I became a woman possessed. I wrote for hours straight that night, and not from my mind. From something else entirely. There is a saying "you are the faucet, not the water" and that is the only way I can describe it. I was a faucet and I was turned on full blast. Because I felt I had not much to lose by keeping anonymous anymore, and much to gain by speaking my truth, I sent that piece about Seymour Hoffman around, one thing led to another, and it ended up on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and read by almost every single person I knew in both my professional and personal networks. So then, there was no turning back, or even really a question about whether I would maintain a public blog. It was simply a matter of how.
So, this is how.
16 Tips To start a recovery blog.
1. Start before you're ready.
The number one thing I can tell you about starting to write and starting a blog, is to just freaking start already. Like today. Like right after you read this post. Like now. There are so many excuses we give ourselves, so many stories we play in our head, to not start something. It's not time, we're not ready, we don't have time, we won't be good enough, it's too hard, etc. These thoughts are crocks of poop. Big, steaming crocks of poop meant to keep you stuck where you are, where it's safe, where there is no risk of failing or being hurt or being vulnerable. Don't listen to these thoughts. If you are reading this (and you are), there is something in you, some spark of curiosity or recognition or desire. Don't ignore that! Start. The only real failure, ever, is not trying in the first place. If you absolutely HATE writing an blogging, then you can always stop.
2. Read this post for a kick in the ass.
Just do it. Now.
3. Read blogs and books that help you find your voice.
One of the best ways to get your juices flowing, fine tune your voice, and procure inspiration, is to read blogs and books that some how help you "channel" your writing voice. This is a weird one, so stay with me. Sometimes, I forget how I write. Sometimes I start writing and I'm like "Who the eff is this idiot - where is MY voice?" And usually this happens if I'm in a funk or if I've been reading Joan Didion. The way to "get back to me" is to read things that reflect my own voice. My personal favorite blogs that I feel most reflect my communication style are Momastery, Ash Ambirge, and Seth Godin. My favorite books for this purpose are Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, Dry by Augusten Burroughs, You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero, Tribes by Seth Godin, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Blackout by Sarah Hepola, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron. Also, one other trick I like to help me find my voice is to read things that make me angry. Which is why I read The Fix almost every single morning. It pisses me off, and anger is a beautiful tool when used correctly.
4. Find a place to organize your writing.
I love using OneNote, which is a FREE program from Microsoft and is available on both Mac and PC. I have tried Evernote, and while I know some of you swear by it, I have found OneNote to be superior when it comes to organizing my writing. First, it synchs to the cloud and all your devices automatically - which means this piece I am writing right now is also available on the web in a browser, on my iPad, and my iPhone. I'll most likely leave this coffee shop and on my way home, read through it for quick edits from an app on my phone, or perhaps send a .pdf of it via email to a friend and ask if it looks okay. Second, I have never lost a thing. It saves a back-up automatically. Third, it has a powerful search function, so I can find anything, including quotes. Fourth, it has a beautiful organization system, and being a lover of aesthetically pleasing organizational tools, I find it highly intoxicating. Fifth is the tagging function. I can create status and to-do lists, and custom tags, and search for these items. Sixth is the ability to attach items, such as pictures to a post I am currently writing. The PC version is much more enabled, but I don't mind the stripped down Mac version I use now, either.
5. Make a commitment to write.
Here is the thing that I have found to be most helpful. Whereas in that first year I would write whenever I felt the urge, I now write every single day, for about two hours a day at least. I don't always enjoy it. Sometimes my brain is thick and the words don't come and pulling my nose-hairs out one-by-one seems like an infinitely more rewarding experience than sitting down and trying to write a sentence, but I do it anyway. Because I think, just like colons, the writing parts in us get clogged at times, and the only way to unclog them is to get the sticky crap out. There will be times that I write for a week and it's total garbage, and I'll feel worthless and sad, and then all of the sudden, the best thing I have ever written springs forth, and it's a MIRACLE! Except it's not a miracle. It's a process. Shake your fists, vent, hate, do whatever you need to do when it doesn't flow. But do NOT give up. Keep writing. If you want to be super serious about it, I suggest at least 3 hours at day, at the same time, in the same place if you can. Turn off your phone, turn off your dings and distractions, and write. If you can't commit to that, then set aside a few days a week, or even one day. But commit to it.
6. TechNICAL Stuff, Part 1: Get to know Regina.
Now for the technical stuff. How to actually get your words on the internet. My go to in all of this - my blogging GURU - is St. Regina from byRegina.com. Almost everything important I have learned in terms of HOW comes from her and her website. I have laid out below, in order, the tools that she has put together that have been most helpful to me with my blog. Big, HUGE note: I wouldn't worry about the social media aspect of things at first (and like, at all), I would just start with the nuts and bolts of the blog, and then start building a social media presence (if that is what you want, anyway), some time after you have toyed around with the blog stuff I've listed below.
- Free Blog School. This is a FREE school taught by Regina that gives you a nice little overview of how to set up a blog (including which platform to use).
- Content Planning. This is a GREAT $12 book that will help you fine tune your content, and create a content plan/calendar.
- How To Launch A Blog On A Budget. Another great resource, full of goodies to help you get started.
- 33 Things You Can Do When You're Ready To Get Serious About Blogging. This is a great and QUICK list of 33 things you can do if you are "serious about blogging" or whatever that means. I think it's a great list about blogging, period.
- Create Brand Identity. This $5 booklet will begin to guide you through the nuts and bolts of creating a brand identity - which I think is at least important to consider in the beginning.
- Epic Blog Brew (Blog School that costs about $400). She has a ridiculous blog school that I've done, and it's worth every single penny. It's not available right now, but sign up for her email list and stay tuned.
7. TechNICAL Stuff, Part 2: Get to know these other sites.
8. Technical Stuff, Part 3: Read these books.
A few of the most influential books that have helped me build my own blog are: Tribes by Seth Godin, Purple Cow by Seth Godin, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman, the 99u Book Series (Make Your Mark, Maximize Your Potential, and Manage Your Day-To-Day), The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and surprisingly, the Elon Musk biography (because if he can go to mars, I can fucking write).
9. Technical Stuff, Part 4: Think a little about design and a little about your target audience.
As you are starting out, draw on some blogs for inspiration in terms of layout, and write them down. Think color combinations, fonts, imagery, and even pieces of artwork that are a reflection of your own taste. I did a style sheet for myself at first, scoping fonts, colors and drawing inspiration from blogs like A Beautiful Mess, 99u, and Brain Pickings. I also knew who I wanted to appeal to (me, basically), so I designed the site as some place I would want to be. Being true to that doesn't exclude anyone- my work IS for everyone, and I have loads of men and other people outside my target demographic who write me constantly about how much they enjoy my blog and work "even though" they aren't a 37-year-old woman who shops at American Apparel and prefers cream blush to powder.
By sticking to something that is clearly targeted to ONE type of person and a person I know really well (again, me), it keeps a clean, consistent message and style that makes people feel at home, knowing what to expect, and ironically transcends the target demographic. Seth Godin and Debbie Millman and Marie Forleo are my gurus when it comes to this part of the formula.
10. Technical Stuff, Part 5: Do it yourself.
The biggest, fattest waste of time and money has come from one thing and one thing only: contracting tech people. It's not that they aren't good, it's not that they can't help, but something tragic happens when I have to tell someone what my style is and hope they reproduce it right. Remember it doesn't have to look like your dream website at first. Get the car on the road, that's it. Just get the car on the road. The wheels, the chassis - the basics. Over time, you can add fancy things, like doors and a windshield, eventually the leather seating and BOSE sound system. The website of your dreams will be versions down the road - years away. So don't fret about this part (yet).
11. Decide about anonymity.
If you are familiar with my work, you understand my position on the whole anonymity thing (it needs to die.) However, I personally understand the need to maintain it on a blog. While in 2013 I was outspoken in my personal life about my struggles with addiction, there was no way in hell I was going to start blogging about my family, vagina, bulimia, and love affair with the Asian Mr. Big and have my name attached to it. Nuh uh. I wanted to write fearlessly, brutally, graphically, honestly. And I couldn't do that at the beginning. It was too scary, too real, too threatening. Starting anonymously gave me infinite space to explore internet confessionalism without the cost of real-life exposure. Of course, the secret didn't last. I wanted my words out there, and in time I put them out there. But I started very quietly, very secretly. I don't think this is the right or wrong way to go. But it was my path, and worked for me. If you do start anonymously, I IMPLORE you to - in time - consider coming out and attaching your face and name to your words.
If we DON'T say the things, if we don't say the words that we are afraid to say about the things that matter so much to us, then we are silently agreeing it should be that way. The ONLY way we will end up removing the stigma entirely is to not buy into it on any level. That is how we change the world.
12. BE YOURSELF AND TELL THE TRUTH.
Don't make shit up. Don't lie. This is the one place you can actually be yourself, the one place you don't have to pretend. So don't. Don't do those things. Be honest. Write like YOU write, not like someone else writes, not like you think you should write. Tell YOUR story, because no one else has a story like yours - not one single person. Put it all out there, the good, the bad, the ugly. Don't do it to be liked or loved or admired or anything. Do it because it's there, and it matters that you say it.
13. Ship, and ship often.
This means, POST. Don't just write it and stuff it in a corner. Even if it isn't your best, even if it isn't exactly what you want it to be, even if all the ifs. If you look through my blog going backwards in time, there is a LOT of crap in there. But there are also some amazing posts. The post 19 Awesome Ways My Life Changed In 19 Sober Months has gotten 40,000 hits as of today. BY FAR, my most popular piece. I have no idea why this one did so well. I swore that my groundbreaking piece on Martha Stewart would be it. But it wasn't. It was a list of 19 things about sobriety. The point is we can never tell what is going to resonate with people and what won't. It is a total crapshoot. But the only way to figure that part out is to try. One post won't make you or break you. But not posting because you are afraid one post will make you or break you ironically will. Ship, and ship often.
14. Don't sweat typos or grammar.
I can hear Stephen King and my mother having a simultaneous heart attack as I write this. Here is the thing about typos and grammar. You are NOT a professional writer, my friend. Not yet. You are an amateur. A blogger with a story to tell and a need to express. For now, do your best to proof, run spell checker, but realize that what you put out there is going to have mistakes, is going to have typos. That is the cost of shipping, of just starting anywhere, of just doing it. Mistakes! People write me all the time "You won't be taken seriously!" or "I don't want you to sound stupid!" or "This mis-spelled word could be a real turn off to someone who needs your help!" which always makes me at first cringe and want to fix it, but eventually I remember to breathe, and I leave it as is - as a stamp of personal accomplishment that says I can look incompetent and be cool about it. Let's put this into perspective. Is someone really going to say "This is a great post and it could change my life except I really don't like that she used THEIR instead of THERE so I'm NEVER COMING BACK."??? No. They won't. They will love you, and they will appreciate your honesty and your truth, and they will be annoyed about that grammatical error if they are the kind of person who gets annoyed about such things, and they might write you and tell you about it, but they will still love you so much for your bravery and your truth. And you will want to change it when they point it out, and you might even change it, but at some point, you will realize that typos are just typos, like freckles are just freckles, and you will stop giving such a shit.
15. Last but not least, keep it simple.
Meaning, do not create some ridiculous, fancy, over-technical, complicated system. Organize your posts in one spot like OneNote. Read just a few blogs that help you find your voice, not all the blogs. Find a hosting site like SquareSpace and stick with it. Write for a few hours at a time, as consistently as you can. Don't worry about Medium, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Periscope, YouTube, Snapchat, Tumblr, or any of that other crap that everyone says you "should" do. Start with the blog first, and if you do decide to use social media, do not for the love of God use all of them. Use two at most. Don't read every book I recommend at once, get a few of them and go from there. If you are worried about anonymity, stay anonymous, because you can change that in time. Don't worry too much about your URL or the name of the site, because you'll change your mind anyway (I started out as LittleMissSurrendered, and then went with HollyWhitaker.com, then SoberSherpa, which was followed by IlluminatedLove(?!?). It wasn't for nearly a year after I started blogging that I decided on Hip Sobriety.)
Basically, just start writing. Post it. You'll know pretty quickly if it’s a thing, if it's YOUR thing. If it is YOUR thing, then keep going. Don't worry about going fast enough - there is plenty of time. Don't worry about whether there are already too many sober bloggers - it's not a zero sum game and those who stay in it the longest do the best, anyway. Don't force it, don't complicate it, and for sure don't ignore it. Just do it.