Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blogging as a Path to Self-Discovery. No, seriously.

Story @ Home / Roots Tech 2013
It was important to include the exit sign over the door,
to show that people could have fled safely
if they had felt the need.
You will note, there is no fleeing happening.
In the public speaking biz, we call that a 'fully successful gig.'

Hey, everybody! Did you miss me? Well, I was right here, in my winter-defying orange sherbet jacket, yapping and flailing like usual. Shoulda looked here first!

So, I spoke at the above mentioned Story @ Home conference again this year. Gosh, I love that event. You totally have to come next time. We have such fun. It's all about story -- story this, story that, story, story, story.

There's a blogging / Internet track, and that's where you find me. My topic was The Journey of Self-Discovery, which on first blush seems just far too froo-froo for yours truly.

But honestly? It was a great subject to think about and share with others. I think most bloggers agree that, regardless of why they started to blog, the experience turned into something more. Nearly everyone I meet in the blogging world has some story to tell about the things they learned along the way about themselves, their goals, their priorities, their businesses, and -- depending on the camera angle -- the importance of wearing properly fitted jeans.

Now, I don't want to appear immodest (and by that I mean, I don't want you to know how truly stuck-up I am), but my class was stuffed clean to the gills. And there were people in the hall, looking in. I suppose it was possible they were getting the gist simply by watching my windmill arms, and of course it helps to have a voice like a foghorn. So I hope everyone who attended got what they came for.

But some lamented later that they couldn't get into the class (stupid fire codes) and would like a sum-up of what we talked about.

So in a move that is completely out of the ordinary for me, I thought I'd put something useful on my blog. Please don't panic; the silliness will return soon.

The main ideas of that presentation are here. And please, use the comments to share your own stories of this unexpected path that leads to, "Wow. Didn't know that about myself" land.

Discovering What Has Already Been, and Things as They Are Now

The first part of the class centered on the common use of blogging (at least old-school blogging, before we all decided that, with enough typing, we could become millionaires), namely, chronicling the current events of life, and / or recording stories from our past.

There is something about the act of writing that requires an element of focus, which in turn tends to slough off details that we may have felt were 'the point of the story' but really turned out to be extraneous to the core experience. This isn't to suggest that those details aren't worthy of their own story, only to say that for a given telling of a specific story, there is a lot that drops off.

For me, this has meant bringing clarity to memories that had always just been a sort of foggy blur. The most extreme example of this (on my blog, anyway), and the one I typically share at conferences, is a post I wrote called The Wendy Bird, where I thought I was just reminiscing about pretending to be Samantha Stevens with my little neighbor friend back in the third grade, and discovered in the writing that I was telling a very different story -- one whose ending I hadn't understood until I was an adult.

I spent some time talking about my dear friend Debbie Frampton, and her own journey -- taken on the blogging road -- to forgiveness and understanding surrounding the death of her father by drug overdose when she was just 15. Her blog, which on the surface is just funny and goofy and random, has nonetheless led her to such an extraordinary place that she is now writing one of the most beautiful, delightful memoirs I've ever read. Move over, Haven Kimmel. There's a new sheriff in town.

The interactive nature of blogging sets it apart from journaling. Not only do we share our own stories, we then get the feedback and commiseration of our community. A nothing little blog post on the subject of falling down in public was improved 1,000% by the comments that came later. It is one of the funniest posts on my blog -- and you don't even hit the good stuff until I stop talking and my readers start.

I have found that even the posts I've written over the years that deal with difficult things -- depression, betrayal, loneliness, and loss -- have brought me closer to making peace with life's unexpected turns, and have invariably taken me to a place where I could not only forgive and move on, but I was actually grateful for the good that came with the bad, and with the deeper love I've felt for and from God during difficult times. Left alone with my thoughts, I undoubtedly would have become bitter and isolated; blogging about trials put me in the company of people I love and trust, who gave their whole hearts to the effort of healing mine.

Blogging as a Way to Write a Better Story for your Life

The other part of the presentation had to do with some inspiring ideas I got from the book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller. (Incidentally, I've never been paid to endorse any product, and that includes this book.) If you'll just read that, you'll have everything I wanted to tell you in that part of the presentation but ran out of time.

Miller's experience is interesting: He found himself in the position of having to write a fictional version of himself for a film about his first memoir. And he realized that the screenplay wasn't working -- the story was lackluster -- because his own story was boring. So rather than just tell a bunch of tales about the fictional Don Miller that weren't true, he decided to live a more deliberate, more interesting story, and then put that in the film.

The Peruvian Andes

Over the years, we've done similar things. Our humanitarian trip to Peru, my husband's radical career change from accountant for the LDS church to FBI agent, our multiple moves, including four wild and wacky years in the Caribbean, even my decision to become a writer and public speaker -- all of these represented focused, deliberate choices to wrestle the pen out of the hands of Fate and write a new chapter for ourselves.

A blog is a great place to announce those kinds of intentions to the universe. The feedback, suggestions, encouragement, and accountability that come from your friends (and that's how I think of my readers -- real friends, who take a genuine interest in my well-being) can take a simple 'what if' and turn it into a life changing, story changing reality. And of course, where better to record your experiences than a blog?

What's the next step?

Well, there are a lot of things you can do with your blog. I encourage you to build a little redundancy into your archives -- use the various blog-publishing sites and tools that will print your blog as-is for a nominal fee, or back everything up on another drive, or print off your favorite posts as Word docs. For me and 16 other writers, our blogs became the resources for the book "Tell Me Who I Am," many of whose chapters were refined versions of posts that were first published on our blogs. I mentioned Debbie Frampton's memoir. I am a columnist for Meridian Magazine, and I'm also putting together two different essay collections. Many of those essays and even a few of my Meridian articles lived their first lives on my blog.

And of course, you can just enjoy what you've written. Go back a year or two, and re-read the stories you were telling back then. I'm not ashamed to admit (see 'stuck-up' above) that I have spent many hours reading old posts and laughing with my friends as the dialogue poured onto the comments page. In many ways, my blog has always felt like my virtual living room, where anyone who promised to play nice and not hog all the digital Diet Coke was welcome. Those little snapshots of my life, and the relationships that grew out of them, have become some of my richest treasures.

So, there you go.

Those are the highlights of my presentation on Blogging as a Journey of Self-Discovery. There was more, of course. Lots of laughing, and a little crying (because if I can't roll through at least 17 emotional stages in any given class, then I haven't done it right) and a bit of sharing, and a renewed enthusiasm for telling our own stories and being the authors of our own lives -- that pretty much sums up those thoroughly enjoyable 50 minutes, for me anyway.

Now it's your turn.

Tell us how blogging has taught you more about yourself. Why did you start blogging? Did it turn out the way you thought it would?  What surprises did it hold? What would you change if you could?

Old-school blogging is MY school of blogging. But regardless of why you blog, promise me one thing: Keep telling your stories. I'm reading. I'm engaged. And I'm dying to see how it all turns out for you!


Stepper the Mighty said...


Your class was WONDERFUL. One of the highlights of the conference for me. I like to bask in your glow (and the gentle breeze created by your 'windmill arms'?).

I think your subject was brilliant, and you were the perfect one to tackle it. I learned so much in your class, and it made me want to be a better blogger/storyteller.

You inspired me.

I'd call that a success for sure.

L.T. Elliot said...

I wish I could have been there for that class. And Stepper the Mighty is right about you being the perfect one to teach a class like that. I loved "Tell Me Who I Am." I love your funny and not-so-funny blog posts. I'm SO thrilled to know you're working on TWO more essay projects! Count me as already in line!

As for me and blogging....Well, I never really know where I stand on that. One day I want to scrap the whole damn thing and go static. The next day I want to share more stories and just let all that worry go. And then you can chase that all up with alternating bouts of "I hate it. I suck!" with "Does it have meaning? Should it stay?" And then I'm so dizzy I have to lay down with some book or TV therapy. Which is ironic that I'm on the couch. ;)

Becca said...

So excellent. I love to hear you teach. And to read the words you write.

Blogging is still kind of solitary for me. I do it, and I don't really depend on anyone ever sharing it with me. But when they do, it's even more fun. Faceted, right?

seashmore said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who goes back and re-reads my posts.

I've always been torn about the level of interactivity on my blog, as I relish in new perspectives (and new people bring those) but I also like the idea of talking to a wall because it has no opinion.

Thank you for being a friend.

Momza said...

Wish I'd been there to enjoy your presentation, DeNae--I'm sure it lived up to the hype--lol.
I started blogging in 2008 to keep our kids who do not live by us, updated on whatever we were doing--I was astonished that anyone else would be interested in what I had to say, still am...the experience has taught me things about myself. For one thing, I discovered that I love sharing what I have learned with other women and that's rewarding in itself.

wendy said...

I would have LOVED to have been able to hear that conference, and I probably would have knocked people over and perhaps Threatend them in order to get a seat !!
I love blogs that "tell the story". Yes, I do read some blogs about sewing, cooking, crafting...blah blah blah....I get bored fast, as I don't do that stuff.
I like learning from REAL lifes experiences. That is what has helped me grow.
And for myself, putting my thoughts into Words, into a blog, has often times been theraputic, and the comments from others has also sustained me.
I have met Debbie F. She came to my sons viewing 2 1/2 years ago..and I had never met her. She came with your sister Amber and Kristina.
I'll never forget those little acts of compassion....just from people I met through Bloggin.

Garden of Egan said...

I'm a little irritated that I missed the Conference this year (yes, with a capital C, because you are just that good!) But something about a child movin' back into the nest with a grandchild sorta took presidence.

Blogging really has changed through the years. Well, all five of them for me anyway. I remember being so nervous going to my first blog conference (CBC) and being able to meet you. I was so stinkin' nervous, you being so famous and all.

I think I missed the post where you fell, I'm going to have to start from the very beginning. There is no telling what's going to come out of your mouth.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for writing this. I would like to take my blog to a level where it's more serious at times, writing about the things I have learned, and funny at times, making fun of myself and the weirdness that is my life. I guess I'm scared, wondering what people will think and if it really matters. I have a kinda serious calling at church, so I'm not sure it's appropriate for me to have journal-type musings out there for anyone to read. Any advice? And I thank you for having pity on a misplaced Midwestern girl in Vegas and giving me words of encouragement when I needed them.

Qait said...

It's unclear to me whether the 17 emotions I just pummeled through were because of my poor grasp on them all today or your writing, but either way, I really enjoyed this post. I love your writing, DeNae, and this post is especially important in my mind because it has turned out that self-discovery is all blogging is about for me!
I have a private blog I started some time ago that helps me dig even deeper, which has meant my public blog has suffered a tiny bit from neglect, but when it's all basically a "path to self-discover," it feels good!
(But like you, I LOVE comments, so I could never completely ditch my public blog). :)

Fredie Milin said...

On my own path of self discovery:

Just looking for some views, perhaps some insight.

Kas Sartori said...

The excitement you feel about blogging made me feel excited too! I started backwards, I guess. I wrote a novel with themes about self-discovery and then started a blog. I must admit, my blog posts are few and far between and I want to change that. Reading your post made me feel more relaxed about the prospect of just telling short, snapshot stories at random.

me said...

This is really nice - and I love the quote on the side of your page.

I can't honestly answer the question you posed yet, because I can't tell how blogging has changed my life yet. I just started a journey and will be blogging about it for a year. After divorce and then another long-term relationship breakup, I've decided to focus on myself and break old habits, create new ones. Hopefully I'll learn something. If you have any words of encouragement, I'd love some comments on my baby blog: